Saturday, May 26, 2018

Mt. Baker: North Ridge

The North Ridge of Baker splits the Roosevelt Glacier and the Coleman Headwall, providing a moderate route to the summit with enough steep snow and technical ice to keep it engaging. Josiah and I paired it with a ski descent of the Coleman Deming for the most enjoyable day either of us have had on a volcano.

North Ridge on the left and Coleman Deming on the right

We left Seattle at 6pm on Friday night under a low cloud layer. As we drove north the clouds dissipated and we were treated to excellent sunset views of the Twin Sisters and Baker.

Roman Wall on Baker and West Ridge of the North Twin Sister

We made it to the Heliotrope Ridge TH as the sun set, which is about 9pm these days! We set up camp in the parking lot and tried to get some sleep under the full moon. After drifting in and out of sleep for a few hours the alarm went off at 2am.

The hike to Hogsback went quickly in trail runners. The first stream crossing was covered in snow and the second was only halfway melted. We stopped at 5,000' and switched to skis. It had been a cool night relative to the rest of this abnormally warm spring. There was a solid crust, perfect for ski crampons. We skinned up to Hogsback Camp and then traversed towards Gargoyle Rocks on the edge of the Coleman Glacier.

The Coleman Glacier is really filled in right now and didn't pose any routefinding issues. The only annoyance was the 2+ miles of icy sidehilling.

Looking back across the Coleman Glacier at sunrise

Climbing above the clouds on the Coleman Glacier

Instead of traversing all the way to the base of the North Ridge, we decided to take a more direct variation up a open snow slope. This route is steeper and more exposed to rockfall than the standard route, but we decided that it would be safe given that it was early on a cool morning.

We stopped near the top of the Coleman Glacier to transition from skis to crampons. We crossed a massive slide that had flushed the Coleman Headwall and made a simple bergschrund crossing onto the face. We enjoyed well-consolidated ~45 degree snow up the face and joined the standard route after about 1,000' of climbing.

Climbing the west side of the North Ridge

Photo: Josiah Brubaker

I had been a bit anxious about the ice cliff all morning, but it wasn't as intimidating up close. We decided to take a line on the far left of the cliff.

The ice cliff. We climbed the left side of what is visible

Josiah built a belay with an ice screw and a vertical picket at the base of the cliff. I climbed up a short section of vertical ice onto a small right-leaning ramp. I felt a bit rusty, having only climbed ice once since going to Hyalite over Christmas. Once on the ramp the angle eased but it was still a bit tricky with A-framed skis on my back. I continued up on easy aerated ice and then steep snow until the end of our 40m rope. I had saved a couple screws for the belay but they were of no use. The snow on top of the ice step was deep and sugary, so I spent a while deadmanning a picket and brought Josiah up.

Leading the ice cliff
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

We unroped and continued up the ridge. The position here is just incredible, with the ridge dropping away to the ice cliff below and the massive seracs of the Roosevelt Glacier to the left.

Climbing steep snow above the ice cliff with the Roosevelt Glacier below
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

At about 10,000' the angle eased and we ran into a 3-4ft crown stretching across the width of the ridge. Judging by this trip report, the slide happened some time in the week before 5/20. Spooky. We traversed to the right over the bed surface to avoid standing on the hangfire and gained a nice plateau.

Spooky crown!

We stopped to finish off our sandwiches and enjoy some serac bouldering.

Enjoying some perfect névé

Colfax and Lincoln

Yawning seracs on the upper Roosevelt Glacier
We booted to the summit and got some nice views of Shuksan and Glacier poking out above the clouds. I love being up high on days like this.

Shuksan poking up above the clouds

It was just after 11am and parties coming up the CD told us that the Roman Wall was still quite icy but we didn't feel like waiting for it to corn up. We ate the rest of our food and dropped in. The snow was icy but smooth and made for some engaging turns. The Coleman Glacier is still in really good shape without many open crevasses. The snow gradually softened and turned into ripper corn at about 8,400’, then got mushy around Hogsback Camp but never turned into velcro. We picked up our shoes and skied down to 4,700’ for a 6,000’ continuous run. Not bad.

We had a nice leisurely hike out, stoked on a smooth trip with some excellent climbing and skiing.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fuhrer Finger

I’m pretty sure that was the coolest line I have ever skied. 3,000’ of skiing high on the Upper Nisqually with challenging snow in high consequence terrain then another 2,000’ of steep and smooth corn down the Finger with 4,000’ of chill skiing to round it out. It doesn't get much better than than, unless of course you ski the Finger earlier in the season and take it all the way down the Nisqually to the bridge.

The Fuhrer Finger
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

Josiah and I left Seattle as the sun rose. The drive to Paradise was a confusing tour of the suburbs, as usual. We got to Paradise a bit before 8am and had no trouble at all getting a permit. We chilled out in the parking lot for a while, eating an early lunch and staring up at the Finger.
We left the parking lot a bit after 9am and skinned through the forest to join the hordes headed up to Camp Muir. Josiah couldn't handle the heat and stripped down to his underwear. I would have as well if I hadn't gotten a heinous sunburn doing two laps on Muir without sunscreen last week.

