Trip Report    

Mount Baker/North Ridge

Fun one day climb of the awesome Baker North Ridge. We carried skis up and skied down the Coleman Deming route and out the Grouse Creek drainage.

  • Wed, May 15, 2019
  • Mount Baker/North Ridge
  • Backcountry Skiing & Climbing
  • Successful
  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The route was in great condition.  Good coverage across the Coleman Deming Glacier, good snow for kicking steps on the steeper slopes, and great ice on the step.  

George and I had a great time climbing Mt Hood North Face (right gully) a week ago and decided to take advantage of another nice weekend and go up Baker with Andrei. We have done single day ski/climbs of Baker for the last few years, usually going up the Coleman Deming route. We talked about a couple of options and George suggested a single day climb of the North Ridge with skis.  Sounded like fun. 

 We met at George's house at 8:30pm.  I was a little late as I had just picked up a pair of Irvis hybrid crampons - steel toe piece, aluminum heal piece connected together with dyneema cord. We packed up our gear (skis on the rack, gear in the back) and headed north.  On the way we stopped for gas, and breakfast (a bear claw and coffee in my thermos) in Bellingham.  We opted not to register at the ranger station in Glacier this year as it doesn't seem that people are doing that much any more.  The road was pretty beat up this year with lots of new deep potholes.  Fortunately it had melted out and we were able to drive all the way to the trail head - there was a small amount of snow on the road around the last corner but it was easily negotiable in my Subaru.

 Arriving at the Grouse Creek trail head around midnight we set our alarms for 1:15 and went to sleep.  George and Andrei slept in a tent that Andrei brought and I just sacked out in the reclined front seat of my car.

 I was sleeping soundly when my alarm went off and I think it was going off for several minutes before I was awake enough to turn it off.   We all got up, packed up our gear for the day, forced down some breakfast and got ready to go. 

 It was right around 2:15 when we left the parking lot. The trail was mostly snow clear with patches of snow here and there.  Most of the creek crossings/gullies were still covered with snow, but fortunately the biggest creek was no longer completely snow covered and was pretty easy to get across.

 It took us about an hour and 10 min to get to the end of the trail and it was still dark as we started up the hogsback moraine.  In the past we have ascended the crest of moraine, but today we stayed below the crest and booted up the gully on the south side as there were a very nice set of steps kicked in to follow.  There is a nice flat spot at the top of this moraine and we took a quick break there and geared up with harness.

 We opted to continue booting up the well established boot path for another few hundred feet before switching to skis to continue up.   We roped up shortly after this point as we reached the glacier. The North Ridge route separates from the Coleman Deming route here heading north out across the Coleman Glacier under the Coleman Headwall. There was still good coverage, it was getting light, and there was a boot trail for us to follow across the glacier which contributed to a comfortable and quick glacier ski. There were a couple of crevasses to negotiate but they were straight forward to get around and/or there were solid snow bridges to cross.

 We did have one small mishap about 3/4's of the way across the glacier.  It was starting to get a little steeper and icier so we opted to put on ski crampons. Unfortunately Andrei dropped one of his ski crampons while attempting to put it on his ski and we watched it skitter down the glacier.  It just kept going and going and eventually disappeared from sight (presumably it dropped into a crevasse farther down the glacier).  Luckily the snow continued to soften up and Andrei wasn't hampered by only having one ski crampon.

 We met two folks coming back from the base of the North Ridge (they were concerned about soft snow and post holing all the way down the CD route so they bailed). Fortunately we were on skis and that wouldn't be a problem for us.

 We arrived at the base of the North Ridge (8000') at 6:45 and transitioned from skis into climbing gear and strapped our skis to our packs. George lead up the 500' up the steep slope kicking great super secure platform steps in the soft snow up to the top of the ridge.  We broke into the sun at the top of the ridge and took a nice break there. 

 The snow on the ridge was much harder, and George continued to lead creating a solid trail along the ridge towards the ice step.  We climbed through the bright sun taking another break at  8:30 at just under 9000'.   The route continues up the broad ridge to the base of the ice step.

 We reached the ice step and moved back into the shade under the ominus 50' nearly vertical ice wall. Looking up it reminded me of the Ice wall in Game of Thrones and I was glad that my gear was a little better than the static rope, ice hooks, steel crampons, and straight handled axes that John Snow and Ygritte used.  I was using a new set of crampons (Irvis hybrids) that George had used on Hood North face and they worked great.  They are lightweight and pack down well.   I also had my Gully hybrid (steel pick and aluminum shaft) ice tools.  One of my tools had pick weights, but I didn't feel like that made too  much of a difference.

Ice Step

 Andrei set up an ice screw anchor and I took all the rest of the screws and started up.  I made one false start as I forgot to tighten up my ski boots that were wide open for walking.  I adjusted them to be a little tighter to give a sold platform to stand on.   

 The ice step was fun to climb and I set 4 screws on the steep face and then two spaced farther apart as the angle eased and I moved up towards the ridge top again.  At this point I only had two screws left so I stopped and chopped out a anchor.  I had to dig down through a shell of hard snow crust to get down to reasonable ice.  I backed up the screws with my ice tools and attempted to drive in a picket, but even with my weighted tool I was unable to drive the picket into the ice.  With the anchor in place I brought both Andrei and George up. 

 Andrei had a spicy climb as one of his crampons (with a strap on toe bail) rotated on his foot and made it difficult to get a solid purchase with one of his feet.  From there George continued to lead up the lower angle portion of the ice step setting a picket or two as running belay's.  After another hour of climbing  we took another break just below the last steep step under the summit seracs near  the top of the route.

 The last 600' of the route typically offered a couple of different options, the first (and the one we took the last time we climbed this route in 2012) is to traverse climbers left below the summit seracs. This is called the "secret passage". George checked this route out and it was not in this year so we went climbers right of the seracs and up a short steep step to get up on top of the seracs and then traversed east towards Grant's peak (the true summit of Baker) along a large crevasse until we came to a stable bridge to cross it arriving at the top at 1:15 (11 hrs after leaving the car).

 This put us close to the true summit so we dropped our gear, unroped, and walked over to the summit.  After a few summit photos we headed back to our packs and took some time to hydrate, eat some lunch, soak in the warm sun and enjoy the awesome summit of Mt Baker.

 We watched as the two groups following us up the North Ridge made it up to the summit and then started packing up and preparing for our ski down.   After a short walk east across the summit plateau we clicked into our skis and started our descent (at 2:45).

 The snow on the Roman Wall was great and we had an amazing ski down. There were a couple of small open crevasses on the way down that we carefully skied over.  It was a little sticky here and there, but overall it was fantastic and we made a quick descent following the typical ski route down the Coleman Deming route to the Black Buttes and then traversing along Heliotrope ridge and dropping down into the Grouse Creek drainage. 

Ski Descent

The snow softened up in the Grouse creek drainage and we watched carefully as some turns created pinwheels but none lead to slides. It took us an hour for our ski descent and we pulled our skis off at a spot we had stopped before where a small stream encased in moss comes down the west side of the valley into Grouse Creek.

 From this point it took us 45 minutes to hike back through the woods.  Andrei pulled out his phone and navigated a nice route back to the car. We arrived back at the parking lot at 4:30, 14:15 after starting.

It was a great day, spectacular route, and a fun ski down Mt Baker.  I appreciated having two great partners to climb/ski the route with.

Baker North Ridge