Mt Baker: One-Day Winter Ski

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10 January 2003

baker summit icecap Dave crosses the summit icecap to Grant's Peak.

Mt Baker summit at sunset Approaching the summit of Mt Baker at sunset

All right, I'll admit, sometimes it's hard for me to go to classes knowing that it's only a 2.5-hour drive to where you park to climb Mt Baker. Forget the fact that I don't have a car; I could steal a car. Or I could talk to one of my friends with that crazed, desperate look in my eyes, until they acquiesce and loan me the car for fear of what depravity may come without the fix. Luckily, it's not quite as bad now, since I've met some quality people who share the addiction. Don't worry, skiers don't share needles; we just look for bigger and better lines.

It so happened that early in this young year there was a six-day high-pressure window. With all apologies to my professors, I don't know how I would have lived with myself if I didn't make it out before the next storm cycle. I think Dave Coleman had probably been saying, "Chute!" every third word since the trip at the end of December, maybe even acting like he was saying shoot or shit sometimes to hide his obsession around people who wouldn't have understood. We found ourselves with a Friday of good weather and a mountain to split between the two of us.

We got a slightly earlier start and were skinning up the road by a quarter after eight. I didn't know exactly what to expect from the conditions, but I was positive that we had no avalanche concerns. There had been several days of heavy rain and wind with no subsequent cool, orographic cycle after the last storm series, then five days of clear weather. Down low, glazed crust for sure, but up high, maybe it would be nice?

The coverage in the woods was nowhere near as good as during the previous trip, with some spots where the skins just didn't work. We made it out quickly enough, though. The steep gully just didn't even seem worth trying with skins to me, so I put the crampons on the boots and made a stairway to heaven. It looked like some aspects of the steep gullies were actually filled with nice fluff. We used the crampons for the three rolling pitches up to the ridge, and then went back to skinning for the glacier slog.

Puget Sound sunset Sunset over the Puget Sound from about 10k on Mt Baker

alpenglow skiing Real men ski pink.

We didn't stop again until we reached the base of the serac-lined chute (~9,100 feet) around 1:45, and we took a break to switch back to crampons. Most of the glacier had been a soft, shallow wind crust. We cut a corner from the base of the chute to shorten the climb and omit the saddle, still spending a good hour and a half kicking up the hard-packed, icy slopes to the top of the Roman Wall. We reached the summit around four, I was about five minutes ahead of Dave and now highly focused to make some turns and get some glacier above us before dark. This resulted in Dave being constantly pestered on the summit. Every thirty seconds I said to Dave, "I'm ready to get out of here," as if he could have skied without his skis. Sorry about that, Dave.

After seeing that there had been an avalanche in the chute and what remained was an icy surface through the central portion, we decided to ski the south-facing Deming Glacier below the Roman Wall in hopes of getting less icy conditions. The other side of the ridge probably would have been better in retrospect; I think the problem was that the wind had been coming from the east, so this side was abnormally windward. The Coleman Glacier on the other side of the saddle was soft crust, not too bad. We were below the ridge and 5,000 feet before dark. Some of the snow in the gullies was actually pretty sweet. That is, until it coaxed me into opening some big turns and then hit me with the funk. It was all great fun.

We skied everything but the 300 vertical feet through the woods, for about 7,600 vertical feet of skiing. The conditions weren't anywhere near as pleasing as the previous trip, but the January summit felt nice. I don't think we made it halfway back to Seattle before Dave said something about the chute, wondering if it would be in condition next weekend. Of course it will!

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