Heliotrope Ridge

September 5, 2017

To reach the trailhead, from Glacier Public Service Center in Glacier, WA travel east on Mt. Baker Highway 542 approximately 1 mile to Glacier Creek Road (Forest Service road 39).

Turn right onto road 39 and travel 8 miles to reach the trailhead and parking located on the left side of the road.

The trailhead quickly enters the Mount Baker Wilderness and meanders gently among big trees, bridged creeks, and peek-a-boo views of Mount Baker (10,781 feet - 3,286 meters) which wasn't visible at this time due to the forest fires.

You will encounter several stream crossings.

The depth of these streams fluctuates greatly depending upon various conditions such as snowmelt, recent rainfall and time of day.

A stream easily forded in the morning can become a raging torrent by the afternoon.

A couple of water crossings encountered on the lower trail can be easily managed.

However, it pays to remember that whatever you cross in the morning will be flowing higher and faster (sometimes significantly) in the afternoon, especially on a warm day.

The forest begins to thin as you climb higher with huckleberries abundant along the trail.

Mount Baker hid behind smoke

Just below the tree line is the former site of the Kulshan Cabin.

Coleman Glacier

Above the tree line, the terrain is rocky with herbaceous vegetation and numerous streams. Mt. Baker looms above.

About two miles from the trailhead you will find a trail junction.

Heliotrope Creek

The right fork steeply climbs 1,000 feet in one mile to the Hogsback Camp at the base of the Coleman-Deming climbing route.

Heliotrope Creek

The left trail reaches the most difficult of the trail’s stream crossings.

Heliotrope Creek

Caution is well warranted here: the water is moving fast, the rocks are slick, and you find deceiving shallow pools.

Real injuries have occurred here, so assess your abilities carefully, and be especially cautious with children and dogs.


Throwing gear at the problem can be helpful, so trekking poles are highly recommended here, and maybe pack in water shoes or sandals.

Ice Climbers

Crossing the creek will take you east to a lateral moraine deposited by receding glaciers.

Ice Bridge

From this overlook, you can have spectacular views of Coleman Glacier, which spills down Mt. Baker's flanks into a jumble of ice.

Ice Climbers and Ice Bridge

Looking carefully down in the ice blocks (seracs), you may be able to see climbers practicing their ice climbing skills.

Coleman Glacier

Seracs are giant chunks of ice cleaving and tumbling in the slow progression of the glacier.

From this close, you might hear the glacier creaking and cracking as it slides downhill.

Between 1850 and 1950, Coleman Glacier retreated 8,200 ft (2,500 m). During a cooler and wetter period from 1950 to 1979, the glacier advanced 2,480 ft (760 m) but between 1980 and 2006 retreated back 1,443 ft (440 m).

Conspicuously missing are the heliotropes.

Evidently, early explorers mistook the local Valerian for the vanilla-scented Heliotrope, but the name stuck.

If instead of crossing Heliotrope Creek you follow the Climbers' Trail you will climb steeply and directly up the neighboring Hogsback Ridge and gain elevation quickly.

Within minutes you will be looking right at Mount Baker in its full, unobstructed glory.

The higher you go, the bigger the views, and you can reach the Coleman Glacier here too at around 6000 feet.

Please do not step onto any glacier if not roped and packing the skills to manage a crevasse fall -- this is a real-deal active glacier and should be taken seriously.

As the summer goes on, it is possible to see taller and taller "sun cups." These are formed when specks of dirt blown onto the snow absorb a little more sunlight than the snow around them and melt tiny ways into the snow.

Eventually, this cycle produces the giant, craggy spikes before you.

Looking down into a particularly deep crack or sunlit opening in the ice offers a glimpse of the bluest icy blue to be had. (If it were a crayon color, it'd be called Glacier Blue.)

Time: 5 hours
11.48 km
Elevation gain: 728 m
Maximum Elevation: 1,855 m

Driving distance from Vancouver: 126 km