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Anderson Butte — September 2006

By Holly Zox

Most folks feel an innate affinity for subalpine parkland. Getting there in western Washington typically involves a long trudge up endless switchbacks in second-growth forest. The trail to Anderson Butte, in the shadow of Mount Baker, avoids the trudge by starting in old Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis) forest near the top of the montane Pacific Silver Fir Zone, elevation 4350 feet.

Climb gently for the first mile, munching berries the whole way. Especially tasty are the juicy black huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum). Look for the finely toothed leaf margins and “drip tips” to tell these from the less tasty blackish Alaska blueberries (V. alaskaense). Notice more and more really big old mountain hemlocks (Tsuga mertensiana) as the trail gains elevation and enters the subalpine Mountain Hemlock Zone. Elevation and microclimate split the zone into lower forest and upper parkland. Stay left at a junction with the trail to Watson and Anderson Lakes and right a bit farther at a junction with an old trail. Cross a log over a small wetland and take the trail steeply uphill. The trail gains something like 800 feet in a half mile to the site of the former lookout, in shady forest until near the top. Many of the trees have downhill sloping trunks, or “pistol butt,” likely caused by snow creeping downhill and flattening the pliant mountain hemlock saplings.

Fuel the climb with still more berries, including delicious Cascade blueberry (V. deliciousum). Soon the trees give way to a sedge-filled basin near the saddle. Snow lingers longer here, preventing tree seedling establishment. The moist soil supports a luxuriant community of Sitka valerian (Valeriana sitchensis), arctic lupine (Lupinus latifolius), and showy sedge (Carex spectabilis).

At the saddle, enter the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness, and the timberline parkland subzone of the Mountain Hemlock Zone. Here, the mountain hemlocks are wind-whipped and huddled together in scattered tree islands. The gentler, north facing slope holds much snow, preventing tree establishment in all but the least snowy years. The seedlings that do manage to survive moderate the microclimate for island mates to come. The parkland meadows include much white-flowered rhododendron (Rhododendron albiflorum) at the saddle, extensive fragile heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis and Cassiope mertensiana) and Cascade blueberry meadows, sedges in the late snowmelt areas, and alpine sedge (C. nigricans) in the latest snowmelt areas.

Near the old lookout site, find a rectangle of dead heather the size of a tent. The heather meadows are the least resistant, least resilient of the subalpine communities, and the worst choice for a campsite. A few feet farther is a dandy little campsite under some mountain hemlock trees with no understory to destroy. Better still, enjoy the stupendous view, of Baker, Shuksan meadows, and more, and then head down to one of the lovely lakes to camp.

Wear sturdy boots and bring walking sticks and the 10 essentials for this steep but well-maintained 3 mile round trip hike. Directions: drive Highway 20 east from Sedro-Wooley to MP. 82.4 and head north about 13.8 miles on Baker Lake Road. Turn right and cross Baker Dam then follow USFS Road #1107 uphill 9.1 miles to a signed junction and stay left to reach the trailhead in about a mile.

Updated: July 2, 2016
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