Mount Baker, Elevation 10,778ft
Coleman/Deming, March 2-3, 2002
Jason, Josh, Ben
Author: Jason Hummel
The Northwest side of Mount Baker seen from the trailhead.
Mount Baker is a beautiful mountain, especially in the winter. There are no other climbers, which makes you believe you’re on a remote route deep in the Cascade Range. This makes early March an ideal time to knock this baby off your tick list. The bad news is on a good snow year you will have to skin up the road – on a bad snow year you will have to skin up the road. The only question is, how far?
This was going to be my fourth time on Baker so I was pretty confident that everything would go as planned. Friday night I packed, and at 7 o’clock I was out the door. As usual, on the drive up to Bellingham, I was struggling to forget what I had forgotten. Toothbrush, flashlight, sunglasses. Typical. Josh had an extra pair of shades in the car and I figured I could do without the rest.
Soon I was taking a nap, my feet on the dash and the seat laid back, when all of a sudden I hear a car horn. My first thought was, "Josh, get in your lane you idiot!" Then I looked in the window of the truck that honked and noticed it was a friend from my college days. Ha, like my college days are that far-gone. Josh tried to keep up until he realized it wasn't worth another ticket. Still, we were in Bellingham in no time.
Of course, Ben was ready to go when we knocked on the door of his condo. We weren’t in any hurry and so we lounged for a few minutes to discuss our new jobs. After half an hour we threw Ben’s stuff in the car and drove off. Work is work and skiing is life. Nuff said.
One hour later, we turned off HW 542 and proceeded up Glacier Creek. We saw a sign that read 8 miles to the trailhead. Josh was still driving so he punched the tachometer so we would know how much road we had to skin. Of course, barely 2 miles later, we came to a minivan and a big truck that were, yep, you got it, stuck. We spent the next half an hour getting them down the hill. They said they had a relative that lived up there, we told them they must be confused. The sorry’s kept coming while we put on our chains. They tried not to hit us on their way back down.
Ben called that morning to ask if a permit was required and the ranger told him that none was. When we passed a sign reading, "Snow Park Permit Required" we were slightly angered. Obviously the ranger was mistaken, but by then we weren’t going to turn around. Anyhow, we should have known better.
Before long, we were at the parking lot looking at the empty snowmobile trailers. Gazing up the road, we were beginning to wish we had a few. Say, three. Well, climbing ain’t always sugar and cake. When I saw a truck pull up with 2 machines on the back, my sweet tooth began to ache. I told Ben I would offer them 20 bucks to tow us to the trailhead. He laughed and said, "Go for it."
An old guy stepped out of the truck and meandered his way to where we were parked, "Well, just wanted to make sure this was the end of the road."
I told him, "…yea it is…such a beautiful day…the mountain sure looks nice…sure wish I was up there…I see you have some snowmobiles…care to haul us up for 20 dollars?"
"Sorry," he muttered, turning to look back at his truck. "I have the wife along and she can barely handle herself." Dough!
About then, Mr. Ranger pulls up and says, "I see you don’t have a permit." Double Dough!!
Ben replies, "I called and they said none was required."
Mr. Ranger indicates, with his finger pointed down yonder, "There is a sign just down the road."
I nicely suggest, "Can we buy a permit?"
"Well, I guess. You at least attempted to conform with the rules," the ticketman/ranger offered.
Twenty dollars later, we had a permit posted to the windshield and we were skinning up the road (which we could have driven further up had there not been a snow park). Within minutes, the old man cruised by and his wife snailed behind. We tailed her for awhile, but eventually she pulled away. I couldn’t believe anyone could go that slow. She was crouched over the handlebars like she was going 80 mph down a curvy road with cliffs to both sides and no rails. Ride ‘em tiger.
Jason at the Snow Park. The slowmobiles got a head start. Otherwise I think we could have beaten them.
Skinning up the road was refreshing. The sun was welcome and occasional glimpses of Baker prodded me on. Sometime later, Ben and Josh passed me by. I didn’t try to keep up. I was here to have fun, right? You can’t always be in a hurry. I found them waiting for me near the trailhead. I was only a few minutes behind, yet they acted as if I was the old woman on the snowmobile.
