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Entries from North Cascades

Mt. Baker: Rossiter Recaps Climb and Ski Trips

“I don’t think that people are so much looking for the meaning of life as they are looking for the experience of being alive”—Joseph Campbell

Climbing mountains is ultimately an absurd act, to stand on top of a pile of rocks and call it a success, laughable. In yet, it is something anyone who has ever shared the feeling knows the feeling: powerful, liberated, inspired. Wind-whipped, bodily spent, surrounded by ravaging beauty—beyond providing meaning for living, it provides the feeling of being fully alive. That feeling is only magnified when combined with the pure spirit of speed and fluidity found on a ski descent.

Early May is an excellent time for a climb and ski on Mt. Baker and I’m just back from two trips up in the northern reaches of the Cascades. Thick snows blanket the land—especially after this winter—providing a smooth carpet for cruising up to the high flanks of the mountains. That’s not to say the approach is easy—for starters, as is usual, the road was blocked by snow several miles short of the actual Heliotrope Trailhead. Secondly, navigating through the dense Pacific Northwest forests requires lots of muscles that no amount of resort skiing or even gym training can fully develop. Plus, there’s the prospect of needing to carry those skis on the pack. Forty pound packs quickly become fifty-five on the back. While our first trip allowed us to get to camp on skis, spring comes quickly in the Cascades and by the second trip we were shouldering the skis until treeline.

Whether approached by ski or with those skis on your back, the arrival above treeline on Baker comes abruptly and spectacularly. Unlike many an alpine ascent, where the trees gradually shrink in size to Charlie Brown Christmas trees, on Baker’s Heliotrope Trail approach it goes from massive towers to wide open alpine in the time it takes to apply sunscreen. Clouds came and went throughout our trips, but when they cleared, the stunning serac falls at the terminus of the Coleman Glacier, the stately girth of Mt. Baker’s volcanic cone, and the sheer ice face of Colfax Peak made it clear why we’d worked so hard to get there.

On both trips we were fortunate to have time and energy to enjoy some beautiful turns above camp on Hogsback Ridge. Skinning up, we looked at ways to improve our kick turns, balance,  and tracking techniques and to practice roped travel while skiing. Viewing camp from a thousand feet above, we ripped skins, carved turns in sweet-edging snow and cruised back to camp to prep for the summit push.

The morning hour always come early, but it’s a little easier with the benefit of the full moon we experienced. Rising up to boil water for coffee, our shadows mixed among the long shadows cast by the small trees around camp. Shaking out the soreness of the approach, we slurped down some oatmeal and caffeine before clicking in and gliding up. On our first climb we utilized ski crampons to leave camp with skis on, digging the teeth of the crampons in with each step to allow us a smooth ascent. On the second climb we relied instead on boot crampons to power us up past the steeper parts of Hogsback Ridge to where things leveled off enough to skin without crampons.  While both can work, ski crampons definitely allow more time to enjoy the fluid uphill motion that skinning provides, and ski crampons are definitely advisable for a Mt. Baker Climb-Ski.

A mix of shaky weather, altitude, and the challenge of converting climbing fitness to skinning finesse stopped us short of the summit on the first trip, but the beauty of ski mountaineering is that even without a summit, every step upward is a success, as it increases the joy of going down. High up on the Pumice Ridge, views of the Puget Sound and British Columbia’s Coastal Range slipped in and out of the clouds as we ripped skins and prepared for the descent. With the light sometimes flat and spring crevasses beginning to show, we pitched things out more conservatively on the descent, allowing time to enjoy all the hard-earned 4000’ of vertical. And with each turn of descent the skiing became increasingly edgeable and enjoyable, a fresh layer atop the thick winter’s snowpack. Rolling back into camp with smiles, fist bumps, and a feeling of refreshment is one of the uniquely attractive aspects ski mountaineering presents to the world of alpine climbing.

The second Mt. Baker Climb-Ski was a custom trip, so it allowed us time to both climb Baker in the optimal (if shaky) weather window and then sneak in some time afterward to focus on the pure joy of climbing to ski. Bagley Lakes, just outside of the Baker Ski Area, provided the perfect venue, as you can drive past 4000’, straight into a ten-foot snowpack, and on out into enchanting alpine lakes guarded by precipitous cliff walls. South facing slopes were graced with an accumulation of wind-blown powder and perfect runs.

Climbing mountains is a process. Summits provide a goal. Skiing down them provides a purpose. Everything that we seek up high is only of value if we can convert it into a currency that enriches our lives in the valley. The 2017 Mt. Baker Climb-Ski trips brought process and purpose together and brought us all back home to the valley floor refreshed and ready to move forward fully alive. Upward, downward, forward. Alive!

—RMI Guide Kel Rossiter

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Shuksan Seminar: Liken & Team Wrap Up Their Week in the North Cascades

The final Mount Shuksan climb of the year ushered in the autumn season with some winter weather last week.  The occasional storm brought us fresh snow and great training conditions.  The whole team was able to learn a ton of mountaineering skills and summit the classic peak via the Southeast Ridge.  Great team. Great trip.

