Excelsior Peak

November 20, 2022


Mt. Baker Highway, WA

“Excelsior Peak” is the bump immediately next to Excelsior Pass accessed via a well-maintained trail off Mt. Baker Highway. This is a popular 4-season destination for hikers, but I was never too keen as I didn’t like the unofficial name combined with the lack of prominence (under 100 m). I came up with a solution that if I could extend this hike about 2 km along the High Divide to the higher unnamed peak that actually boasts over 100 m prominence I could then safely claim this “Excelsior Peak” to be a legit summit. This hike had become trendy recently on Social Media. I knew from more than a couple recent trip reports that the trail had been packed down to the summit, but the extension to the higher unnamed summit would likely still require snowshoes.

Shayan and I initially made the plan to hike “Excelsior Peak” on Sunday but a couple days later the group had grown to as big as 7. Three of them dropped out at the last minute so it was only Shayan, Nikita, Kostya and myself heading to the States in the end. We carpooled out of Kostya’s home in his Tesla and made efficient work to Abbotsford. Getting McDonald’s turned out to be a slow show but the border crossing very fluent. We eventually made to the trail-head at around 7:30 am. The temperature was frigid (-4 C) so I added some extra layers in, which turned out to be a mistake as the coldness was due to inversion. The temperature in the alpine was actually not that cold.

Excelsior Peak and extension on High Divide. GPX DL

The starting elevation was under 600 m and the treeline zone was at 1600 m so we had to grunt 1000 m up the never-ending forest. The view was non-existing so we really needed to talk to each other to kill the boredness. After over an hour’s slog we started to encounter snow and ice at around 1200 m elevation and made a subsequent transition to put the microspikes on. I don’t use the spikes often but I had to admit that they definitely made the ascent easier. The trail was rather a sheet of ice for a short stretch but transitioned to continuous snow higher up.

Entering Mt. Baker wilderness..
Shayan charging up the relentless trail
Nikita and Kostya coming up. Note the snow on the ground now.
The snow’s soon become continuous
Nikita plodding up the snow covered Excelsior Pass trail
We came out of the trees abruptly

At around the treeline Shayan bolted ahead towards Excelsior Pass while the three of us stayed behind taking our time. There came a steep traverse across the SW slopes of “Excelsior Peak” which could impose avalanche problems later in the season. On this particular day the avalanche was not a concern. We regrouped at the pass and took a short break before bootpacking eastwards to the summit. The ridge ascent was straightforward and with a packed track the snowshoes stayed strapped to the backpacks. The actual summit of “Excelsior Peak” offers better view than from the higher unnamed peak, so we lingered here for quite a while to take pictures.

Nikita traversing across that steep slope under Excelsior Peak’s SW Slopes
From the middle of that traverse, looking back towards Mt. Baker
Shayan plodding onto Excelsior Pass
Shayan charging up the west ridge of Excelsior Peak
Looking north towards Canyon Ridge and Liumchen Mountain
Summit Panorama from Excelsior Peak. Click to view large size.
Me on the summit of Excelsior Peak with the higher unnamed peak behind
The south face of Mt. McGuire in Canada
A closer look at Mt. Baker with Colfax Peak and Lincoln Peak to the right
Nikita on the summit of Excelsior Peak with Tomyhoi Peak behind
Me taking in the view with Mt. Baker behind
Our group shot on the summit of Excelsior Peak, with Mt. Shuksan behind

We decided to leave the summit as soon as the other people showed up. The microspikes were then swapped for snowshoes. The boot/snowshoe tracks seemed to continue towards the direction we wanted but they stopped about halfway across this connecting ridge. There was substantial amount of up-and-downs with over 80 m descent followed by more than 100 m of re-ascent. We also had to break our own trail up towards the higher peak. It wasn’t obvious where exactly was the true summit of this unnamed peak thank to tree coverage, so we traversed all the way to the farthest opening over several high points.

The massive NE bowl under Excelsior Peak’s summit
Kostya with the higher unnamed peak ahead
Shayan plodding up on the High Divide
Me snowshoeing across the connecting ridge.
Kostya, Nikita and Shayan following me up with Bearpaw Mtn. behind
Another zoomed-in view of Mt. Baker
Tomyhoi Peak and Mt. Larabee in one picture
Mt. Shuksan in its full glory
The full view of Cheam Range in the Chilliwacks
Me on the higher unnamed peak with Mt. McGuire behind

Shayan had left his poles on the actual summit of Excelsior Peak where at least a dozen hikers had been hanging around and he’s afraid that someone would take his poles. Shayan then made the decision to rush his way back and meet us at the trail-head. It turned out that his poles were actually taken by another hiker, but he caught up to the hiker and got them back. The three of us really took our time on this unnamed high point, then leisurely slogged back to the hiker’s Excelsior Peak. We took another break there to take the snowshoes off. I decided to not bother with microspikes on the descent and the decision was correct. The trail was not that slippery in the afternoon after a bit of melting during the day. The hike-out was tedious and boring, but didn’t take too long. Our round trip time was about 6.5 hours so this was quite a short day. We even decided to drive out to Richmond to have a luxurious meal before going home.

Nikita and Kostya snowshoeing back across the undulating High Divide
Nikita taking a voluntary glissade.
One of the many uphill rises
Kostya back onto the summit of Excelsior Peak now
Nikita slogging the last few steps back up to Excelsior Peak summit
Me and Kostya with Mt. Baker behind
Descending in the forest. This trail was easy, but boring…