August Ascent of North Ridge of Baker

I moved to Bellingham a few weeks ago to get away from Seattle traffic for a bit.  That means longer drives to some of the best cragging areas around, like Index, but being closer to a slew of opportunities to spend full-days outside in the North Cascades. One such opportunity close to town is Mt Baker and the surrounding areas.  I’ve been wanting to climb the North Ridge of Baker for a long time. I missed the opportunity to ski it a few times, and because we are all such mountain snobs here in the Northwest, I haven’t been able to find anyone who wanted to boot down from the summit.

Luckily just after moving here Jimmy passed through town and he had never climbed a Cascade volcano so up we went. Neither, Jimmy or I had a ton of time on our hands, and we were also a little worried about warm temperatures.  To eliminate concerns of poor travel conditions and soft snow, and to ensure we felt as blasted as possible afterwards, we decided to start climbing at night and just go car-to-car.

Jimmy guiding me through the broken lower Coleman. And this is where it got better!!

Going light on gear

I won’t get to long-winded on this one, primarily because everybody and their mother is going “fast and light” these days, or “light and slow (with a mini epic)”, but here is the kit we took.

Layers

  • Base layer (Echo men’s hoody): I wore this from car-to-car and its my new favorite layer.  Its a long sleep breathable “mountain training” shirt as they call it.
  • LW breathable soft-shell (Ferosi jacket): a second layer to wear over my base layer in case we weren’t moving fast enough to stay warm (never needed it)
  • Mid-weight down jacket – I only wore the down when we stopped for a brief second before beginning the actual route.
  • A mid weight alpine climbing soft shell – we both hiked up from the car in our underwear to avoid sweating these out before we starting climbing.

Hardware/climbing goods

Jimmy and I used this trip to test our some new gear from Petzl that we are planning on using for some other climbs that will require a bit more selectivity later in the season.

  • SItta harness – a new super light alpine climbing harness that packs to the size of a small Nalgene
  • Irvis hybrid crampons – Jimmy wore the full automatic toe bails while I wore a strap front with their new “Level-lock” tech.  I haven’t been happy with how the Petzl crampons marry with my Sportiva Trango Ice Cube GTX boots (bail is too wide and prone to falling off under right angle and after the boot has seem some wear).
  • Quark ice tools with everything removed (no hammer, no grips)
  • 3 ice screws (two of the Petzl lazer lights that are incredibly light) and a BD 16cm.

We brought a 60m a picket.

Other stuff

  • 1 L carry capacity each for water
  • About 1200 calories @ 3:1 carb ratio (i.e. mostly to maintain glycogen and electrolytes)

Times:

We burned a lot of time navigate bridges on the Coleman, and without any sleep that night I think fatigue really hit us on the Upper North ridge… For the fit and fancy, here are some times you might be able to base your next trip off of.

Car to heliotrope: 1.15 hrs (12am to 1:14am), 2306ft (5967 ft – 3661 ft)
Harnesses/boots, grab water, stash gear: 14 min
Heliotrope to start of upper north ridge: 3:30min (1:28am – 4:58am), 2262 ft (8229 ft – 5967 ft)
Summit via upper north ridge 2:53 min (4:58am – 7:41AM), 2522 ft (10751 ft – 8229 ft)
Summit to car: 3 hrs (7:41am -> 10:43am), -7069 ft

Total time = 10:43min (times and elevations are eyeballs from Gaia…)

Jimmy’s photo of me on the upper north ridge.

Temperature, conditions, and weather on the Coleman in early August:

Going into the trip, I was most interested to see what the snow conditions and crevasses were like at this time of year.  Jimmy and I had were not concerns about whether we would be able to “get to the top”, but were not so sure if we would be zig-zagging all over the Coleman or punching a bit into warm snow, both of which would greatly affect the pace of the day. Being bogged down in frustrating travel conditions without a ton of extra calories or water wouldn’t be that fun…

We didn’t go into the climb with a ton of research, a few photos from the lovely Steph Abegg and GPX track from some guided parties much earlier in the season. For the worse, our route finding on the Coleman could probably be a little better.  Our track:

Our route across the Coleman Demming. Up is north.

 

Me crossing the bridge that unlocked the approach.

Here were some of the other observations about the conditions:

  • Despite the fact that it was supposed to drop to 40* at night, the temperatures and an odd warm wind kept that top layer of snow fairly soft.  We were penetrating as much as 3 inches in many places which made travel more tiring than expected.
  • On the upper north ridge, where the snow was soft as well, careful cramponing was necessary to avoid the energy expenditure of our front points slipping a bit down-hill with a step up.  We climbed the entire face in what I will refer to as “double-cane” mode, i.e. holding the top of the axe so it hung vertically and plugging the bottom.
  • The single ice step we climbed at the top was fairly rotten.  We simul-ed the entire thing, with one ice screw at the bottom as I belayed Jimmy (i caught up to him while he was leading more technical terrain) and one ice screw at the top, where he put in a screw with a Micro-Traxion and kept climbing.
  • There was plenty of water running all over the mountain (specifically at Hogsback and at the bergshrund where the upper route variation starts) so we were able to refill a few more times.
Jimmy walking up towards the upper north ridge.

 

Jimmy starting the ice step on the upper north ridge.

 

A picture of me as Jimmy and I simul-ed the ice step. Don’t ask me what I am doing with my ask. I have no idea. As the angle tapered off the ice become very rotten.

Summit!

Next time

Here are a few things that I think could make it go faster next time – as I live near by I might as well perfect the thing:

(1) Faster conditions – a refreeze would make the travel a lot more simple, probably a few nights of clear temps @ < 40*F, around 30 would be even better

(2) An updated satellite photo to plan route across the Coleman.  The technology is available, might as well use it.

(3) Slightly less gear wouldn’t really make it any less safe – 30m less rope,  1 less screw (2 total), and 0 pickets (if it refreezes, and you have two tools and a pack to build anchors, I am not sure I understand the use case…)

(4) Better sleep and rest leading up to the climb would provide for increased, rather than decreased, aerobic capacity.

(5) Take less photos and gawk less at the huge holes as we walked over them.

I apologize to the guided parties we ran past on the way down 😉  We were excited for coffee and baked goods at the Wake N Bakery in Glacier.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *