Ascent of Mount Baker on 2015-02-22

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Sunday, February 22, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Baker
    Elevation:10781 ft / 3286 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mt Shuksan (9,131ft) and Mt Baker (10,778ft) in a Winter Weekend

Matthew and Eric Gilbertson

Feb 20-21, 2015

Friday 12pm – Start hiking up Mt Shuksan. Camp on Sulphide Glacier

Saturday – Climb Mt Shuksan summit, descend to car, drive to nearest gas station to eat a bunch of junk food, drive to Mt Baker trailhead, hike to base of Easton Glacier and set up camp.

Sunday – 4am alpine start up Easton Glacier, summit 9am, back to Seattle by 4pm for early dinner, then Matthew flies back to Boston at night

Matthew and I were planning to climb Mt Logan in Yukon, Canada later in the spring and needed to do a shake-down trip to test out some new gear. I had just moved to Seattle and Matthew was in Boston, so we decided to meet up for a long weekend in February. Luckily it appeared the weather would cooperate.

Matthew flew in Friday morning and we drove north to Sedro Wooley to pick up permits. We planned to climb Mt Shuksan first, and wanted to camp high up on the Sulphide Glacier that night. The glacier is just inside the boundary of North Cascades National Park, so a permit was required.

The rangers were surprised we were climbing Shuksan, and said the first ascents of the year usually aren’t until June. We got the permit, then drove to the south side trailhead at FS 1152. The road was snow free all the way to the trailhead, which I hear is very uncommon in February. It had been raining hard all morning, but the forecast was for clearing. We waited around until noon, when the rain let up, then started hiking up the trail.

By around 4,000ft we hit snowline and from there had to navigate by map and GPS. We took a break in a whiteout
on a shoulder just above treeline, allowing the visibility to improve a bit. We reached a ridge just north of Sulphide point, scrambled up the ridge a bit farther than we probably should have, then traversed across a snow slope to the base of the Sulphide Glacier.

We marched up the glacier until the terrain leveled out near point 6531, then stopped for the day. This was our planned camping location, and it just happened that the weather started clearing out. We managed to set up the camping tent and cook tent before dark, and dug out a nice entrance under the vestibule. That evening we watched an excellent sunset over Mt Baker to the west.

It was windy all night, and we woke up around midnight to a few inches of snow inside the tent! We had cracked open the doors and roof zipper of the tent to help let moisture from our breath out, and thought the rain fly would have protected us from snow. However, it appeared the wind had blown snow through the gap at ground level between the rain fly and tent, and into the tent.

We pushed the snow out, zipped closed all the zippers, and went back to bed. This was actually a valuable lesson we learned before going on a month-long expedition to Mt Logan. It is actually important to pack snow completely around the tent to seal off gaps between the rain fly and tent body.

In the morning we roped up and left at first light. We ascended the Sulphide Glacier, crossing a broad flat plateau to the base of the summit pyramid of Shuksan. Shuksan has the epitome of a summit pyramid, because it is a very steep peak poking out of a broad plateau. The peak looks impossibly steep from a distance, but as you get closer the angle appears to drop so it is less difficult.

We kicked steps up the face of the summit, then I put in an ice screw on a steep and icy section crossing over to the west ridge. From there it was a short climb to the summit proper. We didn’t stay long, and carefully simul-downclimbed the gully back to the plateau, and walked back to camp. The visibility was excellent all day, with the forecast clearing happening after all.

At camp we quickly packed up, then retraced our footprints back to the trail and the car. We drove down to a gas station on route 20, ate some food, then continued to our next objective, Mt Baker. The road to the south side of Mt Baker is generally snow covered until June, but amazingly we were able to drive all the way to the Schreiber’s Meadow trailhead. Only the last 100ft of the road were snow-covered, but it wasn’t a problem for the forrester.

It was late afternoon, and we quickly packed back up and headed up the trail. By sunset we reached a flat area at the base of the railroad grade on the Easton Glacier route and set up camp at the edge of treeline.

We got up at 4am the next morning, roped up, and started ascending. Crevasses were mostly filled in and the
routefinding was very straightforward. We just went straight up towards the summit. Eventually we reached the Roman Wall shortly after sunrise, and here it got very icy. We carefully cramponed up the ice, then the terrain leveled out on top.

It looked like we were on the summit, but my map showed the true summit on the far end of the summit plateau. We crossed the plateau, and topped out at the true summit at 9am. It felt pretty good to get my second winter ascent of a Washington volcano, having just summitted Rainier the previous weekend.

We admired the view for a while, see many very remote mountains to the east in the Pickets, then headed down. After carefully descending the Roman Wall we retraced our route down the Easton. A group of skiers were on there way up, and they were not happy about the icy conditions on the Roman Wall. I’ve heard that area is usually icy, and I later read a report from the skiers that they turned around at the base of the wall before summitting. It looked like Matthew and I were the only ones to summit that weekend.

By 1pm we made it back to the car, and were in Seattle by 4pm. We had time to go out to eat with Katie in town before Matthew caught an evening flight back to Boston.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
Summary Total Data

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