Here around the PNW, the weather determines the ebb and flow of things. Where we go and what we do depends on whether mother nature decides to shine her sweet sun or bring torrential downpours. As it was, she decided that sweet sun would be served up for this particular weekend, and still winds to boot. There was also a promise of potentially seeing the Northern Lights roll across the sky so we took to find our best chance to see them. Our trip the previous year to Twin Lakes and Winchester revealed entrances to more mountain playgrounds. Specifically our friend Ben had his sights on Yellow Aster Butte with an additional summit of Tomyhoi Peak. With the sky promising to be clear, we decided that Yellow Aster Butte and it’s meadows would be our destination for the weekend. We once again headed out after work on Friday night up Highway 2. We headed up to Artist Point to see if we could catch a glimpse of the lights before the moon rose. Sadly, no lights could be seen so we headed back down. There is a vacant lot that leads into some green campgrounds that we use in the summer, but as we were just looking for a place to bed down quick, we parked in the gravel lot and car-camped (or in my case, hammock-camped) for the night to get an early start the next day.
The FS road for Twin Lakes is also the same road to get to the trailhead of Yellow Aster Butte. The entrance is only half way up so you park off the road. The trail to Yellow Aster Butte is a good one, well maintained and full of blueberries as you get higher in elevation. Our goal was to get to Yellow Aster Meadows and set up camp before heading up the Butte for a sunset dinner. Once again, I had totally over packed. My pack felt like it weighed 1000 pounds and I had even elected to not bring a tent. The hike in was only 3.75 miles and it felt like 10. The trail was beautiful, but after not backpacking for a while and overpacking…again, all I could focus on was keeping my breath and controlling the fire in my legs. I was also trying out the Whole30 meal plan for the month and was determined to stick with it through the weekend. If you’ve ever done Whole30, it kinda sucks. And because my body was adjusting to the new fuel I was putting in, I was more tired than usual. All that aside, the weather was too good and with blueberry bushes lining the trail, it was easy enough to push on.
As we looped around the butte and dropped down into the meadows to find camp, the views of Mt. Baker and Shuksan were stunning. After scouring the meadow, Ben took a quick hike up to a knoll and called us up to say he had found the perfect spot. And that he did. It was large soft, flat, grassy area over looking a small pool that dropped off to a direct view of Mt. Shuksan. We set up camp, had lunch and took a nap, did some swimming in the sun until that evenings hike.
As late afternoon set in, we packed up our stoves, headlamps and food and took the quick hike up to the top of Butte. The sunset was glorious as always. We could even make out a sliver of light reflecting off the sound in the distance. We looked to name the mountains around us, took a peek at where we were headed on our hike tomorrow, packed up and headed back down to camp with our headlamps on. The night settled in and a few of us decided to take advantage of the rare opportunity of a clear night and still wind to sleep outside in the open. We sat for a few hours watching the stars and for any sign of the Northern Lights. Eventually the moon came up and was so bright that if the Northern Lights did show up, our chances of actually seeing them were slim to none. So bucket list item not yet accomplished.
Quick side note about sleeping outside and something I learned on this trip. Do not cover yourself in a tarp thinking it’ll keep you dry from the dew in the morning, it in fact doest the opposite. As your body heats up and the air gets cooler, it creates condensation on the inside of the tarp and basically makes your own private rain forest. So yes, I woke up to discover that I was soaking wet. Camp fail.
The next morning, we were once again greeted with a cloudless sky and a hot day. We had breakfast and then struck off for the hike to Tomyhoi.
This hike was super fun. Of course I complained the whole time, but thats just what I do to get through the hard parts, somehow it makes it easier. This hike had down climbs, scrambles, meadows, views, snow fields, the whole nine yards. The last leg to the summit was the most challenging. It started with a hike along the
top edge of a snow field that if you were to slip, you’d have to arrest yourself before too long. If you weren’t able to, there was a chance that you could keep going down the field, potentially toward a crevasse. These were relatively small risks, but definitely ones to be aware of, so steps were taken slowly and carefully. From there came a steep down climb and then a precarious scramble traverse that was not for the faint of heart. Ben and I went up first and as much as I have a healthy fear of heights and tried to turn around, Ben wouldn’t let me (he never does) and I always thank him for it. Mountain for miles and miles and miles. We found the summit registry, added our names, and headed back to let everyone else up.
The hike down we cruised, stopped to pump water half way back to camp. When we got back, we packed, picked a stock of blueberries, took a rest and refilled our water for the hike back out to the car. By this time, my legs were less weary from hiking for a couple days so the hike down felt like a breeze, even after the hike up and down Tomyhoi. Even though we got skunked on seeing any Northern Lights, the sunset from Yellow Aster Butte ad the summit of Tomyhoi more than made up for it.
Yellow Aster Butte is a completely doable day hike as well if your short on time. It would be a long day and when the weather is nice, be prepared to have plenty of company on the trail. We watched a slew of hikers head up and down the butte that Saturday. It’s an easier drive then heading all the way up to Twin Lakes as you only have to go half way up the road. If you can hit this hike on a sunny weekday, even better.