Grand Prize Winner Celebrates With Baker Summit!
Grand prize winner EJ Hurst recounts Mount Baker climb last summer. Climbs for this summer are just around the corner.
When Scott Henley wrote to me to let me know I had won the Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association Grand Prize I didn’t believe him at first. Out of over 1 000 people, I had won the best prize ever – a guided trip up Mt. Baker with Seattle-based Mountain Madness!
The Series is an annual multi-event celebration to raise awareness for developing a continuous wilderness trail, 700km long, linking communities all along Vancouver Island, from Victoria to Cape Scott. I did a section in Strathcona Park Forbidden Plateau as a ski tour.
I elected to do my climb with a group in July on the Easton Glacier route. Mountain Madness rented me an ice ax, mountaineering boots and crampons. On the first day of the trip, I was met at my hotel by our guides, Chris Petry and Jenny Konway and we went to Second Ascent gear shop. All the participants had been sent detailed equipment lists and we emptied our packs on the floor for a complete gear inspection. Chris handed out some plastic bags with smaller blue bags inside. “Know what this is?” he asked. “I am thinking it’s the toilet.” I said. Mountain Madness follows their “Leave No Trace” ethics seriously. When Chris and Jenny were satisfied we would be safe and comfortable, and there had been several last minute gear purchases from Second Ascent, we packed up and headed for Mt. Baker 3 hours to the north.
Mount Baker. Jeong Yoon photo.
The snow was fairly low and we travelled in it almost from the base of the trail. The day was clear and our first glimpse of Mt. Baker was amazing. What a beautiful mountain. We travelled up to the meadow (snow covered) and had a break. Chris was the focus of much hilarity as he mimed the beginner, intermediate and advanced methods of using our blue plastic bags. From there, we followed the “Railroad Moraine” where the sun was blazing hot to our camp at “Sandy Camp”. We overlooked the glacier and had views of ice falls.
That night we were treated to a spectacular scene as the weather came in at sunset. In the west were jagged peaks silhouetted against red and black clouds looking for all the world like Mordor. To the East, the setting Sun light up the white snowy peaks with gold and pink and there was even a rainbow!
Mount Baker at sunset. Photo from another trip. MM Collection.
The next day was snow school. The weather was misty and rainy. Our guides lead us through all the basic mountaineering skills we would need including crampon steps and turns, moving together roped up, self belay, using prussics and, the most fun, self arrest. We started off sliding on our bums and stopping ourselves with our ice axes and ended up being launched down the mountain head first on our backs by the guides and having to stop ourselves. Convinced that we were going to be okay on the mountain, the guides urged us to stay dry in our tents and rest up for the next day. They even brought us hot soup in bed!
Practicing footwork during snowschool. VISTA photo.
Summit day started at 3:00 am with a pop tart breakfast! It was only the second pop tart I have ever eaten and the only organic one! I was glad I had some landjager smoked sausage in my pack for back up. (a tip from one of my Mt. Benson summit sharers). It was dusk when we started but we didn’t even need headlamps. By daylight, we were on the glacier and roped up. From here, Chris set a pretty grueling pace. The snow was already getting a bit soft and we passed several open crevasses. The day was clear but the wind was terrific. Chris, who has climbed Mt. Baker over 30 times, said he had never had such sustained, strong wind. We put our heads down and motored up to the caldera below the summit.
Climbers on the Easton Glacier; photo from another climb. MM Collection.
We climbed the 35% slope and did a couple of switch-backs. We crossed above one open crevasse, then rounded the end of another and walked above it. I was really hoping no one would lose their footing. Once we reached the top of the Roman Wall, there was an easy walk to the summit. Chris and Jenny sprinted to the top – the rest of us plodded. It was about 12:00. We took photos, signed to the book and I made sure to wave in the general direction of Gabriola Island. The Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia were covered in fog.
Summit! VISTA photo.
As always with mountains, the hard part was still ahead. We had to get down, pack up camp and return to Seattle that day. After a quick lunch on the summit, we headed back down. We only had a short stop at the caldera and then plunge-stepped our way to back to camp. We quickly packed our tents and said good bye to Mt. Baker.
By 7:00 pm we were back at the van, putting on our new Mountain Madness t‑shirts and snapping some last photos. We got back in Seattle at 10:30 pm and glad to hear the guides were dropping us off and going home rather than unpacking gear that night.
Mountain Madness ran a fantastic trip and I want to thank them again for donating this prize to the Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association.
Thank You Mountain Madness!
~ MM Climber EJ Hurst