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Baker with Mountain Madness

Mount Baker Climb with Kids

Daaaad, I’m tired; Daaaad, how much longer; Daaaad, what hap­pens if I fall…” I knew tying my 12-year-old daugh­ter Grace sec­ond in line on the rope I led would make me vul­ner­a­ble to such fret­ting, ver­sus putting her at the end of the rope where she would like­ly just put her head down and sto­ical­ly make each step of many on the way to the sum­mit of Mount Bak­er. But, it seemed an expe­ri­ence too price­less for her to be 200 feet away from me at the end of the rope- in spite of guar­an­teed dis­cus­sions of how hard it was for her.

(All pho­tos by Mark Gun­log­son unless oth­er­wise noted.)

Join­ing us was my child­hood climb­ing bud­dy Howard and his friend Rick, and long-time climb­ing bud­dy Bob and his 17-year-old daugh­ter McKen­na, who was also on her first big climb.

On the Roman Wall

It all start­ed at the 2:00 a.m. alpine-start” wake-up call, a time that I begrudg­ing­ly set, know­ing that it had to be that way. But, Grace took it all in stride after a few extra prod­dings, and we were roped up and ready to go by 3:45 a.m., guid­ed by the beams of our head­lamps in the moon­less night. It seems our talk about why we had to leave so ear­ly made an impres­sion; the climber’s dic­tum of the ear­ly ascent meant avoid­ing soft snow bridges, get­ting down before thun­der­storms…… and so on.

Sun­rise on the Eas­t­on Glacier.

As we con­tin­ued up the route on the low­er, rel­a­tive­ly fea­ture­less part of the Eas­t­on Glac­i­er, we came across the first few crevass­es, a series of nar­row slots less than a foot wide that even a small step would eas­i­ly span. I noticed some ice worms wrig­gling about as I scanned the crevasse field for poten­tial snow bridges that would be pos­si­bly hid­ing more seri­ous dan­gers. Grace, check it out, ice worms by the hun­dreds!” I yelled back. Gross, I just ate some snow,” she quick­ly point­ed out. Will I get sick, will they stay in my stom­ach?” she asked with con­cern. Well, no, they live in the ice and would prob­a­bly not like the liv­ing arrange­ments of your stom­ach,” I offered.

Ear­ly morn­ing on the glac­i­er. Howard Lee photo

At first I thought this was a learn­ing expe­ri­ence lost, but in the end, it was an impres­sion doubt made, like see­ing the water­mel­on snow cre­at­ed by red algae bloom in the snow; or lis­ten­ing, or even bet­ter, see­ing ice blocks calve on the low­er reach­es of the Eas­t­on Glac­i­er; see­ing the shim­mer­ing blue ice deep in the crevass­es we peered into; or watch­ing a plan­et rise on the east­ern sky­line as the night gave way to day. At the time though, it was ice worms-be-damned, as we con­tin­ued on in the darkness.

As the night sky light­ened, the depths of the crevass­es were now ful­ly revealed as we crossed sev­er­al snow bridges span­ning slots at least 50-feet deep. Daaaad, I’m scared, what if I fall in?” While the ques­tion was per­haps loaded with a bit of dra­ma, it was also a rea­son­able ques­tion, to which a quick review of why we use ropes, ice axes, and cram­pons dis­pelled her fear and kept her on her way towards the low­er rim of the crater.

Low down on the Roman Wall.

Daaad, gross, is that you!?” Grace groaned as she got strong whiff of the sul­fur blow­ing out from the steam vents in the sum­mit crater. I was con­cerned that the pos­si­bil­i­ty here of an alti­tude induced headache and the nox­ious odor could be a show-stop­per as it has for more than a few climbers at this point. For­tu­nate­ly, the promise of a Nutel­la break over­pow­ered the smell and we took a much need­ed break at the rim before the next obsta­cle- the Roman Wall.

Snack break at the low­er part of sum­mit crater.

Refreshed, we reached the top of the wall with­out inci­dent where saw the North Cas­cades rise above Bak­er Lake like a sea of end­less deep val­leys and high peaks. This, a sight I’d seen many times guid­ing in the past, now took on a new per­spec­tive as I tried to imag­ine the expe­ri­ence through the eyes of Grace, who, while impressed, was still more inter­est­ed in hav­ing the uphill part of the climb over. In a sort of rite of pas­sage, Grace endured the twen­ty more min­utes to the sum­mit promised to be only five more min­utes to the top.”

After more than 35 years of climb­ing on Sev­en con­ti­nents, on 4,000+-foot walls in the Himalayas, and count­less, untold adven­tures and mis-adven­tures in the North Cas­cades, a new mile­stone had been reached as I reeled in the rope as Grace made the last steps to the sum­mit of Baker.

Last steps to the sum­mit. Nick Lyle photo

As with so many climb­ing adven­tures, it’s more about the com­raderie of the rope, as it is with the nat­ur­al beau­ty and chal­lenge of the climb itself. To share this with my daugh­ter, new heights were reached for me, well beyond the 10,778-foot summit! 

The team on the summit.

On the way down, with the unknowns of the ascent behind her, Grace’s excite­ment of reach­ing the sum­mit turned into chat­ter­ing jubi­la­tion as she talked about new adven­tures, laughed at slog­ging through the then-slushy snow and an occa­sion­al slip that led to the cre­ation of snow angels while she untan­gled her­self from the rope, and tak­ing in the beau­ty of the sur­round­ings as she point­ed out the fea­tures of the moun­tain and glacial ice. Above all, she took in the con­grat­u­la­tions with mod­esty, know­ing that it was a shared expe­ri­ence with all — even Daaaad.”

Grace tak­ing in the ice­fall on the low­er Easton.

Well done Grace and McKenna!

~ Mark Gunlogson