Route: Snow-covered Excelsior Pass Trail (snowshoe)

TR #: 241
TR #: 337

Category: Washington (SR 542)       Summit Elev: 5,712 ft       Rock Type: Argillite, Sandstone

Partners (2017): Don Beavon, Matt Burton, Ira Rushwald, Carla Schauble 
Partners (2019): Matt Burton, Elle McLees, Carla Schauble, Izzy

2017: Chilly winter day with sparkling snow and crisp mountain views. 
2019: An escape to the mountains between two snowstorms in the lowlands.

Gorgeous winter views from Excelsior Ridge, January 2017.

This page contains two trip reports for a winter day snowshoe up to the top of Excelsior Peak. With the 4,000-ft elevation gain providing a good workout and the reward of superb views, it is a destination worth repeating.
January 2017 Trip Report
Chilly winter day with sparkling snow and crisp mountain views.


On the very last day of my Winter Break, I joined my friends Matt, Carla, Ira, and Don on a snowshoe up to the summit of Excelsior Peak. The forecast was cold (with high of 10°F  and 30mph winds at summit level) but was cloudless skies, promising sparking snow and crisp mountain views.

I had done this hike in the summer and fall before, but never in the winter. This ended up being a great wintertime destination for several reasons: the trailhead is right on the Mt. Baker HWY so it is always accessible, the 4000-ft gain is a great workout, much of the elevation gain is in the trees so it can be done when the snow conditions are questionable, the final ridge to the summit can be assessed from below and is windswept and generally safe under a moderate avy forecast, and the summit views are spectacular. I will definitely do this trip again in the winter.

The following page gives a map of our route, trip stats, and photos from this gorgeous winter day in the Cascades.


Total trip: ~8-9 miles, ~3900 ft gain/loss, ~6.5 hours (with breaks)
  • 8:02 AM : Sun rises
  • 9:06 AM : ~1,840 FT : Leave Excelsior Pass Trailhead 
  • 12:06 PM : ~5,000 FT : Treeline 
  • 12:57 PM : 5,712 FT : Excelsior Peak Summit
  • 1:19-1:49 PM : 5,300 FT : Lunch Break just below Excelsior Pass
  • 3:40 PM : ~1,840 FT : Trailhead
  • 4:25 PM : Sun sets


Excelsior Pass Trailhead. The trail was snow-covered from the parking lot, but it had been well-travelled by New Years crowds just a couple of days previous so it was pretty easy going....until we got to the treeline, where the New Years snowshoers had stopped....
Sun beams through the snowy forest.
Sun beams through the snowy forest.
Emerging from the trees. This is where the tracks ended. Now it was time to do some work.
Looking up towards Excelsior Peak. The summer trail cuts left here towards Excelsior Pass, which is just left of the left edge of the photo. We continued up towards the right ridgeline and up to the summit.
Snow-laden trees on the slopes leading up to Excelsior Peak.
Looking up towards the summit of Excelsior Peak.
A view of Mt. Shuksan to the Southeast.
On the ascent to the summit of Excelsior Peak. 
Further up on the ascent to the summit of Excelsior Peak. Mount Baker behind to the south.
Ira, Carla, and Don on the summit of Excelsior Peak. Mt. Shuksan in the distance behind. It was very cold (probably a bit less than 10°F) and very windy, so we did not hang out long (10°F and 25 mph winds give a wind chill of -29°F!). My camera battery died just as I took this photo and until we got below Excelsior Pass I had to keep rotating a warmish battery from my pocket with the quickly frozen battery in the camera.
Looking down the ridge towards Excelsior Pass. We descended this way, doing a loop over the top of Excelsior. You could also ascend this way.
Looking back up towards the summit of Excelsior Peak on the decent to Excelsior Pass.
At Excelsior Pass. Mount Baker in distance.
A lunchbreak just below Excelsior Pass. It was not nearly as windy here as on the summit, but it was still pretty cold. We had all brought thermoses filled with hot chocolate, tea, or coffee, which were nice to have!
Descending the snow slopes below Excelsior Pass back to the trail. The snow was in good condition (avalanche forecast said "moderate" danger) so we were not too concerned about these south-facing slopes; even so, we made a point to head straight down and avoid traversing the slopes to the left in the photo.
Enjoying the powdery snow as we headed back into the trees....

