After a few days of sitting around, and an appointment to get my wisdom teeth taken out the next day, I was itching to ski something up here in the Cascades, Washington. Various ideas of north facing routes were tossed about, and the Coleman Headwall on Mt. Baker was decided upon. The great thing about Mt. Baker is the plethora of options. If the headwall didn’t go (and I was doubtful it would), we had the choice of several other great backcountry skiing routes.
It’s been my experience the Coleman Headwall is hard to get. I’ve looked at it several times over the past few years, and it never has been in condition. As we skinned up the glacier, it appeared good, if just barely. The main route had some large patches of exposed ice, but if you went skier’s left, jumped a crevasse, weaved through more ice, it might be possible. The temperature as we climbed was uncomfortably warm, but I hoped it would soften the snow on the steep upper sections.
We arrived at the top around 2:00, and found beautiful corn. Excited, we poked around until we found the right line, watchful to avoid the steep exposed ice we had noticed from below. We stayed skier’s left, and made our way to the first steep section. To our dismay, the snow changed from perfect corn to a hard, frozen variety, although still skiable. We carefully made ski mountaineering turns toward the first crevasse crossing, another unknown variable. After a small hop over the crevasse, we moved on to lower angled, slushier snow. Isn’t there supposed to be corn in between slush and ice? Apparently not. The soft snow was more pleasant, as we made our way down, across runnels and seracs.
We approached the final bergschrund, with high hopes of skiing across a bridge, or at least jumping it. No suitable bridges were found, and it was too big to jump. We decided to belay across the only, partially collapsed snow-bridge.
We made a quick anchor, wary of rockfall from above, and I started making my way across. Every probe of my ski pole slid through the slushy snow like a spoon through cottage cheese. The rope offered protection, but also the chance of a long pendulum . I tiptoed my way across, and quickly came to the end of our 30 meter line. I built another anchor and belayed Kirk across.
We skied down the final bit, jumped over one more crevasse, and started making our way through the cracked up Coleman Glacier. I had never been in this area of the glacier before. The large crevasses were impressive. We enjoyed more backcountry skiing turns, then roped up and hiked over to the standard route. Even more great skiing led to the trail, which we followed down to the car.
Chips and ice cold beer awaited us. The Coleman Headwall was an excellent backcountry skiing adventure. I enjoy getting a little technical rope work in, it’s great practice and fun too. Check!
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.