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#1154916 - 05/30/17 02:44 PM [TR] Mt Baker - North Ridge 5/29/2017 ****
Alexander TG Offline
stranger

Registered: 09/18/14
Posts: 5
TRs: 1 Photos: 5
Loc: North Carolina
Trip: Mt Baker - North Ridge

Date: 5/29/2017

Trip Report:
I wanted to climb the North Ridge on Mt Baker while I was around Washington and with the weather forecast looking like 6 days of storms starting on May 30th I finished up my second day climbing at Index and drove up to Mt Baker. I found a bunch of cars on the road for the Memorial day weekend about a mile below the trailhead as a small section of snow blocked the road. Once this snow melts in the next week or so the parking just before the bridge will be easily accessible. The final section of road is pretty heavily snowed in still and will probably take a while to melt out.

I got a couple of hrs of sleep and set off at 12:45 am from the car. The rack consisted of two OS screws, a 30m 8 mm rope for possible retreat/self belays and a single 18 in picket in case I encountered any sketchy snow bridges. The last time I soloed Baker two years ago I was hit by rock fall while belaying myself across the bergschrund on the Boulder Glacier Cleaver. Needless to say I lean more towards moving fast and not belaying myself across snow bridges these days.

It took ~15 minutes to reach the trailhead from the car and I didn't have too much trouble finding the trail in the dark. All of the snow bridges across the streams were holding up pretty well. I gained an avalanche shoot and followed the thousands of boot prints up towards tree line. Not totally sure where to gain the Coleman I tried to trend up and right until I hit what looked like the Hogsback (last time I was here there was no snow so everything was new). I stayed on the Hogsback until a boot track continued up and left towards the Coleman. I stopped once on the Hogs Back seriously considering whether this whole thing was worth only getting two hours of sleep, but after a minute I pulled myself together and continued up. The boot track ended at an abandoned camp at the edge of the glacier consisting of some tent pits excavated from the snow, more evidence of a busy memorial day weekend. Seeing as I was at ~6000 ft and this was supposedly where the Coleman glacier started, I put on my harness and crampons, took out one of my ice tools and started up towards the dark hulk of Mt Baker above.

The Coleman glacier was lightly crevassed and overall snow conditions were quite good with an icy layer over a tiny bit of slush. Since everything was quite consolidated and I wasn't punching through this upper layer I felt pretty good about the crevasse risk. There were a few small cracks on the lower section of the Coleman but it was easy to stick to compression zones and steer clear of the larger crevasses. As I got closer to the base of the ridge I found the snow conditions worsening into a thin icy crust with a lot of slush underneath making it quite the slog. Both the lower and upper snowfields on the right side looked doable but I chose the lower one to minimize my time exposed to falling rocks and ice from the cliffs above and maximize my time on the ridge. There were some very large ice blocks that I passed on the glacier. I reached the toe of the ridge right about 4 am and got out my second tool.

Once I crossed the lower bergschrund guarding the ridge (large snow bridges that should hold for months) I found a defined boot track that would continue for most of the way. This speeded things up significantly as even though the snow lower on the ridge was still slushy I wasn't having to break trail anymore and most of the steps didn't collapse. once I got higher on the ridge (8500-9000 ft) the slush turned into neve and I was able to quickly ascend with both my tools out. The boot track lead straight up towards what I later read is the right variation to the headwall (although it starts right on the nose of the ridge, just right of the large rock outcropping). From what I could see things were steeper to the left (though in hindsight I suppose if you go around the corner the seracs are more like AI2) and I followed a weakness on the right that was a short (20 ft) ice boulder problem with an overhanging bulge at the start. The ice was dinner plating a bit and the lethal fall potential made me work to get good sticks. Once I was past this short section of difficulty it was a couple hundred of feet of mostly AI2(+) ice to where neve started covering the ice again. Not sure what I would rate this lower section as the difficulty was so short but probably AI3-AI4. There was definitely potential for more sustained AI4-AI5 climbing to either side on the serac headwall and the ice could possibly have been avoided all together by traversing far enough right to what looked like a steep snow ramp (probably neve over ice). Once I was past the ice it was steep neve for a few hundred more feet; then the angle backed off and I rejoined the boot track from the previous parties that had known to traverse left to the easier climbing.

The final stretch to the the top was easy enough trending right towards the summit cap, although there is a pretty thin snow bridge crossing the bergschrund at the top. The schrund is very open and while the bridge felt safe to cross with everything totally frozen, I can definitely see it collapsing within the next month or so. If that happens you may have to traverse far to the left or right to get around the schrund. I tagged the summit just before 7 am, enjoyed the view for a couple of minutes, took a selfie and headed down towards the Coleman-Deming route, encountering 4 or 5 rope teams that were just coming up to the crest. My knees were killing me from too many descents on icy routes in the past week but I made okay time until I got down past pumice ridge and onto the sun soaked glacier. From here it was easy heel plunging with the occasional glissade until I was back to the avalanche shoot. Seeing that I was on track to do the route in 9 hrs I raced back down the trail and made it to the car at 9:49 am. Not quite 9 hrs car to car but with the extra 25-30 minutes between the car and the trailhead I'm still pretty happy about it. Overall a good way to wrap up a week long weather window that included a climb of the Reid Glacier Headwall on Hood, a solo of Liberty Ridge and two days trad climbing at Index (Hood snow conditions were not great and probably got much worse during the week long heatwave, Liberty Ridge was in excellent early season conditions with little ice exposed yet and the glaciers holding together nicely).

I imagine that the rain, snow and cold this week will help consolidate some of the snow but will also erase the boot pack that made the ridge quite a bit easier. The only snow bridge that I would be worried about in the near future is the one at the top. I didn't take pictures during my ascent but I have some shots of the descent to share.

Gear Notes:
Screws and pickets if you are pitching it out.

Approach Notes:
Snow blocked the road ~0.75 miles from the trailhead, 4 wheel drive cars made it a bit farther to the bridge before the trailhead. From there the path was well defined with a mixture of snow/mud until near tree line. The Coleman Glacier is in great shape which made route finding simple and crevasses were easily avoided.















Edited by Alexander TG (05/30/17 03:02 PM)

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#1154918 - 05/30/17 03:18 PM Re: [TR] Mt Baker - North Ridge 5/29/2017 [Re: Alexander TG]
thatcher Online   content
member

Registered: 06/21/05
Posts: 161
TRs: 2 Photos: 11
Loc: Seatac, WA
Way to get the goods this week. I was on North Ridge last year about the same time and took almost the exact same route as you with the same conditions, except the schrund was buried on the upper ridge save for a quick punch through with a boot. Good to hear Liberty Ridge is in good shape. I'm hoping to get up there in the next week or two.
_________________________
-Thatcher

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#1154935 - 05/31/17 12:09 PM Re: [TR] Mt Baker - North Ridge 5/29/2017 [Re: thatcher]
bigeo Offline
member

Registered: 08/29/06
Posts: 116
TRs: 1 Photos: 40
I like your style. Well played!

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#1155044 - 06/05/17 06:43 PM Re: [TR] Mt Baker - North Ridge 5/29/2017 [Re: Alexander TG]
bargainhunter Offline
n00b

Registered: 07/17/13
Posts: 33
TRs: 2 Photos: 41
Chapeau...but, you are solo and on some big crevasse terrain. It's just a matter of time before you punch through. Be careful. This occurred a few days after your trip:

"Crevasse fall is second in two weeks on Mount Baker"

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/news/local/article154517854.html


Edited by bargainhunter (06/05/17 06:43 PM)

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