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Mount Baker — Jul 28, 2006 — Norm Baullinger
Day hike
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Mt Baker Summit Trip, July 28-31, 2006 By Norm Baullinger I’ve been backpacking now for 15 year...

Mt Baker Summit Trip, July 28-31, 2006

By Norm Baullinger

I’ve been backpacking now for 15 years or so, hiking the length of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington. I climbed Mt Rainier when I was 50 years old, climbed Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, Cotopaxi in Ecuador, and I have been to Mt. Everest Base Camp and almost summited Aconcauga in Argentina but I haven’t climbed Mt. Adams or Mt. Baker here where I live in Washington. This summer my goal was to summit these latter two mountains before I get too old to climb as I’m almost 64 now. So with my climbing partner, Alan Caswell, we decided that 2006 was to be the year we do it.

We signed up with Mountain Madness to guide us and provide logistical support. As we are getting up in age and aren’t in the physical shape that most climbers are, we inserted a “high camp” into the usual climbing scenario. We tried this on Cotopaxi in February 2006 and it worked well. So even though these mountains are only about half the altitude of Cotopaxi, we decided that at our age trying to climb 4,000 ft. to 5,000 ft. on summit day per the usual climbing scenarios just didn’t make sense for us. Therefore, with the insertion of an extra day to make a high camp would leave us about 2,500 ft., plus or minus, to climb on summit day. For Mt. Baker, at 10,760 ft., this was to be about 8,000 ft. which would leave us just over 2,700 ft. on summit day.

The plan was to take four days verses the usual three days. From the trailhead, we were to hike up to the base camp area at about 5,800 ft. and camp overnight. This is where everyone leaves for their summit attempt, leaving about 5,000 ft. to climb on summit day. The next day, we would take it easy and hike farther up and establish our high camp. On day 3 we would do our summit attempt and return to our high camp. Then on day 4, we would hike all the way back out.

Our trip was planned for the end of July when according to over 100 years of weather records, it is the one weekend in the year least likely for a chance of rain, at an 8% probability. This is also the weekend that Mountain Madness had scheduled a “Slow Boat Summit Climb”, a four day summit attempt for beginners which would include some basic mountain skills instruction and would incorporate a high camp. The forecast was for cloudy mornings Fri and Sat (our day 1 & 2), then a chance of showers Sunday, our summit day, and partly cloudy with afternoon clearing Monday. Not a good outlook for our trip, the only weekend this whole summer with the potential for rain. Note, the week before, it was sunny and several high temperature records were set here in Seattle.

Day 1 –

We were to meet for pickup at an outdoor store in Ballard, Second Ascent. I arrived just before 7 AM, and met several other climbers. Mountain Madness had two groups going up that day, our group and another group that would do the usual three day climb scenario. It turned out that our group only had 3 people; myself, Al, and Tom McLaughlin from Los Alamos, New Mexico. Tom was about 62 years old, tall and lean and had done some trekking, most recently to Mt. Kilimanjaro, but had no real experience in mountain climbing on snow or the use of crampons, ice ax or climbing with a rope team. The point of meeting at Second Ascent was to do an equipment check and allow the purchase of any needed equipment or last minute items especially for beginner climbers and those flying in verses being local like Al and I were. Several of the clients had to purchase equipment including Tom who bought a pack and rented plastic boots, crampons, ice ax, sleeping bag, etc. We also met our guide, Casey Henley, and our three porters, Chris, Brandon and Jason. Chris was summer hire from Penn State. Brandon and Jason were interns from Pittsburg and were here for a few weeks learning about guiding as part of their college studies in outdoor recreation. We were fortunate as normally we would have only had one porter, but because Casey had these two interns, we had a total three porters plus Casey, a 4 to 3 ratio.

After outfitting everyone, we left the store about 9:30 AM with Chris driving the three of us. We arrived at the trailhead on Mt. Baker before noon and Casey prepared lunch for us using the back of his pickup truck as the table. The trailhead is located at about 3350 ft. according to my altimeter. The team sorted out all the camp gear, food, climbing equipment, and the porters loaded up. We left the trailhead about 12:30 PM.

