Assault On Mount Baker
While Gina was in college she developed an interest in the wilderness and decided that she liked to hike. I don’t remember just how it happened but we decided to climb Mt Baker. At 10,781 feet, Mt Baker is the third highest mountain in Washington and an active volcano. In 1999 it claimed the world record for the most snow fall in one year at 95 feet. We climbed the South face known as the railroad grade. This is a fairly easy approach in the early spring. As the snow and ice begin to melt in the spring the crevasses begin to open up and the South face becomes less appealing than the North face where the sun does its work more slowly. We set a date and began preparing. When the date arrived the weather was not encouraging but we called a weatherman, we knew, and asked his advice. He told us that there was a small window that would work but we had to get up and down on schedule or we could be caught in a storm.
Our climbing team included Nate, Gina, David Longhurst, Randy Rigler and myself. This is a good size for a team because by roping up 3 to a rope we had 2 ropes which was a good safety configuration. I lead the rope with Gina in the middle and Nate behind here. David and Randy were on a rope together. Our plan was to make our base camp on the snow field just below the glacier and spend the night. Since the glacier is much safer when the surface is solidly frozen we planned to get up at midnight so we could get to the top and back to base camp before the surface was softened by the sun and warm air. Some of the team members thought we could get up at 3 AM and have enough time, so we slept a little longer which turned out to be a bad idea because, the storm that was coming on the heels of the day and a half of good weather, came too soon for us to even get to the actual top. When we started we had good weather with lots of sun. We started out in the dark, using head lamps for light.
There had been so many people on the mountain before us that the best path through the crevasses was sometimes hard to find, since there were foot prints everywhere. The views were wonderful as the sun came over the horizon. All around us were the peaks of the North Cascades and far in the distance we could see Mt Rainier and Glacier Peak both sister volcanoes to Mt Baker.
As we walked near the rim of the crater we could hear the hisses and snorts of a steam vent and smell the sulfurous odors. On Mt Baker the rim is not the highest point however so we had a short steep slope to ascend to get to the summit. We were about half way up the last pitch when the window slammed shut on our good climbing weather. The wind increased abruptly and clouds surrounded us. In spite of the disappointment of not actually reaching the summit which was only a few hundred feet away, I insisted we had to abandon the summit attempt because we had to get back to base camp before this storm really sets in. We quickly descended the steep upper grade but as we did we realized that the fog had made it impossible to see where we should go to thread our way through the crevasse maze. We decided to have a prayer and as we finished the fog lifted just enough to allow us to see where we had to go to avoid the dangers of the deep crevasses. As we approached base camp we could see that the high winds had freed one of our tents from the stakes that held it to the ice where it had been pitched and had blown it several hundred feet away where it was caught in some trees. Fortunately we had no trouble recovering it. At base camp it began to rain. We struck camp and began our descent to the car. As we went the visibility was so low that we lost our way and found ourselves having a very hard time figuring out where we were. At first we thought that all we really had to do was get down the mountain in the general direction of the car but as we looked at our topography map we realized that it wasn’t that simple. With snow covering the ground and the fog we could not easily spot the usually well marked trail. Eventually we looked at our compass and by looking at the contour lines on the map we deduced where we were and realized that we had made a seriously wrong turn. By determining that the slope we were on was running east-west we found the only place on the map that had contours to match.
We were soaking wet and the warmth of the car felt good. When we got home several hours later I weighed my pack and it had gained 10 pounds from the rain.
The amazing thing about this trip is that Gina, after resting up a few days, was ready for more. As you can see from the pictures we had a great time and I really enjoyed introducing Gina to the world of mountaineering and having another adventure with Nate. After this trip Gina was given the name of Granola Gina by the kids and they sang her a song. I can’t remember the lyrics. If anyone can remember please post a comment with the words and any other memories from this trip.