Crossing the Coleman glacier just after sunrise. Mt. Baker
on left, Colfax Peak on right. The Cosley-Houston route
takes the right ice line up Colfax.
October is often a difficult month for those climbing in the Cascades. The uncertainties of unsettled weather, variable snow conditions, and treacherous glacier traveling conspire against the alpinist to keep him or her out of the hills. However, once in a while these challenges of alpine climbing don’t materialize, resulting in incredible early winter climbing conditions without the hassles of snowed-in approach roads, deep unconsolidated snow, and short daylight hours.
After a strong early season snow storm in the Cascades, this October produced a reasonable high pressure system that screamed “it’s alpine ice climbing season . . . NOW!” and I knew that I had to heed its call. Emails were sent with little response. Everyone had plans already. I found myself thinking, "Maybe next year I’ll finally climb the classic Cosley-Houston route on Colfax Peak (a distinct summit near Mt. Baker) because this weather pattern won’t last. Time to go rock climbing, I guess." Perhaps that’s the great thing about climbing in October, you can be rock climbing one day and ice climbing a couple days later.
Ultimately, the weather held through the weekend and a partner was found in Dylan Taylor. We were going to give the route on Colfax Peak a try. I couldn’t help but think of the similarity to the route's first ascensionists, Kathy Cosley and Mark Houston, who were both AAI guides when they established this route in the early 1980’s.
After a short drive, the dry trail was familiar underfoot as we sped along under the strange combination of LED light and a nearly full moon. Soon we were at the Hogsback camp roping up and wondering if the route would even be formed this early in the season. As we crested the first glacial rise, we could discern that the route was in fact formed. Sweet!
Another hour and we were racking up at the base of a stellar looking pitch of moderate alpine ice that marked the start of the route. This ‘warm up’ pitch did little to prepare for the technical crux, a short but overhanging pillar of ice covered with detached icicles. What a way to start the ice climbing season!
Dylan starting up the route.
Kurt leading the first (and crux) ice pitch.
Dylan Taylor photo.
Above the second ice step, the terrain eased but remained interesting. Our crampons and ice tools squeaked into the neve rhythmically as we climbed full rope lengths to the summit plateau.
Dylan leading the ice on pitch 4.
Dylan on the summit with Mt. Baker behind.
After sorting the rack and taking in a unique perspective of Mt. Baker and the other Black Buttes, an expedited descent was necessary since we wanted to get back to the car before dark. Fortunately for us, relatively easy glacier travel and the snow-free trail gave us no hassles. Just an hour or so later we were back in Bellingham, scheming all the while about ways to sneak in a few more climbing days before the winter sets in.