The day was partly cloudy with blue sky appearing off and on through the clouds. The trail starts out through meadows before gradually entering more heavily woods and starting to climb through old rocky river beds. We had to cross a river on a single log, flattened on top and used as a bridge. The trail then switched back steeply up through the woods before breaking out on the edge of a large moraine. The moraine was several hundred feet deep and about a quarter of a mile across. This is where the glacier had carved out the deep channel before receding to its present location, near base camp. We hiked up along the edge of the moraine with the trail being only a few feet wide and right at the edge. The base camp area is located at the upper end of the moraine, just below the current snowfield at about 5,800 ft. Just before arriving at the base camp area, the clouds cleared and we had a beautiful view of the mountain and the Easton Glacier which would be our ascent route. We arrived at our camp about 5 PM, a 4 ½ hour hike from the trail head that included three rest stops. My altimeter showed 5850 ft. The other Mountain Madness group had arrived ahead of us and was already set up on a small ridge next to us. Our porters set up camp, two tents, the client tent and the Mountain Madness tent. We were next to two smaller tents, a small group of three from Alpine International. Dinner was Lipton Cup a Soup, soft shell tortillas followed by either hot chocolate, tea, or coffee with cookies for dessert. After dinner the Alpine International guide came over inquiring if we had another headlamp as one of his clients misplaced his and it didn’t come up with him. I had my mini-mag flashlight that I loaned him and they taped onto his clients helmet.

We went to bed just before dark. I slept in the middle of the three of us and was soon “blasted” on each side by of my tent mates. I never sleep well or at all during these trips and this trip was no exception. I usually listen to my radio during the night. A Seattle radio station replays the Mariners game beginning at midnight and I either listen to that or a Vancouver, B.C. news station. The weather report from Vancouver was about the same as for Seattle, cloudy with some clearing late Saturday and chance of rain Sunday. I heard the Alpine International group leave for the summit about 2:30 AM and then the other Mountain Madness group left just after 3 AM.

Day 2 –

After being told that we would get up at 6 AM the night before, it was about 7:30 by the time we finally did get up. After morning constitutionals, the park service had set up 3 box toilets with seats to use for the “heavier” waste, we had breakfast, hot chocolate, instant oatmeal, two packets each, and coffee or tea. We noted that the Alpine International people had returned as their gear was outside their tents. After breakfast, they got up and told us they didn’t make the summit. They had to turn around due to the clients getting too fatigued. A little later, the Mountain Madness group came back, They had reached the crater, about 9800 ft., and turned back due to two of the four climbers getting too fatigued. They only had one guide so the entire group had to turn back. They said the weather was clear with blue sky up above though it was cloudy down at base camp. I had noted that we had “gained” about 50 ft. on my altimeter that indicated that the atmospheric pressure was dropping slightly as we hadn’t moved. Lower pressure implies deteriorating weather.

We broke camp about 9:30 AM and climbed up to the snowfield about 500 ft. higher. There we removed our packs on an outcropping of rock and did some self arrest training on the snow field with and without ice ax and practiced different types of “steps”; standard, side step, box step, cross over, and duck. The sun came out and we had lunch; bagels, cheese, sliced pepperoni, olives, and sliced red peppers. After lunch, about 1 PM, we put on our harnesses, roped up and started the climb to our high camp. We had to climb a rather steep snowfield and then we were on top of the glacier. We could now see a long wall with great icefalls off to our right. On the way up we had to skirt several large crevasses and crossed over several smaller ones. Our camp was in a large, rather flat area on the top of a mound that was defined by an icefall with crevasses below it. No crevasses were in the immediate vicinity of our campsite but we still didn’t dare wander very far. It took us about four hours to make the climb from the practice area to camp. A previous group must have been there several days prior as there were already flat areas cleared for the tents and a kitchen area consisting of a large circular hole/trench a few feet deep with a bench carved out around the perimeter and a “table” in the center. I was surprised that our guide service didn’t bring a shovel as they knew we would have to camp on the snow. We did some leveling of the site by kicking snow and packing it down by foot. My altimeter showed 8200 ft. which would leave us just over 2500 ft. to climb to the summit, 10,760 ft.

