I was up before sunrise and had the not so pleasant task of waking the others up. I wandered around in search of a photo while I waited for them to get ready. Baker captured all the attention.
Sunrise on Mount Baker while the moon goes down.
The wet snow had turned to ice so I knew we were in for a difficult ski to the base of the West Face. I wasn't sure exactly how far we had to go down. We ended up dropping a good 1500 vertical feet -- 1000 ft to the base of the valley and another 500 ft down it before we could find a suitable line to ascend the face.
What is suitable for Troy and I wasn't exactly suitable for the Hummels. We had several years of rock climbing experience so a 70 degree scramble in ski boots wasn't that big of a deal for us. The Hummels had less experience so they ended up learning as we went. We eventually made it to some steep snow where they felt more comfortable. Josh had crampons but the rest of us just had ice axes. This is one trip where I think crampons would have been worth the extra weight.
We were in way over our heads but there was no turning back. The snow was scary enough to make us decide not to ski down. The solid ice turned into a breakable crust. Now we had to worry about avalanches. Our best bet was to climb to the top of the West Face, ski down the Sulfide Glacier and drop back in further south -- all the way to the forest if necessary. Besides, I still thought that we might make it to the top.
Time was running out and we seemed to be getting nowhere. The West Face is awfully big. I'd say 5000 vertical feet where we were. We felt relatively safe about half way up on a ridge where the avalanches were less likely to sweep.
Troy nearing the halfway mark on the West Face.
We took a short break and continued on the right side of the ridge. The snow got deeper and breaking trail became a hassle. I trudged onward with the hope of making it back to camp before dark. Getting to the summit was no longer an option. The sky had turned gray and we knew that the visibility could trap us at any moment. The top of Baker had already become victim to the storm.
Josh continues the trudge. Lake Ann is buried near the right center edge of the photo.
We finally made it to the edge of the Sulfide Glacier. We caught a glimpse of the summit just before topping out around 8000ft. We put on our skis and headed down the Sulfide. The snow was great but we had no time to enjoy it.
There's the top, still several hours away.
Jason heads down the Sulfide Glacier as the visibility drops.
We reached a saddle and decided to drop in there. It looked like it went through and it did. The top part was steep -- 40 degrees. It eased to a steady 30 degrees but the snow worsened. The slope was littered with avalanche debris and the runnels were hard to avoid. We skied around a waterfall about halfway down and cut into the trees. We knew we would hit the valley much lower than our starting point so we tried to traverse as much as we could. The snow had softened up and we finished the day off with some more good turns. Camp was still several hours away but we decided to take a break.
A much needed break at the base of the West Face.
Avalanche debris in the valley on our way back to camp.
We skinned up the valley and climbed a steep slope back to camp. There was some interesting avalanche debris on the way. Camp was a good place to be because the car was only a couple hours away. We considered packing up and leaving that night but it was getting dark and we had no place better to be.
Back at camp.
The next morning I could think of a lot of places that I would rather have been. It started to rain sometime during the night and it was pouring when we woke up. I didn't dare get out of my bivy sack until the others were up. It wasn't too long before Jason was knocking on my gore. The Hummel's sleeping bags are basically useless to begin with. When they get wet they mind as well sleep in their backpacks. They started packing at daylight. Troy and I waited until the last minute and we all began the sprint back to the car. I didn't mind skiing down from the Shuksan Arm but it took nearly an hour of wet hiking to get there.
Two out of three isn't bad for Memorial Day weekend. We should have known better than to expect a third.