Peak(s):  Mount Baker - 10,778 feet
Date Posted:  05/28/2008
Modified:  05/29/2008
Date Climbed:   05/24/2008
Author:  doumall
 Mount Baker: A Cascade Wonderland  

Mount Baker 10,778'
Heliotrope Ridge Variation to Coleman/Deming Route
Ski from 7000' on Coleman Glacier

Koma Kulshan, the native name of Mount Baker, is a special place for those who love snow. The area holds the world record for snowfall with over 100' falling in 1998. It is the most glaciated of all the Cascade Volcanoes and until Mount Saint Helens blew her top, the most active over recent times.

Debbie's last name is Baker, so clearly we were drawn to this peak from the start of our Cascade planning. I had heard from locals it has the most stunning mountain views of these volcanoes and also saw less people than Rainier, Hood or Adams.

Approaching these mountains is a treat, whether in the car or on foot. You pass through temperate rainforest roaring with waterfalls and springing with vegetation.

Nine hundred inches of snow this year has forest service route 39 closed well below the summer trailhead at 2,300'. This added 5 km to the climb, which was not a big deal to us since we had four days to complete the trip. Its great having a ton of time to do trips like this!

The first day we started out by hiking through the impressive forest under foggy skies.

Instead of taking the traversing standard route trail to Hogsback camp, we headed straight up an avalanche path toward Heliotrope ridge, a variation we heard was best during the winter months. To do this, instead of heading climber's left over a bridge near the outhouses at the trailhead, climb straight up the forest into the large avalanche clearings. Follow these to tree line given the snow is stable.

After nearing tree line, the visibility dropped to 30' due to pea soup.

Moving onto the snowfields above the trees would have been an exercise blind navigation on a weakening snowpack. We found a ridgeline and set camp. The next morning, the weather had improved providing for a nice sunrise.

Hey look! The ocean!

I love finding a route with map, compass and altimeter. The terrain through here was somewhat convoluted so all three tools came in hand to avoid steep stuff.

Upon cresting Heliotrope Ridge, we found ourselves amongst the stunning display that is the Black Buttes accompanied by the smell of sulfur.

Some up and down was required while overcoming huge ridgeline drifts to intersect the normal Coleman Glacier route. The cloud ceiling seemed close enough to reach out and grab.

We were surprised to still find ourselves completely alone on this popular route. Digging commenced to set camp at 7000' on the Coleman.

The sun made for neat photography opportunities on this trip:

A nice long day of relaxation was had. Summit day arrived the next morning at 4:30 am.

The sun rises and sets later up here which lends for really long days in the spring time, a mountaineering treat. Just as we were getting ready to rope up, a local Canadian soloist came plodding along from below us on the Glacier. He was interested in roping up with us which were where happy to do given the increased safety of a three person team in crevasse country. Nice to meet you Jeff Soy!

The snow was still pretty soft without an overnight freeze. Making a boot pack up the deep slush was tough on me but well worth the effort. This route on Baker had significantly more glacier route finding than the DC route on Rainier.

The boundary peaks were the only thing standing between us and British Columbia. A mountain wonderland!

We held out hope a blanket of clouds would lift in time for our summit bid. Does a silver lining come to mind?

Jeff told us of a huge ice avalanche which occurred the previous spring out of the icefall below Colfax peak. Huge blocks of ice could still be seen on the glacier surface a year later despite a huge snow year. You can see ice wall above the bare rock which shed tons and tons of ice behind Debbie in this pic as well as some of the year old debri.

The snow conditions improved with colder overnight temps above 8500' with boots sinking only 4-6 inches into dry snow. You swing out climbers left below the Colfax Peak / Baker saddle to avoid two large crevasses on the upper Coleman Glacier.

It is difficult to tell from these next two pics, which are the left and right pairs of this area, but the team is in the process of crossing really large snow bridges here. I would love to see this area in the summer.

A short stroll had us to 9000', ready to tackle the final stretch of the route.

The snow was in excellent condition. A few areas of ice were found along the ridgeline below the Roman Wall. Cramponing conditions were optimal.

The Roman Wall is a mid 40 degree slope which stretches up to the summit between rime covered buttes. This area is an accumulation zone for the Deming Glacier which has the lowest reaching tongue of any Glacier in the lower 48 at 3.600'. The climbing was simple but very enjoyable.

Looking back down the slope, the hoards of Memorial Day climbers were finally on our radar. Coleman Glacier heading right, Deming left, Colfax Peak center.

The final stretch to the now clear summit plateau had a bit of funky ice covering it. Jeff decided to call it quits here as he had been to the true summit many times:

The summit area is large with a distinct point to the east, Grant Peak, the true summit of Mount Baker. You can see the Sherman Crater fumaroles spewing sulfur into the air form up here.

Debbie and I on the summit with Mount Shuksan and the Baker ski area behind.

A helicopter tour of Baker took a brief break on the summit with the occupants running around like Ptarmigans on a brisk morning.

After a hot lunch we began the trek back to camp which coincided with the summit falling back into the clutches of the abundant PNW moisture.

The glissade down the Roman Wall was perfect and fast.

The upper Deming Glacier with steam from the fumaroles:

Debbie looking out over the lower Deming:

Some neat views of the Coleman Headwall and a crevasse:

The snow was becoming unstable and we had some steeper skiing below us to get out so we decided to stay the night and wait for better conditions the next morning. Our rewards were perfect corn turns the next morning and a wonderful sunset over the Pacific Ocean that night.

Packing up the final camp of our trip:

and skiing out down the Coleman:

Looking back at Baker:

We decided to get back to the trailhead using the normal route through Hogsback camp to avoid the up and down of Heliotrope Ridge.

The skiing was really fun. Several parties had set camp at Hogsback which is visible on the left side of the snow bench in this pic.

Looking over at the flirting tongues of the Coleman and Roosevelt Glaciers:

More corn turns!

Although we got in some good skiing, taking this route back was not the best idea. The traversing through the tight tree well infested rotten deadfall plagued forest was a bear. We survived though but this bridge had thoughts of changing that.

The snow melts fast below 3000'! We had some walking to do to get back to the car.

This trip was amazing. We were incredibly fortunate to get the two weather windows we did to get these peaks done. The seafood was awesome and spending time with Debbie is priceless. Can't wait for our next trip together!

 Comments or Questions

05/28/2008 17:55
sweet views indeed, I didn‘t think you could out do yourself on your previous TR‘s (Landry Route, Rainier), but the diverse environment, perfect day and great shots, especially the one looking North towards BC make for a surreal trip and a phenomenal report.

Jack Brauer

05/28/2008 17:57
Those sunrise photos are insane. I am wondering why you didn‘t ski from the top?


05/28/2008 18:39
... I was really licking my chops at the ski terrain off the top, but Debbie isnt ready to ski in a no fall zone yet so we stayed on foot roped up. Next time for sure.


You‘ve almost got me convinced...
05/28/2008 21:28 do a ski mountaineering trip up there next year. Then I remember that I‘ve spent a lot of time in the Seattle area and never ever have I seen Rainier through the clouds and the rain. Glad you got the weather.


Beautiful Trip
05/29/2008 08:52
Debbie and Joe, I‘m always overwhelmed by your trips and the gorgeous pictures, the write up too Joe! I know you had tons of fun!

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