Photos from this trip can be found here.
There was ample parking at the Excelsior Pass Trailhead off Highway 542 as we were the only ones there. I was a little concerned about snow conditions in higher elevation since it was already warm with our usual post 9 AM late start. This being the grizzly country, I armed myself with bear spray and bear bells, with pups on leash by my side the entire time until we were well above the tree line.
Trail was nicely maintained with long switchbacks to offset the elevation gain, so I could see it being a day hikers paradise in the summer. Snow patches started showing up around 3800′ and trail was fully covered just past the switchback. Since I was already punching through, I decided to put on snowshoes at 3840′ and followed some faint tracks up to the clearing before heading back into the forest for firmer snow. There I was able to go straight up on good snow and bypass summer trail, which I had stopped trying to follow at some point. Snowshoes were very much needed on this trip as the snow was melting out fast with the warm weather.
Over the next thousand feet of elevation gain I saw more faint tracks left by different groups heading in various directions. It was easier to just make my own track while meandering through moderate to steep terrain until we were out of the trees at 5000′, just about where summer trail would normally veer left toward Excelsior Pass. Pups and I stayed straight and attained south shoulder of Excelsior Peak at 5400′ and took the steep south slopes to the summit instead. Up until this point, since we were mostly in the forest
there hadn’t been much to see. So when the dominating views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan began to play out above the tree line, I couldn’t help but to make many frequent stops for photos as we made our way up the last 300 feet to the top.
Summit was treeless and with all-around breathtaking views, not only to the south and east, but also views of Canadian mountains north of the border, which was only under five miles away. Seeing that it was still early, I decided to take a side trip and trek a little over a mile to Peak 5930 on the east to get a closer look at the eastern peaks. We stayed on the ridge most of the time alongside snowmobile tracks, and occasionally went back into trees when cornices were spotted. There were lots trees on the summit, so to get a clear view we traversed all the way to the east end just as the the elevation began to drop. Views there just as impressive and I got a closer look of many of my bucket list peaks.
On the way back we followed our tracks to just before the saddle east of Excelsior Peak and then dropped into the basin while staying high enough to reconnect with our tracks back on the south shoulder. It had gotten pretty hot by now, surprisingly it wasn’t too terribly annoying to snowshoe in albeit slushy. Back in the forest I noticed boot prints in my snowshoe tracks, looked like the person had turned around from postholing
too much and too deep.