Mt Baker Ski Attempt 4/16

Mt Baker Ski Attempt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ascending toward Mt Baker

Eric and Greg

April 16, 2016

It’s the right time of year for big ski descents with snow all the way from summits to trailheads, long days, and generally low avy danger. Greg and I hoped to get a 7,500ft+ ski descent from the summit of Mt Baker down the Easton Glacier.

We drove up the toward the Easton Glacier trailhead friday night and got to within 1.5 miles of the trailhead before being stopped by deep snow in the road. The subaru outback tried valiantly to push through, but ended up getting stuck. Luckily I’d brought a shovel and a half hour later the car was free and we camped right there for the night at 11:30pm.

First views of the summit

First views of the summit

We were up at 3:30am and hiking soon after. This trailhead is extremely popular with snowmobilers, probably because it is actually legal for people to snowmobile almost the entire way to the summit of Mt Baker from here. Luckily we beat the snowmobile crowds at this hour and had the trail all to ourselves. We followed old snowmobile tracks on the trail leading north from the trailhead, emerging above treeline by sunrise and following a ridge up to a small local maximum called Crag View.

Here we stopped for a brief break, and I made the unfortunate choice of sitting on my pack. This was unfortunate because I had cheap used resort skis that I couldn’t hike in and had instead strapped onto my pack with the boots clipped in. But, as I later learned, the boots weren’t clipped in that ridgedly and were prone to fall out.

Nearing the edge of treeline

Nearing the edge of treeline

We scrambled over the narrow ridge at the crest of Crag View and then descended onto the Squak Glacier. My pack seemed a little lighter for some reason I couldn’t pinpoint. We soon roped up and continued up the glacier for a few more hours. By now noisy snowmobilers were racing up the glacier as well, towards the summit.

Around noon we took a break at 9,000ft and I noticed a ski boot was missing from one of my skis! The whole purpose of the trip was to ski from the summit (we’d both already hiked up and down previously), and I

Near 9,000ft

Near 9,000ft

really wanted to make this work. I suspected the boot was at the last place we’d rested, just a few hundred feet lower, so we agreed Greg would hike up slowly and I’d run down and retrieve the boot and catch up later.

Well, I kept going and didn’t see the boot. About 1,000ft lower I met a solo skier who said he saw it all the way down at Crag View, at an elevation 6,500ft! In my haste I figured I could retrieve it and make good time back to Greg, given I had no pack on and was moving fast. By 12:30pm I found the boot, and quickly started back up. It was tough going, but I think I was in good shape from my hilly daily bike commuting and climbed the 2,500ft in an hour.

Greg had descended back to the place I left my pack, though, saying the clouds had rolled in up higher and the visibility dropped. A lenticular cloud had built on the summit and it was starting to get windy. We decided to call this good for the day and enjoy the 6,000ft of skiing back to the car. It would still be a personal best of

Skiing back down 6,000ft to the car

Skiing back down 6,000ft to the car

some sort for each of us. My previous greatest continuous ski descent had actually been just over 4,000ft in New Hampshire from the summit of Mt Adams to Appalachia, and this descent would be much more.

We skied down through the softening snow, following our ascent route and making little dollar signs weaving around our upward tracks. We soon met up with the trees, and had some tricky turning before hitting the road again. By this time the snowmobilers were starting to leave as well, and we had plenty of company skiing back down the road to the car.

Little Tahoma 4/10

Little Tahoma (11,138ft)

Little Tahoma from the Cowlitze Glacier

Little Tahoma from the Cowlitze Glacier

April 9-10, 2016

Eric, Aaron, Tyler, Ana

The weather was forecast to be sunny all weekend so I abandoned plans to go rock climbing east of the crest in favor of getting high in the mountains for good views. The highest mountain in Washington that I’d not yet climbed was Little Tahoma, a peak next to Mt Rainier, and that sounded like fun. Little Tahoma is known for having loose rock at the summit, and it seems like the ideal time to climb it would be when it is mostly covered in snow, which is about this time of year.

Hiking up to Camp Muir

Hiking up to Camp Muir

Saturday morning we all four piled into the subaru with skis loaded in the top carrier and drove 2 hours down to Rainier National Park. From the Paradise parking lot we loaded overnight and glacier gear on our backs and started hiking up towards Camp Muir. Tyler and Ana had fancy backcountry ski setups that they could skin up the mountain with, but Aaron and I had to carry our skis on our backs.

