On June 18th Airmoss and I successfully climbed the North Ridge of Mt Baker. We originally planned to climb Liberty Ridge on rainier, but due to the recent events our wives laid down the law and insisted that we climb something “safer”. I have climbed Liberty Ridge before and found it to be a very safe route provided you don’t fall. The North Ridge of Baker seemed like a good alternative so after a favorable weather forecast we set out from Puyallup on Wednesday the 16th in Airmoss’ Motor Home. We bivied in great style at the trail head and set out a 1:00 am the next morning for high camp. We easily cruised to our 7000’ high camp next to Black Buttes in less than 3 hrs. Our plan was to scope out the glacier crossing and have a restful day in the tent so that we could leave for the summit at 2:00 am. By scrambling up on of the rubble peaks behind our tent we did find a couple of options for crossing the Coleman Glacier. One high (no tracks but looked ok) and one low (good boot path).
We got lots of sleep but still overslept and didn’t leave camp until 2:45 am. We opted for the low route because though it was cold, the snow was unconsolidated, so we thought we would take advantage of the boot path instead of post holing. Well let me tell you we post holed our asses off. The boot path was false hope, every step was calf deep. As the sun rose the North Cascades turned blood red and hazy looking like Mordor in the Lord of the Rings. We were convinced that after our stellar performance on the approach to camp that we would cruise the North Ridge in 6 hrs round trip. Wrong!! It took us 5 hrs just to get to the base of the first pitch at about 8500’+. That is also where the tracks we were following stopped. We heard someone had climbed the North Ridge the day before so were surprised to see that they had turned around right at the crux.
The ice on the first pitch was very hard so we set up a picket belay in the snow just below the ice. I launched into the first pitch glad to leave the snow but soon got gripped from the dinner plates my axe and hammer fractured loose. Also, my mountain axe (70 cm Black Diamond Raven) would barley penetrate the ice requiring 3 or 4 swings. My X-15 hammer worked excellent after clearing the first swing dinner plate. I placed 2 ice screws low on the pitch then running out aprox. 150’ of our single 60 meter Ice Floss rope to a belay on our last 2 ice screws. We brought 4 but should have brought 6 as our 3 pickets proved useless. Airmoss seconded the pitch and we discussed the route ahead. To the right or straight up looked vertical but doable, to the left looked like an easy traverse to “gentle slopes”, so Airmoss let through that way placing 2 screws on the way leaving him with only pickets for the belay. Let me tell you it sounded like Gimli the Dwarf had set up a blacksmith shop and was shoeing horses and makin’ swords and all kinds of shit by all the clangin’ and bangin’ going on around the corner. I could picture the pickets looking like bent over mushrooms so I followed very carefully. Sure enough that was on sorry belay Bro! 2 pickets driven about a quarter of the way in, at least he clipped them in low, equalized them and tied into a screamer. The Third pitch proved the best (though off route) pitch. It started with about 20’ of vertical ice where I placed 2 screws followed by 180’ run out of 65 degree ice to the crest of the ridge where I found good picket snow and found we had been off route to the left, and should have gone right at the second pitch making it much shorted and easier. Looking down on Airmoss as I belayed him up the third pitch was truly awesome. The view down to the jumbled Roosevelt Glacier was very exposed! The remaining slog to the summit was straight forward but back to the brutal post holing.
9 hrs after leaving camp we reached the summit. So much for 6 hrs round trip! As we were coming up to the summit the weather which had been changing got down right ugly. We were ringed on 3 sides by growing thunder clouds. The wind began to blow and it began to snow. Time to descend the standard route pronto! Boom, Flash, lightning lit up the black clouds. I don’t thing Airmoss felt danger like I did because he stopped, took off his back and began grumbling about his misplaced liner gloves threatening to “empty this damn rucksack” unless he found it. All the while I was about to piss myself from fright. As we stood and continued down the ridge, our pickets, ice axes, and biners began to hum and buzz!! While it was tempting to throw ourselves on the snow and wail like squaws, we did the brave thing and ran like hell, glissading where possible. We soon discovered the downside to roped simul glissading. I went first very quickly hoping to hurry Airmoss, who was going slow, digging in his heels. My 210 lbs of Alabama pork loin snapped up the remaining slack and launched Airmoss over my head as if from a medieval siege engine, down the slope. As he flew past he said “well, be seeing you”. Luckily he is highly skilled in the arts of the tumbling self arrest. We got back to camp 12 hrs after leaving.
The hike back to the RV was sped by thought of ice cold Heinekins waiting in the fridge. The RV didn’t do too well on the way out though. Going down the steep dirt road back to Glacier, the brakes over heated so bad they smoked as if on fire. But enough of such adventure, it was a sleepy ride back to Hobbiton and the Gaffer.
Climb: Mt Baker-North Ridge
Date of Climb: 6/18/2004
1 - 8mm 60m Ice Floss Rope
3 - Pickets
4 - Screws (should have taken 6)
3 - Screamers
Glacier Rescue gear
Two feet of snow fell the week before and was still unconsolidated.