by Dave Tucker, September 17, 2012
A wonderful photo of Mount Baker was taken in 1912 by “E.D. Welsh” from the summit of Loomis Mountain. The sepia-toned print was found by USFS employee Leif Hazelet on the wall of the Koma Kulshan guard station, and was moved to the Sedro Woolley office for protection. The photograph clearly shows the much greater extent of the Easton and Squak glaciers, as well as documenting the presence of glacial ice just above the Scott Paul Trail, where there is no ice today. Welsh’s photograph is perhaps the earliest, and certainly the best, view of the south flank of the volcano. It clearly shows the ice-covered rim of Carmelo Crater at the summit plateau of Mount Baker.
Cascade mountain photographer John Scurlock was captivated by the photograph and
recognized its historic value. He scanned Welsh’s masterpiece, and for a decade has wanted to reproduce the photo in the centennial year, 2012. We believe E.D. Welsh was a publicity photographer for Diehl Ford in Bellingham. (September 19- Welsh found? Headstone photo)
The 1912 photo was clearly taken in late summer, as there are few snow patches in meadows. The location of the photo was verified by John in a couple of aerial fly-bys of potential sites; there was little doubt that a site in the vicinity of the hard-to-reach, trail-less summit of Loomis Mountain was the spot.
How Welsh got there is a bit of a puzzle, but the route was doubtless arduous, especially with the bulky cameras of the day. Logging roads now reach within a half day’s bush bash of the summit, but in 1912, the route was a looooooooooong hike. Perhaps Welsh reached Loomis via Mazama Park on the Middle Fork Nooksack Trail, then hiked over Park Butte (no lookout in those days, and no trail) and along the rugged connecting ridge to Loomis. This was a multi-day trip from the nearest road at Heisler’s Ranch near today’s Mosquito Lake Road Bridge at the Middle Fork, but hopefully there was a pack-horse to carry loads at least as far as Park Butte. This was the route used by runners on the Easton Route of the Mount Baker marathon; 1912 was the second year of that unbelievable foot race; it is also possible that an old trail up the South Fork Nooksack from Lyman could have been used. An approach up Rocky Creek from Concrete and the Baker River would have been a tough haul over the treacherous bone-breaking surface of the Sulphur Creek lava flow.
A Google Maps topo map of Loomis Mountain is here; Loomis is at the ‘A’. Click on ‘terrain’.
The 2012 commemorative expedition
On September 5th, 2012, MBVRC board members Dave Tucker, John Scurlock, Sue Madsen, and Doug McKeever, in cooperation with North Cascades Institute, undertook a photo re-creation effort which we call the 1912 -2012 Loomis/Welsh Centennial Expedition. Our team, ten in number, also included Jessica Haag and Lindsey Frallic from NCI, Scott Linneman from WWU and his friend Jim Webster, Eric Steig from UW, and Keith Kemplin. This first attempt to re-create Welsh’s scene was made via the long east ridge of Loomis, beginning at Wanlick Pass on Forest Road 12. This is the road that leads into the head of the South Fork Nooksack and the spur up to Blue Lake and Dock Butte. After several hours of steep old growth, brush, and a pleasant, but mostly view-less stroll along the forested ridge, our party of 10 was stymied by a sheer rocky notch. Negotiating the sharp gap and the short but steep rock climb on the other side didn’t seem feasible for the group, so we opted for a later attempt via the abandoned logging road in the Loomis Creek valley. Anyway, it was getting late and time for a cooling beer and recuperative dinner at Birdsview Brewery.
Seven of us from the original team returned on September 16. The party consisted of Dave Tucker, John Scurlock, Doug McKeever, Jessica Haag, Lindsey Frallic, Scott Linneman and Jim Webster. After an easy walk up the road to an elevation of 3200 feet,we took to the woods and then grassy hellebore meadows along the north side of Loomis Creek. We climbed up the steep
mountainside to the 5000′ ridge just east of the summit; fortunately, there was a spider web of elk trails for much of the route. Along the way, we passed a bear skeleton in the steep forest. The view of Baker from the crest was fantastic, but we were clearly too far east. We had a print of the Welsh photo, and it was a simple matter of lining up landmark angles in the photo to get to the exact spot used by Welsh – the rocky 5598′ summit of Loomis Mountain. John and I dressed in a semblance of 1912 garb (well, whatever we had in our closets) to represent our versions of a (male) Welsh. We don’t even know that.
John set up his camera on a tripod and snapped many photos. The changes over the past 100 years are remarkable. All the glaciers, most notably the Easton, have receded – a lot. We know this already, but the ability to photo-document the recession with Welsh’s photos is remarkable. In 1912, clean, white-looking ice extended to 4700′ (1430 m) elevation, about 0.20 m (320 m) above the upper Rocky Creek suspension bridge on the Scott Paul Trail, and 0.62 miles (995 m) below the most current ice margin. In 1912, ice may well have extended further south, but we can’t differentiate the presumably rubble-covered glacier terminus in the photo. The Squak and Talum glaciers have also receded a long way, and ice has completely disappeared in the basin west of Crag View – in 1912, a glacial tongue extended to 5300′ (1615 m) elevation, now 0.8 miles (1,300 m) below the lowest ice remnant in this basin, and 0.3 mile (480 m) above the Scott Paul trail where it crosses the boisterous stream at the moraine. In 1912, a lobe of the Easton covered the site of “Sandy Camp”, where climbers camp in the boulder basin at the head of the Railroad Grade moraine. Other changes: now there is a lookout on Park Butte and roads snake up into the valleys. A recent fire has burned the south face of Survey Point, on the ridge south-east of Park Butte. After a really steep bushwhack descent via a different route, we toasted our success at the Trainwreck Tavern in Burlington.
The photographic expedition was a remarkable experience, and we all felt a connection with an obscure but important event in the scientific and cultural history of Mount Baker. This is such an awe-inspiring view. It is similar to the view from Park Butte, but much more expansive and from a higher elevation.