It seemed like forever for them to make our dinner. While waiting for dinner we repacked our packs for the summit climb the next day. We took out every thing except what would be needed for the ascent and kept things like extra gloves, extra layers of clothing, our Gortex, snacks, etc. Dinner was a cup of Lipton soup, and for this night, what was referred to as chile. Chile may have been the basis, but it was more of a heavy stew with the addition of various vegetables like carrots, peppers as well as rice. However, it was quite tasty and every bit was consumed. By the end of dinner and hot chocolate, the clouds started to settle back in so we went to bed. We were given “blue bags” for bagging our solid waste as you are not supposed to leave any waste, human or otherwise, on the mountain. It was 8:30 PM.

Day 3 –

The plan was to get up about 3 AM this morning, Sunday, for the summit attempt. At 1:40 AM I had to get up for a bathroom run and it was so cloudy that you could hardly see the bathroom area which was less that 25 feet from our tent. About 2 AM I heard what sounded like someone dropping grains of sand on top of the tent. Snow. Shortly after, Tom had to get up and when he came back, he reported it was not

only cloudy, but snowing. Al’s alarm went off at 3 AM but all we could hear from the tent next door was snoring. We waited for a while listening for sounds of movement but nothing was stirring so we said if and when they are ready for us, they will let us know so it was back to sleep for those that could sleep. I was still listening to the Vancouver radio station and the forecast didn’t change; possible showers for Sunday.

The weather conditions hadn’t improved at all and we could still hear the snow hitting the tent and the wind flapping parts of the tent. Apparently Chris, our guide, had been getting up off and on during the night and after seeing the snow, wind, and lack of visibility, decided not to climb that day and to wait until Monday, day 4. I finally fell asleep about 4 AM and slept until 6 AM. Still no action from the other tent. We didn’t know of the change in plan until a porter brushed the snow off of our tent at about 8 AM. About 9 AM Tom had to go to the bathroom and he saw a team of about 10 coming back down. They had not summited and had turned around because of the weather. He said they didn’t look very happy. How they got this far in this weather I don’t know as you still couldn’t see much at all.

The porters had set up a stove in the vestibule of their tent as you couldn’t cook outside because of the blowing snow. It wasn’t until about 10:30 AM before Casey came around to hand out some breakfast bars. Shortly after they had melted enough snow and brought us hot water for hot chocolate or coffee and for instant oatmeal. After breakfast, it was just lay around and sleep or whatever you could do to occupy yourself. I was fortunate as I had brought paper and pencil along and I wrote up a few notes and I had the radio, ear buds only, so I could listen to it and get the news, weather and listen to the Mariners ball game. I did have a book but I didn’t have to resort to it. All in all, for me anyway, it was boring, but not all that bad. Lunch was at 1 PM with soft shell tortilla, sliced pepperoni, cheese and sliced red peppers and hot water for drinks. It was still snowing with 100 yards or so of visibility. Though it was cold enough to snow, it wasn’t all that cold in the tent and we were very comfortable.

It finally stopped snowing about 3 PM though the visibility had not improved and it was still windy outside. By this time everyone was getting sore from just laying there as our body heat was slowly melting depressions under us making the snow uneven and somewhat uncomfortable. Dinner was served about 5 PM, the usual cup of soup, pasta tortellini, and hot drinks with cookies for dessert. No significant change in weather. I got up for a bathroom run abut 8 PM and talked to our guide. The plan would be to get up about 2:30 AM, get ready and go for the summit. Then we would come back down, break camp and hike all the way out. This would be a very long day.

Day 4 –

Monday morning, I had been awake again most of the night and had been listening to the Vancouver radio station. They were still calling for cloudy in the morning with possible clearing in the afternoon, the same as the Seattle stations. I wasn’t very confident we would go today. As the night wore on, the time between wind gusts was getting longer and the gusts were not as heavy.

