Mount Baker - Climbing Washington's 3rd Highest Volcano
This is the story of our climb to Mt Baker's summit, and back down. On this three day trip we got to experience deep glacier valleys up close, saw lots of crevasses - some from just several feet away, we took in outstanding views and shared some great meals with extraordinary people. We also got sweaty, smelly, cold, hot, exhausted and felt the effects of high altitude. But, no matter how many obstacles were in our way, I never seem to remember the bad or the ugly. I mostly remember the good parts, and I will, for sure, have those burned into my memory for a long, long time.
At 10781 ft high, Baker is the third highest mountain in Washington state, and an active volcano. Compared to its taller brothers, Rainier and Adams, I can attest without any doubt that it is the smelliest of them all. More on that, and lots of photos, down below.
Back in 2011, we climbed Mt Rainier with International Mountain Guides (IMG). We were so impressed with their professionalism, friendliness, and the overall experience, that we decided to go back with them, this time on Mount Baker. It was early January of this year when I contacted the IMG office and secured a spot on their July 25-27 trip. Days flew by with lots of activities over the summer, and July 25th arrived with beautiful weather.
We met the IMG guides, Peter and Peter, and the other climbers in our group at the Sedro-Wolley, WA ranger station, where they picked up our permits. In the building lobby, there was this large relief map of the Mount Baker area, where we got to see the Easton Glacier route in 3D. It's all right there in that yellow triangle that's bisecting the mountain.
After a short gear check, we all drove to the trailhead at the end of Nf-13. This was a lengthy drive of about 1.5 hours.
We started on the Park Bute Trail for an hour or so, took a break, then north on Railroad Grade Trail. We took a second brake 2.5 hours from the trailhead, right at the base of Easton Glacier. Thirty minutes or so later, we were looking for a camp site, at around 6000 ft, and found a great spot next to some other climbers from AAI.
After a delicious dinner prepared by our guides - aren't they all delicious up there? - it was past 8pm, and we were already in the mountain's shadow, getting chilly. So we all went to bed and decided to wake up early and try to summit the next day. I was expecting to only summit on day 3, but hey, we had only a short hike that day and we were all feeling well.
Of course, I had a hard time falling asleep and so did Timea. It was late by now, and as we laid flat in our tents trying to get some zzzs, the AAI group was returning one by one from their summit climb. I was so surprised to see that they only started around noon, in such contrast to what our group had planned.
A few hours later, I finally fall asleep, well after it got dark. I woke up once during the night, and the Milky Way was as bright as I have ever seen it, but I was too concerned about getting enough rest to waste any time on long exposures, so no photos to share. I said to myself that I will try it the following night.
Day 2, Climbing to the Summit
We woke up at 4am - not too early, not too late - had breakfast, and by 5:20am we were ready to start navigating the crevasse maze that was ahead of us.
From now on, most of the photos would be from my phone. I did not want to slow down my rope team by carrying the bulky DSLR around my neck. Every once in a while I would take out my phone to try to capture the gorgeous view around us, while being careful to not allow too much slack in the rope, or to pull on it. This juggling is obvious in the quality of these shots, but regardless, they still speak pretty well about the sheer beauty of the mountain.
With the rising sun, we left camp.
Lower Easton Glacier
We stayed in the shadow of the mountain for the whole first leg until we hit our first break, about an hour and a quarter in. It was around 6:45am.
The conditions so far were ideal for climbing. Firm snow, temperature in the high 30s, no wind. We knew that was all going to change once the sun was going to show its face above the ridge. So we got all sun-screened and our sunglasses came out of our packs. The incline was going to stay relatively low until we reach the crater at around 9400 ft.
Climbing the Upper Easton Glacier
We passed a few crevasse on the lower glacier too, but here up higher they're becoming larger and more frequent, making us navigate left and right in order to pass. The following 3 pictures were taken in the same area, around this narrow but long crevasse:
It was almost 8am and we stopped to take a break. Usually we'd all bundle together but, this time, the guides asked us to stay spread out because we were in a heavily crevassed area.
Once we started moving again, we had just a few more long switchbacks around even more crevasses before we had to traverse below Sherman Peak, an area with rockfall where we had to move quickly.
Waiting for the other team to pass before we hurry through the rockfall prone area. Once we passed this flat section, we were on our final stretch to reach the crater at around 9700 ft (not the summit yet).
Mount Baker's Crater
We were reaching the characteristic Mount Baker gap, inbetween its two peaks, which is its crater, visble from far far away.
Climbing the Roman Wall
It was 9:15 am. Once we took a bite to eat, some water, and 10 minutes of rest, we quickly wrapped up our third break and continued on to the steeper section below the summit, known as the Roman Wall. I don't have any photos of this part going up, but I took a few going down. Scroll further to see them.
Like a Swiss clock, at 10:30 am, we reached the summit, not without effort, and in awe of what we experienced so far. The views from the summit were majestic.
We took a few good minutes to take photos and enjoy the achievement. Although it was very windy and cold, we took some time to check out the summit logbook.
After enjoying the very summit, we descended into the more protected area right below, to have a snack, relax our legs and celebrate making it all the way.
Time flies on the summit and, a few minutes past 11am, we started heading down by first traversing the summit plateau before descending the Roman Wall.
Back In Camp
I don't remember what time it was when we arrived in camp, but it was scorching hot (in the 80s) and I was dog-tired! I took my mother in law off my back (that's my backpack) and crashed on my mat for a few minutes. Boy, what a day!
Along the way coming down we met other teams - heading up in the middle of the day! It must have been one hell of a climb in those hot conditions; I did not want to be in their shoes (or boots).
Within an hour I was getting over my mild upset stomach (more on that and my dealing with altitude sickness in a future post), so Timea and I headed out exploring around camp.
After another delicious dinner prepared by our guides, we went to bed. I had the chance to catch my breath and reflect on the day. My mind was racing to make plans for whatever comes next. I didn't get too far with that thought though, as I quickly fall asleep and I was gone for almost 12 hours.
Day 3, The Hike Out
On the last day, we took our time packing our camp and headed down the mountain and back home. On the way, we snapped a few more photos of the mountains and the wonderful views all around us.
Like always, heading home and quietly making plans for the next trip...
Thanks for reading! We hope your Mount Baker trip will be as memorable and exiting as ours was. Happy climbing!