Glacier Creek Road, the approach for the north side of Mt. Baker, washed out this winter and has been closed since. However, there are a ton of great routes on the north side, and they can’t be ignored. I’ve had my eyes on the North Ridge route for a while. It’s a beautiful climb that involves a few pitches of alpine ice.
Coop, Eric, Kirk and I decided to try for the North Ridge this weekend. The closed road necessitated a new mode of transportation and an earlier start. We packed up our bikes and left Bellingham at 10:30 Friday night.
The ride to the trailhead was seven miles, and 2500 feet. I thought it would be fairly easy and take maybe an hour. After dragging my heavy mountain bike, ice gear, and skis up the road, I was exhausted. Sitting at the trailhead at 2 am, where I usually step out of the car, I wasn’t sure I could keep going for the whole climb.
In the end the lure of a classic climb, and untouched corn prevailed. We donned packs, and headed up the trail towards the snowline. The campsites on the “Hogsback” at the base of the Coleman Glacier were completely empty. On a normal sunny Saturday in June, there’d be a mini tent city. The road washout had its advantages. As the solstice sun rose, we realized we were embedded in a thick cloud layer. When we got up to the glacier, I couldn’t see further than 100 feet. My thoughts turned to quitting, but I didn’t want to say anything. Thankfully, after a few hundred feet of climbing, the clouds suddenly cleared revealing a beautiful day.
We navigated the heavily crevassed lower Coleman over to the North Ridge, as the weather continued to get better. After a few detours around an impressive crevasse and over sketchy snow bridges, we made it to the base of the ridge. We climbed a short, steep snow ramp, to gain the ridge, and then continued up some slightly lower angled snow to the ice cliffs that make up the crux of the route. I’m not much of an ice climber, having only done it a few times over the years. The steep, towering cliffs were intimidating. We traversed under the cliffs to the weakest point in the wall, a longer, lower angled section.
We split into two teams. Kirk led the first, steeper pitch. The sun had softened the ice a bit, but there was solid ice a few inches underneath. The climbing was fun. It felt great to be exposed high above the remote, chaotic rainbow glacier. We topped out onto more snow climbing and continued toward the summit. The last bit involved some more crevasses and snow bridges which we belayed across.
We topped out at 5 pm, after 16 hours on the move! The lack of sleep, combined with the brutal opening bike ride, had left me feeling sluggish all day. We hadn’t seen anyone and even had the summit to ourselves. After a small celebratory summit feast of lamb shank (trail food of champions), we hooked into our skis, and headed down. During the day a low cloud layer had been moving in and out, covering the lower slopes of the mountain. Finding our way through the crevasses on the Coleman, with no other tracks, and having not climbed the route, would have proved difficult in a white out. Thankfully the clouds cleared out, and we had a beautiful descent, enjoying sunny skies and perfect over-ripe corn.
My heavy duty mountain bike proved to be (almost) worth the weight on the way down. I sleepily clung to the handlebars as we raced down potholes and around tight turns toward the car. I’m still not sure how, but the trip had taken over 20 hours. For the past few years I’ve loved living near Mt. Baker and getting to know it’s various routes. One of the coolest aspects of the big PNW volcanoes is the huge variety of routes they hold on their flanks.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.