The Baker River Smorgasbord

19-21 February 2005

Camp near Blum Lakes Camp: The Schizo is the prominent split peak with the cloud behind it.

Gettin' dumb all over Hagan and Blum

A three-day weekend with good weather? In February? Wonders never cease Anno Domini two-thousand and five. Rather than sit at home and cry about our lack of an awe-inspiring maritime snowpack, it seemed like a better idea to celebrate the still ample alpine snowpack and explore more of the never-ending terrain the North Cascades afford.

Casey Ruff accompanied the Hummels and me to the Mt Blum region. We already knew the approach and I wanted to see more of the area. We left town after the bars closed and drove to the end of Baker Lake. The Hummels and I were making bets on how well Casey would handle the approach.

It would be fair to say that he handled it better than a certain obese old hand from our party has handled similar epic approaches in the past. Forty-eight-hundred vertical feet of forest later we were dropping our gear above Blum Lakes early in the afternoon. After making camp, eating, and relaxing in the sun, it seemed like time to find adventure. We made a descent to the lowest of the lakes with a general goal of skiing something toward Hagan Mountain. The limited remaining daylight remaining helped us decide what to ski.

Approaching Mt Blum on skis Finishing the approach to Mt Blum

Jason on Schizo Jason reaches the notch on the Schizo.

Skiing the Schizo

A peak with a steep, powder-filled north face caught our attention just in time. The Hagan Glacier wasn't much farther, but we really didn't have time for that. I skinned up the face until its angle proved too strenuous. The snow had seemed scary in a few places on the approach, so we were happy that the snow was more pristine powder than windslab high on the face. I booted up a gully that approached 50 degrees to a notch, where the higher of the twin summits was about twenty feet above me on the left.

The views absolutely blew my mind. The Picket Range and Mt Despair caught my attention to the east. In the foreground, the Hagan massif and its glaciers had a very pleasing alpine feel. Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan, and Mt Blum were all looking good, too. The Schizo, as I later learned John Roper and company had called it when they climbed the peak in the early '80s (correct me if I'm wrong), made a great ski descent. Their ascent wasn't the first, but since this splendid peak can't be found in any guidebooks, I mention their name. We called the descent "Banana Split" since it was plenty sweet and it split the two peaks of the Schizo's twin personality perfectly. A thousand feet of powdery steeps, descending with the sun, then a traverse and some nice powder turns led to the lake at 4900'. We climbed the last bit to camp in the dark. The Hummels and I have formed a serious habit of ending days' journeys in the dark lately.

Casey on Schizo Casey sits atop the Schizo.

Skintrack in Sunset Sunset on our skintrack

The Hummels were in their tent, while Casey and I braved the weather in our bivy sacks. It took an extraordinary effort just to make some hot food. The wind was howling. I burrowed into my sleeping bag and bivy as quickly as I could. It was a miserable night until the wind abated after four in the morning. Wind-blown snow made a plaster around my legs so that I couldn't rearrange myself into a more comfortable position.

The morning dawned cold and clear. We wanted to see the Hagan Glacier and have fun skiing some lines in that area. A mellow start saw us skiing to the lake midway through the morning. We traversed through trees and below the Schizo. The Hagan Glacier was an alpine oasis, featuring a sea of small peaks. I skinned across the glacier toward the small, snowy summit of the "Ice Cream Cone." It promised to be a good vantage from which to choose another interesting descent.

Sunset on Mt Blum Mt Blum sunset

Approaching Hagan Jason approaches Hagan.

Josh ski shreds the Ice Cream Cone. I'll never forgive myself for just missing Baker in this shot.

Josh really liked the look of Bacon Peak from the Ice Cream Cone. It's definitely a destination for the future, with lots of cruising terrain above treeline (Girlfriend day?). There was one very obvious choice for the next descent. Just to our east was the highest summit of the Hagan massif; it had a snow-covered ridge that would make an easy ramp to and from the summit.

The week-old powder off the Ice Cream Cone was a tasty treat. We skied sun-softened crusty powder onto the Hagan Glacier. An easy skin through a notch to our south put us in prime position to climb our objective.

Postholing up a west-facing bowl led to a chute. The chute was short and steep. The chute led to the ridge. The soft, wind-filled slopes of the chute gave way to sun-baked corn on the ridge. The summit offered a fantastic perspective of the chute, so Jason, Josh and I decided to play paparazzi while Casey skied the chute.

Casey made beautiful turns down the chute: gently-arcing, fast and floaty powder turns. Well done! Jason strayed too far to the sunny side of the chute, where he found hard ice below the surface that put our torpid telemarking talespinner into a tailspin. Butt check! Josh and I learned from his mistake and enjoyed the aged powder in the shade.

Josh skis from atop Hagan Josh skis from the summit of Mt Hagan.

Josh skis the chute. Josh skis the chute.

Exiting the chute, I minimized my turns in the bowl and made a high traverse to the saddle and the Hagan Glacier. The traverse off the glacier went quickly. Miraculously, we reached camp before dark. Casey and I enthusiastically fortified the bastion around the Hummels' tent in anticipation of another windy night. The wind graciously spent the night on hiatus.

The next morning we started early: We didn't want to repeat the shenanigans from our previous Blum outing. The hope was that our early start would let us pack camp and descend to Baker River before dark. Yeah, right.

Jason climbs Mt Blum in winter Jason climbs to Mt Blum's summit ridge.

The glacier was an easy climb, but it featured a couple spots with some rather unnerving windslabs that had persisted through the week of stable weather. I was exhausted after a turn at the postholing helm, so Jason took the lead. He got us up the glacier's headwall, to the glacier-cloaked rib where the northern and eastern glaciers meet. Obtaining the summit looked non-trivial. Jason's route suggestion was good. Somewhere along the way it became clear we should descend via a different route. 60-degree icy crust above big cliffs did not meet our definition of ski terrain for the day.

Cocaine Couloir

We began our descent on beautiful corn in the south bowl. Casey wanted to look at a couloir that we had spied from Hagan Mountain. From afar, it left the impression that it might be too narrow to ski. I made a few turns into it and quickly became convinced that we had hit the jackpot. An apt description is a thin white line that got me really high, so the descent has been dubbed, "Cocaine Couloir." These deprived powderhounds were able to sniff out a piece of nose candy that consisted of 800 vertical feet of 7-20' wide, 40+ degree corn. Yahoo!

winter corn skiing on Mt Blum Casey skis winter corn on Mt Blum with the Picket Range and Jack Mountain in the background

Cocaine Couloir? Casey skis toward the entrance to Cocaine Couloir.

Cocaine Couloir! Jason and Casey ski Cocaine Couloir.

We had to descend to the lake to reach camp. Josh made a frenzied ascent to camp after a brief drink from the lake. Everyone packed as quickly as possible. I helped Casey put his skins on his skis to speed him along.

Our descent to Baker River was once again a race with the sun. We were destined to repeat our loss, but this time darkness left us only a few hundred feet above the river. The battle with the brush was as intense as ever, but Josh and I are strongly mentally conditioned for such struggles. I was the first to Baker River, emerging from the woods at the exact location of the bridge. It was nice to sit on the trail and contemplate Jason's Root Beer.

This was a really fun trip, so hopefully Casey can forgive me for when I was his TA. I'm still a salty bastard, though (Right, Casey?).

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