FEB
25
2017

DOCK Butte Route: East side (snowshoe)

Category: Washington      Trip Report #: 238
Partners: Matt Burton, Dave Creeden, Brett Dyson, Eric Johnson, Yana Radenska, Carla Schauble, Will Segall, Monty VanderBilt   
Summit Elev: 5,239 ft

Despite the lack of views, the day was still worth the nine-hour workout in the mountains with a group of friends.

Descending from Dock Butte, surrounded by beautiful snow-laden trees. This area must look completely different in the summer.

INTRO

This page gives a brief trip report for a day spent snowshoeing up to the summit of Dock Butte. Dock Butte is on the south side of Mount Baker off of the Baker Lake Road. The summer trailhead is a mere 2.2 miles and 1500 feet shy of the summit, making this a popular and easy day hike. But in the winter, unless you have a snowmobile, getting to the summit is a full day adventure with over 4000 feet of elevation gain up timbered slopes. In fact, Dock Butte ranks #102 on Washington Prominence List, having over 2000 feet of prominence. Its small summit boasts sweeping views of Mount Baker, Baker Lake, and several prominent peaks in the North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula.

Unfortunately, the "partly sunny day clouding up by afternoon" had deteriorated by the time we parked our cars on the Baker Lake Road. By 9am, it had begun to snow and it continued to snow lightly for the rest of the day. For an idea of what the sweeping views are like in the winter, here is a nwhikers.com trip report from May 2011. Nevertheless, it was still well worth it for the work-out and spending the day in the mountains with friends. 

And a special thanks to Yana, who attempted to beat the incoming weather by ascending to the summit through the night, and in the process kicked us a snowshoe track all the way to the top. 

In this trip report, I have pulled together some beta and photos from a few different people on the trip (thanks!): Matt's map and Monty's Google Earth overlay of the route, Yana's trip report from her nighttime ascent, and my photos with some of Yana and Monty and Matt's photos to supplement the gaps and add different perspectives. For even more photos, see Matt's trip report.

MAP and STATS
(GPS track map by Matt Burton. Google Earth view by Monty VanderBilt.)



Total trip: ~10 miles, ~4100+ ft gain/loss, ~9.5 hours (with breaks)
  • 6:55 AM : Sun rises
  • 7:40 AM : 1,107 FT : Leave car (Baker Lake Road) 
  • 10:50 AM : 3,930 FT : Summer Trailhead
  • 12:40-1:05 PM : 5,239 FT : Summit
  • 5:10 PM : 1,107 FT : Car 
  • 5:44 PM : Sun sets

PHOTOS

We parked on Baker Lake Road just south of FS road 12 where an old overgrown logging road with a gate shoots off the west side of Baker Lake Road. The easy road in the photo only lasted a few minutes before it gave way to blowdowns and brush.
About 25 minutes into the hike at the end of the overgrown logging road. You can see we are wearing the ideal footwear for the terrain. =)
(The slopes became snow-free after we got off of the valley floor and remained that way for about 1000-1500 ft. We took off our snowshoes soon after I took this photo.)
The ascent took us through some beautiful old growth forest. 
Somewhere around 2000 feet, the snow began to blanket the forest floor. It was consolidated to go without snowshoes for awhile, but by 3000 feet elevation we had put on snowshoes.  (Photo taken by Matt.) 
After nearly three hours, we popped out on a groomed logging road (3700 ft). We hiked on this road for about 20 minutes before it terminated at the summer trailhead for the Dock Butte trail. This road is popular among wintertime snowmobilers. (Photo taken by Matt.)
Ascending the snowy slopes up to Dock Butte. We were about an hour away from the summit at this point. (Photo taken by Matt.)
Dave kicking/wallowing up the final steep snow slope on the north side of Dock Butte, just below the summit. 
Carla and Brett coming up the slope on the north side of Dock Butte, just below the summit. Fortunately the snow conditions were stable, or this slope might have caused us to stop short of the summit. (Photo taken by Monty.) 
Most of the crew on the summit. There were 8* of us on this trip. (First photo by me, second photo by Matt. His is better.)

