Mt. Baker Fog

Off to Heliotrope Ridge!

Taking a rare Thursday off from work and heading up to the Heliotrope Ridge trail, to get up close and personal with the Coleman Glacier and Mt. Baker!

One of the blessings of living in Bellingham is that there is so much hiking nearby, and yet there is so much so close that I often satisfy my hiking habit within a fairly short distance from my home, sadly rarely making it out and up to the Cascade Mountains just about an hour’s drive away.

But, when you have a day off and a friend in town from southern California who has never been in the Cascades, well, it’s a perfect time to head up for some of that alpine goodness; stands of old trees, meadows of heather, wildflowers, and blueberries; glaciers; and our friendly neighborhood active volcano.


Bellingham’s Early Spring Arrives

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to celebrate the arrival of spring, which in Bellingham happens, as I wrote last year, surprisingly early.

Though it was only a week or so ago when we had subzero temperatures and snow, for the past few days we’ve had lovely sunshine and temperatures in the low to mid 50s.

I just took the photo you see here, of those oh so welcome crocus that prop up in our yard year after year, signaling that Mother Nature’s annual reset button has been pushed. It is something I revel in.

At the same time, I’m not a winter hater, and I am hoping to get up to Mt. Baker to ski a few more times before the end of the season.

It’s the best of both worlds, right now, in Bellingham. Hooray!

Much Ado About Logo

Yesterday, my employer, Western Washington University, unveiled a new logo, the product of many, many hours of research, deliberation, design, redesign, and student feedback, and from the reaction you’d think that the logo was an unmitigated disaster.

Judge for yourself:

Pretty nice, huh? I particularly like the abstract swoopy-line representation of Mt. Baker and the swoopy water elements, how they capture the sense of place, a campus nestled, as it is, between the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound, important when you consider that for years surveys have clearly indicated that the main reason students choose to come to Western is: location, location, location.

For contrast, the old logo:



Here, the “location” consists of the front doors of the main administrative building on campus, Old Main, a place students go to when they have to pay tuition, check on their financial aid, complain about not being able to get into the classes they need, go for help at the Tutorial Center when they are struggling academically, or go for help at the Counseling Center when they are struggling emotionally.

Personally, I like the more positive associations of the new logo, and yet, posts on WWU’s online discussion forum, Viking Village, are full of the kind of vitriol usually reserved for tuition increases, the cost of textbooks, or dining hall food.

I’ve had some personal experience in logo design, not as the designer, but as a member of the design review and approval committee, and I can say unequivocally that it is an exhausting, brutal process. Subjectivity is a very powerful fact of life, and graphic designers are usually sensitive, creative people who have to have the patience of Job, making dozens and dozens of revisions, great and small, under a delusion that it’s actually possible to please everyone on the committee.

In an act that was nothing short of heroic, the student designer who worked on the Western logo, noticing how strong the reaction was, posted a new thread on the forum, identifying himself as the designer, and offering to answer any questions his fellow students might have.

Sadly, he’s been spared no mercy.

It would be funny if it weren’t so disturbing, that people could get so angry about something so insignificant.

Fire & Ice

Stephen Trinkaus, owner of Bellingham’s very fine organic market, Terra Organica, posted the following photo on Facebook yesterday, a shot he took near the top of Chair 1 at the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

While Mt. Baker, one of the primary local icons, is visible from various spots around town, it is easy to forget that our beloved icon is an active volcano merely 31 miles due east.

This photo, however, is a subtle and yet very powerful reminder. That little fumarole plume seems to say, “Don’t be fooled by all this snow and ice, silly humans, for I am proof that not far below the surface of this frozen scene lies a sea of 2,000°F molten rock that could, at any time, blow the lid off of this pretty mountain, wreaking widespread havoc and destruction, so enjoy your chairlift ride while you can.”


(BTW, a fellow Bellingham blogger and “Back Easter” wrote a very entertaining post on this very subject back in October. I highly recommend it.)