After eating and a photo, I followed Josh and Ben into the forest. We planned to camp near a creek so there was no point in going higher. We each spread out in search of the flattest spot that would make the best camp. We didn’t find much, but we had to settle for something. After all, we wanted to eat and sleep. Second best was good enough.
Setting up camp took until dark. Josh and I spent most of our time searching for the best wood while Ben (psychic engineer) dug. Josh and I eventually had plenty of wood. Ben was still trying to find ground. "It’s only a few more feet," he insisted. Ultimately, he came to two logs suspended in the air several feet above the ground. At that point, we dug seats to the side and slightly below them. What we ended up with would make any engineer proud, even a stubborn one like Ben. About that time, I realized I forgot my sunglasses were left on my hat so I managed to lose them. Another donation to nature I guess. That or a lucky passerby. The final seating area was one of the best we’ve had; no wind, reflection from the snow, and plenty of seating. Time to bring the grub on. Hot dogs, beans, Top Ramen, and hot chocolate. Dinner of champions.
Well, not yet, first the ever-fleeing flame must be roused to life. We spent a good hour getting a raging fire going. Without paper it took everything we had, but once we could sit back and enjoy our efforts, it was well worth huffing and puffing, burnt fingers and obscenities. Flame is definitely a beautiful concoction. Since the fire was above us and atop those two logs suspended in the air, Ben dubbed it, "Fire in the sky." We never did find the ground.
Josh and Jason toasting our effort.
At 2 or 3 am we headed up the hill with Ben in front, Josh in back, and me in the center. Old tracks served as a trail through the starlit night. This worked well until whom ever blazed the way said, enough is enough. After that, we set off to find our own way, only we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere and in no way were we taking the most direct route. The hassles were enough to drain a good deal of my patience. We hiked some interesting stuff, skinned some terrain that wasn’t meant to be skinned, and by the time we emerged from the forest, we were more than happy to see the moon peeking over the horizon on beautiful wide open slopes; the easy stuff. We took a short break on top of the first ridge.
Enlightened by our recent experience on Mount Rainier, we decided to wear a rope. Last winter when Josh and I climbed Baker we saw two people fall in crevasses on this route. Everyone else turned around but we continued to the summit unroped. Ben made a solo ski this past summer. Crossing glaciers during the late season while they are open and frozen is an acceptable risk in Washington's Cascades. However, I don’t condone this practice to anyone. What I do is often a personal choice made on that particular day, dependent on conditions. I rarely use a rope. As a matter of fact, this was the first time any of us had skinned with a rope. For us, preparing for the worst is often easier on the mind. That said, we wore a rope. Anyhow, three carrying the weight is better than one, and the practice doesn’t hurt either.
Jason and Josh skinning on the lower slopes.
Climbing the lower slopes went steadily. We occasionally stopped to look at the Coleman Headwall, eat and drink. We were enjoying the morning. Josh and Ben also took photos.
Ben and Jason continue the traverse.
Jason and Josh skinning packed powder.
Jason and Josh skinning powder.
By noon, we were above the saddle resting behind a cliff. Usually our breaks consist of a minute or two. This time we probably spent a good half an hour just hanging out. The temperature soared whenever the wind died down. Most excellent. Time to pull out the shades and the sunscreen.
Josh’s feet started to itch and so he put his crampons on, donned his ice axe and set off for the summit. Ben and I chose to take our time. Soon, we followed Josh up the Roman Headwall. We couldn’t let him getting too far ahead.
Josh and Jason enjoying the sun at our rest.
Looking southwest from our rest.
About a third of the way up, Ben decided to ditch the rope where we could pick it up on the way down. We had wanted to ski something more exciting but the snow conditions didn’t warrant being adventurous. Patches of ice littered the slope along with a few slab fractures. Being stuck above either would be very unpleasant. There is always next time.
Jason near the top of the Roman Headwall.
We were getting slower, but we continued to push a steady pace up the headwall. Ben waited a few minutes for me at the top so he could get a photo. After that, going across the flats was a pain as usual. Once the slope flattened enough, we skied to the summit cone and booted the last few feet. Josh was waiting for us. We hurried because he was getting cold. Josh and Ben snapped some photos and then we skied back across the flats to the edge of the headwall.
Jason and Josh on the summit looking east.
Ben on the summit looking southwest.