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Baker North Ridge with Mountain Madness

North Ridge of Mount Baker and Rock Time

MM Guide Ian Nichol­son writes about his great week in the North­west with client Peter Webb. In five days they went from a suc­cess­ful climb of the North Ridge of Mount Bak­er, to 75 degree weath­er in Maza­ma for some great rock climb­ing. By sign­ing up for a cus­tom trip, Peter ben­e­fit­ed from a com­plete­ly flex­i­ble sched­ule and opti­mal climb­ing loca­tions. What a great adventure!

June 19 – 23

Peter Webb and I first attempt­ed the North Ridge of Mt. Bak­er (IV AI 4) two years ago dur­ing an Alpine Ice Climb­ing Course but were shut down as a result of record high tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the hottest day ever in the his­to­ry of the state. On the first day, Peter and I parked half a mile from the trail head because of snow on the road and approached in under thick clouds with a heavy mist. We hiked in up a heleat­rop ridge with 90% of trail cov­ered in snow. We made our camp on the Cole­man Glac­i­er at 6,700ft; it was still light­ly rain­ing. We pre­pared din­ner and went to bed hop­ing the weath­er would be bet­ter the fol­low­ing day.

Peter get­ting ready for the climb in the fog. Ian Nichol­son photo

At 3:15am the alarm went off and by 4:20am we were hik­ing in swirling clouds and a dense fog. Peter and I were able to take a fair­ly direct route to the base because of all the late sea­son snow still on the glac­i­er. At around 8000ft we emerged out of a sea of fog and had per­fect­ly clear blue skies above us. We moved togeth­er up to 8,900ft our excite­ment grow­ing with the spec­tac­u­lar views of the high­er peaks in the cas­cades pook­ing out of a ocean of clouds. We crossed the bergschrund at around 7:30am and began pitch­ing out the 40 – 55 degree snow on the low­er North Ridge. The going was a lit­tle slow and this sec­tion of the ridge was a mix of per­fect Neve and mid-shin to knee-deep snow, but we were gen­er­al­ly able to find sol­id ver­ti­cal pick­ets. At the top of this sec­tion at near­ly 10,000ft we took a break below the ice steep. A Navy fight­er jet from Whid­bey Island saw us on the ridge and buzzed us 3 times. Peter and I talked about how cool it is when you are climb­ing to be way up above the clouds, birds, and, in this case, Fight­er Jets! Still above the clouds we thought of all the oth­er par­ties that might stay in camp because below 8,000ft the weath­er was dread­ful but where we were above, it was spectacular. 

Break­ing into the clear as they approach the sum­mit. Ian Nichol­son photo

The ice steep still had some sea­son­al melt­ing snow­ing on the glac­i­er ice which caused a 1 – 3” lay­er of rot­ten ice that had to be cleared to get to the good ice. You could see a swath” of glac­i­er ice where Peter and I had climbed through the rot­ten ice com­ing up the ice steep. Both Peter and I expressed our joy in the climb­ing and enjoyed ascend­ing an very unusu­al fea­ture when ice climb­ing, an ice arête. The winds picked up and we con­tin­ued up as the angle on the North Ridge eased. We took one last break in the bergshrund at 10,500ft because it was out of the wind. 

Peter on the ice arête. Ian Nichol­son photo

After that we skirt­ed the last few crevass­es and ascend­ed to the true sum­mit of Mt. Bak­er. The descent went fair­ly smooth­ly except for deep wet snow below 8,500ft all the way down to camp. It felt good to drink water and lay down after a long hard day. The next morn­ing we woke up broke camp and hiked out. We drove to Maza­ma and set up camp, but since it was still ear­ly we went climb­ing at the Fun rock and cranked out 5 pitch­es! What an amaz­ing place the Cas­cades where you can wake up on Mt. Bak­er after climb­ing the North Ridge and end up car camp­ing and rock climb­ing in 75 degree weath­er by the afternoon. 

Peter at the sum­mit! Ian Nichol­son photo

Both Peter’s and my legs were a lit­tle tired and we decid­ed to climb the Prime Rib (III 5.9) a spec­tac­u­lar 1,400ft route up the famous Goat Wall. Peter and I made great time on it both up and down and were able to spend the rest of the after­noon hang­ing out in camp. For our final day, we climbed the Cas­cade mega-clas­sic Beck­ey Route on Lib­er­ty Bell. The same vol­ume of late sea­son snow that had helped us on the North Ridge had us wear boots out of the car with an unbe­liev­able 3 feet of snow in the park­ing lot. We even had to wear cram­pons and use our ice axes to get to the base of the route. Tem­per­a­tures were cold and we both climbed the route in our boots, wear­ing most or all of our lay­ers. But the sun was out and the views east­ward into the Cas­cades beau­ti­ful. We hung out on the sum­mit for 45 min­utes eat­ing food and enjoy­ing the fine weath­er. What a great way to end the trip!”

- Ian Nicholson

Get­ting in some pitch­es at Prime Rib. Ian Nichol­son photo