Mt. Baker 2010-2011: Day 2

If you are a skier or snowboarder and fortunate enough, as I am, to be able to afford your rather expensive winter recreational activity of choice, and you see a snow report like this:

…it’s almost impossible to not go!

Ironically, my usual ski/board companions — the Mrs. and the son — are, as I type this, settling in for a week at Grandma’s timeshare condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. So, I’ve rallied a few friends to carpool to Mt. Baker and frolic with me in the snow this Sunday.


Paying it forward…ski-style

You couldn’t ask for a better first day of the season at Mt. Baker.

As we wound our way east on Route 542 this past Sunday, we had one eye on the rain and one on the thermometer. We’d had our share of early season wet conditions, it’s a considerable crap shoot to drive the long and winding hour not knowing whether or not we’ll find it soggy at the ski area, and it’s a real bummer to have to make the choice between skiing in the rain or giving up on skiing and driving all the way home disappointed.

To our delight, as we started to gain elevation a few miles past the tiny hamlet of Glacier, the rain turned to beautful, fat flakes of snow. Yippee!!!

Joining us on this trip was our 19-year old Japanese Homestay student, Shuichi, who hadn’t skied since his one and only time, when he was 5 years old in Japan. We got Shuichi set up with the beginner package — lift ticket, gear rental, and lesson for $48 — but we weren’t really sure how the day would go, since the beginner lift ticket is for Chair 2 only and we like to ski all over the mountain.

Shuichi’s lesson didn’t start until 11:30, so I agreed to stay with him until then and teach him a few things. We started with the wedge — toes and knees pointing inward, back straight, hands out in front, poles pointing backward — from the rental shop down to the bottom of the rope tow, and Shuichi, while looking incredibly uncertain and uncomfortable, was actually able to make turns without me even mentioning how to do so. And while the rope tow is challenging to get on and off of, Shuichi did pretty well. I encouraged him to allow himself to get used to a little speed on the practice hill, letting his skis go parallel, facing downhill, and then apply the wedge to slow down and turn. He fell a couple of times and was able to notice that the snow was soft, and this was good as doing so can often relieve some of the fear of injury.

At 11:30, I left Shuichi in the capable hands of his instructor, took off to join the Mrs. and the son at the top of Chair 3, and we got in a nice hour and half in on Chairs 4, 5, and 7. The only tricky part of the morning was the fog.

At the top of Chair 5 the visibility was incredibly bad, like 50 feet bad, making it hard to see other skiers and boarders and hard to read the contours of the slopes. It was the first time I’ve felt fear on Chair 5 since the first few times I skied it, and it was a thrill and felt like a great accomplishment to get down to the lift unscathed. (You can see some of the fog behind Julian in the photo above, but this was about halfway down.)

At lunchtime, we met up with Shuichi, who looked utterly exhausted. He reported that he’d gotten too hot and he was practically non-verbal until after he consumed a significant amount of water. But when I asked him how the lesson went, I found, much to my surprise, that his instructor hadn’t taught him any more than I had shown him in the morning, and Shuichi still had not made it onto the chairlift.

I had a very mixed reaction to this. On one hand, it seemed the lesson was a waste of money, on the other I felt rather proud that I’d been able to teach Shuichi the same thing that people paid money for. I’d benefited from lessons a few years ago from a friend of mine, and so it felt really good to pay it forward.

And so, after lunch, I was determined to help Shuichi get on Chair 2, which included going down the steepest hill he’d go on all day just to get to the lift. The Mrs. and the son once again took off, and as Shuichi and I made our way to the top of that steep hill I watched him closely to see if he seemed ready. Happily, he did look much more comfortable than before the lesson and, upon looking at the hill he had to go down, he agreed to go for it.

I took the lead and told Shuichi to follow me as I made wide s-turns until we were halfway down. Stopping briefly, I explained that we needed to pick up a lot more speed from that point onward, since the snow levels were still low and there was about a 30-degree grade from the bottom of the hill up to the chair. And though Shuichi wasn’t ready to point his tips straight down in order to get the speed he needed and had to sidestep it up to the lift, he’d made it down the hill and I could tell that he was pleased.

