04 October 2012

Mt. Baker via the Coleman Deming

Chasing my summer ski turns for my 10th consecutive month (part of the 30 Before 30 quest), I endeavored to climb Mt. Baker in August with 4 friends. Baker is the 3rd tallest mountain in Washington State (10,778') and the volcano offers some of the best training ground to learn glacier travel skills. According to NC Mountain Guides, "the key to success on this route is good weather and good endurance. While the climbing is not very technical, it does require over 7000' of climbing from the trail head and a long summit day with close to 5000' vertical feet of elevation gain." 

As is often the case in the backcountry, I was the only girl on this little adventure with 4 dudes. Lucky for me, these dude-bros were pretty cool. We scored an amazing weather window and I learned a lot on this trip, as three of them had extensive glacial travel experience.

Baker from the Heliotrope Ridge, about 4,000'

I've skied at Baker Resort, and did my first backcountry skiing at Baker, but I had never roped up on a climb before, so I was excited for the new challenge and learning opportunity.

We loaded up two cars on August 11, and drove a few hours north to the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead, which would be our launching point. Our planned route was to follow the Heliotrope to the Coleman Glacier, camp about 7,000', then get an alpine start to summit by 10am.

Our first obstacle, a mere 5-minutes down the trail, was to navigate a log crossing, which can be a bit spicy when you're carrying a big pack with skis.

Then we began the long slog up the mountain. Moreso than on any of my other adventures, this just felt long. I guess it makes sense given that we needed to gain 4000' in our first day! Hydration was very important! Good thing we had lots of melting water to drink.

Once we got out of the trees, the views were stunning. August brings wildflowers to the glacial valleys and they did not disappoint.

The snowline sat at about 5500'. Ryan and I were happy to take the skis from our backs and use them to skin up the glacier (the other three did not bring skis) when we reached the snow. We skinned unroped, and apart from one spicy section, the going was pretty smooth.

You can see the crevasses forming at top
Zee Mooountain Looms
Growing Crevasses.

Ryan and I reached camp first  and started packing out a few platforms for our tents in the shadow of the Black Buttes ridgeline.

Basecamp - Code Orange
We made camp quickly and went to take a few laps on a nearby high spot. The skiing was surprisingly decent (all 300' of it)! We made two laps, but only because my ice axe fell out of my backpack and we had to go back for it! These were our views from camp (ridge at left was our ski descent):

Now that I've got a sweet new iPhone, I won't need to stitch together these horrendous panoramas anymore

By the end of two laps it was time for some good eats and bed. The next morning was an early start and SUMMIT DAY!

Dinner of champions - lil' smokey "cooked" over a stove
Camp sunset
Baker glowing at dusk

You can bet that after carrying that heavy pack for 4000' and many miles (5 maybe?) I slept like a baby! Part 2 coming soon....

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