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Ian on Baker with Pizza

Old Friends, New Adventures on the North Ridge of Mount Baker

MM Guide Ian Nichol­son joined two of his return­ing clients, Joel S. and Mark M. on a North Ridge of Mount Bak­er climb. Hav­ing climbed togeth­er many times, they have come up with the per­fect rou­tine for a great climb. With Joel’s cam­era attached at Ian’s hip, the three come home with great pho­tos and great sto­ries. Read Ian’s account of their adventure. 

Not a bad view, eh? Nicholson/​Schiro photo

After meet­ing Mark and Joel at their hotel on a very wet Seat­tle morn­ing on June 18th, we began to dri­ve north­bound toward the mighty Mt. Bak­er, the snowiest place on the plan­et and the crown jew­el of the North Cas­cades. Mark, Joel and I are no strangers as this is Joel’s and my fourth trip togeth­er and Mark’s and my third. They have had it planned for a months and I have been look­ing for­ward to it since it went on the calendar. 

Mount Bak­er. Nicholson/​Schiro photo

After stop­ping at the Glac­i­er ranger sta­tion we drove up Glac­i­er creek road. There was only one large patch of snow cov­er­ing the road between us and the trail head. While many peo­ple had parked at this patch of snow and walked to the trail head on the road, it proved to be no prob­lem for Mark and his off-road dri­ving skills in his 4×4 Tacoma. 

Less than 100 yards after start­ing the hike in we came to Grosse creek, where the bridge was washed out for the third straight year. Last year the For­est ser­vice put in the burli­est bridge I had seen in the back­coun­try with a pair of 2‑foot tall, 30-foot long steel I‑beams with wood on top. This, how­ev­er, was no match for what­ev­er storm blew through with the steel I‑beams bro­ken into many pieces some 50 feet­from where the bridge once lay. 

Makeshift bridge cross­ing. Nicholson/​Schiro

We found an excit­ing log cross­ing about 200 feet down from where the bridge used to be and squeaked our way across it in the pour­ing rain. 

We hiked up to what would be our camp for the next three days, a small rock island on the low­er sec­tion of the Cole­man Glac­i­er just below the foot­ball field at about 6350 feet. The next morn­ing we awoke to fresh snow on the ground and a mix of rain and snow falling out of the sky. Count­ing on an improv­ing weath­er trend and after a relax­ing pan­cake and bacon break­fast, the weath­er began to clear up.

Gourmet pan­cakes on the moun­tain. Nicholson/​Schiro photo

We worked our way up the glac­i­er to an ice­fall where we worked on ice climb­ing skills, drop­ping into crevass­es and climb­ing ser­acs. Joel and Mark hadn’t done much ice climb­ing in the past but picked up the new skill set amaz­ing­ly fast and even actu­al­ly enjoyed being dropped into the creepy, some­times bot­tom­less, cracks in the ice. 

Ice prac­tice. Nicholson/​Schiro photo

We hiked back to camp and I made piz­za from scratch, rais­ing the dough in a jack­et pock­et and bak­ing it on an MSR Whis­perlight stove. The results were deli­cious and we ate piz­za until we were stuffed. 

Ian’s back­coun­try cook­ing is next lev­el.” Nicholson/​Schiro photo

When the alarm went off at 2am there wasn’t a breath of wind nor a cloud in the sky. We ate some break­fast, drank some cof­fee, packed our bags and were hik­ing short­ly after 3am. Being the day before the Sum­mer Sol­stice, there was enough light that, halfway across the foot­ball field at 3:30 am, we all turned our head­lamps off. I couldn’t remem­ber ever turn­ing my head­lamp off so ear­ly and we all enjoyed see­ing the sun rise as we worked our way up the Cole­man Glac­i­er. The clear night had giv­en us excel­lent, firm, but not too firm, cram­pon­ing con­di­tions. We like to call this per­fect Neve”, which also hap­pens to be the name of my cat. 

Sum­mer Sol­stice sum­mit morn­ing. Nicholson/​Schiro photo

The final climb up to the sum­mit is called the Roman Wall” and is a steep and often firm sec­tion of the climb on the upper Dem­ing glac­i­er. We crest­ed the sum­mit plateau and made the 20 minute trek across the flat sum­mit area to the high point, Grant Peak,” at around 9:30am in steady but bear­able 20mph winds. The views were incred­i­ble. We looked down on Mt. Shuk­san and the Fish­er Chim­neys, a route we had all climbed togeth­er just two years ear­li­er. It was so clear we could see as far south as Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Bak­er and well past Mount Garibal­di to the north. We could also see all the way out the Straights of Juan De Fuca to the Pacif­ic Ocean and the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound as well. After tak­ing some sum­mit pho­tos and enjoy­ing the view for about 20 min­utes we began our descent.

On the sum­mit! Nicholson/​Schiro photo

The Roman Wall was still bul­let hard ice so we belayed three rope lengths as we down climbed the steep­est sec­tion. After the Roman Wall the angle eased and we could all trav­el togeth­er at the same time. About halfway down the route our bul­let hard ice had turned to knee‑, occa­sion­al­ly thigh-deep wet snow. We bat­tled down the deep wet snow under a now pun­ish­ing glacial sun occa­sion­al­ly tak­ing breaks to look back up at the impres­sive moun­tain that we had just climbed. We arrived back in camp around 1pm tired but extreme­ly sat­is­fied. We relaxed the rest of the after­noon catch­ing up on missed sleep, enjoy­ing the dis­miss­ing sun­shine as the clouds increased again.

On the way down after a suc­cess­ful climb. Nicholson/​Schiro photo

Weeeeee! Nicholson/​Schiro photo

We slept poor­ly that night because anoth­er storm had moved in. Our tents shook hard turn­ing the night and the round of rain and snow began to bat­ter our tents. In the morn­ing at our camp it was blow­ing steadi­ly mak­ing it uncom­fort­ably cold to stand around. It wasn’t rain­ing but looked like it was about to start again soon. We quick­ly packed up camp and hiked out feel­ing lucky that we had been able to sum­mit on the only nice day of our four day trip. 

Can’t wait for our next adven­ture together!”

~ MM Guide Ian Nicholson

North Cas­cades look­ing proud. Nicholson/​Schiro photo