Yellow Aster Butte and Beyond
When you ask hikers about their 5 favorite overnight trips in the North Cascades, Yellow Aster Butte often makes the list. And rightly so. At the end of the trail there is a plateau speckled with beautiful turquoise tarns in which the surrounding peaks reflect. An idyllic place to pitch a tent. To get there you will walk through wildflower gardens in the summer or if you came later in the year you will be surrounded by vibrant fall foliage and a harvest of sweet blueberries
Sharing a start with Tomyhoi Lake trail, the path crosses brushy avalanche slope and then disappears into old-growth forest. The initial steepness eases and in about 1.4 miles you will walk out of the forest into a basin bursting with berry patches. From here Tomyhoi Lake trail continues its NW course. For Yellow Aster Butte turn left and proceed on a fairly level terrain around the basin. On a clear day you will catch your first glimpse of Mt. Shuksan here and soon Mt. Baker also comes to view. The climb steepens some as the trail rounds Yellow Aster’s south shoulder. Berries are in abundance along this part of the trail and bears can often be seen here during berry season.
At 3.5 miles you will reach another junction and face a choice of climbing steep 400 feet to a rounded south summit of yellow Aster Butte (from there narrow boot path traverses a saddle to a rocky knob of the higher north summit), or exploring the plateau below. Both can be achieved in a day hike but I assure you, you will want to linger.
We have visited Yellow Aster Butte many times before but this was our first backpacking venture to the area. With a destination set past the plateau where climber’s path continues towards Tomyhoi Peak, we descend the steep brushy switchbacks towards the tarns and cross the broad rocky expanse. We aim for the southeast ridge at the end of the meadow which lets us re-gain elevation quickly and then gain some more as the trail meanders along the ridge. The views are generous and include both American and Canadian Border Peaks and Mt. Larabee.
An ideal site presents itself close to a high point at around 6300 feet. It’s on a flat area with sweeping views of endless peaks, partially covered behind a cluster of trees for privacy. From there we set out to explore the faint boot path still climbing up towards Tomyhoi. I have no intention of actually climbing this exposed class 3 summit but I am curious to see how far along the climbers path my fear of heights lets me go.
After gaining the high point the trail descents quickly to a notch in the ridge before going up again on the other side. Little bit of scrambling is necessary to climb out of the notch. It’s not difficult but it’s enough to trigger my anxiety. Walking north little further we call it a day at another high point. The route continues on a terrain I do not find too inviting after this southern false summit. And even if the route was easier, the evening is upon us and my stomach starts asking for food. It’s time to return to camp, cook dinner and enjoy the sunset.
Hiked: 9/27/2014 – 9/28/2014
Distance: 13 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,066 ft
DIRECTIONS: From Bellingham follow the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542) east for 34 miles to the Glacier Public Service Center. Continue east another 13 miles, turning left onto Forest Road 3065 (signed “Twin Lakes Road”; the turnoff is just beyond the Department of Transportation’s Shuksan garage). Immediately bear left at an unmarked junction and continue on FR 3065 for 4.5 miles to the trailhead located at a sharp switchback with tight parking (elev. 3600 ft).