Mt. Baker's Artist Point by Bike
When the season's first snowfall closes your route a day before the ride, you go anyway
Canon 5D Mk II + 50mm 1.8
words and photography by Andy Bokanev
"You boys wanna get in here before we get started?" the old man pointed to the bathroom next to our parking spot in the tiny roadside town of Glacier, WA. With my winter bibs still only half on, trying to balance my bare feet on my boots to avoid stepping on the cold wet ground, the best I could muster was a "started on what?" under my breath. “You guys heading up the mountain?" he continued. The answer was yes, we were. He proceeded to tell us that the gate on the road up to Artist Point was closed as of the season's first snowfall, which landed just a few days prior, just about the same time we’d decided to ride was a good idea in the first place. This was not a surprise. I’d been religiously checking the WSDOT website, keeping an eye on Highway SR 542 snow conditions, and as luck would have it, the final few miles of the climb up to Artist Point had finally closed the day before we were to make our ascent.
During the 1998-99 season Mt. Baker saw 1,140 inches of snowfall—that's 95 feet, or 29 meters—earning a world record for greatest recorded snowfall in a year. On the other hand, this year marked the longest period of time that Artist Point was open for the non-winter season (115 days). So we figured, what’s a little bit of snow and one closed gate, anyway?
Once en route, barely any car traffic, cool temperatures, beautiful morning light piercing the mist between the trees and a wide open road made the the climb up to the snow line quiet and enjoyable. And then we finally arrived to the gate. ROAD CLOSED. We stopped, thought about it for a few seconds, shrugged, and continued on past the gate. Up to this point we had been pointing out the tiny patches of snow on the side of the road like a couple of kids excited about the first snow day. As soon as we passed through the gate though, the snow started covering not only the sides of the road but much of the pavement too.
A single pair of tire tracks provided a reference to the location and direction of the road. With every foot in elevation gained we seemed to lose more and more pavement to snow until the tire tracks turned to semi slushy patches of compacted snow which made remounting and restarting uphill a challenge. But this was not a time to quit. We were too close to the top to give up and besides, we had bourbon to drink. Pushing aside a few floating thoughts that maybe we had gone far enough, and that coming down the same snowy road is going to be super sketchy, we continued on. And we made it. And we had bourbon. And we celebrated that our bikes carried us 99% of the way to the top (we carried the bikes the other 1%). And then we headed back down.