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Dihedral

[TR] Baker, North Ridge - 6/18/2005

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Climb: Baker, North Ridge

 

Date of Climb: 6/18/2005

 

Trip Report:

We left the Heliotrope trailhead around noon in a cold breezy mist. The trail was snow-free to the base of the glacial moraine. We hiked up the Coleman Glacier to a flat area on the snow at 6,800 feet where we set up camp. The weather was not looking promising but around 7pm the low-lying mist dissipated and the clouds parted enough that we could see the route on the north-west side of the mountain.

 

The midnight chime of digital alarms roused us to clear skies and relatively warm temperatures. The original plan was for a party of six but one of our party members had cancelled so Tina, Rob and Geoff roped up as a team of three and I tied in with Dave. A report submitted for a North Ridge trip a couple weeks earlier had described trail-breaking through soft snow and the need to cross the Coleman Glacier at 6,600 ft to avoid crevasses. The report was true on both counts. The freezing level of 9,000 feet meant that we were breaking trail, sometimes sinking up to our knees, for most of the approach. Several areas with seracs and large crevasses required some short detours but by descending and then traversing at constant elevation we were able to follow a fairly direct line. Four hours after we left camp it was starting to get light as we neared the base of the climb. The one advantage to the soft snow was deep footsteps so we opted for the "high route" described by Nelson (steeper but more direct) to the right of the rocky ridge on the northwest side of the mountain. We used pickets to set running belays up the face and as we got higher the conditions changed to a couple inches of crusty snow overlying loose snow.

3088Baker_NR_below_ice_bulge-med.jpg

At the less steep area below the slope leading to the ice bulge we took a quick break in the sunshine. Then we sent three of our party up the steep hard snow to the base of the ice bulge where they chopped out belay stances and set up ice screw anchors. The arete at the extreme left edge of the ice cliff presented a less steep line but was of uncertain stability and had bad exposure. Instead we opted for a line near the left side of the ice cliff with about half a rope length of 80-degree ice. We had our rope gun, Geoff, lead that pitch. The ice was brittle and tended to shatter. I found that I had to swing my ice tool sometimes several times before I could get a good placement. The ice tool was noticeably better than the ice axe in these conditions. When we were setting up the anchors and when people were climbing there was no way to avoid sending a barrage of ice chunks down on those below.

3088Baker_NR_climbing_ice_wall-med.jpg

Above the ice cap we hit steep mixed snow and ice for the next half a rope length. One party member led it and the others followed. After the ice bulge it was steep snow for a few hundred vertical feet below the summit with ongoing downpouring of spindrift from the summit. We set running belays for most of the climb except for the ice pitch. The final bit to the summit crater was a sulfurous glacier stroll. We had been blessed with clear skies for most of the day but the summit was covered in a cloud. It was now 5pm, sixteen hours after our 1am departure. We wolfed down our chocolate summit treats and then we followed the boot track down the Roman Wall and back onto the Coleman Glacier. The warm temperatures had turned the snow mushy. We were back at the tents by 8:30pm. We then packed up and returned to the cars between 11pm and midnight.

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Wow, 16 hours seems like a really long time to cross the Coleman and climb the North Ridge (I'd venture to guess that the average party would take 8 hours or less.)

 

What do you think caused things to take so long? Bad snow conditions? A large group? Placing too many pickets?

 

Did you ever feel concerned about objective hazards given the warmth and from being on the route for so long?

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Yeah, I guess that didn't come out well, though I was trying not to insinuate anything.

 

Snow conditions up high sound weird right now. In a trip report here a few days ago on Glacier Peak, they were reporting whoomping.

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I guess if you take the belaying seriously that eats up a lot of time, especially for rope teams of more than two. But if you're going to protect your ropes then I guess it's better to go all out, instead of half-ass and believing in a false sense of security. People have been hurt from falls on the North Ridge.

 

How much time do you estimate you took from the base of the cliff, to the first walkable slopes above the cliff? It sounds like everyone climbed the ice one-by-one. How much time do you estimate each person was standing at a belay station? Did you simul-climb any of the less-serious ice? Would you have considered climbing as two simultaneous, separate teams on different sections of the cliff, provided there were two competent leaders and enough gear to split up? These are just questions I would be asking myself on a climb like this, I'm just curious what you think you could do to save time (while preserving an acceptable level of safety).

 

ps. looks like great skiing.

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The 16-hour travel time was partly due to conditions and partly due to erring on the side of being overly safe at the expense of speed with respect to protecting the route and choosing when to simul-climb. The party that did the climb on May 28th noted in their report that it had taken them 13 hours to reach the summit. It may be that travel times greater than 10 hours are typical for this season's conditions. The initial trail-breaking through soft snow from camp to the base of the climb added some time and contributed to our being worn out which made for slower travel towards the end of the climb. Having a rope team of three made was less efficient when belaying on the ice pitch. There may have been steps we could have taken to reduce the travel time but in light of the good weather and with plenty of time to get back to the Heliotrope trail before dark, there was no feeling of urgency.

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