I hadn't been on a glacier trip yet this year and it felt like the right time to go into the Baker area and see what raising3hikers and I could climb this weekend. Though it's been five years since I'd been here, I've been on Baker more than any other peak and was past due for another visit.
We were stopped by snow one mile from the Heliotrope Ridge TH at 3200'. Started hiking at noon in a light drizzle up the still mostly snow-covered but beaten in trail. Weather stayed like this most of the way up to camp.
Visiblility ranged from nearly whiteout to tantalizing, occasionally giving brief glimpses of the mountain, only to once again disappear in the swirling mists.
Reaching the 6800' tent city we decided to set up nearby. Forecast was for clearing during the night and sunny the next day so we were optimistic we'd have good weather for climbing in the morning.
The morning dawned clear and cold, with solid snow for crampons. We roped up and left camp at 5:20 heading up the snow path to Coleman Saddle.
We reached the 9000' saddle at 7:20. The plan was to traverse over to Sherman first while the snow was in good shape. As the snow was quite firm we stuck with the plan and bypassed Colfax.
Continuing on the Coleman route up Baker, we reached 9700' and began the rising traverse on the Deming Glacier towards the caldera. One must do this rising traverse as the Deming is quite broken and crevassed if traversing much lower. Many climbers were visible on both the Coleman/Deming and Easton routes, but we were the only ones traversing between the two.
The traverse is moderately steep and the snow did not give much, so attention was required for good footing, but the conditions were excellent for crampons. We traversed up to near 10,000' and gradually lost elevation to the 9700' saddle between the Easton route and the crater rim.
This is the first time I'd ever been near an active volcanic caldera--Rainier and St. Helens notwithstanding, as this was very different. Continuous steam billowed and hissed out of the crater directly below, and the malodorous fumes were so omnipresent that we stopped noticing the stench.
The route over to Sherman initially passes right on the edge of the caldera on a narrow snow ledge under an impressive Dragon's Fang of overarching rock.
Not a place to slip. Soon we exited onto a more benign rim of snow and continued on counter-clockwise undulating slopes over to the summit of Sherman, 10,160', 9:15.
No cornice to be wary of now from this lofty but not particularly roomy perch. The expanse of glaciers on Baker from W to E were all visible: Deming, Easton, Squak, Talum, Boulder, and Park Glaciers were all expansively laid out below. The sea of clouds covering all but the highest North Cascade peaks made Baker an excellent choice for this weekend's destination.
The cold wind which had been present most of the way from the traverse caused us to reverse course sooner than we may have otherwise. Repeating our route back to the crater saddle, I was still debating whether to traverse back and go for Colfax or to head for the summit of Baker just a thousand feet above via the well-trodden Easton route. As he had summitted both previously, Eric was fine either way, so I started the traverse but then had a change of heart and reversed course up to the Easton route. Just couldn't pass up a chance to say hello to the top of my favorite volcano.
This being my third trip in eight days, I was rather tired leading up, but Eric was very patient as we slowly made progress. Finally the slopes laid back and we walked the summit plateau to Grant Peak, the high point of Baker, 10,781', 12:15; Eric's second Baker summit, my sixth. Interesting how it looks different from what I remembered--the passage of time?
Passing mostly skiers on their way up, we completed our circuit of Baker by marching down the Coleman route back to Coleman Saddle. By this time I was pretty fatigued (June 4-12: three trips, five days, 50 miles, 23,000' gain) so decided to pass on Colfax this time.
Snow below 8000' had turned to mush in the afternoon sun, making the route back to camp tedious postholing. Fortunately we had snowshoes for the walk out. We left camp at 3:30, dropped 2000' in the first half hour, and arrived at the car at 5:30. Thanks to r3h for being an excellent and patient partner. I will return to Baker yet again for other routes, and more adventures.
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