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Alpine Scramble - Church Mountain

It was the best of climbs, it was the worst of climbs...

  • Road rough but passable

It was the best of climbs, it was the worst of climbs, it was the act of wisdom, it was the act of foolishness…

Church Mountain, on the road to Mount Baker, is a challenging, but rewarding scramble. It starts with a 3.8 mile hike to the site of a former fire lookout tower. The first half of the hike switchbacks through a magnificent forest of Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar. The second half winds through an enormous meadow of wildflowers and ripe blueberry bushes, with stunning views of Mt Shukshan, Mt Baker, and the Twin Sisters.


Photos (3).zipMost people stop at site of the former fire lookout tower thinking they have climbed Church, but a quarter mile to the west rises the steep rocky summit block of the actual summit.


I love scrambling because I love the challenge of finding my own way up a mountain. Scrambling is an act of puzzle solving. And few mountains present more route-finding challenges than Church. The summit block is a maze of gullies, cliff bands, aretes, gendarmes, and false summits. We spent one day clambering around, discovering numerous dead ends but never found a route to the summit. Here I am crossing one of the gullies.


We returned three weeks later and, with further exploration, found a route that led us up to a summit. Unfortunately, it was a false summit, with the true summit a bit higher and farther west. We descended, found another route, and at last reached the true summit (verified by finding the US Coast and Geodetic Survy marker). (Note – don’t trust the GPS tracks available on; none led to the actual summit.)


Why then do I say it was the worst of climbs? Because most of the route from the lookout tower site to the summit is on loose, crumbly, terrain with exposure. One is constantly worried that the rock under your foot will slip out from under you and send you flying down the mountain.