March 8, 2015
The clear and dry conditions in early March this year were perfect for getting up in to the high alpine. After doing a very warm tour around Table Mountain, Keith Georgia and I made plans to head up towards Mount Baker, and see how far we could get with the conditions.
While loading the car outside the cabin on Sunday morning, and with even less sleep due to the daylight saving change, a faint headlamp approached the car. To our surprise, it was Tyler, who had driven from Vancouver that morning to meet us at the cabin. I didn’t think he was going to make it after a no-show on Saturday night, but my firm 6am departure from the cabin worked out.
We left the parking lot at 7am. One of the benefits of a low-snow year is the high access. The parking lot is at just under 3000′. We drove up Glacier Creek road, which was in good conditions with some potholes. Normally, the parking lot is blocked by snow until at least June. We carried skis along the Heliotrope ridge trail to the bottom of the Hogsback, and continued carrying skis up firm morning snow until 6600′, where the slope angles eases off on the Coleman Glacier. We were not alone today, with many other people out either going to the summit, looking for turns off Heliotrope ridge, or climbing the ice lines on Colfax Peak.
Headlamps on and getting ready at the trailhead.
Hiking up the Heliotrope Ridge trail
Sarah Hart and crew walking up towards Heliotrope Ridge
Catching the first rays. Almost time for skis.
Tyler had issues with his dynafit bindings, so he borrowed a friend’s tele setup for the day. I should point out that this was Tyler’s first day on telemark bindings. He’s a strong skier, very fit guy, and figured it should work. Part way up the Coleman Glacier, Tyler was slow and in the back of the pack. When he caught up to me, he told me he realized one of his boots was in ski mode, and his Voile switchback bindings were not in free-pivot mode. He just figured the low range of motion was how the bindings were. Tyler’s original idea was to take his skis to the summit, and then surprise me by asking how to telemark.
Note the flipped down plastic lever on the right boot. I noticed this after uploading the photos at home!
Travel conditions were firm on the way up to the Baker-Colfax col. There were icy sections, where ski crampons would be handy. I left mine in the car because none of the others owned them. Having been up here a few times in the spring in previous years with a big snowpack, I was surprised by some of the crevasses that we weaved around. We never roped up, but there are big obvious seracs and crevasses to avoid. The good news is that all this late March precipitation has been coming in cold and wet up high, and coverage should have improved for the next big weather window this spring.
Seracs on the Coleman Glacier
Marching along the Coleman Glacier, dwarfed by Mount Baker
If you look at the sunny slope on the right, the Roman Wall, you can see some climbers on their way up.
Typical snow condition higher up
A few minutes earlier, the bottom part of the serac to the right of Keith broke free, and cascaded down the glacier. The last time I was here, I saw an empty tent pitched in an incredibly dumb location right in the path of that serac
Working our way around the crevasses
The view towards the North and South Twin Sisters, the Salish Sea, and Vancouver Island
A moderate northwesterly wind funnelled across the col as we switched over to boot crampons. They were essential for today’s conditions, with icy chickenheads and frozen grappel on the Pumice Ridge, the divided between the Coleman glacier to the north, and the Deming Glacier to the south. Even with crampons on, travel was slow. Each step was carefully placed on the frozen beads, which were like miniature penitentes. While I chose to carry my skis up from the col, I had no illusions of skiing this stuff. In my mind, I thought that with the freezing levels at 7000-8000′ today, the Roman wall would soften up by mid-afternoon. On the way up, descending climbers would ask me about the rimey ice section, the crux of the ascent today.
It’s still a long ways up there
Crampons were essential here.
Tyler cramponing up Pumice Ridge
Tyler and I slowly bootpacked up the Roman Wall. I wore my puffy layer the whole way up, never overheating with the constant upper level winds. Asides from two other skiers, we were alone on the summit plateau. I clicked into my skis and descended at 2:15pm, which was a bit early as the snow on the Roman Wall did not soften into perfect corn. I didn’t want to wait longer, since Keith and Georgia were waiting somewhere below the col for us. With the wind cooling the surface snow, I also doubted the snow would soften more. The turns were enjoyable, but variable with ice in spots, and then nice wind pressed powder and corn. I switched back to crampons for the rimed section, and then continued down from the col.
Still slogging up.
Tyler on the summit plateau
Skiing down the Roman Wall
The snow stayed icy until below 8400′, where we found our friends hanging out in the sunshine, away from the wind. We skied in the sunshine down the Coleman Glacier, with wind pressed powder, and some nice corn. We all skied as far as we could, down below the Hogsback, but the skiable snow ended just above the trail. Regrettably, the skis went on the pack, and we marched down the trail towards the cold beers in the car and pizza at the North Fork Brewery.
I watched Tyler attempt to drop his knee here. It was harder than he imagined, and I persuaded him to parallel turn instead down the icy snow with crevasses below
Ice lines on Colfax Peak.
Fun turns on the lower Coleman Glacier
Awesome turns down the Coleman Glacier in the late afternoon
Keith skiing through spring, and heading down towards summer
I think the conditions up there will be good this spring. It’s a hike to get up to the snow, but the trail is easy to follow. These recent storms late March should have plastered the upper mountain with heavy wet snow, hopefully sticking well to everything. Hopefully this inspires somebody to go up there and find some good spring skiing when the weather gets good again!