For more eye-candy, here is Matt's trip report on nwhikers.com.

February 2019 Trip Report
An escape to the mountains between two snowstorms in the lowlands.


Over the course of Friday night through Saturday morning, 10 inches of snow blanketed Seattle. Winter 2019 had arrived all at once. In Seattle at least. Eighty miles to the north in Bellingham, I still had a green lawn and a bare road outside my driveway. This was fortunate for me, since it inspired my Seattle snowshoeing buddies to plan Sunday's snowshoe adventure off the Mt. Baker Highway, where the road was snow free and trailheads accessible. The first crux of the trip would be whether Matt, Carla, and Elle could get out of snowbound Seattle.

Left photo: Matt's yard in Seattle on Saturday. 
Middle photo: Skiing on the streets of Seattle on Saturday (sent to me by Lindsay explaining why she and Gabriel could not make it out of their driveway to join us Sunday). 
Right photo: Out my car window as I did errands in Bellingham on Saturday. The snowfall in Bellingham was pretty far from epic.

Fortunately, they did successfully make it out of the city and on up to Bellingham. We decided to snowshoe up Excelsior Ridge. This was a repeat destination for all of us, but we all agreed it was a good choice for the day. It's a good workout with great views, and the trailhead is right on the Mt. Baker Highway. The forecast was calling for sunny skies in the morning, but increasing clouds throughout the day and a possibility of snow by mid-afternoon. The temperatures were pretty chilly — in the teens.

It turns out we chose and timed our destination well for a cruiser day. A group of 12 Canadians from Vancouver had started up the Excelsior Pass trail about an hour ahead of us. With the deep layer of fresh snow, there was quite a bit of trail-breaking to do, but we cruised up a nice rut packed by a dozen people ahead of us. We caught up to the friendly Canadians just before the summit.

The snow started to fall just as we started back down. By the time we got back to Bellingham, snow was starting to stick to the road and it was apparent that Bellingham would be included in this wave of the February snow event. The second crux of the trip was Matt, Carla, and Elle making it back to Seattle before the roads locked up again. Snow was falling and Seattle had just broken through its highest February snowfall since the Blizzard of 1916, with more snow and more February to come.

The following page gives a short trip report for the adventure. 


gpx file
GPS track.
(GAIA map screenshot)
GPS track.
(Google Earth screenshot)
GPS track.

Round trip TH to summit, GPS track: 11.3 mi;  +/- 3,950 ft
~6 hours 15 minutes (5 hours moving time, 1 hour 15 minutes stopped time)


Excelsior Pass trailhead. There was a thin layer of snow on the trail for the first few miles. It became deep enough for snowshoes around 3,900 feet.
We put on snowshoes around 3,900 feet. It looks bright and sunny in the photo, but in the hour after this photo was taken as we slogged upward through the forest, clouds moved in as the forecasted afternoon snow approached.
Slogging up through the forest. Thanks to a group of a dozen Canadians ahead of us, we cruised up a well-packed rut.
The slopes open up about 500 feet below the summit.
We made a few strategic pauses as we started to catch up to the Canadians breaking trail ahead of us.
Light and shadow.
A pair of snowmobilers on the ridge below the summit.
Looking up towards the summit. The Canadian party is almost at the top.
Ascending the summit slopes.
A party on the summit! 
Summit photo: Magenta, Lime, Red, and Blue. (Steph, Elle, Matt, and Carla.)
Izzy on the summit. Mount Baker is hiding behind the clouds.
A view along Excelsior Ridge to the west.
A view along Excelsior Ridge to the east as we began our descent. Tomyhoi is in the distance.
Izzy explaining to us her method to staying warm in the "teen-degree" temps. "No problem, just put your hands on the snow, sink your fingernails in, and vigorously dig! And don't forget to stop to take a bite of snow every once and awhile - it's super refreshing!"

Matt's trip report: http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?p=1149312