Mt. Baker – North Ridge

Mt. Baker (Kulshan)

I met Andres and his friend Dave in Seattle on Saturday morning. We grabbed some breakfast and made it out to the parking lot around 11am. The lot was a zoo, almost all of the designated parking spots were filled and several cars parked around the road. The hopes of any solitude, were dashed upon turning the corner, we each let out a sigh almost in unison. After sorting group gear we started up the trail for a couple hours before reaching a nice dry spot, with running water at around 5600ft.

We set up camp and went over crevasse rescue, it was a particularly warm weekend, with temps staying above freezing on the summit, we were expecting loose snow bridges and a long slog down the Coleman / Deming Glacier. It was nice to have a long afternoon at camp, we relaxed, packed our bags and talked about the route until dinner.

Crevasse rescue practice
Watching a late party on the North Ridge
Not a bad little spot

We woke up at 2 A.M.  and got moving a little after 3, it was surprisingly cooler that when we went to bed, and the snow was firm enough to walk on with little effort. We followed a set of tracks that cut off towards the ridge and just hoped that they would go. The tracks were killer and continued all the way across the Coleman glacier and up to the base of the ridge. It made for a very easy start to the day with clear skies and a brilliant sunrise. At the base of the ridge we had planned to go to the climbers left and take the “lower start”, but we had watched a party ascend the higher start as we crossed the glacier, and they seemed to be making good time. After weighing our options, we decided to follow the tracks. We quickly took a snack and put our crampons, by the time we started up the ridge it was nearly 6 A.M.

Walking the glacier
The base of the ridge
Tracks on the right
Putting on crampons at sunrise

We moved quickly under the rock bands and made it through the first steep section quickly by virtue of continuous movement. We took a break before entering the hazardous section beneath the ice cliff. A serac had broken off recently and left a tremendous field of debris. Traversing this football field long slide path was one of the more hair raising sections of the route. Seeing the open cracks higher and knowing that there were certainly more below us, which were covered recently and loosely, made for light steps and fast movement. The sun was starting to warm things, and I couldn’t help but think about the objective hazard looming above as a wove my way through the wheelbarrow sized blocks of blue ice, moving as quickly as I could to keep up with Andres. Danger above, and possibly below, none of us wanted to be in that section for a moment longer than we had to.

Andres with the serac fall debris behind him, if you look closely there is another party on the far left of the cliff
Dave… peeing again…

After we crossed left, we were on the steep approach to the ice cliff. We used a small existing ledge and made it a bit larger while we organized ropes and transitioned for the WI 2-3 above. Andres asked if I wanted to lead it, and I responded with a small chuckle. Andres racked up and led through it with a composure comparable that of a postal office employee sorting mail, calm and cool. Dave and I followed on separate ropes to a not as comfy belay.

Approaching the cliff on the ridge proper
Andres building the belay
Starting up the ice pitch
Dave belaying
Andres topping out

The section that followed had a snowy crust on it with solid ice further down as we climbed, we pitched out one more rope length and then simuled to the summit block.

Through the steep ice
Dave leading us to the summit
Somewhere near the summit
Dave on the sharp end, above a nice ice section.

Dave led us to the summit, his experience was reflected in his efficient movement and solid protection. We topped out on the true summit at 1 P.M. for just less than 10 hours from camp to summit. We took a few photos and ate some amazing pizza on the summit before making the trudge down the loose, mashed potato mess that was the Coleman / Deming route. The descent seemed to take forever, and it was about as soupy as i’ve ever experienced.

The North Ridge of Mt. Baker was an awesome climb, we moved quickly and made safe decisions. The exposure and setting was memorable, and the climbing was a lot of fun. Tagging along with two guys as experienced as Dave and Andres taught me a lot of lessons, and as far as the ascent was concerned, the conditions couldn’t have been better!

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