Escaping into the mountains, there’s nothing quite like it. And certainly there is no more unique experience than being there to witness the weather patterns that create these landscapes which are such a big part of the Pacific Northwest.

On a recent outing to Artist Point at Mt. Baker, the forecast initially called for a 70% chance of cloud cover, 10% chance of precipitation, and partly sunny skies.  I am a photographer and these sorts of things matter to me. What we arrived to find was the bluest sky one could imagine, with only a few lazy puffy clouds lingering on the American-Canadian border peaks to the north.  The clouds weren’t moving, the sun was shining and wind was non-existant.  So it was that we began our snowshoe up to Artist Point.  Due to an increased avalanche condition, we kept away from the summer roadway route that is a more gentle grade.  We made our way up a short but steeper tree encrusted snow slope in order to avoid the notorious avalanche zone below the Artist Point parking lot.  As we crested the slope we came out to find a line of clouds hovering behind the tip of the peak of Mt. Baker.  Nearby Table Mountain also had a line of clouds behind it, and so we discussed what we would do and at what point we would turn back to avoid a white out should the snow arrive.

As we arrived at Artist Point the clouds remained where they were, hovering off in the distance, seemingly leaving a great “hole” to the east of Baker (our present location) and failing to engulf the peak.  Mt. Baker was beaming in all her glory, a vast snow covered temple and shrine to the beauty of the Cascades in graced in winter snow.

Eye of the Storm ©Orion Ahrensfeld

As we split up and walked the ridge lines, photographing the ever changing weather, I arrived at Huntoon Point, a highpoint with 360 degree views of both Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan.  Hovering ominously to the southeast of Baker was a large cloud in the shape of a thunderhead.  Further to the south, near the peaks surrounding the Glacier Peak Wilderness, distant thunderheads loomed: a wispy haze of snow and rain coming down from them occasionally.  As the larger thunderhead moved in toward Baker, it began to drop snow on the peak.  As the haze of snow began to engulf Baker I made the decision to head back to meet up with my snowshoe partner to discuss what we should do next.

Snowfall ©Orion Ahrensfeld

By the time I reached him, the snow haze had blocked Baker completely, and yet the haze was very localized.  We looked at the clouds hovering to the north behind Table Mountain. They remained as before, off in the distance and failing to move in.  Blue sky continued to surround us.

We made the decision to stay and see what the thunderhead would do.  This would make for some interesting photo ops. Baker cleared, the cloud, seemingly spent, began to break apart, while the white orb of the sun broke through the top portion of the cloud.  Half an hour passed and the cloud disappeared, revealing clear blue sky and full sun once again.  Nearby a second cloud had appeared over Mt. Shuksan, but this one was headed east and was of little concern.  As we hiked the ridge line and the sun fell lower we began planning our photography points for the impending sunset.  As we hiked the snowfields a curious thing landed on my camera.  A tiny snowflake landed on the screen, and then another, and another.  I looked around, looking for the tree that was surely dropping snow on me. But trees were not the source.  Snow was falling from above.  The cloud that had hovered over Shuksan suddenly veered over us and was dropping small light snowflakes all over the landscape.  The sun still shone and every flake was like a diamond in the golden-yellow light of pre-sunset.  The snow fell, gradually the cloud vanished, and all began to clear just in time for that perfect evening light.  By the time the sunset turned red upon the face of Mt. Shuksan, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Snow in Sun ©Orion Ahrensfeld

Only in the Cascades can a forecast for partly sunny yield “sunny” AND “snow showers” all in a single afternoon.  They say that the mountains make their own weather, and clearly, that was on full display at Mt. Baker that day.

Mt Baker Sunset ©Orion Ahrensfeld

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