Mount Baker, Elevation 10,778ft
Coleman/Deming, August 7, 2001
Ski descent of the Coleman/Deming.
It was Monday and I had just gotten back from Yakima. I spent most of the weekend helping out with Andy Freed's wedding. I think I was a groom's maid but I'm still not sure. It was my first wedding so learned quite a bit. Andy helped me learn that there is life outside of skiing, climbing and kayaking. I might even look into someday.
Tuesday was not the day. The forecast called for improving weather and I hadn't skied in almost three weeks. I emailed the Hummels and we agreed to do something up north. The North Face of Shuksan was still on my mind after scooping it on a recent trip to Nooksack Tower. I only had one day and none of us knew the approach so we decided against that. The Sulfide was another option but I wanted something a little more extreme. We decided to give Baker a shot. The Hummels skied it last summer and had a blast. They skied it again last winter in a day. A few weeks later when it was my turn to go we ended up turning around due to avalanche danger (see Spring 01). We planned to meet at their place in Bellingham at 3am.
I got a call from the Hummels Monday evening. They invited me to go to Alaska with them for a week. Their housemate found some cheap roundtrip tickets ($210 each) on Alaska Air and the three of them were planning on leaving the next day. I was waiting to hear back from a job prospect in downtown Seattle so I declined. The wedding must have left me with an instinct to settle down.
Alone, I told the Hummels that I would probably ski Shuksan instead. I wasn't sure that I could make it up the Coleman/Deming without a rope. The Sulfide seemed like a more reasonable solo. I wanted to finish a roll of film so I had to do something.
I spent most of that evening writing an intro for the kayaking section of my website. Then I watched Billy Madison until 10pm. It wasn't until 10:30pm that I got to bed. My alarm was set for 12 midnight. I don't know why I bothered going to sleep.
I changed my mind sometime during the night and decided to give Baker a shot. It's a similar drive, a shorter approach, and from what the Hummels told me, a much better ski. My alarm rang just as I fell asleep and I wasted a slow hour packing and eating. I left Seattle around 1am and got to the trailhead at 3:45am. This gave me just enough time to finish packing and I was on my way by 4am. It was still dark so I ended up using a spare flashlight from my glove box. This proved to be very helpful. There was a semi-full moon but the trees blocked most of the light. The trees and trail were still wet from the recent rain so I ended up getting my tennis shoes a little muddy. Crossing the creeks was a little sketchy because I pocketed the flashlight so I could use my ski poles.
The sky brightened as I left the trees and made my way up the steep ridge below the glacier. There were several tents pitched in the moraine but it looked like they had already left. I stopped at the edge of the ice to put on my ski boots, pants and a jacket. I left me tennis shoes there along with a banana peel. I carried skins and an extra quart of water that I should have left there as well. It's difficult to trust people these days. I cared less about my smelly shoes and slippery peel.
The weather was decent. There were a few clouds down low but things looked clear above 6000ft -- where I was headed. I started out without crampons because my teletoes felt fairly stable and I knew it flattened out above the first slope.
Sunrise near the top of the first slope. I avoided the ice by traversing west (behind me) around the rock.
I passed a few more tents near the top of the first slope. From there, a well beaten path led to the heart of the glacier. I followed it for less than a mile before breaking my first rule of glacier travel -- think ahead. I found myself about halfway up a short icy section with nowhere to go but up. I ended up chopping some steps with my ski poles so I could put on crampons. This was the only option. I didn't want to risk climbing down because there were several large crevasses below me. I didn't want to risk climbing up because chopping steps would have taken forever. With crampons, anything was possible. I continued.
The well beaten path. I ran into ice on the darker section where it leads.
Looking back at the moon and the clouds.
A large crevasse below the saddle.
I took my crampons off after the icy section because I saw no need for them until the Roman Headwall. The saddle wasn't too far away and I could see several groups making their way up the ridge. I crossed a few snowbridges but I felt comfortable without a rope. The snow was firm and the bridges looked stable.
I made it to the saddle and continued up the rocky ridge. The sun hit me but the wind kept things cool. I stopped where the rocky ridge meets the Roman Headwall. There were several groups on the headwall that were moving rather slow. I imagine they left camp about the same time that I left my truck. I rested a few minutes before putting on crampons. The snow was still firm so I was in no hurry. Besides, I figured it was windy on top so this was the best spot to wait for the snow to soften.
There was a group of three headed down. I left just as they arrived. The headwall was not a problem. I frontpointed most of the way. It looked like it could be skied just about anywhere. The summit plateau was rough with icy winddrifts. I passed a few groups headed down before making my way to the shoulder. I put my skis on there and coasted the remaining distance. A short climb led to the top. It was 10am -- 6 hours from the trailhead.
There was a group of 5 preparing to leave. I convinced one of them to take my photo.
Looking east from the shoulder.
Me below the summit.
I dinked around on top for close to 45 minutes. Billowing clouds and venting steam kept me entertained while I ate, drank and took a few photos. Shuksan looked small and the Sulfide Glacier looked like it may have been clouded in. I was content.
Looking east towards Shuksan from the summit of Baker.
Looking southwest towards the summit crater.
The wind was making me uncomfortable so I left. I had a terrible time getting the mud off my boots. It seemed to be frozen in more ways than one. Several minutes of kicking helped warm me up.
I skied a short section of the plateau and hiked back up the shoulder. This was the moment I had been waiting for. The only volcano in Washington that I hadn't skied. The snow on the plateau had softened up some but the headwall still looked firm. I took a photo before dropping in.
Looking down from the top of the Roman Headwall. I skied the steepest section next to the large cliff on the right and continued on the Deming Glacier left of the rocky ridge seen below.
The snow was firm but the slope was less than 40 degrees so it was well within my limits. I passed the group of 5 descending the headwall. The snow softened up at its base. I decided to stay left of the rocky ridge to avoid the firm shaded snow on the upper Coleman Glacier. There were no tracks, a few snowbridges, but nothing to worry about on skis. I ended up having to hike a short bit to reach the saddle. It was well worth it to stay in the sun.
I took a few photos before putting on my skis and several while descending. The snow on the Coleman had softened up except for a few steep shaded sections. I passed the remaining roped teams who may have been a little jealous. The icy section was easy to avoid by staying high. The rest of the ski was uneventful although I had to pay close attention on the first slope because some of the crevasses were difficult to see from above.
Self-portrait at the saddle.
The Upper Coleman with the Roman Headwall on the horizon.
Icefall with some firm snow ahead. I skied next to the smooth serac.
My tennis shoes and banana peel were right were I had left them. I changed into shorts before heading down. It was nice being able to see the trail. I passed several families headed up. When asked, I told them about my ski. A few of them even seemed to care.
The parking lot was full when I got back. This was surprising for a midweek. I washed my feet in the creek and was coasting down the steep road by 3pm. A few glances of Glacier Creek kept me awake.
Looking down the steep ridge below camp.
I stopped at Taco Bell on the way home. The clerk admired my tan. I told her that I just climbed Baker but she didn't seem to care. My interest faded and the answer became clear -- there is no life outside of skiing, climbing and kayaking.
The Hummels caught up with me on I-5 on their way to Sea-Tac. We exited after a few miles of laughter. They said they were leaving at 8pm but the invitation and tickets were still going. I declined.
Here I am, sitting at my computer. A few days later, full of regret.