SKYLINE DIVIDE-CHOWDER RIDGE
Contributed by David Sellars
Country: United States
Location: North Cascades, Washington
Round trip: 23km
Start elevation: 1,300m
Final Elevation: 2,100m
Maps: Green Trails, 15 minute series Mt Baker, WA-NO 13
From Bellingham or Sumas drive to Glacier on the Mt Baker Highway. A backcountry permit should be purchased at the Glacier Ranger Station. Just after Glacier turn right on to forest road 3904 and then immediately left on to 3907.
The Skyline Ridge Trail is a well-known route in the North Cascades of Washington State and is one of the most spectacular hikes in the area. It also features a wide variety of alpine plants and Chowder Ridge, an extension of Skyline Divide, is famous for its alpine flora. Rock outcrops on Chowder Ridge are sedimentary in origin which is unusual in the Mt Baker area. The name Chowder Ridge originates from the presence of marine fossils which have been found on the ridge.
According to Taylor and Douglas (1976) several factors have contributed to the interesting nature of the floristics of the Chowder Ridge area. The area has contrasting habitats, especially those associated with steep, dry, southerly slopes and those of cool, snowy, equally steep north slopes. The climatic conditions of the south slopes resemble those of the eastern Cascades and northern Rockies, resulting in an unusual mixture of relatively drought-tolerant species. Finally, the Chowder Ridge area is located at the southern limit of glaciation, with consequential representation of northern and southern species. These and other features contribute to the floristic diversity and species richness of the area.
Skyline Divide is a northern spur of Mt Baker and the glacier covered volcano is in view most of the way. The trail starts at a parking lot at the top of road 3907 and climbs up through forest and Clintonia uniflora can be found in the shady areas. After less than an hour the trail gains the crest of the ridge with excellent flower meadows including Penstemon procerus and Campanula rotundifolia. The trail undulates along the ridge and at a slight depression turns off to the left and heads downhill. The main trail should be left at this point and the ridge ahead ascended. The crest of the ridge contains a thick forest of Krummholz and the trail winds through the stunted trees and emerges at a saddle.
The ridge above is treeless and the cliffs on the left are excellent habitat for Penstemon davidsonii, Phlox diffusa and Silene acaulis. Micranthes (formerly Saxifraga) tolmei grows right beside the trail. A prominent summit is reached at 2000 m marked with spot elevation 6563 feet on the map. The path turns to the north along a sharp rocky crest and this section of the route is one of the finest ridge walks anywhere. The trail traverses a couple of rounded rocky summits and ends at the foot of Chowder Ridge near a small lake. The talus slope below the ridge is a beautiful natural rock garden as shown below and contains a very large specimen of Saxifraga oppositifolia which is not normally in flower in late July/August.
The route up onto Chowder Ridge is via the rocky crest to the right and then up a steepish rocky gully. The trail is intermittent and crosses steep slopes so care is needed. There are more large mats of Saxifraga oppositifolia on the way up to the top of the ridge and many other plants including Oxytropis campestris, Potentilla sp. and Phacelia sericea.
ROCK GARDEN BELOW CHOWDER RIDGE
Taylor, Ronald, J and Douglas, George W. 1978. Plant Ecology and Natural History of Chowder Ridge, Mt. Baker: a potential alpine research natural area in the Western North Cascades. Northwest Science, Vol 52, No. 1
Alpine & Subalpine Plants
PARTIAL SPECIES LIST ON & AROUND SKYLINE DIVIDE-CHOWDER RIDGE
Castilleja parviflora albida