Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Climbing Mt Baker

Mt Baker is Vancouver's Mt. Fuji. At 3285M this strato volcano is far higher than any other mountain near the lower mainland, it huge mass volume and height creates micro climates all around it by stalling pacific storms making it one of the snowiest places on earth. In 1999 the ski hill its flanks 14km form the summit received a world record 1140inches of snow (more than 30m) a world record. Some photo credits to Martin Naroznik and Dan Friedman.


Baker from Bellingham Bay


All of this snow means that finding a suitable time to climb  the mountain is not alway possible as it would be impossible to do in a whiteout. On June 1st I set out with some other member of the Alpine Club of Canada to give it a go via the classic Colmen Denning Route. It was absolutely ugly outside and pouring rain when we left Vancouver early on the Saturday morning and the weather forecast for the rest of the weekend wasn't looking much better but we decided to give it a go. 


The El Nino weather pattern had made 2010 a very poor snow year at lower elevations (quite the opposite up high however) so we could drive right to the trailhead at heliotrope ridge, in other years this would not be possible due to snwo covering the road. A short hike through the coastal rain forest and  we find snow and start to skin. There is still a light drizzle that makes things entirely unpleasant. About three hours of steep skinning later we stop for lunch and two of the group members pull the plug due to the weather and slippery skinning conditions, I do not blame them. After lunch is more of the same, with no views at all and fluctating freezing levels causing rain to change to snow and back to rain again. 




Miserable weather for dinner

The climb finally flattend out and we got to our camp in a cloud around 6pm. I was wondering what I was going to do in the drizzle for the next 3-4 hours before it got dark, while settign up the tent that question was answered as one of the tent poles started sliding of the shoulder of the slope that we were camped on, we dived to catch it but no luck. The next hours were spend zig zagging the hill in vain looking for the lost pole, the thought of sleeping in an already tiny two man tent with a collapsed roof flapping in the wind did not really interest me. A hearty meal and then into the tents to get out of the freezing drizzle. The next morning we woke up at 5:30am to another grey day and a layer thin layer of lice covering everything. We made the decision to go ahead as a coin toss. After marking a waypoint of our camp on the GPS and hiking for about an hour, our prayers were answered as out of nowhere it started to clear! We slowly picked our way throught he brindged over crevasses and approached the roman wall where we had to put our skiis on our packs and start to boot pack. 



1 inch thick layer of ice on the skis and everything else in the morning. 

Out of nowhere the sun comes out and the summit appears!

Up above the clouds, I love this one. 

Boot packing the "Roman Wall"
 The sprawling summit was gorgeous, we were up above a sea of clouds and you could see the tips of many mountains poking up through it. The smell of sulpher reminds you that you are indeed on top of a volcano, you can look into the crater and see the yellow solid along with some steam. We did not have long to linger up there as you could see some high cloud forming at the tops of some of the mountains to the SW (the direction that most storms approach the lower mainland).
The group on the summit with Mt Shuksan (Mtn right beside Mt Baker Ski Resort) poking its head out in the distance. 
The turns on the way down were pretty great for June! Here we are looking for our tents again, good thing we marked them on the GPS!




Some nachos and beer in the sleepy town of Glacier Washington was the perfect way to end the much better than expected weekend. A big thanks to Daniel, Martin, Pat and Dale. 







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