Leader: Keith Sullivan, Co-Leader: Ivan Krakow.
The inaugural undertaking of Summit Sensations was a nine person team climbing MT Baker in the Northern Cascades of Washington State. The core of the group consisted of four AMC NH Chapter regulars, Keith Sullivan, Nancy Cooper, and the husband and wife team of Ivan Krakow & Rebecca Shannon. Ivan was the most experienced mountaineer in the group. He had been leading AMC trips for ten years and had a successful summit of Mount Rainier. The idea of an unguided climb of a Cascades peak by AMC regulars had started a couple years earlier when Ivan had invited Keith and another friend to join him on a Rainier ascent. However, when Ivan and Rebecca decided on a summer wedding that year, Ivan’s perspective teammates assumed the climb would be cancelled. Not to be deterred, Ivan chose Rebecca as his 4th rope team member, and for a brief period, the climb and marriage plans merged. But at some point it dawned on Ivan that spending most of his honeymoon roped 30 feet away from his bride, and in the company of two other men, was not a great idea. Ivan got his priorities straight and that Rainier climb was cancelled.
Nancy Cooper was a mountain hiking dynamo who had been leading trips for the AMC during the past 5 years. She had a successful ascent of Mt Olympia in Washington and was asked to be the third rope team leader. Keith Sullivan, an AMC leader for 6 years, had made guided ascents on MT Rainier, and two years earlier, on MT Baker. Based primarily on his previous experience climbing MT Baker, Keith became Leader. One other NH Chapter leader, Diana Frye, was asked to join the team. Diana lacked big mountain experience, but her sense of humor, physical fitness and “can-do” attitude made her a great addition to the team.
Leon Tokatlian and John Kottos had recently become active NH Chapter regulars, and they both had high altitude, and glacier travel experience in Nepal and South America which made them valuable additions to the MT Baker team. John and Leon suggested another team member who they had met on a guided climb in South America, Luis Pena. Luis’ great personality and steady, reliable performance made him a good fit. The final of nine teammates joined after participating in an AMC Mountaineering Workshop taught by Keith at Tuckerman’s Ravine in April. Doug Hunt was a relative newcomer to NH Chapter, AMC activities but he was big, strong, amiable and enthusiastic. The climb schedule called for three nights at a 7000 ft camp on Mount Baker. This allowed for a rest and training day prior to the summit climb, and one more night after the summit climb before hiking out to the trailhead. Tentative plans were made for a climb of nearby MT Shuksan immediately following MT Baker. The route was the Easton Glacier, Railroad Grade route from the southwest. Breakfast and Dinner meals were all vegetarian group meals, each climber supplemented with snack and lunch food of there own. Ivan divided the group gear into 8 even sized loads but left himself more than his fair share.
After one night at a downtown Seattle Hotel, and Keith’s daring escape from a closed parking garage, the team traveled by van and two small pick-up trucks to Concrete, WA, and then immediately on to the trailhead at Schreiber’s Meadow at 3400 ft. The climb started in typical Pacific Northwest weather – rain and sleet. However, things quickly improved to overcast skies. The snow pack had melted out to about the 4500 ft level, so the lower portion of the climb was made on the hiking trail and, as we got higher, there were discernable footprints in the snow from there to the Railroad grade. The railroad grade has absolutely nothing to do with trains – it is a prominent moraine between what is now the Easton Glacier to the east, and a large snowfield on the west. It is a very gradual and direct route towards the summit that can be hiked without roping. The only hazard is a steep drop off to the Easton Glacier that is easily avoided by staying to the left of the footpath when ascending. The going was easy except for a few dicey spots where the terrain forced us to walk on the very edge of the drop off. We followed the moraine to about 6800 ft and camped in a low, snow covered spot between the crevassed glacier to our east, and the solid snowfield to our West. At that point we were in a cloud and climbing any higher without roping would have been dangerous.
After a great meal planned and orchestrated by Rebecca we spent a relaxing night in our tents. The next day was scheduled as a low key training day. We organized into three, 3-person rope teams: #1 Keith, Diana and John; #2 Nancy, Luis and Leon; and #3 Ivan, Rebecca and Doug. Each team focused on roped travel techniques. As a group, we practiced self arrest and building a Z pulley. We ate another great meal, swapped jokes and stories for a while, and went to bed around 7 PM in anticipation of our 1 AM wake-up.
When we began the ascent at 2:30 AM the skies were clear and winds were moderate. We made steady process throughout the night and early morning winding around the many crevasses and seracs on the Easton Glacier and reaching the crater rim, and its prominent sulfur odor around 7:30. We climbed the Roman Wall without incident and crossed the broad, flat summit area to Grant Peak with all three rope teams and nine team members arriving by 10 AM. We descended the same route which Keith had led and wanded on the way up and arrived back at camp at around 3 PM. We had the mountain to ourselves and had not seen any other climbing parties all day. Dinner and celebration proceeded another early bedtime.
When we awoke the next morning it was pouring rain and enthusiasm for the summit of MT Shuksan waned. After a festive and spirited hike out, we got rooms at the North Cascades Inn and took in all the sights and activities available in the metropolis of Concrete, WA. This included thick steaks and a great breakfast at the Cascades Inn, excellent pizza, a coin op. laundry, and a good cup of espresso for Leon. We were left with one day and night with no plans. Rebecca researched and organized a trip to Anacortes, where we stayed in a pretty nice campground and went on a guided kayak excursion the next day. The Kayaking turned out to be a great time for everyone. That last evening we spent in downtown Seattle where we had a celebratory team dinner at a Japanese restaurant, and vainly searched for a place where Nancy could dance.
The most important lesson learned on this trip was that slowing the itinerary down makes a lot of sense. Traveling to and from Seattle from the east coast can take a lot out of you – trying to cram two cascades peaks into one week is too ambitious. Also, spending an additional day or two on a mountain makes it far more likely that a summit attempt will be successful. First, it may give you a larger window in which to attempt a summit climb. Secondly, with a large climbing party, it makes it more likely that all team members will have the strength needed to reach the summit. Guided parties may spend only one night on MT Baker, we spent three nights there.