Skinning up from the Nisqually to the Wilson
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

We broke off at Glacier Vista and skied an icy traverse down to the Nisqually then roped up and headed across the glacier on a nice skin track. The Fan looked like a funnel of death, as expected, so we headed towards the wide gully at 7,000' instead. We climbed up the gully to gain the bench at the bottom of the Wilson. Instead of continuing straight up the Wilson on a steep slope with cornices looming above, we traversed west to gain a ridge. This line took significantly longer, but I'm glad we took it because the next day a skier coming down from the Finger before us triggered a football field sized wet slide on the direct line.
We skinned along the ridge and made it to The Castle at 1:45pm. We were the first party to reach camp so we got a choice spot with high rock walls and a large boulder to block most of the wind. I made water while Josiah pitched his 1982 Early Winters tent. It weighs just 4.5lbs and feels like a palace for 2. Much better than any modern single-wall 4-season tent I have used.

Camping at The Castle with Josiah's 1982 Early Winters tent
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

We chilled out around camp for a while and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Life is so much easier in the spring when you can ski in the morning and then have all afternoon to dry gear and chill in the sun. Sure beats being tent-bound for 15 hours of darkness in early winter.

Lower Nisqually Glacier

The Castle

We started trying to sleep at around 8pm, planning for a leisurely 4am wakeup. The winds really started to rip through around sunset. I would estimate gusts up to 35mph, but it's hard to say. They were strong enough that I was glad to be in a real tent instead of the Megalight.
When we woke up at 4am, all the other parties had already left, and we could see the first party halfway up the Finger. We left camp at 4:45am and skinned across the Wilson Glacier roped up with ski crampons. Conditions were too icy to bother trying to skin up the Finger, so we switched to crampons and started booting up. I used a ski pole and a whippet and didn’t need an ice axe. There was a good amount of rock and ice coming down from the parties above, so we picked up the pace and caught up to the first party at the top of the Finger.
We took a small break to rope up for the Upper Nisqually then traversed through a slightly broken section to the middle of the glacier. We took over  the lead and enjoyed some fun climbing on steep sastrugi that felt like a natural staircase. I was having a blast route finding and breaking trail on the upper mountain. It felt like exactly what I wanted. Not just a hike like the DC. If anything, it was too easy.

Traversing to the middle of the Upper Nisqually
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

My hubris soon got the better of me. I started feeling the altitude on the last 1,000’ to the summit. The climbing was no longer interesting, it was just a slog up low-angle snow to the summit crater. My pace slowed significantly, but we still stayed ahead of the other parties. I took a break to eat but it didn’t make me feel any better. I continued upwards taking a direct line to the summit crater. The winds became really strong as we neared the crater rim, enough to make walking forwards difficult during a gust.
The views from the summit were better than I remember, with clear views of Stuart, the Enchantments, and Glacier Peak. I brought my camera but didn't care enough to dig it out of my pack. I admire Josiah for finding the will to take photos in situations like this. I definitely appreciate having his photos and regret not taking some myself.
The winds were still quite strong and we thought the snow could use a bit more time to soften, so we decided to take shelter in the caves under the summit ice cap.

Stoked for some high-altitude spelunking
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

I was definitely feeling the altitude at this point. I tried to eat some food but felt to nauseous to get anything down. I drank the last of my water and laid down for a while.

Getting ready to return to the light
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

When I climbed back out of the cave I found that the rope I had left at the entrance was gone. I walked over to the summit and found the guy who had taken it. It's on me for leaving the rope there, but why would you take a rope from the summit of Rainier?

Skiing the Upper Nisqually
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

We skied across the summit crater the same way we had come up. The upper mountain was mostly sastrugi with sections of edgeable névé. As we descended the Upper Nisqually navigation became a bit harder. It was difficult to find our up track and the crevasses were sometimes difficult to see from above. The skiing was easy, but the crevasse hazard and difficult snow conditions made it engaging. I got into a really focused headspace and enjoyed making turns with precision and control.
Once we made it off the Nisqually the skiing got less serious and more fun. The snow in the Finger was slightly overcooked, but not to the point of being grabby. Honestly I think it was just about perfect. I ripped a pitch down to the top of the Finger then did another pitch to the dogleg below the false couloir. From here it was a leg-burning pitch out the bottom of the Finger and across the Wilson. So good. I really can’t think of another run with such a consistently steep grade, smooth snow, and epic position. It’s gotta be the raddest line I have ever skied.
We continued across the Wilson to camp and packed up. I dry heaved a bit but couldn’t quite puke.
We skied mush and wet slide debris down the Wilson. The Lower Nisqually was wet and grabby but there was a packed out track which made it go by quickly.
When we made it to the base of the final 200’ climb up to Glacier Vista I puked my guts out. I was surprised, because I've never had a response to altitude like that, even at over 20,000' on Chimborazo. 
We skinned up to Glacier Vista, made our final transition, and skied over to the climbing center to check out. We enjoyed a leisurely walk back to the car through the Sunday crowds of hikers and sledders Paradise.
Back at the car we took a while to pack up and admire the line. It really changed the way I look at Rainier. There are so many lines out there that I had just never thought about skiing. The Fuhrer Thumb, Kautz Glacier, Wilson Headwall, and the Gibraltar Chute all look incredible, and that's just the South side of the mountain. I don't know if I will bother skiing to the summit again any time soon, but there is something special about skiing the Upper Nisqually before it crashes down the mountain as the Nisqually Icefall. It really is an incredible line.