As he pushed through his fear of heights by riding the chairlift and made it down the green beginner runs a few times, I could tell that he was on his way and enjoying himself. After our third lap, with an hour left to ski, Shuichi reported that he was tired and done for the day, assuring me that he did not mind at all if I took off to join up with the Mrs. and the son.

That last hour was a blast! I met up with the family and we tore it up, cramming as much in as we could before the lifts shut down.

It’s an amazing feeling, gliding down the mountain with the Mrs. and the son, weaving in and out of each other’s paths, collectively feeling the joy of play that so often seems in terribly short supply in the day-to-day grind we get caught in.

The drowsy ride home was quiet, as we privately scanned through the day, and in my mind I was already planning my next trip to the mountain.

Photo of the Day: Mt. Baker

I found the following photo, submitted to the Bellingham Herald, to be absolutely stunning.

Herald reader BJ Toews sent this photo of the sun rising behind Mount Baker, creating a shadow in the sky, at 7:39 a.m. Monday, Oct. 18, 2010. Toews took the photo from the family’s backyard in Everson.

The art of photography fascinates me. It exists as the result of a collaboration between technology and the human element, but not just any human. Heck, all you have to do is spend a little time looking at your friends’ photos on Facebook to see that some have an observant, creative eye and some are simply archivists, documenting moments in time with no regard to aesthetics.

Conversely, it was one thing for BJ Toews to notice this spectacular sunrise, but without the technology it might have remained a memory in his mind, or, at the most, a story to tell over breakfast.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

So, it’s being reported

Forecast: Plan now for bad Puget Sound winter
The Associated Press

SEATTLE – — Weather forecasters are warning Puget Sound residents to plan now for a colder, wetter and snowier winter.

A La Niña weather pattern is likely to bring nastier weather to the region, especially in late fall and early winter. The weather pattern occurs when the temperature of the ocean’s surface cools near the equator, sending storms to the Pacific Northwest.

And while the state of Washington is concerned about safety and liability…

A new program called “Take Winter by Storm” has been set up to help people get ready. It includes a website,, with advice on how to prepare. The $240,000 program is a collaboration by King County, the city of Seattle, Puget Sound Energy and State Farm insurance.

…the Mt. Baker Ski Area has created a special page on their website, giddy they are with anticipation of possible record snowfalls…and windfall profits.

Most notably, the World Record winter of 1998-99 was a La Niña winter. In just that winter, we received 1,140 inches of snowfall, which became the new World Record for the most snowfall ever recorded in a single winter anywhere on Earth.

Last year, Mt. Baker opened unusually early, thanks to plentiful snow a week into November. But then the season quickly turned rainy and slushy, until a surprise cooler and snowier early spring encore.

Personally, while I’m tempted to get my skis out and take them in for a tune-up, I’m not counting any snowflakes until they hatch!

Skiing? What’s that?

As I came across the article in today’s Bellingham Herald about the closing of the Mt. Baker Ski Area season this coming weekend, I was reminded with more than a little embarrassment that I’d made quite the fuss over the opening of the season and my first two trips to the mountain.

On November 28th, two days before the first trip, I wrote:

I have a goal to get up to Chair 8 this season, I’m pretty sure that it won’t be this first trip, but I’m determined to get there as soon as possible.

Sad to say, not only did I not get up to Chair 8 this season, I only ever skied those two days over the course of the whole season.

The Herald article talks about how this was a “bookend” season, with warm temperatures and a lot of rain on the mountain during the middle of the season, and despite what I said about rain and slush in November and January, the weather and general busyness with other things, simply removed skiing from my family’s collective consciousness.

There’s a slight chance we’ll make it up for one last day on the very last day of the season this Sunday, but I’m not betting on it. It would be a nice treat if we can manage it, but I’m ready to conclude that skiing, this year, just wasn’t meant to be.