Skiing Circles Around Mt Baker

As the take-off date came closer and closer, and the weather forecast became clearly wetter, I spent more and more time peering at the maps, plugging waypoints into my GPS, and peering at John Scurlock's winter time photos of Mt Baker.  Dan and Chrix had asked me to take them on a big tour that would stress glacier travel, and I realized that skiing around Mt Baker would commit us to glacier for all but 6 hours of a 5 day trip.

Another reason I picked this tour was the weather forecast - the probability of precipitation (POP) was starting at 80% and dropping to 40% by the end of the tour on Saturday, with warm temps almost guaranteeing that we were going to get wet.  Not just that, but I was confident that we were going to spend a lot of time in the white room.  Not that white room - its June.  The I-can't-see-more-than-30-feet-in-front-of-me-oh-my-gods-is-that-a-crevasse? white room.  So Dan and Chrix were getting two big experiences, in extensive glacier travel and in for-real white-out navigation.  But at least I was reasonably confident that I could get us around the mountain in a white-out, even if I wasn't confident we'd ever see the summit, let alone stand on it.

So I picked the guys up in Seattle last Tuesday and we started driving towards a big grey wall.  We were already in the clouds when we left the car and started up the Heliotrope Ridge trail.  I'll let the photos and a few captions tell the rest of the story.

Tuesday, Day 1.
Snow blocked the road less than a 1/4 mile from the trail head.

The wet, intimidating log crossing 10 minutes later. 
We booted as far as the old Kulshan cabin site. 
Then started skinning from there. 
The day was fully in the clouds, with occasional breaks like this to show us what was there.
We were at our campsite on the Hogsback less than an hour from here. 
The guys got a kick out of my glacier demonstration with my favorite candy bar. 
Wednesday, Day 2.
The morning weather was wet and in the clouds, so we spent some time discussing the finer
points of crevasse rescue.  First, we build an anchor taking advantage of skis and ice axes. 
Then build a haul system - something that would make a great posting later. 
Finally we headed out and started climbing the Coleman Glacier,
and the weather began to steadily improve. 
One of our first views of Mt Baker. 
Crusty snow at the Baker-Colfax Col.   This is the direct circumnav (no summits)
highpoint, at 9010'.
Looking up at Colfax Peak, which we had originally hoped to ski, but the late start and
ugly snow conditions convinced us to do other things. 
Crossing the Deming Glacier required roped downhill travel to thread the needle. 

Descending into the sunset and into the clouds on the Easton Glacier. 
Originally, we had planned to ski down to 6200' below the Easton Glacier,
but clouds and really poor light convinced us to stop and camp at the foot of
this rock at 6500'. 
Thursday, Day 3.
More whiteout navigating with 30'-100' of visibility, across the Squak and Talum Glaciers.
We had hoped to climb and ski the southern summit, Sherman Peak, but had to cancel those
plans in these conditions.
Crossing the Boulder-Talum divide at 7300'. 
The white-out fun continues across the Boulder Glacier, where I'm sure we traversed more
than we needed to simply because we couldn't see, and couldn't take advantage of the slopes
to have gentle descending ski traverses and easy uphill climbs. 
Digging out camp.  The slope was inclined enough that we had to dig twice - once to
make a flat platform for the tent itself, and second for our lower floor inside the tent. 
Right at sunset, the clouds suddenly vanished, and Mt Shuksan started to
come into view... 
Friday, Day 4.
...and welcomed us in the morning. 
Dropping camp at 6am, with Mt Baker in the background.  Chrix takes
his sun protection very seriously, and is thinking of busking in San
Francisco as a mime. 
Looking up the Boulder-Park Cleaver to the summit.  This was our climbing
route, and in the best conditions possible.  Really jaw-dropping to think that
we couldn't have done this on any other day of the tour.  
Dan's skinin' and grinin' through one of the steeper sections.  That's because this is better than
the post-holing we experienced for about 200' below him. 
At the top of the Cleaver, with about 1600' of elevation to the summit. 
Now we really have something to grin about - less than 500' to go.
That's Mt Baker's crater to the left of Dan. 
Summit shots. 
"Let's go shred the gnar-gnar!!" 
Having shredded the gnar-gnar as Chrix demanded, we pause to look up
and admire our work.  Mt Baker's summit is the high point on the left.
We skied the ridge to the rock tower - the Cockscomb - then entered the headwall. 
Finding a skiable route across the bergschrund proved to be the biggest challenge. 

Once we did that, we still had 3000' of skiing on the Park Glacier to reach camp. 

Looking back up the Park Glacier at our turns.  We were pretty stoked. 
A great view of our floor-less tent, a Black Diamond Megamid, with Mt Baker
and the entire ski run down from the summit to the Cockscomb and down the
Park Glacier completely in view. 
Right after dinner, we started to notice the clouds building up. 
And at 9:30pm, we saw this team of 10.  We could only presume that it was the same
team of 10 that we saw crossing the Boulder Glacier earlier that day.  Amazingly,
they kept walking past our camp, heading towards the Ptarmigan Arm and into the clouds,
not stopping to set up a camp.  Who knows?

Saturday, Day 5.
We woke up to pounding rain on our tent at 5:30am, had breakfast in bed, then tried to stall for time in the vain hope that the rain and wind would let up.  Finally we left the tent and made it up to the Baker-Bastille Col at 11am.  We skied through the rain, down the Roosevelt and Coleman Glaciers with a few incidences and issues, but finally made it back out to the car completely soaked.  The lack of photos may demonstrate how wet everything was.  But we were out and we were stoked.

Statistics | Mt Baker Circumnavigation and Summit via the Boulder-Park Cleaver, summit descent via the Park Glacier.  24 miles, 12,040' climbed and skied, up to 45 degree slopes.  12-16 June, with Chrix F. and Dan S.  Pro Guiding Service.

Photos | Chrix forgot his and mine died a noble death on Day 1, so all the photos here were taken with Dan's camera, and are now in my own collection.  Thanks Dan!