On June 1st, with spring weather in the PNW finally cooperating, Louie and I set out to ski the less popular side of Mt. Baker, the Boulder Glacier. It was pleasant to pull into an empty parking lot on Friday night — a different sight compared to the crowded Easton/Squak trailhead. We enjoyed a full six hours of sleep, waking at 3:45 am.
We were hiking by 4 am, getting our first view of Mt Baker about an hour in. The Boulder Creek trail is not regularly maintained. There are lots of trees blocking the path, creating contortionist opportunities while carrying skis on your back. After that, a swamp, so bring extra socks! Louie and I joked that this may be an excellent trail for Xtratufs.
In the past, Louie has been able to skin straight up the valley and avoid the short climb over volcanic rock. This year the valley was way more melted out than we expected, and also was full of avalanche debris from a massive glacial avalanche that fell all the way from the summit crater. We located the rock climb bypass and decided it would be the better option. There is a secured, moderately new rope to assist the journey up, with a brief bushwack to the snow once at the top. We were stoked to have the place to ourselves.
From there we skinned all the way to the top. I’d say the Boulder Glacier route is very similar to the Squak, with a slightly steeper angle to it. Crevasse navigation above 8500ft was a bit involved. There were a few hidden cracks we inspected and had to find a way around. We stayed roped up for the whole upper section. This made the last 2,000 feet of the ascent slower than we wanted. The air felt warm and we were eager to get to the top.
Once at 9500ft, navigation got much easier but I was beat. This trailhead starts lower and covers more distance, bringing our total vert for that day to 8500 feet. When we finally topped out on the summit plateau, I was psyched! A group of our friends, Krystin, Peter, Wyatt and Hedivg, were climbing the Squak Glacier that same day. We magically met them exactly as they were walking to the summit — now that’s a great meeting spot.
Louie and I were hoping to ski the Park Headwall. I won’t lie, I was really nervous. I was almost hoping the weather would be too cold or too warm and we just wouldn’t have to ski it.
The Park Headwall is easily visible on the horizon during the entire ascent. I tried not to think about the descent and focus on the ascent, which helped me keep my nerves in check.
Once on the summit, Louie checked conditions on the entrance to the route. “It’s perfect!”
“Darn it,” I thought as I sat and watched. “I might have to actually ski this.”
My reservations were mainly regarding the large open crevasse at the bottom of the run. No mistakes allowed. I followed Louie to peer down the face. It’s definitely a mental game with yourself, being calm and trusting your abilities. When I finally peaked at the line, I was surprised: the angle of the slope didn’t look as steep as I’d pictured and the snow seemed really good. I quickly clipped into my skis and down we went from the tippy top of Mt. Baker.
The turns down the headwall were magical, steep, on snow that was nicely softened by the sun. My adrenaline was pumping. I could see our sluff sliding down onto the slope and disappearing into the bergschrund. I felt the exposure, but I felt calm. Perfect conditions make the difference on a steep line. We traversed skier’s right at the bottom, above the shrund to exit onto the Boulder Glacier, meeting back with our skin track.
Psych was high as we skied to our shoe stash and hiked out. As expected, the hiking trail back seemed twice as long. Instead of driving home, we camped by Baker Lake with the friends we’d met at the summit. I’d say Louie got a pretty epic birthday, minus the fact that I forgot dinner, which forced his birthday dinner to be Ramen and beer. We were both thankful for friends who shared their delicious food with us!