(9 if I include Yana who kicked the entire track to the summit through the night to arrive at the summit around sunrise—we ran into her on her way down as we were on our way up.)
Some of Yana's photos from the summit. Unfortunately, the forecasted afternoon weather system had arrived early and she had not gotten the spectacular morning views she had hoped for, but she still did capture some of that special morning lighting. Here is Yana's TR from her Facebook page:

I left at 10:30 on Friday night to do this rather long hike in the hopes that I would have glorious views at sunrise. The forecast called for clear skies until 10 am on Friday, with gradual clouding commencing afterward, culminating in snow showers beginning around 4 pm. Well, even in the pre dawn light, I suspected the forecast might be a bit off when it started snowing on me around 6 am. The in your face views of Mt. Baker were obscured long before sunrise. Alas. It was a beautiful night, though. clear skies and new-ish moon meant great stargazing. Higher up, the snow had a layer of hoar frost that was brilliantly sparkly in my headlamp beam, which was wonderfully complemented by the snow plastered trees. Other than the sounds of running water lower down on the route, it was amazingly quiet. Peaceful. I didn't know the road to the trailhead was groomed (until I popped onto it after a few hours of hiking), so I was extra glad to have decided on this overnight venture as I knew snowmobiles would be arriving during the day. It had snowed significantly since the last visit of snowmobiles, so past the road, I had untracked snow all the way to the summit. There's something very gratifying in breaking trail through untracked snow, like you're the first one that has ever visited (yes, yes, there's a trail to Dock Butte, lots of people go, blah blah). I poked around a few different routes to the summit, going up the ridge, which was very narrow and exposed in a couple of places. I descended the north face, which would have been unwise in some snow conditions, but was safe yesterday. My original plan was to stay at the summit, nap (I'd brought a bivy sack, pad, and sleeping bag) in the sun, and wait for the dayshift (Matthew Burton, Carla Schauble, Steph Abegg, and several others) to arrive. However, the whole SUN thing was not happening, and it was COLD (21 degrees without windchill). In the interest of not becoming an icicle, I headed down. Descending the meadows off the false summit, I heard and saw the first snowmobile arrival. They sound amazingly like mosquitoes, though louder. Because it was so early in the day, that was the only snowmobile I saw, but likely more arrived later. I ran into the sane day hikers just after leaving the road and chatted with them for a while before they continued their ascent. On the descent, after I exited the snow, I discovered that forests had green in them when it was not night. What a concept! A flat area toward the end of the hike that was rather confusing and full of obstacles ate my soul and seemed to take forever (consulting my SPOT track, I can confirm this). I was a bit tired after that hike.
On the descent from the summit, Dave and I descended the ridgeline (which Eric is ascending in the photo). This was an aesthetic ridge, almost knife-edge in character.
"Partly sunny." -NOAA
(Photo taken by Monty.)
Descending from the summit, surrounded by beautiful snow-laden trees. The summit of Dock Butte is in the background, struggling to stay visible through the murky skies.
Matt enjoying his tea and soup on a short break below the summit on the way out.
Me, Carla, and will getting speared through the head with Brett's ski pole. (Photo taken by Monty).
Enjoying the powerdy snow on the descent. In the background on the left is Pt. 4413. Matt was eager to add another tick to his summit count for the year, and Dave had not yet gotten enough exercise, so they did a loop over the top of 4413 (see map at beginning of trip report) while the rest of us headed directly out.
Taking a quick break at the summer trailhead (3900 ft). Some snowmobilers drove up as we were taking our break. (Photo taken by Monty).
Back on the groomed road for about 15 minutes before exiting right onto the steep timbered slopes leading down to Baker Lake Road and the car. 
Descending the timbered slopes, about midway between the groomed road and the valley floor. Crampons or microspikes were very nice to have since the snow was hard and the slope was steep at times. (Photo taken by Monty.)
Back at the cars on Baker Lake Road. Still snowing. It snowed lightly all day.