I was listening to the radio and they would give the time, 2:11 AM, 2:18 AM, 2:29 AM, 2:33 AM…… no stirring from the tent next door. I wondered if this was going to be a repeat of the previous day. Finally about 3 AM I heard one of the porters get up and walk by our tent and I asked him if we were going today. He said yes, that it was clear and not windy and that they would be by with hot water in a while. It must have been about 3:30 AM when we got hot water for hot chocolate or coffee and instant oatmeal. It took us at least an hour and a half to eat, get dressed, get the pack ready, and harness and crampons on. I had three layers of clothes on my lower body, long underwear, my nylon hiking pants, and my soft shell over-pants and then gaiters on the lower legs. On my upper body, I had a mesh tee shirt, a nylon long sleeve underwear shirt, a wool shirt and my soft shell jacket. We finally left camp at 5:20 AM with clear sky above but a cloud layer below. We had two rope teams, one with Casey and the three of us and the other with the three porters. It was light enough that we didn’t need our headlamps. It promised to be a perfect day for climbing.

There was anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of new snow on most of the old snow. Enough to cover any old tracks but not enough to hide any crevasses. The climb started gradually and got steeper and we went up. The pace was slow which was good for us old guys. We had to skirt some crevasses and stepped over a few smaller ones. With that slow but steady pace, we reached the crater rim, about 9,800 ft., at 7:30 AM and took a break. This is the lower part of the crater rim and off to our left you could see the rock walls and edges of the rim as it rose up above us another 1000 ft. We unhooked form the rope and climbed the short distance to the crater rim. On the way up you could get whiffs of sulfur, see steam plums coming out of the crater and start to hear a loud noise. Here right at the crater rim, you could look right into the vent and you could really smell the sulfur and hear the loud rushing noise of steam coming out of a large, 20 ft. to 30 ft. across, vent.

After our break at the crater rim, our next challenge was what they refer to as the headwall, a couple of hundred feet above us around the side of the exposed rock crater wall. This is a rather steep section a hundred feet or so high that doesn’t have much purchase room for steps. Any steeper and one would have to consider ropes to assist in the climb. This was the most challenging

part of the entire climb but once over it, it the grade was reduced considerably and eventually flatten out for several hundred yards until just before the small hump that was the true summit. It took us another 1 ½ hours, until 9:30 AM, to reach the true summit. We un-roped on the flat part, just below the final 50 ft. or so, and easily walked up to the top. The top was not very large, maybe 30 ft. in diameter, and was exposed crushed rock. We signed the log book that was at the top in a metal box, had some cheese sticks, pepperoni sausage sticks and beer. Yes, we carried up two cans of Coors to enjoy on the top and it tasted soooo good.

We spent about an hour on top, admiring the views, eating and taking pictures. There was a solid cloud cover below at about six or seven thousand feet so you couldn’t see much below. However, you could see the tops of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and out to the San Jaun Islands and many peaks within the North Cascade range. As the cloud cover seemed to be slowly rising since we started, we roped back up and were headed back down by 10:30 AM. The descent was basically un-eventful except that now the snow had softened enough that those without anti-balling plates on the bottom of their crampons were having trouble due to snow sticking to their crampons. This made them about useless as well as hard to keep your balance when you stepped. Fortunately I had bought new boots and my old crampons wouldn’t fit them so I had new crampons with the anti-balling plates. They really worked well and I had very little problems with the snow sticking to my crampons. Al had old crampons and he had the worst problem of anyone.

Descending the headwall was a real challenge again. Tom slipped and slid the last ten feet or so, so when I came down to that point, I turned around and front pointed down the last ten feet, which by now hadn’t any foot holds/steps left, using my ice ax to hold onto as I made each step. This worked really well. Al followed me and did the same. The rest of the way down was just walking. All the way down the sun was out and everyone was really hot.

As we came over the last rise before our camp, the clouds were just starting to engulf it and it almost disappeared from sight.

