Mount Baker is a special mountain to me. One of the most memorable sunsets I’ve experienced was on the west side of the summit on the Coleman glacier. THE most memorable and enjoyable number two I’ve ever taken was on the Coleman glacier. I don’t say this to be crass. It truly was a memorable experience.
It’s two AM and the alarm sounds. The air is calm and the sky is clear. Somehow it takes us two hours to pack, eat and get moving. This puts us an hour behind schedule right off the bat. Thankfully the glacier is still in good spring form lacking its typical maze of crevasses. We crank our way up the Coleman still on skis, but wishing for ski crampons all the way to the bergschrund below the North Ridge. Here we put our skis on our backs for the rest of the climb. In the process I leave my pack unzipped and end up sending a few energy bars down the slope and into a hungry crevasse. Crossing the bergschrund is straight forward with a fun, steep step up and onto the snowfield above. I quickly realize that the skis on my back are going to be annoying as they keep bonking into the ice above me.
Once on the snowfield we unrope and start the steep slog up toward the ridge. The slope is a good fifty to sixty degree angle. A fall here is probably un-arrestable, but the snow is perfect for tooling and cramponing. So I feel as snug as a bug in a rug. Now that we’re on steeper terrain I have to rest more frequently. Every stop I make I turn to admire the rising sun shedding light on the lower mountain. Then I look up towards the ridge above in anticipation of resting in the warm sunlight.
Progress slows as we gain the ridge. It’s only now that I realize that my body is running on fumes and I’m about to bonk. Yesterday I made it through the approach on very little food, but didn’t consider it’s toll on my body for today. Dinner was pretty minimal and didn’t re-charge my body either. And now I’m without a lunch and down a few energy bars thanks to my sacrifice to the glacier gods. Oh man. A cold-cut-combo five dollar footlong sounds so good right now. Thankfully Forrest’s foot-longs are still fueling him and he has extra food to share. My lack of energy slows us as we make our way up the ridge towards the exciting ice pitch. After a few bars and starbursts my body begins to recover.
We traverse left below the ice cliff to where the guidebook speaks of a nice almost vertical arete. We find the arete, but instead of being a nice unhindered line to the top of the cliff, it runs straight into an overhang that’s impassable (at least with skis on our backs). After wasting over an hour exploring the left side of the cliff, we decide that we should probably follow all the other tracks that lead right to a smaller step that leads to a notch that ramps up and through the cliff. From far away this step looked boring and small. But it turns out to be a fun traversing pitch on good ice followed by a short vertical pitch that had the feel of a boulder problem.
Once above the cliff we stay roped for a couple hundred feet placing occasional pickets. The ice quickly turns to snow and we unrope once more for the final push up the steep slope. By now my energy level is through the roof and we’re only a thousand feet from the summit. The thing about Cascade volcanos is that the summits round off so subtly. As I come around the plateau I just keep front pointing and tooling until I realize that I’m on a twenty degree slope, still on my hands and feet, and probably look like an idiot. So I stand up and wander the last several feet to the false summit and drop my pack for a well-deserved rest.
Those foot-longs must finally be enacting revenge on Forrest because it takes about forty five minutes for his head to finally float into view coming over the false summit. Apparently he took a small fall on the final steep section. But I don’t buy it. I blame the subs.