Mt. Baker, North Ridge Climb

Post by blogger | June 24, 2013      

Glacier Creek Road, the approach for the north side of Mt. Baker, washed out this winter and has been closed since. However, there are a ton of great routes on the north side, and they can’t be ignored. I’ve had my eyes on the North Ridge route for a while. It’s a beautiful climb that involves a few pitches of alpine ice.

Kirk climbing above the ice on the North Ridge of Mt. Baker.

Coop, Eric, Kirk and I decided to try for the North Ridge this weekend. The closed road necessitated a new mode of transportation and an earlier start. We packed up our bikes and left Bellingham at 10:30 Friday night.

The ride to the trailhead was seven miles, and 2500 feet. I thought it would be fairly easy and take maybe an hour. After dragging my heavy mountain bike, ice gear, and skis up the road, I was exhausted. Sitting at the trailhead at 2 am, where I usually step out of the car, I wasn’t sure I could keep going for the whole climb.

In the end the lure of a classic climb, and untouched corn prevailed. We donned packs, and headed up the trail towards the snowline. The campsites on the “Hogsback” at the base of the Coleman Glacier were completely empty. On a normal sunny Saturday in June, there’d be a mini tent city. The road washout had its advantages. As the solstice sun rose, we realized we were embedded in a thick cloud layer. When we got up to the glacier, I couldn’t see further than 100 feet. My thoughts turned to quitting, but I didn’t want to say anything. Thankfully, after a few hundred feet of climbing, the clouds suddenly cleared revealing a beautiful day.

Sleep deprived, in the middle of a cloud, there's only one thing that kept me going -- grilled animal parts.

Emerging from the clouds as the sun rises on the Coleman Glacier.

The route up the North Ridge of Mt. Baker. It's mostly snow climbing, with a pitch and a half of easy alpine ice right in the middle.

We navigated the heavily crevassed lower Coleman over to the North Ridge, as the weather continued to get better. After a few detours around an impressive crevasse and over sketchy snow bridges, we made it to the base of the ridge. We climbed a short, steep snow ramp, to gain the ridge, and then continued up some slightly lower angled snow to the ice cliffs that make up the crux of the route. I’m not much of an ice climber, having only done it a few times over the years. The steep, towering cliffs were intimidating. We traversed under the cliffs to the weakest point in the wall, a longer, lower angled section.

We split into two teams. Kirk led the first, steeper pitch. The sun had softened the ice a bit, but there was solid ice a few inches underneath. The climbing was fun. It felt great to be exposed high above the remote, chaotic rainbow glacier. We topped out onto more snow climbing and continued toward the summit. The last bit involved some more crevasses and snow bridges which we belayed across.

Climbing the North Ridge toward the ice cliff above.

Approaching the lower angled left-hand side of the ice cliff.

Kirk heading up the first pitch of the ice.

One of these things is not like the others. I was curious how the classic Chouinard would compare to the modern Black Diamonds -- not well.

We topped out at 5 pm, after 16 hours on the move! The lack of sleep, combined with the brutal opening bike ride, had left me feeling sluggish all day. We hadn’t seen anyone and even had the summit to ourselves. After a small celebratory summit feast of lamb shank (trail food of champions), we hooked into our skis, and headed down. During the day a low cloud layer had been moving in and out, covering the lower slopes of the mountain. Finding our way through the crevasses on the Coleman, with no other tracks, and having not climbed the route, would have proved difficult in a white out. Thankfully the clouds cleared out, and we had a beautiful descent, enjoying sunny skies and perfect over-ripe corn.

Kirk making slushy turns off the summit.

The view of Colfax Peak from the top bit of Baker is epic.

Stoked to start the all-downhill bikeride to the car.

My heavy duty mountain bike proved to be (almost) worth the weight on the way down. I sleepily clung to the handlebars as we raced down potholes and around tight turns toward the car. I’m still not sure how, but the trip had taken over 20 hours. For the past few years I’ve loved living near Mt. Baker and getting to know it’s various routes. One of the coolest aspects of the big PNW volcanoes is the huge variety of routes they hold on their flanks.


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22 Responses to “Mt. Baker, North Ridge Climb”

  1. Andy June 24th, 2013 10:03 am


  2. Peter R June 24th, 2013 11:28 am

    So what were your thoughts on the old screw?

  3. AndyC June 24th, 2013 11:33 am

    Nice report, Louie. My stepson, Darin, and his friend did the same the 1st week in June, only they bicycled with their gear all the way from Bellingham (and back)–don’t ask my why LOL

  4. Lisa Dawson June 24th, 2013 11:58 am

    Enjoyed the read and the beautiful photos. Always wonderful to see what you boys are up to.

