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The Outdoor Athlete Book by Courtenay and Doug Schurman



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About Us > Adventures > Mt. Baker / Easton Glacier

Trip Report: Mt. Baker / Easton Glacier
Courtenay Schurman July 24-25, 2009

Our annual mountaineering climb sans child took us to Mt. Baker via Easton Glacier this year. We had planned on trying the Coleman-Deming route, but with road outages adding 8 miles and 2000� gain round trip we opted to do the southern route (also known as the Railroad Grade). The last time we climbed Baker/Easton was in 1999. A decade later, it felt like a brand new route and mountain until we got to the �stinky sulfur� at the crater rim. That part we remembered all too well!

We met our fellow climbers VO, KA, MC, KG and M. at North Seattle�s 145th Park and Ride at 6:30 and arrived at the Sedro Woolley ranger station on US 2 for a self-issued permit an hour later. It looked like most of the people getting self-issued climbing permits ahead of us were heading for Shuksan. Once we reached the trailhead amid lots of parked cars, the heat was creeping upward to high 70�s and the sky was clear blue. We were out playing in the mountains during the record-breaking heat wave that would top 100 degrees in Seattle merely 3 days later.

We left the trailhead a little after 9:30, slathered in sunscreen, and made our way over the bridge and boardwalks, through flower-dusted meadows, and across a stream over boulders that would later be engulfed by melting run-off. Next, we passed into shady wooded switchbacks until we came out at Schreiber�s Meadow with our first view of the summit. The bugs were unrelenting at our first water break about 45 minutes into the hike, so we hastily continued until we reached the Railroad Grade itself. What a stark contrast between the beautiful, colorful flower-filled meadow to the west and the moon-scape boulder-filled moraine to the east as we looked up Baker�s flank to the receding Easton Glacier. What a huge difference a decade makes!!

We took a leisurely and extended break on the moraine, grabbing lunch and identifying wildflowers: asters, paintbrushes, mountain dandelions, lupines, bistorts, and more. We made our way past numerous campsites, some already with overnighters. Once we reached snow, we started looking for our own tent spots. Near the base of the glacier where we would have to rope up the next morning, we came upon some guided groups practicing ice axe arrest close to a fairly steep rocky outcrop at about 6600� elevation. We chose relatively flat spots on the snow with nearby dry rock benches where we could set stoves for cooking, far enough away from the outcrop to avoid rockfall, and with great views.

Once camp was set up we lounged around in the sun; I found myself wishing for a book. Gradually as the afternoon went on I got a wicked headache that I could only attribute to my cheap driving sunglasses since I was fully hydrated � as soon as I took a short out-of-sun rest in the tent and downed some Advil it was tolerable. Late afternoon the wind picked up and we got our first views of awesome thunderstorms all around us, as predicted. We took advantage of a lull in the squall to boil water and eat some dinner before they picked up again around 7, driving us all back into our tents for the night.

Around 10 p.m. the winds picked up in earnest, flapping our tent to the point that I thought our deadman anchors might even be at risk. Sleep was very slow to come, and by 1 a.m. (our initial wake-up time) when we were unable to see any stars and could hear the wind continue and rain splattering off our tents, we ducked back into our sleeping bags, almost convinced our summit attempt would have to be aborted for the year.

VA kept watch and made his way over to the AAI group that started up the mountain just before 2 a.m. By then the stars were peeking out, the temperature was mild, rain stopped and wind died down. He gave us an �Up and at �em� report an hour later, so we all got up to prepare for a 3 a.m. departure time. Just after 3, headlights on and tied into the ropes, we headed up the mountain in a steady head wind that got stronger as we climbed higher. We made good progress, stopping every 50-60 minutes or so. By the time the sun started to come up we were within shouting distance of the AAI group and took a bit longer break for sunglasses, sunscreen, snacks, sips and snapshots. One of my favorites: the long cone-shaped shadow of the mountain behind us on the other mountains.

Soon after that point we had our first routefinding issue: apparently a snow bridge had given out fairly recently, so we had to backtrack a bit and head down and east until we found a way around a gaping crevasse. Not long after that we made our way up another snow bridge that looked pretty tenuous; I remember thinking I wasn�t looking forward to going down the same way. Once we reached the crater, the sulfur smell from the vent was very strong. We got upwind of it and took another short break before making our way to the summit �football field� and over to Sherman Peak by 8 a.m.

Evening thunderstorms couldn�t deter us. Constant headwinds wouldn�t knock us down. The summit winds were constant at 40 mph with gusts above that which threatened to knock me off my feet. The views, however, were stunning. Our climb in 1999 put us smack dab into a lenticular cloud that left us with nothing but the sense that the summit was very huge indeed (nothing to see but white); this year we could see for miles, as long as we weren�t stumbling over the rope. With a whoop, a register signing for the group of 7, summit photos, and a round of pushups, we savored our 8 minutes at the summit and then scurried back down to get out of the biting winds. I had the fleeting thought that despite the damned winds I would much rather be there on the summit in my down coat, wind breaker, and Turtle Fur muffs, fighting the winds, than back in Seattle in record heat!

Our retreat back to camp was fast; we left the summit around 8:15 and were back at camp by 10:30. Two rangers who were at the summit about the same time we were re-routed the climb so that we could bypass the second snow bridge area that had us concerned coming up. I had one crampon come off about 1500� above camp, so I took them both off for the remaining descent. A bit slick but doable.

We celebrated with snacks and refilled water bottles, a brief rest in our tents that were rapidly melting out in the hot sun, and by noon we were packed up and on our way out to the cars. The stream crossing took a bit longer this time; we found some decent logs to shimmy across, whereas most people at that point I think must have just waded across the raging stream. We reached the cars at 2:30 and were heading back home by 3. A stellar climb with all that Mother Nature could dig out, but we still managed to reach the summit. That makes our post-child climbing record 100% successful! Hard to believe, since we have to plan everything several weeks or more in advance!


Stream crossing


KA hikes along the Railroad Grade, a glacial moraine, with meadow to east and moonscape to west


Flowers hanging on for dear life near high camp


Group practices self-arrests on steep section as we approach our high camp


DS and KW peek out to see if the weather is clear enough to come out


Author CS with slate gray skies behind her


Baker's shadow dwarfs that of the others in the North Cascades


Sunrise over crevassed glacier


Peeking over the crater rim en route to the summit


View of the "toilet bowl crater" where hot sulfuric fumes constantly vent from the crater


C & D complete their signature pushups on the summit


C and D on the top of Baker! Courtesy VO and KA



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