Mount Baker in Miserable Weather

I got complacent. Lately I’ve been riding on the other side, on the edge of the desert, where summer is getting into full swing. Winter is only starting to loosen its grip on Mount Baker.

When I left the house, the weather forecast said it would be partly sunny on the mountain; it was gray, but cracks were starting to appear in the sky, letting sunlight through. I had a bad feeling, but hoped for the best. Things hadn’t improved by the time I got there.

Apprehensively, I stopped at a pull-out on the Mount Baker Highway (SR-542), parked, and put the wheels on the bike, about ten miles down the road from Maple Falls. I’d wanted to do a longer ride than this, but it seemed prudent.

The climb was interesting, and got a bit eerie; the deeper I got into the mountain, the thicker the cloud cover. My immediate surroundings were normal, but anything beyond 100 yards was shrouded in fog. Unfortunately, that fog let loose a downpour. Higher on the mountain, the rain turned to falling snow.

I got thoroughly soaked;  my rear wheel kicked up water from the road and spit it at my legs, there was no shelter from the rain, and my wind breaker eventually started to soak though.  I thought about turning back, a few times, and should have.  The climb kept me warm, but the temperature at the top was well below freezing (in the high 20s F), and the descent was steep enough that I didn’t have to pedal once for 15 miles, giving me no heat.  Wearing older gloves with missing finger tips, my digits went numb (which, oddly, didn’t stop them from hurting).  I started to worry about hypothermia;  I stopped a few times to blow warm air on my fingers, exposed to the rain and not moving, which isn’t a good way to raise a person’s core temperature.  Climbing to generate a bit of heat didn’t make sense, as I’d lose it quickly and have more ground to descend.

And there was one final complication.  Carbon fiber rims don’t brake very well when they’re wet.  In fact, they barely work at all.  The hairpin turns were a little more exciting than I’d hoped for, but still fun.  At least this got me back to the car sooner, where I had a heater and a dry set of clothes.

My bike, in front of the north (?) fork of the Nooksack

My bike in front of the Nooksack River, with snow lingering on the ridge. Those are leg warmers hanging below my saddle, and I’ve never been so happy to have them!

Snow, cliffs, and very steep hill

This was typical of the switchback section. Unfortunately, there were no real views that day, thanks to the weather.

Clouds touching down on the Nooksack valley

Strands of rain clouds reach down and deliver especially thick rainfall on the Nooksack Valley.

Snow blowing by a hungry ptarmigan

A hungry ptarmigan kept me company for part of the ascent, but it was skittish and kept its distance.

Several feet of snow piled up

Snow piled up several feet high near the road, approaching Heather Meadows; this is almost as far as they plow.

Snowy granite cliffs

Snowy hillside and cliffs form a wall beside the ski area at Heather Meadows. This was as far as I was able to ride; beyond here the road is buried under feet of snow.


I had planned to park in the little town of Maple Falls, which is about 30 miles from the end of the road. The weather still looked bad, and I drove about 10 miles further to shorten my ride in case the weather turned foul – and I was glad I did. If you want to do this ride, figure out how much distance you’d like to cover, and that will tell you where to park.

This ride stays entirely on SR-542, which starts in Bellingham and ends 56 miles later.

From my starting point, the round trip was 31 miles, and included 3,350 feet of elevation gain.

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