  5. Kevin Hanes June 24th, 2013 12:34 pm

    Another good bike/ski combo is in early Spring: Watch the WSDOT reports regarding Hiway 20 and park at the closure gate to ride up to the Blue Lake trail head, access to Early Winter Spires and Liberty Bell.

  6. Dane June 24th, 2013 1:27 pm

    Great effort and write up!
    Those old screws were pretty good bitd on a warm day. Now?…..almost unusable relics.

  7. Jack June 24th, 2013 1:33 pm

    Wow! 20 hours on your feet and/or wheels. Just amazing. Thanks for the report.

  8. K dog June 24th, 2013 1:44 pm

    You boys are kick ass, thanks for the inspiring write up!

  9. Drew Tabke June 24th, 2013 2:50 pm

    Nice one, Louie! Solstice seems like a prime time for the North Ridge – Davide and LIz and I climbed it solstice 2011 (but with the road open to within 2 miles of the trailhead). But instead of lamb shank we brought pineapple.

  10. Louie June 24th, 2013 5:28 pm

    The old screw didn’t really compare, haha. The fact that half of the teeth had been sharpened away didn’t help. Much respect to those old time ice climbers.

    Pineapple! That’s way more in the spirit of the first day of summer.

  11. Scott June 24th, 2013 5:53 pm

    I’ve found pedaling in ski boots isn’t too bad. It beats the extra 8 pounds pressing down into the seat, ouch! I’m surprised you haven’t rigged up a ski carry option on the bike.

  12. Eric Steig June 24th, 2013 7:23 pm

    Skied Easton glacier the same day. Great weather not bad snow either. I did that north ridge climb about 20 yrs ago. Nice!

  13. Mark W June 24th, 2013 9:57 pm

    Amazing stuff as usual. Thanks for keeping us excited even on the summer solstice.

  14. Mike Marolt June 25th, 2013 9:47 am

    Awesome Louie! Love how you are just getting after it the past years while out there. The commitment is the pay back……

  15. OMR June 25th, 2013 10:26 am

    Great report Louie! Thanks for sharing. I’ve done too much biking for skiing this spring and while it offers easier access, especially on the descents, the legs are rubbery for awhile after the transition. But they quickly find strength once skinning (I’m a better skier than biker). Also, I strap skis to the bike frame and it seems a bit easier on the up.

  16. Kirk Turner June 25th, 2013 11:00 am

    We had boots clicked into the skis and then the skis strapped onto the bikes for the way up (seat post and top tube with ski straps), but it seems to make the balance weird/wobbly especially when you hit potholes, so we opted to centralized the weight more on the way down, but man packs are rough on the lower back! One of the guys had a bob trailer he could put his whole pack in which by far seems to be the best option….

  17. Mark June 25th, 2013 9:29 pm

    Ever had ski poles protruding from pack catch on trees while descending on bike? I speak from experience. The anticipation of total loss of control is perhaps worse than actual full loss of said control.

  18. Tomas June 25th, 2013 10:54 pm

    Hello Louie. I would like to know, where did you put the skis on. Is it still possible to skin from the parking lot up the winter access? Thanks

  19. Louie June 25th, 2013 11:48 pm

    We hiked up the summer trail, but it looked like the winter route still had snow pretty low.I don’t think it would be worth it though, I think the summer trail is probably the way to go. we put skis on at the creek crossing at the base of the hogs back.

  20. Tomas June 25th, 2013 11:59 pm

    From my experience the winter route is easier/ faster. Tried both. But didn’t measure the time. It was very icy on the trail approach though. Thanks for update on conditions! Tomas

  21. Stan Wagon June 30th, 2013 8:04 pm

    Very nice. Brings me back to 1979 and ’81 when I climbed the route twice. The pics you post make the crux section look very much exactly as it did back then.

    Carrying skis up certainly adds to the difficulty level!

    Stan Wagon, Silverthorne, CO

  22. Sandy Kline July 1st, 2013 5:36 pm

    I was with Stan Wagon along with Karin in79 and 81 and it was way different in 81. Weather just beginning to show high cirrus coming in from the invisible west.
    We went on anyway casue we “knew” the route. Much longer steeper ice requiring a belay from a minimal ledge most of the way up it. This time I led it and protected my belay stance with an old choinard screw. I was glad to have it since the fellow following fell (not Stan) but I don’t think it took any of the weight.
    I had led with two pieces and the 2nd used only an ax – hence the fall perhaps.
    Lesson learned – its a very changeable route – and we departed it after topping out the ridge but not going on to the true summit due to white out.

    Sandy Kline, Seattle, WA

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