Team Members: Bill Duncanson, Dave Bottorff and Jim Nupp
Mount Shuksan 9,135 feet and Mount Baker at 10,781 feet is the third highest summit in Washington. Mount Baker is also one of the most glaciated peak with an average snow fall of over 150 inches a year. There are twelve active glaciers and breathtaking views.
The climb of Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker in Washington took place from July 5 – 12, 2014. The team arrived in Seattle on Saturday. It was a beautiful day. We headed for the Red Roof Inn. Mike Lafleur and Zack Coburn were already there. A trip was made to REI to get fuel and a few last items. Back at the hotel we divided group gear, filled our fuel bottles, divided food and packed our backpacks for an early morning departure. The weather report looked good with possible showers reported on Sunday but the remainder of the week was favorable.
Sunday we drove north to the mountains. A stop at the Sedro-WoolleyRanger Station was required to get permits and the latest climbing and trail conditions. The final decision was made to climb Mount Shuksan by way of the south side route Sulfide Glacier trail. Off we went. The beginning of the trail was rather easy for the first 2 miles. At 4000 feet we encountered snow and many trees that were blown over. The trail was difficult to follow. We then followed a GPS track until we made it to the snow field. Clouds rolled in, started to rain and made it difficult to see where we were going. Around 5300 feet elevation, at edge of the glacier, we decided to make camp. We had traveled 4 miles, 2600 feet gain in 4.5 hours to camp. We dug a nice platform for the tent and kitchen. As soon as we were set up the clouds began to clear. What a nice sunset and view of Mount Baker.
We woke up at 4:00am for the climb. The plan for the day was 3 miles, 3700 feet of gain and 4 1/2 hours to summit. Ate breakfast and got ready for the climb. We didn’t rope up because of few crevasses. Sun was already up when we left camp around 6:00am. Weather was mild and felt like it was in the mid 30s. Travel to the base of the pyramid was rather uneventful. There was a nice track in the snow to follow and a few crevasse detours that had to be made.
We reached the summit pyramid around 10:00am. We climbed to within 100 meters from the summit on the steep slope. The snow was soft and was only about 12 to 24 inches deep. Our ice ax sank in the snow to the rock but would not hold so it would be impossible to self arrest. Jim was able to find one of the clip in ties in the rock. The rock was too rotten to protect with pro. The 30 meter rope was also not long enough to allow a rappel from the top and to clip into the ties so down climbing would have been treacherous at best. Up on the rock rib would have been very difficult from our position in the right gully. The snow could cut loose from where we were standing so we decided to head down and back to camp.
On the way back to camp we came across an area that had avalanched during the time that we were on the pyramid. Back at camp we cooked lunch and packed up for the trip out. The trail out was easy to follow until we once again hit the blowdowns. The GPS made it easy to get back on track. Once back on the trail travel was easy. It got very warm as we descended. Back at the car we cleaned up and ate snacks. The sun felt good!
We headed to Ovenell’s cabins in Concrete WA for the night. We checked into the Woodsman cabin. It was small but fit our needs. After moving in we decided to go to town to look for dinner at about 7:30pm. We drove all around but all places were closed. We finely got something to eat at a convenience/gas station. They were closing the kitchen down but talked them in to staying open. I guess that they felt sorry for us. Back at the cabin we spread out our gear to dry and got a good night’s sleep.
In the morning the sun was shining and was nice and warm. We went out to breakfast, packed up our gear that was spread out drying over the lawn and headed for Mt Baker. We decided to climb by way of the Easton Glacier trail. It starts out from the Schreiber’s Meadow trailhead. The trail was easy to follow. At about a mile we came to a large creek crossing. I was easy because by luck a trail crew was putting in a temporary bridge. The trail then entered into thicker forest, switch backs and snow. At around 5300 feet, 2000’ gain and 4.5 hours is where we decided to make camp.
There were several nice bare spots to camp in the trees. We decided to take it easy, melt snow for water and just enjoy the day.
The next day the trail forks and goes up to the Railroad Grade. Railroad grade is a prominent lateral moraine formed by the retreating Easton Glacier which has a ridge like appearance.
At around 6,500 feet we came across the many flat camp spots. There were lot of people and it was early in the day so we decide to go on. Somewhere around 6,600 feet we decided to camp in an area called the Porta, about 1/2 mi from a huge serac field after 1300 feet of gain for the day. We dug a tent platform and kitchen. We were early in camp and enjoyed the afternoon. The plan was to leave early before daylight. There were several crevasse crossings that would be difficult in the dark so we scouted out our initial route and wanded until we reached the main boot trail to save time in the morning. Ropes were laid out and our gear was made ready to be quickly put on.
We planned to get up at 2:00am but did not until 3:30. Got dressed and while eating breakfast 3 rope teams of 4 college kids went by our camp. We were finally on our way by 4:30. Our crampons bit into the hard crunchy snow. The sky was clear and the stars were shining bright. We could see the lights of Seattle and the massive Mount Rainier to the south. We went by a different route initially from the kids to follow our wanded route that then joined the main boot trail. Soon you could see rays of sun on the horizon.
The climber’s path was easy to follow. The trail headed northwest toward the crater. There were a few snow bridges to navigate around large crevasses. We approached a large rock formation stopping at Sherman peak before tackling the steep Roman Wall 1000 feet below the summit-Grants Peak. The smell of sulfur in the air was strong from the crater. We met several college students and their guides taking a much needed break. This was a good place to get out of the wind, rest, drink and snack. The next 1200 feet to the summit was going to be windy so we put on an extra layer.
Above the crater (9,800 feet) the grade became steeper on the upper Easton Glacier and this was the most difficult/challenging section of the route. It was much colder with a 30 mph wind in our face. The snow was still hard than when we were on Mt Shuksan because this area was still shaded from the sun by the rock formation. We caught up with the college students who were having a difficult time because of the steepness of the slope. We followed them for a time then asked their guide if it was ok to pass. They were looking for a break and allowed us to go on. It was tough but finely it began to get less steep and we arrived at the flat top which is the size of several football fields. The trail turn northwest towards Grant’s Peak is the true summit of Mount Baker. We met one group of students with guides on the way down the last 50 feet of mostly rock. We gave them high five and a job well done! Finely we made it to the top with 4180 feet gain and 4.5 hours to enjoy the views of all around. Great views could be seen of the Puget Sound, the Olympic mountains, Mount Shuksan and the Cascades to the South. Had a snack and took several pictures. After about 20 minutes it was time to go down because the remainder of the students was coming and they would need a place to enjoy.
The going down was fairly easy. The steep part was beginning to thaw but was still firm. It took about 3 hours back to camp. It felt great to get all of the climbing gear off! We decided to take our time and cook our last dinner for lunch. We packed up camp and put on our heavy packs and headed down the trail. It was hot when we reached the car by about 6:30pm after a 14 hour day! We sat for a while before getting in our street clothes and packing our gear in the car for the ride out.