By now we, the clients, were getting tired. The porters melted some more snow for water and while tearing down the camp, we repacked everything, sleeping bags, clothes, and personal gear including our blue bags. I was so hot that I stripped back down to my short underwear and tee shirt and just put on my light nylon pants. It took us 1 ½ hours to re-pack and

get ready to go down so it was 2:30 PM by the we left high camp. By now the clouds had fully enveloped us and visibility was back down to a 100 yards or less. It took a little while for Casey to figure out which way to go as we were on top on that large mound that ended in an ice fall with crevasses around to the side and below that we had to navigate around. You could not see them from where we were. Going down was slow because of the lack of visibility but Casey was able to navigate us safely through the hazards by either following some old tracks that didn’t get covered, finding wands that marked the route and some of the hazards that were left from previous climbers, and his memory as he had been up there the previous week. At about 6,000 ft. the clouds began to thin so visibility improved. Now the only problem we had was the balling of snow under crampons which forced us to go slow, and we were getting tired so we had to be careful. Al was continuing to have a difficult time due to snow balling up under his crampons.

Earlier I had felt a slight “twitching” in my upper leg muscle and about three quarters of the way down between our high camp and the base camp, I got a cramp in back of my right leg. This hurt enough that I had to stop and rest. I drank the rest of my water as muscle cramps are mainly due to lack of water and electrolytes. By now I had consumed the liter of water we were given at high camp. Al gave me some of his Gatorade that he had left and Casey gave me some Emergen –C electrolyte powder that he mixed with some water. I managed to slowly walk and after a short time I seemed to have basically “walked” it off by the time we reached base camp. Just before base camp, we were off the glacier so we were able to remove our harnesses and crampons. This really helped, especially for Al. There were still a lot of tents in the base camp area and we could see equipment outside them but we didn’t see any people. This was about 5 PM so it took us 2 ½ hours to descend from our high camp to base camp.

From there the walking became easier though not all that fast as my big toes were now beginning to hurt some and Tom had stiff plastic boots so neither of us could walk too fast. My leg cramp seemed to have gone away so though I was tired and my toes hurting, I was still doing ok.

We descended the long ridge along the long moraine and just where we turned off of it, the porters, who were ahead of us, had just finishing rescuing a man and a dog from the deep moraine. Apparently the dog had been bounding up the trail leading to edge and literally didn’t stop at the edge and went right over. The wall was so steep and of very poor soil, rock and mud, that the dog couldn’t get back up so the man went over the edge and then he couldn’t get back up. Our porters tied some knots in a rope, laid down their ice ax on the edge so the rope wouldn’t cut into the soil and the three of them managed to pull the man holding onto the dog up. If they hadn’t come along, the only way out was a long hike back down the moraine. Because of the poor soil that formed the steep wall, the man was very lucky not to have had a rock fall on him as he went over the edge and was trying to climb back up. Message to people;, if you take your dog out hiking with you, keep it on a leash.

The rest of the hike back down to the trail head was uneventful. My leg cramped up about a mile from the end but I was able to slowly walk it off. We reached the trailhead about 7:30 PM, very tired and sore but feeling good for what we three old men accomplished. Apparently, we were the only team to have summited in the past 4 or 5 days. Making a high camp to minimize the vertical distance one has to climb on summit day seems like a real good strategy to increase your success. Al and I are signed up to climb Mt. Adams in mid August using the same strategy.

Norm Baullinger

August 1, 2006

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Mount Baker — Mar 23, 2005 — Just a skier
Day hike
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I decided, upon a bit of coaxing, that today would be a good day to take a vacation day and back-co...

I decided, upon a bit of coaxing, that today would be a good day to take a vacation day and back-country ski at Mt Baker.

What an incredibly good decision.

The weather and views were splendid. The snow was forgiving even if my technique (loosely used) was not the best. It has been a limited back-country year for me but it was a great day nonetheless.

Headed out of the ski area skipping sections of the road and headed around Table Mountain clockwise and then up toward Coleman Pinnacle.

