At 10,781 feet, Mt. Baker is the third highest of the Cascade volcanoes and the last we had planned to climb this spring. We were interested in the North Ridge, a somewhat technical route, involving steep terrain (over 70 degrees) and some technical ice climbing. It is reputed to be one of the best technical snow and ice routes in the Cascades. The route is approached from the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead on the northwest side of the mountain, climbs to the toe of the Coleman Glacier at 6,000 ft, where good camps on rock benches can be found, then makes a long eastward traverse across the heavily crevassed glacier before climbing onto the North Ridge itself. Snow slopes lead to an ice cliff at approximately 9,600 ft. A bit of technical climbing through the ice cliff lead to more steep snow to the summit plateau. The total elevation gain from the trailhead is 7,100 feet.

After a couple of days of rest in Seattle, we were ready to climb again. The forecast called for a high pressure system for the North Cascades so we hurried to Bellingham to get ready for the climb. We left Bellingham for the town of Glacier on June 15. When we arrived in Glacier, we stopped at the ranger station to inquire about permits and conditions on the North Ridge. The rangers did not know much but we were able to glean some information from the register. We also inquired about dispersed (free, that is) camping in the area. The rangers were unusually helpful in that regard and indicated several possible spots. We unhooked the jeep and drove around to check some of those out. We finally settled on a large overflow parking area, across the road from the Douglas Fir campground, 12 miles east of Glacier. Most other places we saw were simply too tight for the bus to fit in. We settled down, packed, and had one of our traditional high-carb pre-climb dinners: vegetarian burritos. We went to bed early (6PM), planning on an early start for what we thought would be a long approach (it was not).

The next morning, we left the bus around 5:30AM and drove to the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead at 3,700 ft. We started hiking through lush rainforest on a very good trail, crossing several streams along the way. We reached the toe of the Coleman Glacier three hours later and set up camp on a rocky bench by a stream of glacial melt-water. We spent most of the day resting and contemplating our fate for the next day. In the afternoon, we roped up and walked for a mile or so onto the glacier to scope out a good route through the dense crevasse fields. It is always a good idea to take a mental picture of a glacier from a distance before crossing it, particularly in the dark. Later that afternoon, another party of two set up their tent close to ours. They were also going for the North Ridge. We had our usual early dinner, and set the alarm for midnight.

We roped-up and left camp at about 1:30AM. We made our way across small crevasses and around huge ones. We traveled mostly "en echelon" as we were paralleling closely spaced crevasses. The snow was very soft and we were post-holing most of the way. The crossing went smoothly and we were soon on steep slopes (40°) leading from the west side onto the ridge at approximately 8,800 ft. Once on the ridge, the postholing gave way to easy cramponing on much firmer snow. From there, the ridge narrows and steepens as it climbs toward the ice cliffs. We reached the base of the ice cap at sunrise. A sketchy traverse to the left on snow-covered hard ice allowed us to reach the eastern toe of the ice cliff, avoiding the more serious (overhanging) ice cliffs above. This section was quite exposed. We started placing an ice screw about every rope length between us for protection. Once at the toe, we simul-climbed a pitch of 70+ degree ice to reach the upper shoulder. We then skirted left around the upper serac and found ourselves on the steep snow slopes leading toward the summit. The snow on this last section was really rotten and pretty scary. Not able to get any more protection between us in the hollow snow, we just moved carefully, self-belaying ourselves with our ice axes the best we could. After negotiating the final crevasses, we were walking on Baker's rounded summit, which we reached around 9AM. We had the summit to ourselves and nice views of Mount Shuksan. It was cold and windy, so we quickly started descending the "normal" route back to camp. Traveling west from the summit, we first descended the moderate slopes of the "Roman Wall" of the Deming Glacier (about 30°). This leads to the col between Baker and the "Black Buttes" at 9,000 ft. From there, we descended the Coleman Glacier back to camp. A quick and straightforward descent. A couple of hours later, we were back at camp where we had lunch and rested for a while before hitting the trail to the car.

Mount Baker, WA - North Ridge

June 16-17, 2003 / Grade III+, 70° snow & ice, glacier, altitude, 2 days.
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The top of Mount Baker seen from the descent.
 
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Packing the gear.
 
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Hiking through lush rainforest on the approach.
 
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A few "interesting" stream crossings.
 
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Our camp at the toe of the west arm of the Coleman Glacier (6,800 ft).
 
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The North Ridge.
 
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The usual night shift begins (~1AM).
 
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Just before sunrise.
 
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One good thing about alpine starts... you get to enjoy sunrise! (~4AM).
 
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On the steep slopes below the ice cliff.
 
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Approaching the ice cliff.
 
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Traversing towards the toe of the ice cliff.
 
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Simul-climbing on the steep ice step.
 
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Above the ice step with the Coleman Glacier in the background.
 
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Taking a rest....
 
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...before skirting left around the serac.
 
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On the steep snowfield just before reaching the final crevasses.
 
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Walking on the rounded summit.
 
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The crater sits some distance below the summit to the west.
 
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Summit ...
 
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...pictures.
 
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Hazy view of Mount Shuksan.
 
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Descending the "Roman Wall".
 
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Snow mushroom formations similar to those seen on Mount Hood.
 
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Descending toward the "Black Buttes".
 
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Another beautiful and scary ice cliff, this one capping the "Black Buttes".
 
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Crossing the west edge of the Coleman Glacier toward camp.
 
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That's all folks ! (back at the car).
(high res. images are about 300KB)