As sad as I am for the skiers out there and as worried as I am about dry mid-season conditions later this year, I'm loving 2015 so far. The Coleman Headwall has been on my list since my first trip to Mount Baker via the standard Coleman-Deming route and I got a close look at it while climbing the Cosley-Houston on Colfax Peak last weekend. The headwall prominently faces the approach and is bounded by the classic features of the North Ridge and the Roman Nose. While later-season ascents usually encounter more technical climbing and this had therefore been on my list for June or later, the access to Baker right now and accelerated spring conditions seemed like a great combination for a fun car-to-car adventure.
Dan and I left Seattle on Friday evening and made it to the trailhead at 11pm. We slept until 3:45am or so and were moving by 4:30am. It was right about an hour to gain Heliotrope Ridge in approach shoes and then, after switching to boots, another hour to the lower flat camping area on the way towards the Roman Nose at about 6,500 feet. A lone tent was there, with a boot pack heading for the North Ridge where we could see a pair of climbers making their way through the crevasse field. We took a pretty direct line towards our route, weaving around a handful of crevasses and crossing a few snow bridges, and were at the base by about 8:30am.
The upper two thirds of the route looked pretty straightforward, albeit steep. The bottom third was a choose-your-own-adventure array of steep snow on the right and various ice lines on the left. We wove around the first couple crevasses and then headed for the ice, knowing that the rest of the route would be mostly steep snow and that we wanted to swing the tools a bit. Dan pointed out a weakness in the center of the ice fall and it looked fun to me, so I headed for it, set a belay at the base, and brought him up.
It was a narrow ice couloir of sorts, with a bit of AI2 and then a short vertical step before easing back off to AI2 and alternating between ice and neve. It was chock full of one-hit wonders. I ran us to the end of our partially-coiled 70m rope and had 2 screws of our 6-screw rack left. Even though the terrain eased up there, it was still AI2 or so and I decided not to have Dan simul-climb the vertical step, so I brought him up on a 2-screw anchor. He then finished the couloir, I headed past, and we began a very long simul-climbing block that would get us almost to the top before re-racking once above the bergschrund.
While reports and route descriptions mentioned that things eased off after the first third, we found steep terrain again up high. The middle third was certainly less steep, but the last third, including some bergschrund shenanigans, was pretty steep and relatively difficult to protect. I banged in a token picket every once in a while (we brought 3 of them), but the snow conditions weren't great for pickets. Thankfully our steps were pretty secure and our tools had some purchase in the icy crust.
Once the headwall eased up (around 1pm at this point), it was an easy walk across the plateau to the summit where we were alone with a stunning view of the North Cascades and out to sea. The winds were up a bit, so it wasn't terribly comfortable and we headed down shortly thereafter. The descent went smoothly and we were back at the car right around dark, 14 hours after we'd started.
I thought this route was quite similar in nature to the Adams Glacier on Mount Adams, though this time we added a little extra fun by taking a direct line and climbing some ice. I'd recommend it in the right conditions.