Thursday, July 24, 2008

Trip Report: North Ridge of Mount Baker

Last week Bill Thompson and guide Ian McEleney climbed the Mount Baker North Ridge. (Click the link to read our route profile.)  Read Ian's story below:
I met up with Bill at the AAI office Friday morning. By late afternoon, we were walking into a busy camp at about 6000-feet on the Hogsback. We settled in to our tents and tried to go to bed early for our alpine start the next morning.

After only a few hours of sleep we were roping up and picking our way across the upper Coleman Glacier. Navigating by headlamp through crevasses that could swallow a house will always be exciting, no matter how much glacier experience you have. About halfway to the base of the ridge we came across the tracks of another party. I've learned that following tracks isn’t always a good idea. This is because the climbers who made them might not have had the same destination as you, and even if they did, they might not know how to get there! However, we could see the headlamps of this particular party in the distance so we knew they were going to the North Ridge. After reminding ourselves not to follow their tracks if we didn’t like where they went, we decided to follow them.

We took the direct start to the route, which went up a steep snowfield sometimes called The Hourglass.
Earlier in the season, this area was a mellow snow bench leading up to steeper ice. Last week, however, this bench featured a crevasse and a 25-degree slope of hard water ice mixed with gravel. We pulled our second tools out of our packs and went to work. This terrain took us a little while to negotiate, but eventually we were climbing some steep ice to gain a 60-degree ramp that went up about two pitches high. Bill had expressed some nervousness about the steep ice, but when showtime came, he made quick work of it. Later, Bill told me that "The climb was harder than I expected, not because it was too technical, but because the harder sections went on for longer than I had read about." But the steep ice was hard and in the shade, so pulling over onto the sunny ramp with its one-swing “hero” ice was a pleasure. Above the ramp we climbed a little more steep snow, and then it was time for lunch.

After our lunch break we faced our last hurdle, the bergschrund guarding the summit plateau. The best route through this area changes quickly. This time it required climbing two steps of steep snow, the first was about 50 degrees and the second 90 degrees. We had stowed our second tools, but the snow was pretty firm so this wasn’t an issue. Above this, a quick walk put us on top. Though our day certainly wasn’t over (we still had to descend 4000 vertical feet of steep snow and glacier), the technical terrain was almost completely behind us. As Bill said, "Although this route was difficult and technical, it just made the climb all the more satisfying by the end." We could finally start to relax a little and daydream about the first thing we were going to eat when we got back to town.

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