Mount Baker, Elevation 10,778ft
Coleman Headwall, 50 degrees
June 25, 2003
The Coleman Headwall. This year's descent is in green. This photo was taken in Spring 2002 after our first descent seen in red.
After skiing the Roosevelt Headwall that morning, I was ready for more. To get back to the Coleman/Deming, one must traverse beneath the Coleman Headwall. It was roughly noon when I paused to put on skins. Good spirits got me to thinking. Was I too descend the Coleman/Deming, get back to the trailhead at 3pm and spend the rest of the day falsely convincing myself that I was content or was I to climb back to the summit and harvest some corn?
To climb and ski a first descent on a 10,000-foot volcano with two sandwiches and two chewy Shock Tarts was the plan. To climb another 3,000 vertical feet and ski another first descent would be pushing it. To do it all solo would be absurd. Who am I kidding?
I reached the cowpath around 2pm and continued to the saddle on skins. Clouds billowed from the southwest but I turned my back on them, unwilling to cast doubt on an otherwise perfect day. The wind picked up on the summit plateau and I sat content on its crest around 4pm. I treated myself with an early dinner (one of two sandwiches that I carried) and a 10-minute rest. Dessert was on the horizon.
My pack and poles at the saddle.
I looked forward to this moment all day. Alone on the summit with 7,000 vertical feet to play with. At peace with myself and my environs. Quite different from the previous year when I was shaking in my Scarpas.
The first few turns are difficult to describe. To a skier: the perfect balance between sun and snow with an angle that seems to lead full circle. In layman terms: glorious and exhilarating with a touch of frightful. Instinct led me to the turning point where the previous year we encountered firm snow and chose to go left. This year I made the right choice. Soon came the upper bergschrund where I hoped for a fate opposite my sluff. Jumping the 5 to 15-foot gap was my first option but when going solo it's best to keep your skis grounded and a steep, narrow snowbridge allowed me to do just that.
The first few turns. Picture yourself.
The upper bergschrund. My tracks can be seen on the upper left.
Below the upper bergschrund the slope went from a consistent 45 degrees to something less. The folks at telemarktips will have to forgive me because I forgot my inclinometer, yet again. Although it was short, I welcomed this calm amongst the storm. To my right lay a several hundred foot icecliff and to my left, a gaping crevasse that extended from the bergschrund to… who knows? The answer was nobody, including myself. Needless to say, I was about to discover my greatest fear.
Inch by inch I made my way to the confluence of the icecliff and crevasse. Eventually, I could go no further for fear of physics but a stretch of hope led me left to yep, you guessed it -- the crevasse. &%#*. That morning's bind on the Roosevelt was the Marriott compared with what I was about to get myself into. My first thought was "no way, I'm hiking out." A few feet of 60-degree snow led to ledge of icicles no wider than a curb. A fall would be unpleasant but if you traversed far enough along the ledge you could jump 3-4 feet onto a jumble of ice that led to freedom aka the bulk of the Coleman Headwall. My second thought was "no way I'm hiking out." With that in mind I sidestepped the snow and made a kick turn to set myself up for the traverse. Using one hand as a sickle and two whippets in the other, I made my way across. There came a point when I could go no further so I let gravity take charge and leapt for the jumble. It obviously held because I am writing this but it wouldn't surprise me if you were reading a coroner's report.
The ice-sick-le traverse. The unpleasant portion is blocked by the foreground but you can see where I made my mark to and from.
The remainder of the ski exceeded my expectations in every sense. I didn't waste too much time taking photos due to the continual threat of rock and icefall so I skied the majority more or less non-stop. The lower bergschrund provided some unexpected relief because I missed the high traverse and ended up crossing the longest, narrowest snowbridge yet. When I got to the base I felt like I just skied 2,000 vertical feet of 40-45 degree snow.
Skier's left of the upper bergschrund. This was the route we took the previous year.
The sluff slope from the previous year. The upper crack is new and appeared to be impassible. We jumped the lower one near its middle.
The lower bergschrund. My tracks can be seen on the left and yes, there was an easier way.
Ok, so I had skied 2,000 vertical feet of 40-45 degree snow. I was still in the firing zone so I relished another 500 vertical feet of flats before stopping to pinch myself. I found my tracks from that morning and took another photo. Indeed, I'm alive.
My tracks at the base of the Coleman Headwall.
The traverse and skin out wasn't too bad with skins and a track. I passed a few campers with lots to say but little was spoken. The hike out provided a welcomed change of pace. It was no longer a matter of if I'd make it home but when. I reached the trailhead around 8pm for a roundtrip time of some 15 hours.
The start of the skin to the Coleman/Deming with the Coleman Headwall in the background.
Dessert was over, it's time for a beer. I got to talking with some folks a few cars down. Turns out they lost their keys at camp and were attempting to reach the car rental company for a spare. One was a guide for AAI living in Bellingham and the other two were a father and son from out of state. They had just climbed the North Ridge. The father had gone up the road in search of cell service. I waited a good half-hour before driving up to find him on his way back. He wasn't able to reach the rental and I wasn't sure what good it would have done them so I offered to take them all to Bellingham. I dropped them off past dark after many a thanks and a chance to share my good tidings with someone in the know.
I called Jason that night to make plans for the remainder of my vacation. He was bummed he had to work but with a trip to the north side of Adams in the works, it was all good.