Herman Saddle, Washington

Jesse Goosman approaching Herman Saddle.

Monica Uruchurtu riding off of Herman Saddle.

The region surrounding Mt. Baker Ski Area is one of a handful of places in Washington to get your early season turns in. The site of record setting snowfalls, the season usually starts earlier here than in the more southerly and lower elevations in the state. If the season is truly lagging, a dusting of snow on one of the year-round snow fields can smooth out the suncups and keep you off of the rocks. As the season progresses, when you hear the ski report for Whistler/Blackcomb reporting such-and-such centimeters, don't be suprised when Baker gets the same amount in inches.

Since the travel distance for this tour isn't too far at only 4 miles round trip to the pass, this makes for a suitable snowboarder's tour also. The opportunity for yo-yoing will substitute for distance in giving you a workout.

To check on the avalanche conditions, a printout of the internet report from the Northwest Avalanche Center is usually posted just inside the lodge near the ticket office.

Route Description: From the back lot, start at the farthest SW corner on the cat track. This will show up on a map as the continuation of the roadway up to Austin Pass, which remains unplowed in the winter. Travel the cat track to the SW for 1/10 to 3/4 mile and drop off where it looks easiest down 100-200' to Bagley Lakes. You will be traveling on the valley floor underneath Mt. Herman, so if the avalanche conditions are high, keep an eye out for the south facing slopes above you.

The valley wraps around to take you west past the second lake, after which climb to the right of the prominent gully (heading NW). Around 4600' start working your way west to the saddle. Herman Saddle is at 48.85716° N, 121.70912°W; elevation is about 5300 feet. From here you'll get great views out toward Mt. Baker itself. Mt. Baker Ski Area is actually situated on a ridge that extends out from Mt. Shuksan, so it also towers over the area in the opposite direction on a clear day.

From here, you can ski down the other side toward Galena Chain Lakes, hike and ride little chutes on Mazama Dome, or work your way over to the permanent snowfields on Table Mountain. The tree skiing is limited around here, so in inclement conditions, you might be able to see better remaining closer to the ski area.

If you are feeling more ambitious, you can tour either over the top of Table Mountain, or circle around it back to the ski area via Austin Pass. If you are planning on doing this from the onset, you might consider starting in the other direction so that you finish in the vicinity of Table Mountain or Herman Saddle for your final run.

Directions: Head east from Bellingham on State Highway 542 to the end. Your last opportunity for gas is Maple Falls, and you'll be driving at least 57.6 miles round trip before you get back to this point, so top the tank if you need it. 7.5 miles further you'll pass the town of Glacier, the last of the convenience stores and Milano's, a not-too-be missed restaurant. It is 21 1/4 miles each way from Glacier to the back lot at the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

For this tour, drive all the way to the upper lodge parking lot at Heather Meadows (4200'). The closest place to park for the trail head is in the back lot on the SW corner. If you didn't find it on your way in, turn right when you run into the first chairlift. When you are done with your turns, you'll have a better opportunity to nab a seat to dine on your pasta meal at Milano's if you beat the lift skiers departing from the ski area.

Mt. Baker Ski Report:
(360) 671-0211 Bellingham
(604) 688-1595 Vancouver, B. C.
(206) 634-0200 Seattle
Northwest Avalanche Center Forecast: http://www.seawfo.noaa.gov/products/SABSEA
Washington State Avalanche Hotline: (206) 526-6677 Seattle