Photos by Jeff Manor
Jeff was set to climb the North Ridge of Mt Baker. I had my doubts and fears, most of which came to pass. Somehow I agreed to go.
We left the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead around 4 am. We were at the base of the Coleman Glacier in no time. We started as if we were going to climb the Coleman-Deming Route. We climbed the first bit of glacier to where it flattens and the bootpack heads toward the Black Buttes, then began to traverse the glacier from there. This might have been a mistake in retrospect, but that could be said of most aspects of this trip.
The crevasses had had fun playing with us. We thought we had a straight shot across the glacier to the base of the North Ridge, but some really big cracks stopped us and turned us back to the south. We tried to work our way through some crevasse fields to no avail. We resorted to climbing down into and up out of several large crevasses. We went up and down, around and around. There must have been a better way. Did I mention that that it was raining?
Over six hours later, the sun broke through, and we found ourselves below the chute leading from the Coleman Glacier to the North Ridge. I don't know where the time went, but by the time I started up the ice cliff, it was 4 pm. The whole thing was a waterfall over ice. The ice was rotten. I tried to climb where Jeff suggested, but found myself cut short 2/3 of the way to the top. All I will say is this: Rotten ice, an overhanging bulge, and a deluge of ice water sapped my confidence and left my forearms pumped. I downclimbed and managed to remove my screws, but I was hurting at the bottom. My hands were very cold. You would think that I would take the good gloves on a trip like this after my frostbite last February on Glacier Peak. I'm a dolt!
After sitting in the sun and regaining my composure for awhile, we traversed the base of the ice cliff toward the Coleman Headwall. We found a more mellow way to surmount the cliff, where I was able to ascend without contemplating a screw, a rest, or even a second placement of a tool. We were home free, except we had to get over the summit icecap and down the Coleman-Deming Route.
It was dark by the time we reached the Coleman-Deming saddle. The rain must have somewhat erased the boot pack, because it was hard to follow. We spent a couple hours wandering around the glacier in the dark. A little bit of climbing and a lot of scrutiny put us on the bootpack, away from the large crevasse systems around the Black Buttes. To complement all the other foolishness of the outing, we spent more than an hour looking for our shoes on the moraines above the Hogsback.
I finished hiking just after 4am, maximizing the concept of a "day trip." This route is a lot of fun, really gorgeous, and I have some great new ideas for skiing this winter!
One of these "great new ideas" finally came to fruition: Skiing Mount Baker's North Ridge