This morning my buddy, his dog, and I got up early to pay homage to the church of the Oyster Dome on Blanchard Mountain. What we found was a cold, cloudy, wet, windy, muddy mess of a mountain. It was awesome. For the most part the mountain had adequate signage. I didn't have a proper map so I just printed a terrain map from Google Maps. I don't have a GPS (my upcoming REI dividend will fix that) so I don't have the exact distance, but other trail reports indicate that it's perhaps 8.5 miles via the route we took. Also, we climbed from what was very near sea level up to 2000 feet on the dome. My pictures for the most part aren't very good due to the rain and the clouds.
Blanchard Mountain is on State Route 11 just south of Bellingham. The trailhead is just north of milepost 10. We climbed up to the Oyster Dome from the road and then departed along the trail towards Lily Lake before returning via Max's Shortcut.
We hit the trail at 6:35 AM. From the first step the trail climbs sharply off of the road and it isn't long before the road disappears. There is a nice bench and a break in the trees at about the 1 mile mark. The views here on a sunny day would provide a preview of the views available at the dome. To the west one can see Anacortes and a number of different islands in Bellingham Bay and across Puget Sound. The Olympic Mountains would have been visible had the clouds not been so low. Pretty soon after this point we found ourselves entering the low clouds. At the 1.8 mile mark was a split in the trail. A right turn would head up to the Samish Overlook (more on that later). We continued along the main trail.
The trail to the dome was much steeper than we expected it to be. It was also quite wet. Mud would become a theme that we would revisit repeatedly along the way to the dome and beyond. We passed one point where there was a side trail to a number of caves with a pretty good bat population but we skipped it and headed up. Besides the water on the trail itself all of the streams that cross the trail were running pretty hard due to the recent precipitation. The last picture below is looking back down at a particularly tough bit of very wet rocky and rooty trail I had just climbed.
There wasn't too much to see and there isn't too much to say about the dome itself. I imagine on a warm sunny day this would be a fantastic place to be. For us it was just wet rain and cold wind. We explored around a bit on the ledges and other areas of the dome before finding a suitable rock to eat on. I caught a good picture of my buddy trying to keep his sandwich dry. I've placed a video below to provide an idea of just how socked in the views were.
After leaving the Oyster Dome we headed up the trail towards Lily Lake. Taking this trail added a considerable distance to our trip but was much easier on our knees than returning the way we came. The first section of trail was flat and open and was a welcome relief. I caught what is probably my only good picture of the day (a slushy bog) at the junction of this trail and the trail called Max's Shortcut.
We followed Max's Shortcut down until we ran into the Samish Overlook. It appears that a parking lot and bathrooms have been either recently built new or refurbished. There were no cars parked there so I'm not sure if perhaps the forest road to the overlook is closed. We were able to get some nice views of the sound from the overlook but to be honest they weren't too much different than what we'd seen from the bench earlier. Only after heading down from the overlook did we start to see other people on the trail.
Just a little way down from the overlook we reconnected at the 1.8 mile point on the original trail and headed down to the car. We got back to the car just after noon. My buddy's dog was wiped out. To be honest we were too. It was a fun hike. However, today it was more of a hike for the sake of hiking rather than for the views. You'd had to love hiking to get up at 5 AM to kill your quads and knees climbing up in the cold rain to stand in the clouds and listen to the wind. Am I right?