We were scheduled to climb the North Ridge of Mount Baker last weekend. But the forecast for Washington both east and west of the crest looked grim with dreary rain. Thus, we looked North to a different country for some more favorable conditions and found better weather in British Columbia in Golden Ears Provincial Park. Eric and I had planned on climb the North Golden Ear last year, but ended up having the unplanned bivy on MacFarlane the night before our planned attempt. This the peak has remained on my list. Since Damien had never climbed in a foreign country it seemed like a great time to go back to BC and attempt it.

We arrived at the park just as the gate opened at 7:00am and followed the main road to the West Canyon parking area. There are reports that you have to pay for parking, but there was no signage for this anywhere. You do have to purchase a backcountry camping permit online though ($5 per person/per night). Permits are not available for purchase in the park.

The day had heavy cloud cover to our delight as Damien and I do not fair well in the sunshine (hence why we live in WA). We followed the wide main trail for several yards passing some smaller side trails and continued straight onto the West Canyon Trail. The track has very little elevation gain to Alder Flats, an established backcountry camp. I would not recommend staying here as it is loud and filled with folks wearing cotton. Not exactly and alpinist community. More of a car camping atmosphere minus the cars. The trail continues on beyond the outhouse (hidden up a wooded hill). Here the trail begins to climb over rocky terrain and would have afforded a few views if the sky had been clear. At about 5.75 miles the rocky section ends in a wide area. There are stairs leading into the forest to the right. Climb there stairs and begin climbing in earnest. We scrambled over steep sections, and area were slippery roots were used to haul ourselves up muddy inclines. Most of the elevation is gained in a very slow going half mile. The grade eases as you near the top of Panorma Ridge. There are a few permanent hand-lines here. Inspect the ropes and the knots. Damien has to retie a knot with the proper bowline.. we’re not sure that the rope place had intended with their sketchy knot.

The ridge was misty and we couldn’t for more than several yards in front of us. There is a very clear bootpack though and carins to mark the way through the snow patches which grew larger as we gradually ascended and finally became solid as we neared the emergency shelter at about 4500ft. The emergency shelter is only supposed to be used in emergencies. We set up camp near the shelter. There is sunning water here unlike elsewhere on the ridge we had passed.

It was only 3:00pm and we decided to make an attempt at the summit even though we had originally planned for an attempt the following morning. We couldn’t see very far in front of us, but there was a clear boot track to follow through the snow. The track climbs steeply at time over bumps. The snow is very soft and wet from the warm weather. Crampons were definitely not necessary. We had out axes, but I;m not honestly sure it would have been possible to arrest in such loose snow. We crossed a field of old avalanche debris on the way making a mental note of it.  Then we began to travel through a large pile of debris. I started climbing up a very steep slope at this point. Damien questioned after a few minutes if I was following a boot pack anymore. I told him that it looked like I was following a glissade track, but there were no more prints. Damien felt uncertain so we descended down to the tracks. The disappeared into the debris. Upon close examination it appeared as though the avalanche had occurred that day, maybe only an hour before as it had not melted much. We examined the possibility of the slope avlanching again. We felt it was unlikely, but it a loose wet avy which are more unpredictable. Plus we could not see above us. We decided to come back in the very early morning when the snow was more solid and the weather might be clearer.We turned around at about 5,200 ft.

Back at camp we cuddling in our cozy two person sleeping bag a bit before cooking dinner. The mist was still heavy an hour later as we cooked dinner. The wind picked up in the evening causing the tent to tremble for a few hours, but the tiny little REI Dash tent held its own all night…

We woke at 3:30am and, with out headlamps, began to climb again. The clouds were below us not making the surrounding peaks look like islands in a sea of light. When we reached the avalanche debris we could see my tracks from the day before led almost to the top of the saddle. There was nothing above it to slide. We also were able to identify the section fo the climb as the final snow slope after the permanent snow field (indistinguishable this time of year due to snow coverage over most of the ridge). There was a second set of tracks that went left of the rock nub in the middle of the saddle. This is the less steep way up and recommended. We climbed left and then followed pink streamers on the rock up and over a class 3 section (looks worse than it really is). From here there was clear boot path over rock and snow along the ridge to the summit. Some hail came down for about 30 seconds and then there was about 2 minutes of light drizzle adding to the alpine feel.

There were high clouds and low clouds… were were in the middle clear area. Edge mountain could be seen along with the rest of the surrounded peaks poking out of the mist. The South ear was visible. There are a few reports of it being easy to traverse over from the North Ear. Getting tot he base looked doable, but we could not see a clear route to the summit so we opted out. We descended int he climbing route only we glissaded down the right side of the nub instead of climbing back over it.

The sun reflected off the low clouds and the sky had a few blue appearances as we packed up camp. By the time we reached the TH it was about 1:00pm a d extremely hot and sunny. We missed the clouds from the day before!

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