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Yup, I've had a few. I just haven't had time to write about all them yet. For now, You'll have to settle for this recent one...

Baker North Ridge – August 12-14, 2011    Al & Rip

Mount Baker is the third highest peak in the State of Washington (10,781’).  It is second only to Mt. Rainier in the size of its glaciers with some of its glaciers dropping below 4,000’ (due to its northern location and greater snowfall). The North Ridge is considered “one of top 5 classic ice routes in the lower 48 states,” “an alpine climber’s dream,” and “a true test of stamina, skill and composure.” We would agree that it rates as a first class iconic NW climbing route with great diversity, demands, and delights[1]. It is a “steep, committed climb with tricky route finding on a long approach over a heavily crevassed glacier”. It has deservedly achieved “classic” stature.

The North Ridge is on the left, Coleman Headwall right-center and the Coleman-Deming route right ridge. See picture note below[2].

Al had made two prior attempts on the North Ridge without success. He and I spent a night on the summit of Mt. Baker on May 21st, 1980 after climbing the Coleman-Deming route (we had climbed the Elliot Headwall on Mt. Hood on the 18th and watched in awe as Mt. St. Helens blew its top). Al has successfully climbed other routes on Mt. Baker, including the Coleman Headwall.

We had planned the climb for earlier, but logistics were a bit challenging since Al lives in Indiana. And, even after we had set our climbing dates, we had to start a day late because Al’s bags (and pack) were misplaced by United. But, as a result, our climb started on a Friday with a full moon and a perfect weather forecast (clear until Sunday). We left Blaine shortly after Al arrived from Seattle (staying there the night before because of traffic) and arrived to register at the Glacier Ranger Station just after noon. We reached the trailhead of the Heliotrope Ridge Trail (USFS #677 – 3,700’) a half an hour later and sorted and packed our gear.

This is my bedroom view of the mountain from Blaine.

The trail passes through lush forests, crosses several substantial streams (without bridges), and reaches to the high alpine meadows.

We took the “Glacier” cutoff to reach the snow covered areas en route to our high camp at just below 7,000’ at the start of the Coleman Glacier crossing.


Mt. Baker North Ridge

View from the Glacier trail.


Given the weather and forecast, we chose to sleep in bivy sacks. Per another climber, “high camp on the Coleman Glacier is among the most beautiful alpine sites in the U.S.” Ours was especially great because of the clear skies, a gorgeous sunset, the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, and the full moon.

View from the Glacier Camp (looking north).


 We woke at 3:00 AM and were on the move before 4:00AM with headlamps that were almost unneeded.

On the Coleman with headlamps.

Crossing a highly crevassed glacier in the dark is always a stimulating way to start the day. Al intrepidly led us over the mixed snow and ice heading more southerly (towards the Coleman Headwall) than easterly. Unfortunately, a massive (as in REALLY HUGE) crevasse blocked our path so we had to drop down and around it to get to the base of the North Ridge “apron” (there’s an easier alternative that begins at a more northerly point).  Meanwhile, another 3-man team found a more direct route and reached the ridge before us.


An average size crevasse on the Coleman.

The apron averages 50 degrees of vertical – just at the point where side-stepping is quite awkward and front-pointing seems unnecessary. The snow/ice was frozen hard and we protected the route with 2’ pickets. We took our first sit-down break at the top of the ridge.


The sun comes up and the moon goes down (The Black Buttes in the distance)



The “Apron” is the snow ramp on the left.



Climbing the Apron.

There, another party (2-man) caught up with us (approaching from the north) and said hello. The sun was coming up and it was a gorgeous morning. The first section of the ridge steepens from 35° to 55° as you approach the snout of the ice cliff.

approaching the base of the route

These three guys passed us while we were “exploring the Coleman”.                                          From http://www.proguiding.com/trip/view/mt-baker-north-ridge                                      (The sky often looks dark in climbing pictures because the snow is so                             bright and cameras adjust accordingly).

Since there is no platform at the base, the belayer stands on an exposed and awkward ramp as the ice-climb starts. Al chose a direct route approximately 40 yards from the normal route around the snout.


The ice cliff averaged 80° on this route and extended 50-60’ to the edge. The other side of the edge is the normal route which averages 70°. The difference for us was that the steeper part was in the shade and the ice was very brittle. The other side had been in the sun for a while and had already softened greatly.


Al placed three screws on the brittle side and I had placed one for my belay stance. After he passed over the edge of the ridge, my shouts were unanswered so I was sure he didn’t hear my “rope-remaining reports”. Thus, with about 20’ left and playing out, I started unscrewing my anchor. The rope pulled tight just as I started climbing. Al was moving faster than I was and I had to stop and pull the screws. He pulled for slack (and assumed the rope was caught). I hurriedly climbed to the next screw having trouble getting purchase with my ice axe (yes, I still climb with an ice axe and ice hammer). Meanwhile, Al figured out that I was climbing and set up the best belay stance he could on the rotten 75° slope.


It was odd to go from brittle ice to very soft crude in a few feet. There was also a remarkable change in scenery as we now looked down on the Roosevelt Glacier and could see over to Mt. Shuksan. But Al was anxious to get off his uncomfortable stance, so I climbed directly to a small crevasse where I could set up a better belay.


(To see online video of this part of the climb press CTRL & right-click your mouse while on these pictures).



