I'm finding more and more sore spots on my body as each day passes, as a sign of growth, no doubt. I've climbed to the top of Mt Baker, finally, after living in the foothills for most of my life. It wasn't quite as hard as I thought it would be, but there were a lot of things I have learned about climbing on glaciers.
I went with my friend Ric, who is an experienced mountaineer, who showed me (and brought) the ropes of glacier travel. I'd been hesitant of going onto glaciers before, because I didn't know if I could do the self-arrest maneuver, build snow anchors, or do a crevasse rescue, but I have a lot more confidence in myself now that I've practiced some of these things, and I also was worried about the expensive gear it takes to go up, but for this trip I spent only 35 dollars. Ric was very gracious about loaning me some things and I got a pair of crampons last summer as a gift, so the expenses were limited.
We went up a route that is called the “Coleman-Deming Route” because it goes up on the side of the Coleman Glacier, then along “Pumice Ridge” which separates the Coleman from the Deming Glacier, and then out onto the top of the Deming Glacier in a spot called the “Roman Wall” which is the steepest section of the route and leads to the Summit Plateau. The actual summit is a little pile of pumice and tortured rock on the east side of the top, out of reach of the photograph taken from the San Juan Islands, but is not terribly interesting.
As this is an active volcano, there are some steam vents to the south of the main peak and in a crater that is filled with yellow snow and a smell of sulfur. I'd like to take a closer look at that some day, but I'd probably bring an air tank to do it.
We got up Tuesday morning, drove about 90 minutes and put our backpacks on to hike up the trail to Heliotrope Ridge. The woods are peaceful and it had been a long time since I'd hiked through the mountains around here, so I was very happy to jump across rivers and stroll quietly through stands of tall trees.
There are a bunch of waterfalls and river crossings that change shape during the day there, depending on how much snow is melting. Some of the waterfalls reminded me of Hawaii, though much colder. I was actually quite amazed at how the rocks were so similar to volcanic rock in Mexico and Hawaii that I had been near. I guess it all comes from the same earth.
After a little while we got to the treeline and to the snow. We put on crampons and ropes, passed the main camp site and hiked up to the top of the ridge to Gargoyle camp.
It was quite sunny and we took our time, but we still had quite a few hours to hang out on the top there before making dinner and watching the sun go down and finally settling down for the night. Gargoyle Camp overlooks the Fraser River valley, Vancouver and the western part of Whatcom county. I couldn't see Bellingham proper but I could see the islands just to the west. It was a beautiful sunset in a wonderful place. The sun dipped lower and lower and turned into a flaming ball of orange while the white glacial snow caught on to the color change and burst into bloom. There were almost no clouds, but the sky deepened into a blue that made you want to hold your breath and hope that Father Time would also hold his.
Unfortunately the mice population up there is active at night and there was at least one mouse that wanted us to stay awake, running up and down on top of our sleeping bags and scampering in front of my face. We moved camp in the dark over to the snow and then settled down again for the night. I couldn't sleep very well, and found a few cat naps before it was time to wake up at 3:00 am. We got up and looked at the stars overhead and then cooked a leisurely breakfast, warmed up a bit and packed up camp.
We set off at about 4:30 on firm crunchy snow and the going was quite swift. Soon the sun's light made it easy to navigate without headlamps and we were near the top of the Coleman Glacier. A cool breeze sprung up and we were comfortable still going up and still in the shade along Pumice Ridge and onto the Roman Wall. We made the Roman wall in 45 minutes, then crossed a thin wall of rock to ascend into the sun and onto the summit plateau. It was the first we had felt the sun and we were on the home stretch. We got up to the top at 9:30, then went to the summit to have a look around and I took a nap on the dust on the top of the world.
The wind had picked up by then so it was a bit cold, but we had clothes for that. After a couple hours we began our descent, at about 11:30. We had tarried on the top to wait for the snow to mush up a little so our heels would dig in easier to the snow, and in fact it was a brilliant plan. We made it down the Roman Wall in about 10 minutes and blasted down Pumice Ridge and then onto the Coleman Glacier. The sun began to take its toll on us there, because the wind stopped and it began to heat up, so we were forced to rest often, but we made it back to camp by about 2:30. The next part of the descent was with full camping packs, so it was more difficult, and to compound things, Ric's crampons began to pack snow on the bottom and become unusable. He took them off and we made a slow and slippery way down to the climbers trail, and then down to the car.
We got to the car at about 7:00, and found that a mouse had climbed its way into Ric's truck and eaten some of the food that he'd left there. He had also left some water in a bottle that he'd borrowed the cap from for the climb. He took a big swig from the bottle and dumped some on his head to cool off after the climb and upon a second look at the water bottle found a dead mouse looking back at him from within the bottle!
I'd like to do this climb again, but probably take a snowboard and slide down the hill after the climb, and also try to do it all in one day.