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