The hike up was extremely crowded, with at least several hundred people skiing or hiking up towards Camp Muir. The sun reflecting off the snow made it seem like summer outside, which is probably why there

Little Tahoma from camp

Little Tahoma from camp

were so many people out. After a few hours we diverged from the main route to Camp Muir just under Anvil Rock and started traversing right towards Little Tahoma.

After some debate we decided to pitch camp on a flat rock outcrop just below Anvil Rock. With a few hours of daylight still remaining Tyler and I hiked up to Camp Muir at around 10,000ft and skied back down to our camp around 8,500ft.

That night we all agreed it got down much colder than the predicted 34F, and I at least woke up cold at 2am in

Sunrise from the Cowlitz Glacier

Sunrise from the Cowlitz Glacier

my bivy sack and couldn’t get back to sleep. I tried eating chocolate chips and doing situps, but the only real solution would have been to bring a warmer sleeping bag.

By 5am we all woke up and started traversing the Cowlitz Glacier around sunrise an hour later. We crossed through a small icefall and then ascended briefly to a notch in a ridge below Cathedral Rocks. We then crossed the Ingraham Glacier and ascended to a notch in another ridge coming down from Little Tahoma.

Crossing a small icefall

Crossing a small icefall

By now the sun had risen and the temperature was getting uncomfortably warm. I can’t imagine how hot this trip must be in the summer, with a hotter air temperature compounded with all the sunlight reflecting off the snow, hitting you from all directions.

We next traversed the Whitman Glacier and started ascending up towards the summit of Little Tahoma. Surprisingly there was a party of four skiers high above us bare-booting up the steep snow towards the summit. I hadn’t found any reports of any party climbing Little Tahoma before late May in the past, so hadn’t expected to see anybody else here. Perhaps they didn’t expect to see us either.

Ana 1000ft below the summit

Ana 1000ft below the summit

We stashed our snowshoes in the snow at the base of the steepening section, and soon met up with the boot path the skiers had kicked out. Two of the skiers had turned around and descended back down the Whitman Glacier, but the other two looked to be gunning for the summit.

Eventually we reached a small level section at the base of a cliffy rock band, and Tyler stashed his skis here. We followed the boot track up steepening snow weaving through rock bands, until the snow finally disappeared as we gained the summit ridge.

The other two climbers had ditched their skis here and were belaying each other over the short exposed rock section to the summit. I arrived first and rested on the summit ridge to give them time to enjoy the summit and return. The summit was pretty exposed and only big enough for a few people at a time.

Eric on the summit belaying Tyler over

Eric on the summit belaying Tyler over

To the north a cliff dropped down 2,000ft to the Emmons Glacier below, near camp Sherman. Looking west toward the summit of Rainier I noticed about 15 climbers ascending the Ingraham Glacier, nearing the summit. It was 12:30pm by now, and definitely a busy day for Rainier for this early in the season. Come June, though, and I bet there will be hundreds of people on the mountain every day.

Ana on the narrow summit ridge

Ana on the narrow summit ridge

After the other two climbers descended I led 30 meters across the small exposed rock notch to the summit and set up an anchor to belay everyone else over. Since the summit was so small I belayed each person over then back, so it would never get too crowded.

The summit was pretty interesting, because the rocks had apparently been struck by lightning and had smooth black streaks on top that looked like obsidian.

I checked the summit register and our groups were the first up since July of last year! The summit averages about 10 ascents per year based on the register, so orders of magnitude less popular than Rainier.

Ana belayed me back from the summit, and we quickly descended back to our snowshoes. We retraced our route back to camp, this time avoiding the icefall area that would be less stable in the afternoon sun. By 5pm we reached camp and donned our skis for the descent back to Paradise.

Loading up back at Paradise

Loading up back at Paradise

This was my first time skiing the Muir Snowfield, and it is extremely fun. It’s very wide, and not very steep, so you’re free to choose from many different fun lines back to the trailhead.

We made it back well before the gate closed, and drove back to Seattle that evening.

