Mount Baker, Elevation 10,778ft
Roosevelt Headwall, 45+ degrees
June 25, 2003
Cake or ice cream? It's the age-old question with only one correct answer. Now before you indulge yourself, consider this. What if 'both' required more than an extra utensil? Say a 3,000-foot scoop on top of a 7,000-foot slice. On this first of five-day vacation my taste buds were put to the test.
The Roosevelt Headwall. Part of my ski is in red. The portion that I climbed is in green. The Cockscomb is on the left horizon.
I considered climbing Rainier but didn't want to wake up that early or rather, not go to bed at all. A photo posted on Turns All Year the day before renewed my interest in the Roosevelt. I had always considered it a winter ski to avoid the "likely rappel" but the shadows looked promising and the terrain, tempting. I checked out of work Tuesday evening with a print of the photo and a plan to give it a look in person.
6 hours of sleep put me on the road at 4am and to the trailhead within an hour. I kept my usual pace to the glacier in tennis shoes, shorts and t-shirt. Twas a brisk morning so I made a quick change to clothes and ski boots and a slow walk up the remaining glacier. The snow was firm and I had no desire to ski ice. This left me with plenty of time to tempt myself. The Coleman Headwall was looking tasty and it was a tough decision to turn down the spoon.
My pack and poles, midway up the glacier.
The glacier was in good shape so I made decent time to the saddle where I donned my UTBs. I passed a few groups that didn't seem to understand the benefit of slow and steady. They'd race ahead in anticipation of my pass. After which, they'd race to catch up before stopping again, loosing more time with each push. I felt bad for taunting them but found their antics quite amusing. Soon they'd be out of sight as I crested the Roman Wall. The summit was another 15 minutes, 5 hours from the trailhead. I rewarded myself with an early lunch (one of two sandwiches that I carried) and a 30-minute rest. Dessert was on the horizon.
Myself on the summit.
The first few turns I recalled from my previous year's hike down the Cockscomb to help rescue some injured climbers. They provided a firm but pleasant warm-up. I skirted the upper bergschrund to skier's right and stopped for a glance at the fuzzy photograph. The upper slope was much larger than I had expected but the route was obvious. Several inches of powder provided a welcomed icing on this portion of the cake.
The entrance to the upper slope. The North Ridge forms the horizon and that's powder at my feet, a rarity for June.
Another yummy look at the upper slope.
There were a couple sketchy crossings at the base of the upper slope. Little worry on skis but a big addition to my commitment.
Time for another look at the photo. A couple more turns, another look. A couple more turns, another look… The majority of the descent consisted of this. Too frightened to look back but terrified of what lay ahead. A traverse to Cockscomb Ridge was never out of the cards but bailing is never the preferred hand.
My pack and track in the midst of uncertainty.
After countless looks at the photo, I skied myself into what some might consider a predicament. 50-degree ice above a yawning crevasse with no way forward or back. For those in need of an explanation, forward was an overhung serac and a kick turn was out of the question. My only hope consisted of a narrow snowbridge to downtown seracville. Having only one option made for an easy choice but the sidestep was anything but. Reaching the small platform was a mercy. I abandoned my skis in search of an exit. Two of the three options looked like suicide and the third was certain death. There was always the climb out but after realizing that not everyone who attempts suicide succeeds, I decided to go for it.
By then I was sporting full crampons and tools so the vertical ice wasn't all too foreign. I scouted the traverse sans pack and it didn't feel as bad as first thought. Unwilling to commit, I returned to gather my gear for an all or nothing attempt. It ended up being less than 20 feet with only a couple tense moves. The glacier churned on occasion and I wasn't in the mood to become a serac sandwich so I up and left without a photo. The turns below the traverse were among the steepest but I chattered my way down with great relief. A large crevasse presented the final challenge and I wasted some energy in search of a safe crossing. Risk was the only alternative so I ended up crossing a narrow snowbridge among the crumbs.
The final crevasse. I ended up crossing the second narrow snowbridge.
I was able to milk a few turns from the lower glacier and still give myself ample vertical for the traverse beneath the North Ridge. I jumped the occasional crumb but my taste buds long for another helping and the traverse beneath the Coleman Headwall made my sweet tooth ache.
My turns on the lower Roosevelt.
The Coleman Headwall.