I keep telling myself ski season is over, and I need to start doing summer stuff like climbing and mountain biking. Somehow I keep finding my self skiing corn. The excuse for this last weekend was the need for August turns.
I’ve been wanting to get up to Glacier Peak for forever, as it is the most remote of the Cascade volcanoes, and promises solitude and amazing scenery. Zach and I had a trip all planned out, and at the last minute I found out that the road to the trailhead had been washed out this winter, adding an additional 7 miles to the approach. We deemed the unknown snow of Glacier Peak not worth the effort, and instead made plans to ski Mt. Baker.
I still craved some backcountry solitude, so we opted for the Boulder Glacier, on the SE side of Baker, where I have never been. The approach trail is quite a bit longer than most of the others on Baker, so this side sees few people. Indeed, we saw only two other souls the entire day, and that was while we were hanging out on the summit. Not bad for a Cascade volcano on a Sunday!
We drove to the trailhead early Sunday and left the car at about 4:00 am. The trail was long, however it went by quickly, and before I knew it we were standing on snow in the sun gazing up at the Boulder Glacier. We switched to boots and skins, and continued up toward the north side of the Boulder Glacier.
We were able to skin from a lower elevation than I expected, raising high hopes for a long ski run. As we climbed higher, a few clouds moved in below us, eventually covering much of the Cascades. Skiing above the clouds is always beautiful. We were able to make it about halfway up before we roped for the last section. The Boulder Glacier is tumultuous, with cracks like slot canyons, especially this late in the season. We skirted a few impressive rifts, and tiptoed across some thin snow bridges.
We climbed next to the crater, and after more crevasse weaving made it up to the summit. We were pleasantly surprised by little wind and no people, so we hung out for a while. We had briefly discussed skiing the Park Headwall, so I walked over to check it out. I’ve looked down the headwall almost every time I’ve been on top of Baker. It drops directly from the edge of the summit plateau. It’s always exhilarating walking to the edge, as you can’t see any of the face until you’re a foot or two away. It looks like there should be a cornice, but for some reason there never is; the snow just forms a 45-50 degree wall.
The face was already half in the shade, so the snow was sloppy corn with an icy crust, not the best, but skiable. The crux would be the bergschrund at the bottom. We couldn’t see it clearly on the way up, but I knew it was a massive one, and spread the width of the face. It was still hard to see, and I couldn’t definitively tell if we could get over it. The face was tempting, so we decided to go for it.
We hung out on the summit for a little longer, and then headed down. The face was now entirely in the shade, and was getting icier. I headed down first, and scraped down to just above the bergschrund. Zach had an exciting descent with his soft powder board, and joined me. The schrund was bigger than it looked from above, and the spot I was planning to cross was wide open. I briefly considered jumping it, but instead found a snowbridge to the far right. We skied quickly across, and it held.
We roped up at the base of the headwall, and navigated the crevasses to make it back to our uptrack. We reached it in a few minutes. Below us stretched more than 5,000 feet of crevasse-free skiing, and we wasted no time. As we got lower the snow turned to hard suncups, which were fun, in their own challenging way. This route holds the most direct fall line skiing from the summit of Baker, and it made for perfect skiing.
We made it back to our hiking shoes quickly and hung out for a bit, not eager to start the muddy trail back to the car. Eventually we got going. I must have really been zoning out in the morning, because the trail seemed 10 times longer than it did then. My mind drifted to thoughts of the Twilight Zone, and we half expected to emerge from the woods next to Baker Lake, at the valley bottom. The headlamps came out, and eventually we made it back to the car.
This year I’ve been up (or down) nearly every major route on Baker. It’s been great getting to know the local mountain so well. I’ve been looking at this route for years, and I’m glad I finally got on it. It starts with 1,000 feet of nice steep skiing, and then progresses to another 5,000 of cruising corn, all fall line. I think it might be my favorite line down Baker. Now maybe I can kick the habit and take part in some “real” summer activities.
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.