North Ridge on Mount Baker

Kate on the crux pitch

The gorgeous weather this past week tantalized me enough that a marginal weather report for the weekend all but forced me to take Friday off to get out there.

We knew things had been warm and that recent avalanche activity in the area was not to be taken lightly. Thankfully, the forecast called for cooler temperatures as well as some cloud cover for Friday. We drove up from Seattle after work and arrived about a mile from the trailhead at an impassible, snowy bridge around 11:00pm. After getting our packs ready for a fast departure, we fell asleep in the car at about 11:30pm.

Baker's North Ridge at dawn

After a quick coffee and muffin, we were moving up the road at 1:30am. The road was patchy and clear for a ways, went under a fallen tree, and then got onto snow about a half mile before the TH. There wasn't enough snow in the trees off to the sides to give us confidence that we could skin yet, so we continued hiking in trail runners all the way to tree line. At about 3am, before reaching tree line, a pair of climbers were coming down the trail. They spoke of 20mph winds, avalanche debris, lightning to the North, and slushy snow. Yikes. It was early enough that we decided to keep going, knowing that we could descend quickly on skis if we had to.

Things were much more mellow than we expected them to be and the skin to and up the glacier went smoothly. We stayed low, rather than going up Heliotrope Ridge, and did a gently rising traverse to eventually gain the bowl below seracs on the Coleman-Deming route. All the while, the clouds to the West looked menacing and we could see lightning flashes way off in the distance, but things were stable and seemed to be getting better.

There was enough snow on the glacier to enable a direct skin up to the North Ridge, so I picked my way around crevasses and we quickly made it to the base of the right entrance to the ridge around 7am. We switched to boots and crampons here and followed a boot pack that looked to be no more than a week old. A huge thank you to whomever put that beast in. We post-holed through many of the steps, so we could imagine how loose it must have been for them.

Looking up at the ice step

Once on the ridge, we were surprised by how long it felt to get to the ice, but we were rewarded the whole way with a clear view to the North. The menacing clouds had disappeared and it was a beautiful, sunny day. We made it to the ice at about 10am, where I racked up quickly and headed up on our single 60m 8mm line. I decided to have a bit of fun on the steep, West-facing side before jumping over the crest and running up the ramp to the steeper finish. Our 60m rope was plenty long to go from the belay on snow up to a belay above the lip on two screws. Kate seconded without an issue and we quickly switched the belay for me to lead up what looked to be steep snow back to the true ridge.

There were no difficulties, so I banged in a picket before she pulled the belay and then we simul-climbed the rest of the route, following the boot pack as it traversed underneath the seracs and toward the summit. It was slow going up top, with lots of post-holing and air that felt thinner than it should have for 10,000 feet. Nevertheless, we ditched packs just below the summit and hit the top at about 2:15pm, just shy of 13 hours after our start at the car. Clouds had rolled in and only the bigger peaks stuck out. Shuksan, in particular, looked awesome.

The ski down was without incident, which was exactly our goal. Snow had softened nicely on the Roman Wall and it was pretty wet down low, but not complete concrete, so turns weren't impossible. We each had a few comical crashes, but that was it.

After skiing down a gully for a while which paralleled the trail, we transitioned to shoes and hiked down to the car before 6:30pm for around a 17-hour round trip.