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Chasing Fire and Ice on the Artist Point Trail, Washington

Find alpine bliss halfway through this snowshoe beneath an active volcano in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

The icy crunch of my snowshoes ripples into the silence and then falls away. Another step, and my breath fogs before me in miniature echo of the gray clouds obscuring the valley below. Here on Artist Point, though, all is crystalline sunlight. Beyond the ridgeline, the hanging glaciers of Mt. Shuksan cling to ancient greenschist cliffs. Approaching a steep hillock, I flip up the heel risers of my snowshoes and dig in my poles, eager to see what view waits at the top. I’ve been climbing for a while, leaving the clouds behind as more and more peaks come into view on either side; now I’m at the crest at last. For the first time all morning I can see the looming, 10,781-foot dome of Mt. Baker, a wisp of steam rising from the crater. From my new high point, the horizon stretches to the bare, red-brown cliffs of American Border Peak, too steep for snow. On the lower slopes ancient cedars and firs crowd over the turquoise Nooksack River. The rest of the hike is wonderful, but this moment is perfection. Baker’s volcanic fire above, ice around and below, and a sea of peaks beyond them all, spilling north into Canada.

Trailhead Heather Meadows (past the ski lifts, at the end of the road) Season November to June Permit None Difficulty 2/5 Distance 4 miles