RMI Guide Ben Liken

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Mt. Shuksan:  Nugent & Team Summit the Sulphide Glacier Route

Today RMI Guide Billy Nugent and the Mt. Shuksan team reached the summit!  Climbing the Sulphide Glacier Route, the team’s round-trip was eight hours and 40 minutes.  The weather was sunny and not a breath of wind.  After returning to camp, safe and sound, Billy was able to send us the photo below.

RMI Guide Billy Nugent

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Way to go Mac and Fraser boys!!  yahoo!

Posted by: Gary Lamberti on 9/21/2016 at 12:21 pm

WAY TO GO JOSH AND GROUP!! Proud of you big brother!! ❤️❤️

Posted by: Ali Arzt on 9/16/2016 at 12:57 pm

Mt. Shuksan: Fisher Chimneys Team Ready for Summit Bid

Hello, this is Eric Frank checking in from the bivouac below Winnie’s Slide on the Fisher Chimneys Route of Mt. Shuksan. After all the rain of last week, the skies have turned blue and we climbed up the Chimneys under a full sun today. Thanks for following and expect a call from the top tomorrow.

RMI Guide Eric Frank

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Mt. Shuksan: Fisher Chimneys Team Summits!

Hi, this is Eric Frank calling from the summit of Mount Shuksan. We had a cold and windy, but enjoyable, morning climbing up here today. It is gorgeous! We can see into southern Canada, over the city of Vancouver, out at Mount Baker, and even down all the way to Mount Rainier. We feel pretty fortunate to have the views that we have today. We will talk to everyone soon.

RMI Guide Eric Frank

RMI Guide Eric Frank calls in from the Mount Shuksan summit.

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Shuksan Seminar: Frank & Team Finish Their Week of Training

Hello to everyone following the Mt. Shuksan Seminar. Tonight we are checking in from the North Cascades logging town of Sedro-Woolley, at the foot of Mt. Shuksan. Today was meant to be our summit attempt, but instead we awoke to pelting rain on our tents, similar to the weather we have been struggling with for the last four days. After having a group meeting and considering the options, we decided as a group to forego our summit bid in favor of descending to focus on training tomorrow. The weather forecast called for improving skies, but that has been the case each day and yet it continued to rain. We opted to find a dry place down here to ensure that we we able to finish all the training, rather then take the gamble on climbing and sit in a tent for another day. A hard decision to make, but one that we feel was right.
Thanks for following along this week.

RMI Guides Eric Frank, Solveig Waterfall, Jenny Konway and the RMI Shuksan Seminar crew

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Shuksan Seminar: Frank & Team Prepared for Summit Bid in the Morning

Hello, this is RMI Guide Jenny Konway calling in from the low camp on Mount Shuksan here with the Shuksan Seminar. We had a great morning of training today out in the fog. It cleared up a little bit, and we saw some blue sky. This afternoon we attempted to go out and have some additional training, but got some heavy rain so we all retreated to our tents and had a good dinner. We are tucked in for the evening, hoping that the clouds we’ll part in the morning and have a shot at the summit. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed for nice weather. That’s it for now. Thanks for following along. Have a good night.

RMI Guide Jenny Konway

RMI Guide Jenny Konway called in from the Mount Shuksan Seminar.

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Mt. Shuksan: Eric Frank & Team Arrive at Camp

Hey, This is RMI Guide Eric Frank calling from the south side of Mt. Shuksan on a week long skills seminar. Just wanted to let everyone know that we are in our camp for the night had a great first day. We made it up just to the edge of tree line and it started to rain, so we made camp here. Everyone’s doing well.  Tomorrow Weather permitting we’re hoping to go up to the glacier and do a little training for the day. Wish us luck and thanks for following along!

Eric Frank & Team Checking in from Shuksan Seminar.

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North Cascades: Eric Frank and Team Summit Mt. Goode

Good morning!  This is RMI Guide Eric Frank calling from Goat Creek Camp right in the heart of the North Cascades National Park. This is the final day of our climb of Mt. Goode. We couldn’t get a signal to call out last night, so we’re just checking in this morning. Yesterday we actually woke up to a fair bit of snow on the rocks for our final 5 pitches to the top of Mt. Goode. We had a pretty entertaining time climbing up through mid 5th last climbing with snow on it. We were able to rappel off the the opposite side of the mountain drop down and walk about 10 miles out to this camp.  Today we have 20 beautiful miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. We will be out this evening and touch base then.

Take Care!

Eric Frank Calling in from Goat Creek Camp - Mount Goode

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Fisher Chimneys: Blais and Team are Shut Down by Weather

Our team got shut down by weather on our summit push, but that didn’t stop us from having an amazing trip. The climbing and views on our way to high camp below the Upper Curtis glacier were worth the hard push getting there.

The Fisher Chimneys is an incredible route- alpine rock, a pitch of easy ice climbing, and outstanding views of Mount Baker and the Curtis glacier make it a classic!

We got out last night and the team celebrated a great, safe and fun trip!  Until next year Washington.

RMI Guide Zeb Blais and Team

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