Mount Shuksan rises in the North Cascades just south of the Canadian border. It’s easily accessible by paved road 55 miles east of Bellingham, Wash., on State Route 542, the Mount Baker Highway. The last 24 miles, from the town of Glacier, has a National Forest Scenic Byway designation. The road winds along the North Fork Nooksack River and climbs to a 5,000-foot elevation at Heather Meadows. This subalpine setting includes several small lakes, a picnic area, visitors center and well-maintained hiking trails. In the winter, it’s a popular developed ski area. From these meadows and Artist Point, a few miles farther, there are excellent views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, including Mount Baker (10,778 feet) and Mount Shuksan (9,131 feet).
This location has had the distinction of measuring the most snowfall during a winter season in the 48 contiguous states.
The State Highway Department has modern equipment and does an excellent job clearing the road, but there are times from November to April when tire chains are necessary. The snow on the ground usually lasts until July 1. Almost all of this precipitation falls from October to June, so there are many clear days during the summer and early autumn.
Mount Shuksan is the most photographed mountain in Washington and perhaps the United States. The typical calendar view is from the short, paved trail around Picture Lake in Heather Meadows. Here, it’s possible to have an alpine lake in the foreground, beautiful evergreen trees in the middle ground and picturesque Mount Shuksan in the background. On calm days, there’s a mirror reflection of the mountain in Picture Lake. A 35mm wide-angle lens is necessary to capture the whole view. To get maximum depth of field and for everything to be in focus, a steady tripod is essential. Don’t forget your polarizer. Close-up equipment is needed for details in the wildflowers. During the summer and early fall, Mount Baker is prominent from Artist Point. There are short trails leading to view points of this mountain and surrounding peaks and valleys.
The sun doesn’t light the face of Mount Shuksan until late morning, so the best time of day for photography is noon or later. Summer brings wildflowers, clear days, blue skies and remnants of snow. In the fall, the huckleberry leaves turn red, so the very best time of the year is the first week of October. Winter photography is a little more challenging. There are fewer clear days and the sun is lower in the sky. The best time is around noon on a clear day right after a snowstorm. Snowshoes or skis are needed to get to the same location.
Contact: The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, (800) 627-0062, www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs/.
Sometimes it’s just too difficult to cart a heavy tripod into the wilderness. An ultralight tripod is an ideal solution. Carbon-fiber tripods, Gitzo’s basalt models, and hybrids such as the Manfrotto MagFiber and Slik AMT (aluminum-magnesium-titanium) models provide light weight and sturdiness. Make sure a potential tripod purchase will let you mount the camera as high and as low as you’ll want it. Tripods that allow you to adjust each leg’s angle independently are handy on uneven terrain.