Great fun to explore new high points for a different perspective on a familiar peak
Clear weather and good snow the whole time
Territorial view at camp on Point 7242
Leaving the crowds to punch new tracks up the ridge to Colfax
Vivid steamy volcanism traversing the crater to Sherman
Heliotrope Ridge Road (2700 feet) to Point 7242 Camp (10:30am – 4:30pm)
Driving FS Road 39 to the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead, we found that the road was still blocked by a deep snow patch circa 2700 feet, 2 miles from the trailhead. There were about 15 vehicles parked there. Walking the road, it was mostly bare for another half mile, then had solid snow the rest of the way.
The Heliotrope Ridge trail was well beaten in by skis, snowshoes, and boots. Grouse Creek was filled with avalanche debris from somewhere high above. The wall of debris on the far side was at least a dozen feet high. Even in the woods, the snow was soft enough to require snowshoes.
Out in the open above 5000 feet, we had fine clear views of Baker and the surrounding area. There were lots of ski tracks, but we only saw one other party on the way up. At the base of the Black Buttes, we decided to divert slightly out of our way and camp atop Point 7242 for wider views.
Surprisingly, we saw no other camps higher up. The skiers must have all done day trips, mostly via Grouse Creek.
Car to camp stats: 5 miles, 4600 gain, 6 hours
Point 7242 Camp
Our camp spot was set back from the ridge just enough to give us a supreme territorial view of Baker, the Black Buttes, and all of the surrounding country. Hooray for high view camps.
In the warm afternoon sunlight, I lay half-napping on some bare scree and admired the spikes of Lincoln that blurred into dazzling focus again each time I re-opened my half-shuttered eyes. Sometimes it looked almost surreal, when I rolled over on my side, and all the tower shadows seemed to run sideways.
Back to work. The crest was a bit breezy, so I assisted Mike in building a six-foot high fortress wall around the tent.
We set our dinner platform where we could sit on rocks on the south side of the rib, but needed to be a bit careful not to mis-step and take a fast slide down to the Thunder Glacier basin.
Before sunset, we noticed a bright coppery-gold streak in the western sky, and realized it was actually the sun reflecting off of the Sound.
The steaming water pot caught the caught the orange light and gave a foreshadowing of the steamy crater for tomorrow.
Western haze muted the alpenglow, but even the mild hues showed bright on such a white snowy setting.
The day ended with pink fading softly into shadows, while the sky lingered bright blue above.
Camp to Coleman-Deming (CD) Col 9000 (4:55am – 7:05am)
We were out of camp 4:55am.
The snow had only a soft crust, so we still needed snowshoes up to the Coleman-Deming col.
Morning light glowed behind eastern peaks, and then gradually picked out the tips of peaks around us.
Traversing below Colfax, I was impressed by the huge ice cliffs along the edge of its glaciers.
As we neared the col, sun lit up Colfax’s summit bright white, then rapidly embraced the whole peak.
CD Col to Colfax 9440 (7:15am – 8:30am)
We left snowshoes at the col and continued on crampons, with occasional post-holing on some fresher powder.
Lots of tracks led up Baker, but Colfax was pristine and fresh for us to explore.
We bypassed Colfax’s east summit by traversing steeper crusty snow on the left, about a hundred feet below the top.
Then it was kicking more steps up the lefthand side to the skyline and a crusty walk across to the high point, which happily turned out to be mostly clear of cornices.
Colfax Summit (8:30am – 9:10am)
Colfax was a fun summit, one side full of wild shapes below and the other side rising to the white crown of Baker above.
The top was all wind-blown crust for great crampon traction, but the air stayed calm and comfortable for our visit.
East was the huge white mass of Baker: a multitude of skiers inching up the Hogsback, ragged crevasses below, the steaming gap of Sherman off to the right.
West was a wild jumble of curved crests, rimed points and rocky pillars stretching between Colfax & Lincoln.
Colfax to CD Col (9:10am – 10:00am)
Then it was back down to the Coleman-Deming col, with a few glances behind to admire our tracks on Colfax.
CD Col to Sherman Crater Col 9750 to Sherman 10160 (10:00am – 12:30pm)
Next we needed to get to the Sherman Crater col at 9750 feet. To avoid big crevasse fields on the Deming, we followed the beaten trail on the Hogsback up to 9800, then traversed the windpacked upper Deming on a line up to about 9950 feet and then back down to Sherman Col. (There were, as usual, snowmobiles at the col, but they left before we arrived.)
The crater was blowing frequent volleys of steam that billowed up over the rim above our heads and streamed out across the rock fang on its southwest edge. The moving steam gave a lively dynamic feel to the setting, especially as it wreathed around to hide and reveal ever-changing glimpses of the fang and the summit.
It was really very entertaining, feeling like we on the edge of something very different living deep in the earth.
And such a contrast, between the hot steam rising from the earth below, and the cold snow fallen from the skies above.
I made a video of the steam, which I’ll try to get posted later.
From the col, we first had to traverse a narrow rim of snow right under the fang.
Then it was up the crusty crest to Sherman’s summit.
The summit itself seemed likely to have a big cornice, so we paused briefly at the nearest edge and then went back down the ridge for a more comfortable lunch above the crater.
At Sherman Summit & Crater (12:30am – 1:15pm)
On the way back, I paused to examine more of the many steam vents coming out of the crater. Many small ones vents puffed out of the rocks north of the col. A big deep vent lay buried in ice directly below the fang.
Back at Sherman Col, the wind had changed direction, so we had a clearer view of the Sherman area, and back to the Black Buttes.
Sherman Col to Camp (1:15pm – 3:30pm)
Then it was just retracing our steps back to the CD Col and to camp. Lots of skiers now, some still going up Baker, some carving turns down. Softer snow required snowshoes for the rest of the day.
Camp to Car (4:25pm – 7:25pm)
Then it was back down to the cars. The surface snow was very soft and soupy at lower elevations. The road was now open to about 2900 feet, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, but still quite deep in snow above that.
Camp to summits round trip: 8.5 miles, 4300 gain, 10.5 hours
Total round trip: 18.5 miles, 8900 gain
-------------- “As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
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