Winter hiking in the Pacific Northwest

Bellingham’s temperature seems to hover around 44° F from November to April with the occasional snow storm or warmer sunny day.  Low pressure systems linger off shore spiraling in storms for days and sometimes weeks causing the forecast to look like:

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 9.07.24 AM

Seriously, how many different ways can you say wet?!

You can generally bank on (no big banks please, use local credit unions!) temperature dropping 3° per 1,000 feet of elevation gained.  So, if one does the math: 44° – (4 * 3) = 32°.  The 4 representing the 4,000 feet above see level where at the freezing point, the snow really begins to pile up!  Today’s snow report at Mt. Baker Ski Resort (elevation about 5,500 ft):

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 9.25.46 AM

Did you catch that?  That is 17′ of snow on the ground right now in March.  So, all those amazing trails with the Sound of Music views…totally buried and not likely to see thawing rays until mid-July.

So, for Winter and Spring your options are to either strap on the skis or snowshoes, Musher’s Secret the dog’s paws, and pack a hot beverage or…

…stay in the lowlands and hike the few trails that still have some big trees standing.  Old growth trees, like the Alaskan Red Cedar, will shelter you from 90% of precipitation.  They make a great spot to sit and have a snack or a snooze!


Also, thanks to hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of built up forest duff, you will be hard pressed to find any muddy sections when traveling through a stand of old growth. Of course, should you decide to listen to the dogs (its always their fault) and wander off-trail, you may find yourself scrambling up an 8′ horizontal trunk. Then plunging through what you thought was the ground into some underworld and self-arresting by taking hold of the appropriately named devil’s club, thereby gaining some tweezer souvenirs along the way.  Not that I’ve done anything like that.

Moving on, and sticking to the trail, our foothills rival some time-worn mountains along the eastern side of the country at elevations close to 4,000 feet.  So, one can begin a hike in mild temps and find themself in a whole ‘nother season in a couple of hours, even in the so called “lowlands.”  Because you don’t always go straight up when ascending, and may lose elevation for a time, there is a handy French word for total elevation gain and loss, that I learned a decade ago, then promptly forgot.  If any one knows it pass it on!

For an interesting perspective on living with a lot of rain, check out this post at baD.I.N.K.adink.  (It is one of my favorite blogs, not that I am biased.)

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