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