By Dave Tucker August 27, 2010
Cleverly disguised beneath a tall fuzz of old growth, a cinder cone lies in easy (well, kinda easy) reach of thousands of hikers on Mount Baker’s south flank. The Schreiber’s Meadow cone is just a half mile from the bustling parking lot and trailheads for the Park Butte/Railroad Grade and Scott Paul trails. There are no other cinder cones at Baker; indeed, the only other ones in the northern part of the state are south of Glacier Peak, and they are a long hike in. The cone, which erupted 8800 years ago, rises only 180 feet (55 m) above the gently rolling and partly-forested Schreiber’s Meadow. The final ascent is steepish- the loose cinders that fell back to earth around the erupting vent piled up at the angle of repose, and the slopes reflect this beneath the mantle of towering hemlocks and subalpine firs. You will, however, find no cinders. All is buried beneath the undisturbed forest and huckleberry bushes. The high point is on the south rim, 3680 ± 20 feet (1121 m).
The most remarkable feature of the cone are the twin ponds nestled in the crater; the water surface elevation of the southwestern pond is triangulated at 3581 feet (1090 m) . They are ringed with a brilliant green mossy foreshore. It is possible to completely circumnavigate each. The lakes, about 250 feet across, are separated by a narrow 30 foot high ridge, easily climbed over. While some people suggest these lakes are only ephemeral, I doubt this is true. They show in every aerial photo I’ve ever seen of them. The northeastern pond is smaller, and obviously quite shallow. The southwestern lake is a little larger, rounder, and looks deeper; its mapped surface elevation is 3581 feet (1091 m). The bottoms are mucky, and you’d need to wade a way in the mud if you wanted to swim. This might be a very interesting place to take a sediment core from the lake floor, to see what tephras might have collected here. There are at least three Baker tephras that post date formation of the cinder cone, as well as Mazama ash, and several Saint Helens ashes. It is also a pleasant stroll to bushwhack completely around the rim of the cone. The rim dips to its lowest point just above the southwest pond.
The meadows are called “Schriebers Meadow” on the USGS map. However, as Wes Hildreth pointed out in his 2003 Mount Baker paper, the name is misspelled. Herman Schreiber built a cabin in the meadows, and ran in the 1912 Mount Baker marathon from Concrete via his cabin. I know nothing more about him if you do, please pass on your information ( and sources) to me (tuckerd at geol dot wwu dot edu).
The cone resulted from the eruption of basaltic cinders (or ‘scoria’) early in the Holocene. Radiocarbon dates from charcoal in the tephra place the eruption between 8750 and 8850 radiocarbon years before present (14C years BP). This correlates to between 10,160 and 9550 calendar years ago. The reddish-orange scoria erupted from the cone is very evident along Forest Service Road 13 for a half mile before the road reaches the parking lot. After the gas-rich basaltic tephra had erupted, the Sulphur Creek lava flow began to leak out from the eastern base of the cone; this flowed down the modern Sulphur and Rocky Creek drainages, and into the Baker River valley. Here it gets even more interesting. The Baker valley was submerged beneath a deep lake at that time (a remnant of Glacial lake Baker). This lake extended from a dam composed of glacial deposits (and originally ice, too) near the site of the town of Concrete above the current north end of the Baker Lake reservoir. The lava entered the 100+ m (350 foot) deep lake and flowed, submerged, for 2 km across the lake floor until it piled up against the eastern valley wall. This is all another story, and a companion field trip to the lava may eventually appear on this website. The story of the interaction between the lava and the lake was published in Tucker and Scott (2009)- contact Dave Tucker for the pdf: tuckerd at geol dot wwu dot edu.
It is interesting to speculate why there are lakes in the craters of the cinder cone. This is most unusual. Cinders cones are very permeable. One speculation I’ve heard is that the crater floor is underlain by solid lava; from what I’ve seen of the Sulphur Creek lava flow, neither the lava nor that idea hold water. My hypothesis is that sufficient vegetation has grown and decayed, with the addition of plenty of fine sediment via glacial dust and tephra, to form a dense soil and organic mat, which then holds the water. The sediment core project would hopefully shed light on this.
Cross the Sulphur Creek bridge just after leaving the parking lot and head up the Park Butte-Railroad Grade trail. Walk the easy trail for 0.3 to 0.4 miles, until the trees begin to thin and the blueberry-covered meadow begins to open out. The cone is the very subdued forested knob to the south or southeast, depending on how far you walked the trail- take a copy of the Baker Pass 7.5 ‘ topo sheet, which plainly shows the cone and its lakelets. From the trail, make a bee line for the cone– you may not realize you are close until you suddenly are faced with the final slope. As long as you are going uphill, you can’t go wrong. Well, I guess you could, but please don’t blame me. Take a map and compass; as backup you may wish to waypoint your way in (if you are sure your batteries won’t die or you won’t drop your GPS receiver into the ponds or …). Pretty quickly you will reach the crater rim, and hopefully see the glint of water below you. Go down the slope into the crater to visit the lakes. It shouldn’t take more than 2-3 hours for the complete round trip, including a leisurely circumnavigation of the entire rim and a visit to both lakes to look for outcrops. Maybe you’ll find some– I didn’t. BEAR ALERT: For the bearanoid among you, when I was there (August 25, 2010) there was a lot of blueberry-rich bear scat, though I only saw one pile that was fresh. Elk tracks were everywhere. There was no trace of any kind left by human beans, so don’t start a trend. Blueberries are ripe now, which might affect the length of your trip. If the weather is nice enough to see Baker through the trees, just head back that a’way and you’ll intersect the trail in short order.