June 23, 2013

Mt. Baker Ski

Back in early June, Ava, Kris, Evan and I set off to climb and ski Mt. Baker.  For those familiar with the ski area named Mt. Baker, take note that this is not the same place.  The ski area is several miles from the mountain, between Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker at about 4,000 to 5,000 ft in elevation.  Mt. Baker proper is a 10,781 ft, heavily glaciated volcano.

On our way up to camp on the first day

We opted for the Easton Glacier route as I was familiar with it and knew it would make a fantastic ski descent.  We parked at about 3,100 ft, shortly before reaching the Schriebers Meadows parking area as the road was still impassible due to snow.  Great news!  We'd get to ski from the car and not have to haul our skis up to the snowline.  We took our time ascending to treeline where we set up camp and proceeded to ponder the unstable mountain weather.  A questionable weather forecast, occasional rain, and rapidly morphing clouds kept us guessing.

Camp - at about 5,250 ft

Suspect weather makes for great scenery

We woke the next morning to clear skies and set off from camp at about 0500.  We attempted to time it so that we would be descending the upper part of the mountain at corn-o-clock, the time when the the sun has melted the surficial snow perfectly (not too icy, not too slushy).

Mt. Baker - a mere 5,000 ft above us with absolutely no sense of scale

We made good time skiing up the mountain.  Finding the glacier very well filled in with only occasional crevasses visible and following a heavily trodden path (we weren't the only ones on the mountain), we found it reasonable to continue on skis without roping up.

Snack break part way up the glacier

We made it all the way to the base of the Roman Wall (9,800 ft) before we decided to stop skinning and rope up.  After making good, steady time up this steeper section, we put the skis back on and continued.

Roped up for the slightly steeper Roman Wall section of the climb

Sharing a sandwich on the summit plateau

After topping out on the Roman Wall section, you're on the summit plateau.  To reach the true summit, you must cross about 1/4 mile of nearly flat terrain.  With whiteout conditions (a lenticular cloud had set in on the upper 500 ft of the mountain) and feeling the altitude a bit, Ava decided to wait for the rest of us to tag the summit and return.

Three Amigos Summit Shot - the wind must have been blowing from our left side based on the frost buildup

It didn't take us long to ski over to the summit and back, find Ava in the whiteout, and descend out of the wind and cloud.

More balanced frost action after descending off the summit plateau

To make a long ski story short, we nailed corn-o-clock and had an amazing ski down with permanent grins and frequent giggles.  We stopped at 5,250 ft to pick up our camp and effectively had a 7,650 ft ski run back to the car.

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