Route: Excelsior Pass Trail (snowshoe)

TR #: 241

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

Partners: Don Beavon, Matt Burton, Ira Rushwald, Carla Schauble 

Gorgeous winter day in the Cascades.


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.