Entries from North Cascades
August 15, 2016
Posted by: Ben Liken
Over the past four days the Sahale summit team enjoyed perfect weather and excellent climbing in the North Cascades National Park. As we ascended out of the forest on day one the views kept getting better and better until we stopped to set up our base camp at 5,300 feet. Looking up at the spectacular Boston Basin the team was excited to go up high over the next few days. Day 2 was a training day at the toe of the Quien Sabe Glacier; filled with efficiency techniques, crevasse safety, and rock climbing. After a full day of training we went to bed early to rest up for a summit attempt on the classic peak. Summit day went flawlessly and we found ourselves on top at 10:30 am after some really fun glacier and rock climbing sections. Here are a few shots from the trip. Enjoy!
Ben - fix the links under the photos! I click on them and they take me to a Mt. Denali expedition.
Posted by: Malcolm Butler on 8/17/2016 at 9:23 pm
Pawel had previously been a part of the Emmons and Kautz Seminars on Mt. Rainier. Finishing up the ice challenges of the Kautz, Pawel set his eyes on the prize, investigated ambitious alpine objectives and developed a plan. That plan included the North Ridge of Mt. Baker and the North Face of Mt. Shuksan. Last winter he trained for six days in Ouray, CO honing his ice skills to get ready for the task. And, as alpine climbing demands creativity, since then he’s trained hard in gym and combined it with a rigorous running schedule, sometimes with a pack, at home in Chapel Hill, NC.
We met up for the planned 3-day climb of the North Ridge of Mt. Baker on a Monday in the face of a grim forecast—rain coming in Tuesday morning. The plan was to establish base camp on Monday and launch Tuesday morning. So, not good. But you can’t win if you don’t play and a large part of success in alpine climbing is putting yourself in position for it and then letting the cards unfold as they do. We set off toward base camp, hiking along the Heliotrope Ridge Trail, popping with alpine flowers. On the hike in it was clear Pawel’s creative North Carolina training had paid off. He crushed it in two hours and—just as the thought entered my own mind—he suggested, “What do you think about going for it today?” Even with the crushing time to base camp, it was still 1p.m.—a rather untraditional start to the North Ridge. While we set up camp, I considered the timeline: We’d be pushing the weather forecast, but we felt comfortable descending the Coleman-Deming route (the standard descent) in poorer weather.
Once on the ice pitches of the route (approx. 9,600’) you’re pretty committed to the North Ridge, but we left camp with the caveat that should the weather change or the travel become more complex than planned, we’d turn back for another try later. Later never came. We made it to the ice cap in just over 3 hours, which is just over half the typical time. With a puffy cloud front still way off over the Puget Sound and a few small cells sweeping up over Colfax Peak, we committed. All the moments of consideration up to the moment of commitment in a climb like this is a struggle on par with Ali-Frasier—but once the decision is made, clarity begins—just climb.
And climb we did. Up through the ice cap, onto the upper flanks of the mountain, navigating through the upper bergschrunds, to the top. Descending the Coleman-Deming route to camp we were treated with blazing red sunset reflections on Puget Sound, rolling into camp just eight short hours after leaving camp.
We reconvened a day later for the North Face of Shuksan, a seldom climbed route. Seldom done for many reasons, among them being the formidable approach. After 5 hours of Amazonian bushwhacking and at least a Red Cross pint donation of blood from both Pawel and I, we arrived at the base of the actual climb. Not surprisingly, after that “warm up” the climb was like cake. Pawel’s commitment to fitness and technical prep paid off and we stacked pitch after pitch after pitch of climbing until arriving at our lovely bivy atop the ridge.
The next day was an open road with a full tank of gas. We connected smoothly from the Crystal Glacier to the Sulphide Glacier, crisply circumambulated the mountain, ascended the SE Ridge, and then moved out smartly toward Winnie’s Slide to camp. Arriving at camp at slighly past the stroke of noon, it occurred to the both of us that a trip out to the trailhead was easily doable, and since Pawel had some good friends in Seattle he wished to visit, we decided to go for it.
Four short hours later, we were at the trailhead. Packs were off, sandals on, sitting down. Life was good. And getting better. We met up for a culmination of the climb at the Chair 9 Bar and Grill. It was a pure pleasure to wrap up this stage of Pawel’s alpine journey. In the face of a formidable forecast, we’d pulled off two major North Cascades objectives—a tribute to the power of positive preparation in the face of pure challenge. Well done Pawel!