Glacier Peak 4/2

Glacier Peak (10,520ft)

Glacier Peak from the south

Glacier Peak from the south

April 1-2, 2016

Eric and Duncan

Glacier Peak is the most remote volcano in the cascades and is at least a 15-mile hike from the nearest road. With a long stretch of high pressure forecast Duncan and I decided to give it a try, and see if we could squeeze it into two days instead of the normal three or four that people take in the summer.

Climbing up to the ridge west of White Peak

Climbing up to the ridge west of White Peak

We drove up Friday morning to the North Fork Sauk River trail, reaching the trailhead after a few washouts that required high clearance. Luckily Duncan’s truck had no problem. We were hiking by 9am, and soon encountered intermittent snow. The first five miles to the Mackinaw shelter were mostly flat, but after the shelter the trail started switchbacking steeply up the south slopes of White Peak.

The slopes were completely snow covered, so we gave up following the trail and wallowed our way through the

A wintery wonderland near sunset

A wintery wonderland near sunset

brush and slush. We eventually traversed right above the trees to a small col just west of White Peak. This was the first spot where we could actually get a glimpse of Glacier Peak, still about five miles north of us.  From here we descended gradual slopes, then traversed east below the cliffs on the north side of White Peak.

Crawling out of our bivy sacks at dawn

Crawling out of our bivy sacks at dawn

Sunset caught up with us a few hours after descending from the ridge, and we layed out our bivy sacks at 9pm just below Glacier Pass. We could still see the summit in the twilight and briefly considered pushing on to summit that night, but with clear weather forecast the next few days it seemed reasonable to wait until morning when we’d get better views.

I woke up at 5am and the summit was socked in with clouds! I regretted not pushing on last night, but we decided to sleep in a bit more and see if the clouds cleared. By sunrise at around 6am the summit was back in the clear, so we decided to go for it. I dug a hole in the

Approaching the south ridge

Approaching the south ridge

snow to bury our bivy gear to keep the crows away, and we climbed up to Glacier Pass. We traversed around a local maximum and then met up with the south ridge of Glacier Peak. Now the clouds rolled in again and visibility dropped. We pushed on, though, following the ridge until we popped out above the clouds just below disappointment peak.

Here we traversed right, then wrapped around to the col between Disappointment and Glacier Peaks. The snow started getting icy so Duncan ditched the skis and

On the summit

On the summit

cramponed up the rest of the way. We topped out at 11am in cold and windy conditions, but it wasn’t too bad considering we were just two weeks past the end of winter. There was actually a set of mountain goat tracks on the summit, and two holes in the snow where it looked like it had been trying to dig down to the dirt. The cloud ceiling topped out a few thousand feet below us, so we were treated to an amazing undercast with Rainier and Mt Stuart poking out to the south, and Mt Baker to the northwest.

We spent some time trying to figure out which of the three local maxima near the top was the summit, and after tagging the two easternmost ones decided the middle one was the tallest (this was later confirmed by our GPS).

Descending from the summit

Descending from the summit

We were hoping to get back to the truck that night, so soon descended. Duncan soon donned the skis while I tried to jog down quickly alternating between crampons and snowshoes. Eventually we met up back at the bivy cache and melted some more snow for water. It was extremely sunny and easy to get dehydrated, but luckily Duncan’s stove was very fast at creating some water for us.

From here we retraced our ascent route, with Duncan blasting down on skis and me racing to keep up in snowshoes. Needless to say, I will definitely be investing

Descending the south ridge

Descending the south ridge

in a backcountry ski setup soon. We were back up on the ridge west of White Peak by 5pm, and soon descended back to the trail near the Mackinaw shelter. Surprisingly there was a fresh set of boot and ski tracks just above the shelter, and it looked like a solo skier had hiked in that day, walked up a few hundred feet into the snow, and got in a couple turns. He appeared to be camping outside the shelter and it didn’t look like he planned to go much higher.

The hike out was a bit difficult in our soaking wet boots (soaked from walking through all the slushy snow), but by 10pm we made it back to the truck. There was another group camped out at the trailhead, and I imagine this area is extremely popular in the summer. Luckily this time of year you can basically have Glacier Peak all to yourself, at least until the trail starts really melting out more in a few months.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA