05 June 2014

Baker via Squak Glacier - Summit Ski in a Day

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program of posts about Norway to bring you this very important announcement : yesterday (Wednesday, June 4) I climbed Baker and skied down from the summit. With Theresa. We were both wearing tutus. Because: Team Tutu.  

Get your skins waxed and sharpen those edges, I'm about to take you on a trip up a mountain full of slide alder, adventure skinning, crevasse crossings, icy traverses, Agro wind gusts, perfect spring corn, grabby spring glop, and more adventure skiing.

Team Tutu!

Theresa doesn't work Wednesdays and I have an amazing job that let me take a much needed comp day, so we drove up to Baker on Tuesday night. Models of efficiency, we arrived at 10pm and lights were out by 10:30pm. In that time we entirely packed our bags and prepped our gear for a 4:15am wake up call, and we made a very comfortable bed in the back of her Saturn. I was big spoon. 


We left the car at 5:09am (officially) and started skinning up right from the car (at 3200'), which was parked just down the road from the trailhead due to snow closures. We made it a whopping quarter mile before yours truly needed to use the facilities - but luckily we just happened to be passing the trailhead at the time. High-fives for fully stocked outhouses!

Our car on the right. Theresa started skinning from where she's standing.

Instead of taking the normal summer trail, we just started skinning straight North from the trailhead and found ourselves meandering amongst the standard PNW fare: slide alder, downed trees, muddy snow, you know, the usual. Theresa and I had just reached a point requiring navigational decisions when another group happened upon us. As luck would have it, 3/5 of them had done the exact same ski just four days prior (it was so nice they did it twice) and so we followed them up through the dicey tree section. 

For about 1,500 feet you're in pretty gnarly old-growth forest with lots of downed logs and pine needles and old man's beard everywhere. We skinned through the muck pretty consistently with only one short carry-over. Dave, the leader of our new friend's who had done the same tour on Sunday, said the meltout even over just a few days was considerable. Needless to say, our skins were soaking wet. I recommend pre-waxing your skins.

For our part, we were stoked to have someone show us the way, and even more excited when we came out of the trees ( at 3890') and could see the mountain for the first time. It was a beautiful morning.

Adventure skinning. Just follow the snow.

Mank on our skis.

Mountain View

Once out of the trees and into the sunshine, I got super hot (the temps were mid-50s with minimal wind) and had to remove my pants. Don't worry folks, of course I was wearing my radtastic tiger leggings underneath. I don't know what it is with those leggings - maybe they are made out of magic - but they perfectly regulate my body temperature even in high winds... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Once we cleared the trees we hugged the ridgeline climber's right to make it to the top of a prominent rockline (at 5740'). There, we put on our glacier gear (harness, beacons) ate some food and were on our way. With the dicey tree navigation it took us just under 3 hours to get here - we left that spot at 8:19am.

Prominent rockline at center. Baker summit behind.

Out view of mountains in the mist.

From the rock ridge some of the climbers in our group opted to stay high to cross the valley before you reach the glacier. We stuck low, and while we lost a little elevation initially, the skinning was much more tolerable, and we could see that the other climbers were actually on the down track, making it all the more difficult.

Our advice: stay low.

We took our next waypoint about an hour later when we were roughly half way up the mountain. Four thousand feet down, four thousand more to go. At this point the skinning got a bit more difficult, but nothing we couldn't handle. Overall it was definitely on the icy side, getting firmer as you ascend. Some clouds were coming in but generally just formed a layer of mist, and were not troubling.

Me skinning! My hands are in the air because I am having FUN!

Theresa with views of the Sisters behind.

We slowly ascended until we encountered the first real seracs around 7500'. At this point my TopoMaps iPhone app isn't the most accurate, but, you'll know these seracs when you see them. We stopped nearby for some fuel and to take in the views, then endeavored on. At this point we also opted to put on our ski-crampons, a must have piece of equipment if you plan to skin Baker in a day in the spring. The skinning was quite icy, and any sort of side-hilling was nearly impossible without immaculately tuned skins and supremely sharp edges.

Me skinning past seracs.
Looking over at the seracs.

We came to our first crevasse at 8200', and then encountered a second crack just 300' higher. We were wearing harnesses but were not roped up, and as we were on skis and not on foot we deemed these safe to cross sans roping-up. 

The first crack was about 8" wide at its thinnest point where we chose to cross. It was very deep and incredibly blue at the bottom. To climbers left as you cross there is a hidden deep gully. So be careful. I wish I had taken a photo, but when you're crossing a crevasse the last thing you want to do is take a few extra seconds for a picture. 

The second crack ran across nearly the whole slope but was easily crossable at a few points with solid snow bridges. It did not appear to be nearly as deep, or rather it hadn't opened up as far quite yet. This one will most likely create problems for climbers this summer, and I'd imagine will eventually make the route impassable.

Second crack.

