Day hike or backpack to get stunningly close to the east side of Mount Baker. The way is rocky from start to finish, lined with lupine and sedges, and patches of blueberries. There is very little shade. Total elevation gain is moderate, but the mile-high altitude can be a factor if you are not acclimatized.
From the northwest corner of the large parking lot at Artist Point, start out on the Chain Lakes Trail. At 1.1 miles is a junction. Go straight to start on the Ptarmigan Ridge trail. Crest over a ridge then drop 200 feet (now lower than the parking lot), to pass below a rugged rock face, then reattain the ridge on the far side.
Contour below the ridge top on the southeast side, climbing gently for half a mile, through a talus slope that often holds snow late into the season. At 2.9 miles, crest over the ridge at 5630 feet and change directions from southeast to due west. Weather permitting, Coleman Pinnacle and Mount Baker dominate the view to the west. The visible trail shows a continuing gentle ascent.
Pass beneath Coleman Pinnacle on slopes that usually retain snow patches late into the season, arriving at a junction 3.8 miles from the trailhead and at 5950 feet. The views here are fantastic, making this a popular resting spot and the destination for many day hikers.
To the south is beautiful green Goat Lake. The large plateau leading to the lake offers camping when water is available. But the trail down (once melted out) is loose, gravelly, and treacherous for the first 500 feet.
Should you go further? From here, the trail changes abruptly, both in direction and in character. It turns right, getting narrower and steeper as it climbs quickly to 6100 feet. Then it drops slightly over the next half mile, passing nondescript Camp Kiser along the way.
You can glimpse The Portals, the prominent rock formations known to climbers of Mount Baker’s northeast side, and access for the Park Glacier climbing route. At 4.5 miles and 5970 feet is a plateau suitable for camping, and what maps show as the end of the trail.
Beyond the plateau, a primitive boot trail continues up the rocky hill: East Peak (also known as The Portals East). It does not lead to climbing routes, but rather climbs above them to 6500 feet over 1.1 miles, fanning out into numerous social trails before dead-ending at a precipice with sheer drops. The up-close views are outstanding, but the path requires route-finding skills and possibly mountaineering experience (depending on snow conditions). Each hiker must decide where their stopping point is, before returning the way them came.
Note: The term “The Portals” is used to identify the rock formations flanking the climbers’ route. But they are also known by various names and compass directions, such as “West Portal” or “The Portals South” or “Portals East Peak”.
There are some camping restrictions here. All campers must be at least 1 mile from junction with Chain Lakes Trail May 15- November 14.