The  plan for the weekend was to climb Mt Baker via the North Ridge, with a backup plan of using the Coleman Deming route if conditions on the ridges looked sketch. We started out late on Saturday, late for me anyway since we woke up at 7 as opposed to my normal 4:30am! The Heliotrope Ridge trail is heavily used  and in good condition up to the Junction. Here we turned right onto the climbers trails. The trail takes you up a steep, rocky, dusty ridge… typical climbers trail style. It is not very long, but with 50lbs on my back if felt like ages. We arrived at the Hogsback camps after three hours after leaving the TH. We decided to stay here on the edge of the Glacier instead of the high Gargoyle rocks camp at 6500 feet because of the running water because we could easily descend to camp after summiting with lighter packs. The volcano was shrouded in heavy mist as we set up camp in what of the stone windbreaks by the river. We went on a short exploration up the Gargoyle Rocks after the tent was up to get a glimpse of the route through the clouds. As luck would have it the mist began to clear when we reached 6500 ft. We spoke briefly to a guide and his client who were camping there. They also were climbing the North Ridge. It looked menacing with so many exposed crevasses. The glacier was really broken up due to the unseasonable amount of heat and lack for precipitation.

Damien and I woke up at 2:00am to a cloudless sky and brilliant stars. It was going to be a perfect bluebird day. We climbed the snow finger between the rocks leading up to Gargoyle where we had laid tracks the night before. At the top we roped up and began to traverse toward the ridge. The Crevasses very very exposed and we leaped over countless cracks as we approached the slowly illuminating North Ridge. It was intimidating in appearance even from this distance. Damien paused at about 3:45am and we re-evaluated. The North Ridge is committing. There were only two of us and both of us had limited experience on big alpine ice routes on volcanoes. The route was well within our ability, but if things went wrong that could go incredibly wrong due to inexperience. Navigating through the broken up glacier could also be time consuming. We saw a team ahead of us already bailing and heading up a non-standard way toward the Coleman-Deming route instead. The second team was wandering around the seracs and crevasses looking uncertain. We decided the margin of risk was higher than we wanted it to be and decided to turn around and do the Coleman Deming.

The Coleman Deming route was insanely busy. Everyone had decided to climb that way this weekend! Lots of conga lines of guided teams. However, since we began the route late due to our change of plans we ended up behind most of the madness. The is a very clear boot bath from the High Coleman Camp on the glacier. The way crosses some major icefall debris from Colfax. Move quickly through this area. There are some large, but obvious crevasses to navigate around as well. The going went very smoothly. Damien took the leads since I could catch him easier downhill of him due to our size difference. It was warm and we were down to a single layer by 5:30am. The route traverses the lower Colman Glacier  until reaching a flat saddle at 9200ft just below a ridge. Two hearty souls had built a camp here. The alliteratively gentle grade of the climb gets steeper from here. We climbed the ridge high above we could see large teams bottle-necking at the Roman Headwall. We hoped that would clear out by the time we arrived. There were a few patches of exposed rock on the ridge and a cornice to the left of one of these bare patches. The snow was still pretty solid and good for crampons as we ascended. I didn’t feel 100% as I climbed; my stomach felt funky. Im still not sure if it was altitude (though I’ve never had issues) or something I ate.

Lots of climbers passed us on the way down. There was only a single guided team behind us that we had passed earlier and they weren’t even in sight anymore. At the headwall the terrain is very steep and there is only a small snow bridge that allows crossing onto the Deming Glacier Plateau above. This is what was causing the bottleneck. Damien and I waited for the final descending team to clear through it before crossing. From here it is about 100ft more to the upper Plateau. Here we unroped and walked right to the summit hump less that .25 miles away. There was a team on the summit when we arrived (10:30am), but they left after ten minutes so Damien and I were lucky enough to have the entire summit to ourselves for probably and hour or so. The views were 360 in all directions with no clouds below and only a mild breeze. Unreal weather for a Cascade Volcano!

We returned to the plateau and roped up again. On the way down I took the lead since so Damien would remain uphill of me as easier to rescue. Damien front pointed down the roman headwall. I did a combination of front pointing and cautiously slow down climbing. The snow was clumping up in my crampons and I had to bang them out with every other step as we descending the steep, knee-jarring part of the ridge.

Near the Coleman camps the sunshine became unbearable and we had to stop to prevent heat exhaustion. We also began to realize that it was going to be a long day (I don’t know why this hadn’t dawned on us earlier!). We arrived back at camp at 3:30pm and promptly fell asleep. We began packing up at 4:00pm. High clouds had rolled in covering the sun and making for quit a nice temperature on our descent.

So finally I have climbed Mt Baker after our failed attempt via Boulder Glacier 2 years ago and finally Damien saw the view from Mt Baker (he climbed in on a cloudy day via Easton)! Now all we need to do is climb it again on the North Ridge!

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