Now safely above the crevasses, the skinning was steep but doable to the crater rim. Once we rounded the corner off of the Squak Glacier to the Easton however, the wind just started HOWLING. Theresa was miserable - I, wearing the magical leopard leggings, was less so but still not super stoked to be getting blown over.

We took some time at the crater rim (which I'll be honest, I had NO IDEA was there because I've only ever climbed Baker from the Coleman-Deming side, which was much more of a slog than the direct Squak route) to discuss the clouds, which were rising in elevation but not increasing in size or changing consistency. After eating more delicious sandwich and putting on extra layers, we were both motivated enough to continue our climb up the Roman Wall. We shouldered our skis and put on our boot crampons. Only 1,000 feet to go!

Below Sherman Peak. Cross this crack far-left where there's no real crack yet.

Yup. Had no idea this was there.

Theresa approaching the crater rim with smoke billowing out.

Once on the Roman Wall, the wind abated just a bit, and with the sun beaming we noted the skiing might be quite good. Warning to my fellow sufferers of shortness, the steps up the roman wall were lain by giants. I had to take some pretty gigantor steps.

We crossed the standard bergschrund mid-wall and were basically good to go from there. Although poorly spaced the booting was straightforward and soon we were making our way to the true summit. It took just over 8 hours to cover the 8,000' to get there.

Theresa crossing the schrund.
Summit view looking south.
We spent a whopping total of about 45-seconds on the summit taking these photos while be blasted by the wind. We found another use for the tutus as well (other than the obvious: safety, awesomeness, identification in photos, making your legs look skinnier) - WIND SOCK! The tutu always lets you know if the wind is blowing, and blowing it was. One gust of especially agro wind almost knocked me from my feet. I'd like to give a shout out to my awesome ski poles for providing some stability in my moment of need.



Team Tutu!
We put the skis back on (with skins) and scooched our way towards the edge of the headwall to see if we could see below. Afraid of a cornice collapse, we didn't see much. Back at the top of the Roman Wall we ripped skins and started ripping turns. Firm for the first 300', the snow softened up below and was a really, really fun time!

I might be excited for SKIING!

Theresa scootching towards ecstasy. You can't see but she's excited too.

Aight - here we go!

We skied for about 2,000' before we felt out-of-the-wind enough to open our summit beers. We laid our our packs, propped up our skis to dry, and took in the beautiful views. Clouds were continuing to blow in from the west, but they were dissipating right above our heads, and so we didn't mind at all and instead took our time to enjoy the beers. Man were they delicious. 

Theresa on the Roman Wall.


The skiing was really good in the upper mountain. Pretty much perfect spring corn. Don't take my word for it - here's some video of me chasing Theresa down the hill (once we were safely below the crevasses of course). One thing to know about Theresa - she's a racer. I am a racer too, but less so, AND I was filming, so don't judge me for not quite keeping up with her.

The skiing on the lower mountain, specifically just above our "harness up spot" (roughly at 6500') was decidedly less awesome. Like a drunk guy at a party who gets a little too handsy, this snow just did not know how to not grab at you. I can deal with sticky snow, but not when it's grabby and inconsistent. The might "pizza" snowplow would soon become my best friend.

Now we start the 'manky' portion of our 8,000' ski decent.

From there we made our way down and through the trees, which seemed to have melted out further from our morning ascent. Once again we were VERY happy to have had a group go down ahead of us (of the 5 we met in the morning, 3 summitted and two stopped at the crater rim - they all descended together, we're guessing about 90 minutes before we did). Like tracking a lioness, we sniffed out their turns through the dense forest. I was surprised actually at how fun it was. I felt kind of like a kid in an obstacle course avoiding trees while getting extra points for keeping my skis on the snow!

Oh yeah, this totally goes.

At one point we encountered the completely melted out summer trail and removed skis to find more snow. Find we did and we continued our quest to the car. It's funny how on the ski out you really realize just how far you went in the morning. hindered by some slide alder and "mud skiing" we eventually made it to the car - round trip in 11.5 hours. My motivation for doing this trip was a post by my friends Imran and Miles about their tour up the Squak on Sunday. Only they did it in 8 hours car to car. I choose to believe that they are freaks and absolutely nothing is wrong with my 11.5 hour trip. I could maybe do it in 10...maybe...

Mud skiing. That's good for the base.

Follow the white stuff. It will lead you home.

It feels awesome to have a success story after so many misadventures this year. You may remember such sufferfests as The Great Colchuck Ice Skating Incident of 2014, or, most recently, The Failed Attempt on Glacier Successful Summit of White Mountain, about which my buddy Nick wrote a fantastic trip report (in which he recounts, accurately, our experience as being "as much fun as running across a sea of tacks while being hit in the thighs with a lead sledge hammer and listening to Celine Dion." - I hope you can now understand why we hang out). Looking forward to (hopefully) more successful adventures this year. Huge thanks to Theresa for providing all of the photos of me, and for being a SPECTACULAR ski buddy. And a shout out to Tobae in the other group, who was spending her 60th birthday skiing!

1 comment:

Allison Lee said...

awesome summit photo of you xtina!