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Trip Report    

Mount Baker/Coleman Glacier

A group of 9 left Seattle at 6 am on June 6, and started hiking up the Heliotrope trail about 10 am. The first main creek crossing was running high and it was hard to find good rocks to step on. We didn't want wet feet at the start of the trip. At the top of the Heliotrope Ridge climber's path, we filtered some water and roped up, but didn't use crampons. (There wasn't any snow up to this point, in this low-snow year.) This was the last spot with running water. There was only one big crevasse at about 6,500', easily passed around. There were two recent-looking glissade paths that ended right at that crack. What? There were hairline fissures on the wide bowl below the Black Buttes, but nothing wide open. We camped up against the Black Buttes around 7,100', arriving about 2:30. We had plenty of time to set up, melt extra water and then went to sleep about 7:30.

We started climbing the Coleman/Deming/Roman Wall at 3 am on 6/7. It was an amazing 48 degrees and clear skies with light breeze. Seattle was supposed to hit 80+. We only saw about 5 small teams climbing or preparing to climb. Again, there were only a few hairline cracks until about 8,500' below Colfax's hanging ice walls. This is where the route steepens to the saddle. But the obvious beaten path zigged left, and then right to avoid the largest crevasses. Just before the saddle between Colfax and the Roman Wall is a bergschrund starting to form, which we skirted on the right. In those crevasses, I could see only about 4' of clean snowpack from the 2014-2015 season before hitting the dirty line that probably marks last summer's level. The freezing level has been well above Baker all week, so no new snow at all. That's too bad. We were heading up on the Roman Wall about 5:30 am. There is a rock band between the saddle and the main Roman Wall slope, and a small moat was opening up. It was a step-across.

The wind picked up to about 20-30mph. But it wasn't too cold and visibility was great. The temperature showed 42 degrees, and the snowsteps were just right, a little crunchy, but firm. In a couple bands, there was only a little snow over rocks. There were a couple hump-overs where we could gather rope teams and take a break. Once on the wall, the path went straight up to the crater rim without any obstacles. Crevasses were to our right, below a large rock cliff. And off to our left, the cliffed edge of the Roman Wall was very obvious. We summitted at 7:45. On the way, we could see the Easton route just so full of climbers, like 20 rope teams. It looked like some event. But they had come and gone by the time we summitted. Since it was windy, we only stayed up there to take pictures before dropping back to the crater rim for rest and food. One note... with so many climbers, rope teams were removing their ropes just below the summit mound, so people wouldn't get tangled up in each other's ropes. That's a good idea.

On the descent, the slope had come into sun and warmed just enough to help our traction without postholing. But we had turned downward too soon, catching the Easton route. We had to traverse rightward back to the Roman Wall line, crossing under the large rock cliff and above some crevasses. We took it just fast enough to get out of danger, and just slow enough to make good steps. Then it was just a gradual descent to the saddle and back down the Coleman to camp. However, the snow wasn't very good for plunge stepping until we were back to about 8,000'. We reached Camp at 11:40, packed up and left at 12:30, and were back at the cars by 2:45 pm. We had just enough water to get us from Camp to the running water on Heliotrope ridge, so we filtered about a liter each. From Camp to Heliotrope ridge, we did not wear crampons. The plunge stepping was great and the route around the one major crevasse was easy. On the drive home, we stopped at the North Fork Brewery in Deming, Wa (milepost 21 on Hwy 542). Their thin-crust pizza was amazing! We all got home about 8 pm.

 

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