With the promise of an unseasonably awesome early spring weekend in Seattle, Goran and I convened at work on Friday afternoon to discuss potential objectives. After considering a few routes, we flipped to Mount Baker. We couldn't find a single early season report for the North Ridge, but there were plenty for the Coleman-Deming route, including one from the previous weekend. The conditions seemed right, so we made the call to leave town on Friday night and sleep at the trailhead (or as close as we could get). After a leisurely dinner at home and some quick packing, we hit the road around 9pm, reaching the end of the road just shy of midnight. We'd brought camping gear, but the ground was wet and we were only going to squeeze out about 4 hours, so we set up our sleeping bags in the front seats, laid them flat, and passed out.
4:15am came quickly and smacked us both hard enough that gearing up was a pretty slow endeavor. Nevertheless, we had our bags packed with all sorts of gear (crevasse rescue and avalanche), and began skinning up the road. We were about three miles from the trailhead and made it there under headlamp, as the ambient light slowly rose. The trail was pretty easily identifiable as it looked like a few parties had headed up the day or night before. We followed their tracks and paralleled them in places where the tracks had frozen into a bobsled run. Conditions were still pretty bulletproof at tree-line when we got our first glimpse of the summit. We'd come a significant portion of the distance at that point and treated ourselves to a nice little snack.
We headed straight up the ridge from the tree-line break and actually found it easiest to go directly up rather than switchback, given the icy conditions and lack of ski crampons. The sun was just peeking over from the far side of the mountain at that point and made for some pretty dramatic, long shadows. The snow thankfully started to soften up as we made it over one crest and then followed the skin track climber's left up a steeper section. As we made it over the next crest, we could see a bunch of ski descent tracks and another party higher up the Coleman Glacier. We also passed someone's high camp, which looked like a cozy spot on the snow-covered glacier, relatively well protected and with an amazing view to the North and West.
From this spot high on the Coleman Glacier, we stayed up toward the Black Buttes and Colfax Peak, twisting through the icefalls and avoiding any crevasses that all seemed to be chock-full of snow. A few more sections of easy skinning brought us to the Coleman-Deming Saddle and much steeper terrain up the Pumice Ridge and Roman Wall. We started skinning and quickly realized that boot-packing would be necessary. The change in style of motion was greatly appreciated—my hip-flexors had been on fire and not well traveled on skins so far this season, so putting the skis on my pack and taking step after step worked out quite well. We met a few other parties on the Roman Wall and had at least one break to down some calories.It was a long day already at that point and we were both aware that it was going to be a fun, but long descent.
After booting up the rest of the Roman Wall, we slapped the skis back on and made the easy traverse to the summit. A number of other parties were up there and we all traded off doing obligatory photo shoots. It was a gorgeous day with a little bit of haze and the North Cascades were out in force. Shuksan was especially prominent in our view, but we could see Glacier and all the way down to Rainier. Whenever I get on one of these summits, I can't help but realize that there truly is a lifetime of climbing in the area. Once we both started cooling off, we skinned back to the Roman Wall, nearly heading too far to skier's right before we realized our mistake and dropped in. The first few turns were a bit spicy for me, but it quickly opened up to really fun skiing on snow that had loosened up a bit, but wasn't wet. It was awesome, especially with the view down to the saddle and glaciers in front of us.
We continued skiing down and never needed our skins again. The section at the top of the Coleman Glacier was especially powdery and fun—we spent a while whooping and loving the experience despite aching quads and lots of unnecessary gear in our packs, weighing us down. In an effort to find an easier way out, we traversed higher than we'd come in on the trail in hopes that we could avoid skiing out the tight, winding path. Unfortunately, the snow had warmed significantly, but still had a bit of a crust. The combination was really tough for me and I proceeded to eat it a number of times into the soft snow. We eventually made it back down to the main trail and found the ski out from there to be surprisingly easy. I snow-plowed to glory with some total survival skiing. The final bit on the road back to the car was exceptionally easy going, but still tough given how tired my legs were. I stopped a few times to shake them out before coasting to the car and ripping off my boots. We were elated and commiserated about our feet that felt like hamburger…we'd done about 9,000ft of elevation gain over the day and had covered just shy of 20 miles. It was a big one.
With celebratory beers complete and shoes removed, we began the drive home, having the standard, jubilant, retrospective conversation people have after big days in the mountains. It was a great day and first climb with Goran.