Trailhead Elevation: 3,630 ft.
Summit Elevation: 10,871 ft.
Total Gain: 7,241 ft.
Distance: 13 miles r/t
I decided quickly after my Mt. Shasta climb that I wanted to get another climb in before the season ended. After talking with my good buddies Leif and Nathan, we decided to try and make an ascent of Mt. Baker, the third highest peak in Washington state. Our route would be the Coleman-Deming Glacier.
After flying up from LA on a friday night, we gathered our gear and tried to get a few hours of sleep. The plan was for Nathan and I to drive up north in the morning, to meet Leif and Robbie in Bellingham. After stopping for some much needed coffee, we started our journey. After only a little over an hour, we met everyone and began packing gear into one car, for the relatively short drive to the trailhead. Everyone was especially excited, since the weather seemed to be perfect.
After checking in to the ranger station and doing a final gear check, we set off on a 3 mile hike to climbers camp. The trail wound its way through beautiful forest, crossing several streams and waterfalls. After an hour or two, we broke out of the forest and began a steep, rocky ascent of Heliotrope Ridge. It was surrounded on all sides by epic views and hords of wild flowers, in full bloom. Soon, we crossed a couple small snowfields and found our way to a good looking campsite, at the base of the Coleman Glacier. The views of Mt. Baker were tremendous, in the late afternoon cloudless sky.
After setting up camp, we decided to head over to the snow for some much needed skills practice. I was probably the least experienced out of our crew, so I welcomed the idea. In just a couple hours I learned just as much, if not more, than my previous four day mountaineering seminar. After practicing the four types of self arrest and learning about basic anchor building and prusik use, we headed back to camp for dinnertime. Since we planned on waking up around 2am, we packed our backpacks and prepped our harnesses etc, before climbing into bed. After all was said and done, we were in our tents by 10p. I was able to close my eyes for a couple hours of on and off sleep.
Wakeup call came early. We ate a hearty oatmeal breakfast and made a final check of our packs. Around 3:30a, we left camp and walked over to the edge of the glacier. We checked each others harnesses and made sure everyone was good to go. The first hour of the climb was steeper than I thought. It’s a weird feeling at first, climbing up the side of a mountain in the dark, the snow lit by headlamp only. Luckily, it was very clear so we were treated to some faint moonlight. I barely looked at the first crevasse we passed above, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. On my Shasta climb, we didn’t come nearly as close to any crevasses, so this was new to me. It was a bit scary knowing there was a gaping crack in the snow about ten feet below me. I quickly got over it though as I knew there would be many more to come.
After we crested the first steep section, about an hour into the climb, we stopped for our first break. It was still pitch black, so we threw on our down jackets and quickly gobbled down some snacks. Again, we were walking. Up, up, and up. Step, step, step, step. The only sound was that of our crampons crunching in the snow. Slowly the sky started to lighten up. We pushed hard to try and make it to the saddle, at 9,000 feet, for our next break. About an hour and 45 minutes later, we made it. I was starting to get a tad fatigued, my body craving some trail mix and energy gels. After about 20 minutes of enjoying the gorgeous sunrise views and some much needed re-hydration, we were off again. The next couple hours to the summit would be the hardest of the climb.
First, we clambered up a steep icy section above the saddle. I was having trouble getting my ice axe to bite, and felt a bit awkward. But before I knew it, we were back to a small flat section. At this point, we coiled in our rope so that there was only a few feet between us. The next challenge would be the Pumice Ridge, an arduous dirt section with loose rock and sand. My calves were burning and my adrenaline pumping, but we powered through it. At the top, we looked directly up to the steepest part of our climb, the Roman Wall. The views never ceased to amaze me. Now we could look out over the Deming Glacier, and down upon where we just climbed up. We took another short break, to muster up our last bit of energy, so we could make it up the last 1000 vertical feet to the summit.
Just after starting up the wall, we ran into a bit of a bottleneck. Several climbers were on their way down, so we had to make our way through everyone. At one point we made our own bootpack in order not to get tangled up. I was exhausted at this point, trying hard to push myself for the last half hour. Finally, we were at the top of the wall. However, this wasn’t the true summit, even though it sure felt like it. We put our packs in a pile and set off across the last 300 feet or so to the summit. After a quick walk we were climbing up the last fifty feet to the true summit. The sky was clear with about 45 m/h winds. We were all ecstatic!!! I felt very excited to have made it, especially since it was only my second climb! The feeling of standing on top of such a powerful peak, is hard to match. It’s exhilarating!!!
After spending about an hour up top, we knew it was time to start the journey back down. Quite a few accidents occur when people get lazy or are too tired on the descent. We were all feeling good though, so we began to rope up for the long trip back. Everything seemed to go perfectly smooth. The Roman Wall was no problem, and we quickly sloshed over and down the Pumice Ridge.
There was a large debris field underneath a huge hanging serac, beneath Colfax Peak. We were instructed to move swiftly through this section, as it was an active danger zone. Sure enough, as we were moving through, a small avalanche/ice fall happened a couple hundred feet over and above us. It wasn’t large enough to cause any problems for us. If anything, it was a reminder of mother nature’s ability to bring the fury at any moment.
We continued down, the afternoon sun out in full force. Shedding layers was a constant action on the way. Finally, we made it to the last steep section above our camp, and were reminded that it was still an active mountain and we needed to not let our guard down. We wove seamlessly through the last couple crevasses and gladly strolled into camp, feeling quite accomplished.
I was pretty damn exhausted at this point. I hadn’t been able to train as much, so I knew my legs would be hurting soon. Sure enough, after a couple hours of relaxing, I was struggling to walk smoothly. We packed up the remainder of our things, and started the hike back to the car. Now that we had our heavy packs back on, it was miserable for me! It felt like an eternity, but after a couple hours, we stumbled up to the car. After exchanging high fives and taking off dirty socks, we began the drive back to Bellingham. Stopped for chips and poweraid on the way. Had burgers at Boomer’s. Drove back to Seattle and slept.
One of the key differences between this climb and Mt. Shasta was the elevation. The summit of Baker is 3500 feet lower. Another big difference is how much Baker is glaciated. The glaciers put Shasta’s to shame. It was definitely a much more powerful feeling peak. I look forward to furthering my mountaineering skills at every possible opportunity, and can’t wait for the next time I get to stand atop a beautiful peak!!!