The somewhat optimistic forecast for Sunday morning of this soggy Memorial Day weekend lured us out onto a spring scramble that we’ve been wanting to do for the past few years –Baring Mountain. We left the Puget Sound lowlands in dense fog. But driving up the Skykomish valley we were soon treated to the classic views of Index, Baring, and the Merchant Peak group under a thin and broken, high cloud cover. It was the first time we have gone up the Barclay Creek Rd with the kids and the brief glimpses of the north wall of Baring in profile brought some audible “oohs” and “aahs”.
The Barclay Lake trailhead was nearly deserted and we enjoyed the peaceful hum of the stream nearby as we armored ourselves with full raingear for what we thought would be a wet, brushy climb up to the NW ridge of Baring. Fifteen minutes into our preparation rituals, five cars wheeled into the small parking area and it transformed into a busy hub of seven more hikers booting up, strapping on gaiters and debating about snowshoes. Yes, they were heading to Baring as well. We figured the company would be nice and as they were likely to be faster than us, having some steps kicked would be even nicer!
We meandered past the trailhead toilets on the old road for a couple of hundred yards before coming to the small stream with the distinct climbers trail heading steeply uphill just to the west of the water course. The path went steeply uphill from there on all of the way to the NW ridge at 4,000 ft – a climb of 1,800 ft in less than a mile. The path was easy to follow in most places, but came complete with steep, slippery mud, vegetable handholds, and a sprinkling of exposure to keep our attention. The rockfall danger was not great and the group of 7, increasingly far ahead of us as we ascended, did a great job of being careful not to shower us with projectiles. The steep grade reminded us of how far we still have to go with our springtime conditioning and with one major rest stop included we arrived at the NW ridge (4,000 ft) in a bit under two hours.
The meander up and down along the “verdant” NW ridge was a true highlight – weaving up and down mostly on the ridge crest among hemlocks and silver firs, with even some Trillium in bloom in the moist duff. About a half mile along the ridge brought us to a notch with a steep gully on the north side.
The path led off around the south side of the ridge, descending and traversing to a broad forested gully. We ascended there for 15 minutes before losing the path in snowfields, but stayed mostly steeply straight up to round the ridge crest at about 4800 ft into the snowy basin below the two summits of Baring. The last 4-500 ft were quite slippery in places and one of us even put on crampons. We were passed shortly before the ridge by three fellows ascending the slope at a rate that made us wonder if we were actually moving upward.
Once in the basin, we rested and regrouped before following the now-well-trodden path of steps up the gully to the notch between the two summits. The snow was mostly firm and snowshoes were not necessary (especially if you are the beneficiary of folks ahead of you doing the hard work of step kicking ).
At the notch we finally began to pay attention to the deteriorating weather behind us to the west. A brief break, and we scrambled up a steep snow pitch (of about 45 degrees for 60 feet) into the trees above. We tried to dodge the showers of snow and ice that cascaded down from the tree branches, but one of them nailed Aidan squarely on the head (no harm done once he brushed it off). It took just 20 minutes from the notch up to the summit thanks once again to the steps already in place. Unfortunately halfway up from the notch we entered the clouds and our view grew soupier the further we went upward.
The summit view was about 100 feet in most directions and no boot photo over Barclay Lake was to be had today.
It took us just under 6 hours from the car to the top (the other groups we considerably faster). We descended through soggy snow to the notch and down into the basin via a memorable glissade.
A light, intermittent rain accompanied much of our descent, but we rarely noticed it once we entered the trees. The steep slopes were not much fun to descend and we took it slow and careful, with the boys roped to each of us. We reached the car about 11 hours after our departure, soggy, muddy, and footsore but happy (well, most of us anyway ). About 4,000 ft of elevation with minor ups and downs.
Snowshoes and crampons were no necessary (though one of us found crampons useful in a few places). An ice axe is a must. The larger group placed a handline with a picket on the steep snow pitch above the notch, but the steps were large and firm. Overall the climb is in very good late spring condition.
Nice! Great to see you getting your kids out at such a young age. Even better to see you doing it responsibly!
-------------- "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." -P.J. O'Rourke
"Ignorance is natural. Stupidity takes commitment." -Solomon Short
Wow, awesome climb for questionable conditions. Didn't think Mt. Baring would be very good for Sunday. Obviously I was very wrong. I will keep this mountain in my database for future climbs and bailouts.
-------------- I am addicted to summits! I can't eat, drink or breath without them. Life without mountains would really suck.
When my group saw the avalanche in the gully, they nearly stopped. Fortunately there hadn't been recent snow - with no significant rain in over 24 hours. Closer in, it was clear that the avalanche was days-old. Current conditions were nice and stable. Early in the morning, the snow at lower elevations was hard & icy.
My group of 7 was amazed and impressed by the great attitudes, skills, and endurance of your kids!
Thanks all! It is indeed wonderful to have the boys along for these adventures. Starting them very young was important. They love things that include some scrambling (trails that are too flat usually get a "boring!") and when they're able to "lead" and pick out a route.
Thank you again filbert for the steps and company. We too wondered about the old avalanche when we first rounded the corner into the basin.
Flow - from what I read in your reports - you're "behind" nobody in some great adventures!
The forest was truly one of the highlights of this route for me. Both on the initial slope and on the ridge, the forest there is beautiful - but it was only going down that I paid enough attention to really enjoy it!
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