Yellow Aster Butte — Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010
Left Seattle at 6am and found gravel road on north side of Fire Station at 9am. 5 mile ascent on bumpy gravel road to trail-head - nice to be travelling uphill in car. Out of car and scanned above with binoculars, for signs of wildlife - spotted what looked like an elk or deer? grazing at base of rock face directly above. Neat to see wildlife right away. Chilly outside - 38 degrees. Started hike at 9:20. Trail starts off with couple switchbacks then heads north west through evergreen forest. First 45 min was quite steep and I had to remove a couple layers of clothing along the way. Trail leveled out and opened up for bit, lots of frost around. Climbed again for 20min to Tomyhoi Junction. Plenty of warm sunshine as the trail flattened out and curved west around a basin. Foliage is amazing at this time of year - lots of berries around, saw few marmots near trail and snapped many pictures. The most difficult portion of the trail was behind me. The trail meanders around a few basins - mostly flat, occasionally up and occasionally down and there are stunning views of Mt Baker and Mt Shukshan along the way. Lots of places to stop and have a bite to eat. Continued onwards and after a short ascent up a ridge, I arrived at a plateau above the tarns(total hiking time 2hrs 15min). Perfect place for lunch. Numerous tarns below, large meadows with a gazillion berry patches and clear views of Mt Baker, Mt Shukshan, Mt Baker ski area, Mt Tomyhoi. No bugs, no wind and plenty sunshine. I considered dropping my pack and wandering down to the tarns and exploring a little bit. The trail up Tomyhoi peak was also appealing but that looked like it would take at least another hour. Maybe another day. I heard a very strange, loud sound that I thought was a few hundred yards away - almost like a tree falling or something, but there was no wind whatsoever. It was a sound I hadn't heard before, so I took out my binoculars and started to scan the meadows below and beyond. I thought maybe there were some people camping nearby but I couldn't see any signs. Then I put my binoculars down and continued to scan the horizon and shortly afterwards I noticed two large shadows moving in a berry patch about a 100 yards beyond the tarns. I took my binoculars out and spotted a very large mama bear with a cub. She wasn't a black bear from what I could see - she was lighter in color, almost greyish on top and massive in size. The cub was darker in color and about 1/3rd the size. They appeared to be eating berries just west of the start of the trail heading up Tomyhoi peak. My heart was beating a little faster now - first time I had ever seen a mama bear and a cub out in the mountains. Being a little too close for my comfort, I stood up and very quietly put my pack back on and headed back down the trail. Thank god for having brought binoculars I thought. The meadows surrounding the tarns are vast and I was fortunate I didn't leave my pack and wander down there, on my own. My heart was racing, thinking about what could have happened. About a 1/4 mile along my descent I saw a couple other hikers and told them to keep an eye out when they arrived at the tarns. I was able to relax now knowing there were people between me and the bears. Saw many more hikers(all ages) along the way and a trio of border patrol guards in full combat garb. This was one of the best hikes I had even been on. Lots of sunshine, no humidity, relatively short(3.45hrs round trip) no bugs, berries galore, impressive fall foliage, occasional marmots, magnificent and unobstructed views of Baker and Shukshan and to see a mama bear with a cub just off in the distance. Wish I had taken a picture of the bears but will never forget seeing them up close, in my view-finder. Will be taking bear spray with me next time.