We took advantage of the sunny long weekend to play in the snow up on Mount Baker with our boys and two good friends. On Saturday (May 23) we were able to drive up FS Road 13 exactly 3.0 miles before snow forced us to park (along with many other vehicles). The first mile of road walking was mostly snow-free and it was obvious that soon it would be possible to drive within about 1 or 1.5 miles of the trailhead at Schreiber’s Meadow (this was the case when we came down on Monday).
The snow on the road was easy walking, having been packed from snowmobiles, skis, and snowshoes. We made good time up through the meadows, staying on the snowmobile tracks. We followed the drainage east of the Railroad Grade up the lower slopes of Mt Baker, staying on some pleasant small ridges at the east edge of the drainage to keep above the fumes and drone of the snowmobiles.
It did not take us long to decide that we were tired of the big loads (can someone explain why our packs always look 50% larger than anyone else we meet – is that an optical illusion others experience? ). Thus, we abandoned our plan of following the drainage straight up to camp at about 6500 feet on the Railroad Grade (as others did) as too much of a wilting experience in the afternoon sun. Instead we headed up a short steep snow slope to the top of the Railroad Grade where we could find some trees for a shady camp. We reached the top of the RR Grade at about 5200 feet and found a nice campsite at 5400 feet in a stand of mountain hemlock and subalpine fir immediately west of the main ridgeline.
The boys immediately set about constructing snow benches for our kitchen, viewing, and part of their constructed “play room”, as well as a system of trails between the tents and various benches. Who knew Life Link shovels could be so entertaining?
That evening we spoke with some overheated and dehydrated climbers descending who warned us of hot afternoon conditions and slushy snow on the glacier. That prompted us to set an early departure time as our camp was more than 5300 feet below the summit. The night was warm, well above freezing.
We woke at 1:00 AM and set about taking way too long to get everyone up and ready (getting the boys dressed and convinced to crawl out of their cozy bags at 1 in the morning was a major accomplishment ). It took us until just after 2:30 to get ready and finally begin the climb up the RR Grade by headlamp. The snow was firm in the previous day’s snowshoe tracks and we made good progress with crampons. We could see the lights of a few larger groups already on the Easton Glacier above.
Unfortunately just a half hour outside of camp, our younger boy had serious problems with his new boots – painful rubbing and heel slipping. We perched ourselves on the ridge and by headlamp we spent the better part of an hour trying various sock and lacing combinations without success. Finding boots to fit wide 8-yr old boy’s feet that can be used for occasional light mountaineering has been very difficult. There have been some plastic boots that fit, but they proved too heavy and clunky – making him just as tired and cranky as his parents. At any rate, without a good solution, Mom offered to descend back to the tent with a disappointed boy (who ended up having a snooze and great time hanging out at camp and playing in the snow all day).
Our other son, myself and our two friends continued upward, to the crunch of crampons and hints of early morning light to the east. It was very warm for an alpine start. At about 6500 feet we came upon a helmet lying in the snow, headlamp attached and shining, with no body attached. Spooky. Later we found out it had been dropped at a rest stop above and slid down to where we found it. We traversed onto the glacier at about 6600 feet, now with a beautiful pink sky. The boot track up the lower glacier was obvious, passing camps at 7000 and about 7200 feet.
We slowly made our way up to the rim Sherman Crater (9660 ft) with only one significant crevasse crossing (solid and wide bridge). However, the crevasses should be opening up quickly with the afternoon temperatures we experienced. We rested at the crater rim, having a delightful brunch, bathed in the aroma of sulfur .
That long rest rejuvenated us and we headed up the final 30 degree slopes just above the crater to the summit plateau. By the time we got to the summit (10,781 ft), it was early afternoon and most everyone with common sense was well on their way down the mountain (or had skis with them for a quick descent).
The summit view was as glorious as ever and despite the increasing warmth we hung out for an hour, soaking in the vista.
The descent was soft on the upper slopes and we met a snowmobiler at the crater rim (9600 ft). Further down the glacier it quickly became a furnace and “Baking on Baker” became our motto. The glacier turned into a delightfully slippery layer of calf- to knee-deep slush . We had carried snowshoes to the crater rim and were glad to have them on the descent , though the snowshoes without teeth on the rim did not grip well and acted more as slippery skis (prompting those with such snowshoes to take them off and posthole down steeper slopes and declare an intention to get better snowshoes!). We pulled into camp in the early evening, tired and literally fried (baked, sautéed, boiled, and other such versions of being cooked alive) . Our universal advice was to get back to camp by noon if at all possible (though folks camped higher in exposed places described their tents as ovens in the afternoon).
The next day we woke with sunburns and swollen lips, prompting us to don bandanas for the trip out. We had a campsite glissade party on nearby slopes that our younger son and his mom had scouted while we were climbing – including the infamous “drop of doom” that most of the adults were too scared to tackle.
We descended the RR Grade to about 4400 feet where we dropped off the ridge to the east down a steep treed slope to the drainage we had ascended two days earlier. This was an okay route down, but probably not as easy as following the snowmobile route that comes up onto the RR grade from its western side. Once down in the drainage to the east of the RR Grade we easily followed the snowmobile tracks out to the road (many fewer of these buzzing machines on Monday ).
It is a fun climb and the glacier is currently in good shape – just plan on being down off the glacier in some cooler place by afternoon!
Great report and I remember seeing you and the kids up there
At about 6500 feet we came upon a helmet lying in the snow, headlamp attached and shining, with no body attached. Spooky.
It was one of the people in my party that dropped that helmet and I made a diving effort to try and catch it as it flew by in the dark, but just missed it and could only watch as it rolled several hundred feet down the hill! Anyways it was still there when we got back.
What a GREAT family outing! Thanks for the great report and photos! I was up there about 10 years ago and didn't take the time to get photos (pre-digital days...it was more cumbersome...). Your shots are exactly how I remember it...thanks!
-------------- "May I always be the kind of person my dog thinks I am"
I hope your kids, and you also, are enjoying this as much as it looks like you do. What terrific family experiences.
Nice job of getting photos in camp and along the way also.
The "snow sliding fun" photo looks like you pasted the kid onto the side of the snow bank.
Bummer about the younger boy's boots, but it seems like you all had a great time anyway.
I know what you mean about boys digging with the shovels. My son wasn't much into hiking, but when we stayed at the Mountaineers lodges in winters, he'd spend hours on end digging structures in the snow.
-------------- “As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
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