Friends did yo-yo-ing, while I just enjoyed the day. There was a bit of a breeze but it was fine anyway.

Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan

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Mount Baker — Jun 07, 2003 — PLC
Day hike
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Did the Coleman-Demming route, car to car in a little less than 12 hours, including a 1 hour quick ...

Did the Coleman-Demming route, car to car in a little less than 12 hours, including a 1 hour quick instruction in crevasse rescue for my climbing partner. Weather was perfect, if a little hot. Snow is consolidated and made for great, easy walking. Trail is snow free all the way to the turn off for the hogback moraine. Basically, perfect conditions - go now.

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Mount Baker — May 11, 2001 — Turner's Dad
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Parked about a mile short of the Heliotrope Ridge trail head on this pretty Friday afternoon for a ...

Parked about a mile short of the Heliotrope Ridge trail head on this pretty Friday afternoon for a walk up the trail. Snow coverage grows to a foot or more by the time the trail head is reached but is spotty and melting out on the trail for the first mile or so. Snow bridges are still good but a couple of them made you want to feel light on your feet thinking of the cold rushing water dancing merrily under the warming snow. Only two other fellows camped at the top of the moraine but a boot track leading on up tempted us to follow up. up. up rather than break a trail by our lonesome early in the am.

Following easily up behind the two worthy souls postholing our path we briefly volunteered to break trail to the flats below the Black Buttes for a delightful bivy out. Despite at times the gusty wind it was a warm and pleasent 0300 start that met us with starlight on the snowfields below Mt Baker. Walking by bright starlight and watching the morning light in this quiet of early day is a pleasureable thing and only the gentle sound of the swish of the rope on the snow disturbed the morning quiet.

We slowly moved our way easily up the Coleman Glacier disturbed only by the croak of a raven and ..... a rather impressive ice cliff/serac fall spreading truck size ice cubes over our path about fifteen minutes before getting to that point...

Despite the ravens discussion of our course we stumbled on and joined the ravens for a lucubration of the human condition at the summit. I allowed that I would refrain from sharing their delineation of our condition and we shared a repast before decending back to the green world from which we all live.

a good time being out

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Mount Baker — Jun 16, 2000 — Rich & Brian
Day hike
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Left park lot 3700ft @6pm Friday. hike to 5900 ft for camp. some snow on trail. full snow at 4500ft...

Left park lot 3700ft @6pm Friday. hike to 5900 ft for camp. some snow on trail. full snow at 4500ft. good route estab to top via the heliotrope/coleman/roman_wall route. no snow bridge probs yet. left tent @ 7:30--summit at noon saturday. soft till 10k ft. crampons required to proceed above 10k. very soft (like knee deep) coming down that late on flats (temp 77 in seattle that day). probably 40 folks on route (not bad for baker). no running water above creek crossing on inbound trail at approx mile 2. great day. great views

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Mount Baker — Jun 06, 1998 — Richard Hall
Day hike
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The road up to Heliotrope Ridge trailhead is drivable, but full of potholes with lots of blind corn...

The road up to Heliotrope
Ridge trailhead is drivable, but full of potholes with lots of blind corners. We were nearly hit twice while driving to the trailhead. Slow down on that road! The Heliotrope Ridge trail was a bit muddy, with one river crossing and only a few snow patches until near treeline (about 4500 ft). The crevasses are barely visible up to the Black Buttes and not a problem - yet. We roped up at the top of the ridge ""just in case"". The snow was frozen fairly solidly in the early AM, with crampons being preferred by most climbers. The crevasses on the Coleman-Deming route are still fairly narrow and were not much of a problem. The largest we had to cross was about 2 feet wide, with all the others being a foot or less wide. The snow conditions deteriorate quite substantially in the late morning and become slushy in the afternoon. The weather was clear and cold on the summit - and very crowded! There must have been 250 people climbing that route that weekend! It rained on us once we entered the trees below the ridge, making it even more humid. All in all a good, average early season climb!

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North Cascades -- Mount Baker Highway

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