With my AMGA Advanced Alpine Guides Course and Aspirant Exam coming up, I headed to the North Cascades with fellow SMG guide, Drew Daly, to familiarize myself with the terrain and get some glacier routes under my belt. Drew has had quite a summer full of alpine routes in our home mountains of south central Idaho, and was eager to continue his bender in the Cascades.
First on our agenda was the North Ridge of Mt Baker. We met up with fellow Idahoan and local Cascade guide, Danny Uhlmann, in Bellingham and got some beta on the route. Danny suggested we start our climb with a slightly different approach then the typical Hogback Camp/Coleman Glacier route. Instead, we were to camp lower in the dense Cascade forrest, known as Murkwood, and hop on the toe of the glacier there.
Treeline is basically at the toe of the glacier and the blue skies and wildflowers were spectacular in the evening light. Reluctantly we left the open air and beauty of treeline and headed down into the dark forrest of Murkwood.
We were up early the following morning and stepped on the glacier just as it was light enough to see.
After several hours of navigating low angled terrain through crevasses, we arrived at the toe of the North Ridge. There are basically two options here, the Low Route and the High Route. The High Route looked impassable due to a melted out bergshrund, so we opted for the Low Route. With a little time spent sussing out our best options, we settled on this approach. What you don't see in this photo is gaping abyss below me and the jumbled blocks we used to cross it... frightening indeed!
Drew taking the second pitch of steep snow and ice of the ridge up to lower angled terrain above.
Our early start meant that the snow was well set up and these 35*-40* slopes demanded focus.
Here's the crux of the route with some other guides just finishing the difficulties.
Pitch one of the ice ridge. Drew took the next lead to the top of the "steep" ice, then we did two more pitches of less steep but hard ice. Close to the summit there were a few more cracks to navigate, but the difficulties of the route were over...
On the summit: 6000' vertical and 7 hours later... and the guide book calls it a Grade III+!!!
Descending the Coleman/Deming Glacier route was a non technical slog. The afternoon sun had warmed up the snow and although tired, we had to be mindful of softening bridges over enormous crevasses.
We returned to Murkwood, packed up our overnight kit and hiked out to cold beers stashed in the creek at the trailhead.
Glaciers, crevasses, snow, ice, Murkwood... a perfect introduction to climbing in the North Cascades!
Look for Part 2: Mt Shuksan.