My belay stance was in the crevasse to the left – better than the crap on the face and I had good ice for an anchor screw.

Then he finished the “ice climbing” portion of the route where he broke out onto the upper shelf and set up another stance. From there we leapfrogged for five pitches as the grade diminished from 65° down to 45° (with more of that awkward in-between angle of front-pointing versus side-stepping).

http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6024/5927181863_8d9e118acb_b.jpg  http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-JvoLLC0851g/TixpMJnuOPI/AAAAAAAAGaw/aCPzm4eTW8g/s1600/IMG_7000.jpg 

The view going up and the spectacular view down the edge of the ridge to the Roosevelt Glacier.


Finally – above the cliff on the shelf (We went from screws to pickets).

The last part of the climb involved the “Secret Passage” where one finds a route through the seracs above the ice shelf…

The secret serac passage! 


where you get to climb more 50-60° snow and ice to reach the summit plateau. Baker has two summits (Grant Peak towards the exposed southeast rim of Carmelo Crater is the higher) and after a few days of good climbing weather in the summer, there’s often a “highway” between them.


But Al and I were running late (reaching the summit at 1:10 PM) and so we had the summit to ourselves. The views were breathtaking (aside from the altitude) with Rainier and Glacier Peaks prominent. We also enjoyed the surprisingly snowy North Cascades.

This is really what it’s all about – good times with good friends.

We enjoyed a breezy but warm break, absorbed the views, and applauded ourselves for a successful ascent. But, we also knew that the climb was far from over. We were tired and tired climbers are much more prone to mistakes. So we headed west for the Roman Wall and the hardest part of the down-climb.




The view down into the Sherman Crater.

The west side of Baker with the Roman Wall (above the diagonal rock line)

The Roman Wall is a 45-50° slope descending almost 1,000’ (vertical) from the summit plateau to the  prominent rock band which takes one to the pass between Baker and Colfax Peak. The down-climb of the Wall has nice exposure to the Easton Glacier and with late afternoon snow, it was a bit awkward (snow balling up in one’s crampons is an issue and hazard). We also had direct sunshine hitting diluted sunscreen. But, we took our time and still caught other groups who were descending. Looking down, we watched the precursor clouds roll in to make accurate the predicted rain/snow for Sunday.



Looking down the Roman Wall. Colfax Peak (9,450’) across the pass. Easton Glacier to the left.

Slugging down the Deming route (snowfields and crevasses) took longer than expected, but we reached camp by 5:00PM.


There we were anxious to eat a good dinner and re-hydrate before crashing for the night. I started the stove, melted the first batch of water and was unpacking when the stove shut off. The propane bottle had leaked and was empty – OUCH! So we went to bed hungry (we had plenty of food, but one shouldn’t eat without water) and hoped we wouldn’t wake up soaked.

Instead, the clouds stayed below us and we woke to another beautiful view – the mountain had a big ol’ lenticular cloud over it and there were heavy clouds below, but we had sunshine.

We packed and headed for the “climber’s trail” passing groups of hopeful climbers who were likely to be disappointed by bad weather. We reached the car before noon, congratulated each other on another safe return, and tanked up on fluids. After signing out at the Glacier Ranger Station, we stopped in Maple Falls for breakfast – yum, corned beef hash even better than Mom used to make.



In all, this was a spectacular climb and although I couldn’t rate it among my favorites, I was glad to have done it. It certainly offers variety in scenery and challenges. The hike in isn’t onerous (compared to Robson’s Kain Face) and the route finding wasn’t really difficult (unlike the Muldrow on Denali), but both made for a long day. The scenery was grand, but I would rather climb something continuously steep (over 60°) or where the lesser slopes don’t leave you half-way between front-pointing or kicking steps.

I have done the approach hike several times and love it, but one gets spoiled on NW volcanoes where you can start climbing on the mountain above 5,000’. I know the route can be done in a day, but it’s really a 2-3 day climb with one day of actual climbing.

We would have been wise to take our longer rope and I wish I had done like Al and taken two ice tools. The ice cliff was the highlight and we arrived a bit late, so it was our fault it was “messy”. The upper slopes were steeper than I expected, but the route-finding was easier. In all, not bad for a couple of old-timers (over 60?).


Here’s a view of the route – that “standard” North Ridge route is in red, our route in blue.



Here is the American Alpine Institute reference (shortened):

Level 4: Difficult Ascents

These climbs require a complete repertoire of snow and ice or rock climbing skills and the ability to perform them consistently without error, as well as excellent physical condition…

Mt. Baker, North Ridge - Snow and Ice, 2 or 3 days: Climb the northern flank of the Coleman Glacier and cross the main portion of the glacier just below the 8000' level, passing immediately below Baker's Coleman Headwall. The approach usually offers moderate climbing but complex route finding challenges allow one to negotiate around some huge (and many small) crevasses. The North Ridge itself presents 2700' of mixed snow and ice, including a section of steep ice about two thirds of the way up the route. Complex route finding low down and varied technical challenges on the ridge make this a very rewarding climb.  http://www.aai.cc/ProgramDetail/cascades_ascents/.

And, finally, here’s an aerial view and map of the route…


  Mount Baker Map

[1] The first ascent of this route was made by Fred Beckey and Ralph and Dick Widrig in August of 1948.

[2] Although Al carried his camera, we took very few pictures, thus most of these pictures are from other climbers and were chosen as best representing our climb.

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