Whatcom County High Point Trip Report

Mount Baker (10,781 ft)

Date: July 8-10, 2000
Author: Edward Earl

Mount Baker cannot be soloed safely because all routes on it involve glacier travel with hidden crevasse danger. After some unsuccessful attempts to find a friend or relative to do this with me, I decided to enlist the services of the American Alpine Institute (AAI), a guide service in Bellingham WA, for the climb. Although the climb can normally be done in two days, I decided to schedule three days with the guide because I intend to attempt Mount McKinley next year, and Mount Baker is as good a place as any to get some crevasse rescue training for that.

I met my guide, Clint Cook, early in the morning at the AAI office in Bellingham. He checked my equipment and found everything to be adequate. The AAI staff seemed amazed that I needed no rentals; the vast majority of their clients are usually short something. We decided to climb up the Coleman Glacier, the most popular route. We headed up to the trailhead at 3700', changed into our cold-weather mountaineering gear, and set off up the trail. We trudged up a snow field between thinning trees at tree line at about 5500'. We roped up near the highest of a series of bare dirt patches and headed up the glacier between two open crevasses. The grade leveled out, steepened, leveled out again, and made one brief final rise to the base of a line of dark pinnacles called the Black Buttes. We made camp by the moat here, at about 7000'. I needed little guidance to dig out a level spot and set up my tent. I also hollowed out a little extra space for my stove. I enjoyed dinner and an evening carbohydrate snack for the 2 AM departure for the summit the next day.

Clint awoke me at the appointed time. We departed up the glacier under partly cloudy skies. After a couple of hours, however, as dawn was starting to break, visibility dropped to about 300 feet and remained that way. At about 6 AM we reached the "col" at 9000', a saddle above the Black Buttes that marked the start of the final rise to the summit. Clint informed me that at our present rate we would take 5 hours to reach the summit. "5 hours from camp?" I asked. "No, 5 hours from now," he replied. "This is crazy!" I thought but didn't say anything. I hadn't been on this mountain before, but I knew my abilities on this kind of climb, and a projection of 5 more hours to the summit made no sense to me unless there were technical difficulties ahead that I couldn't see in the fog. I asked Clint about that, and he said that the toughest stretch ahead was the Roman Wall, an 800' 45 degree snow slope. I had no trouble with it; in fact it was more like 35 degrees. We made good time up it and soon reached the summit plateau. It was now snowing, visibility was about 150', and without a guide I would have never known that the actual summit was several hundred feet farther east across a level snow field with a 15' final rise. We arrived at 7:20 AM. Summit siesta was only 15 minutes owing to the weather.

Descent to camp was uneventful. We arrived at about 10 AM. It was no longer snowing, but visibility was still limited. After a long doze in my tent, we set out to capitalize on the other reason I was here: crevasse rescue training. About a 10 minute walk from camp was an area of crevasses. The first exercise was to learn what I would do if I fell in. Clint lowered me about 20' into a crevasse and I prusiked out. It was pretty simple and straightforward. Then Clint showed me the somewhat complicated procedure to set up a pulley system to get a 3:1 or 6:1 mechanical advantage to pull a fallen companion out should he not be able to climb out. I ran through the procedure a couple of times.

Clint and I agreed that I'd decide when we would get up the next morning, so I opted to do so by the sun. We packed up our camp and headed down the glacier. We decided to use the final morning on the mountain for him to give me an "icefall tour", so we headed around to the Coleman Glacier terminus, a jumble of ice blocks. I did a potpourri of ice exercises- screw placement, V-threads, ballards, and a climb up a 75-80 degree ice slope with and without my ice axe.