August 4, 2016
Posted by: Jake Beren
With a squirrelly forecast our team of intrepid explorers launched into the mist surrounding Mt Baker just three days ago. Hiking through the forest and meadows before stepping onto the glacier gave us a pleasant warm up for the climb to come. Establishing camp on the Coleman Glacier just before the rain began was a welcome bonus.
The rain persisted through the evening and we were happy to be snug in our tents. Waking up early wasn’t that encouraging and we hit the snooze button for a few hours, waiting for the weather deities to smile upon us. Smile they did at a perfectly reasonable 7:30 am. Off we went to improving skies and an excellent route.
We found excellent conditions and a perfect day in the mountains. As far as climbing Mt. Baker that day, we felt most lucky indeed. Good job team!
August 1, 2016
Posted by: Jake Beren
A fine adventure was had by all on this Mt. Shuksan Climb! Our team chose the Fisher Chimneys route and all that it had to offer. This route is fantastic for the variety of conditions it offers, from snow and ice to technical rock and a truly stunning approach via the absurdly picturesque Lake Ann.
We found the mountain to be in perfect shape, with smooth glacier travel and few other climbers on our route. As we made our attempt on the summit, we connected with climbers from the Sulphide Glacier route at the summit pyramid. There’s plenty of room for everyone on that mountain and though it was a little busy, we somehow had the summit all to ourselves!
It was a fantastic three days in a crazily beautiful place, shared with a fun team. Peter and Ann rocked and we had a great time learning how to move through the mountains. Thanks everyone!
Great trip! Jake and Ann were terrific climbing companions!
Posted by: Peter on 8/3/2016 at 11:45 am
July 30, 2016
Posted by: Jake Beren
RMI Guide Jake Beren and team reached the summit of Mt. Shuksan via the Fisher Chimneys route this morning around 10 am PT. Jake reported clear skies with a light layer of clouds below and light winds. The team enjoyed some time on the summit today all on their own, although the route was busy they were on the summit alone. The team safely returned to high camp where they will spend their final night of the trip. Tomorrow morning they will hike out to the trail head.
Congratulations to today’s Mt. Shuksan Team!
July 29, 2016
The low pressure system plaguing the North Cascades cleared the area before we began our approach to the Hogsback Camp on Mt. Baker under clear blue skies. It is a relatively short hike compared to other North Cascade objectives and we endured sweaty backs for only three hours to our upper camp. We spent the first afternoon relaxing in the warm sun looking across a long glacier towards our climbing objective the following day.
We woke at 2:00 a.m. to a waning crescent moon and began the traverse across the Coleman Glacier, navigating the crevassed field of soft snow and ice by headlamp to the base of the North Ridge. Two and a half hours of walking brought us to the bergschrund guarding the access couloir and soon we were kicking and swinging our way up 50 degree snow onto the North Ridge. We climbed in the shadow of the Ridge as the sun lit up the terrain to our left and promised its warmth just as soon as we were ready to crest the Ridge facing Canada.
The real climbing begins halfway up the route on a feature known as the ice step. Our team climbed onto the step swinging left onto the face and climbing the sun baked ice for two pitches. The sun was in full effect as we gained the steep slopes that continue unbroken for 1,500 vertical feet under Mt. Baker’s final serac band. Just below the summit, we shed clothing wet from the dripping ice. Four more pitches of 55 degree snow brought us to the serac jungle guarding Mt. Baker’s summit and we entered the jungle with eyes overhead to watch for falling ice. A large smoke canister marked the entry to the jungle passage, dropped from a helicopter a few days prior staining the snow a bright red. A two person party had been caught in whiteout conditions and abandoned their gear just below the summit. We came across two packs with clothing, rope, and some climbing gear which we shouldered and carried up and over cleaning the mountain of unnatural detritus.
Soon, we stood on top Mt. Baker’s broad summit plateau and ventured over to the other side to begin the descent down the Coleman-Deming route to our camp on the Hogsback. All told, we spent 12 hours climbing the North Ridge of Mt. Baker. We arrived at camp as large clouds built up to the south and basked in the late afternoon sun, falling into a deep sleep satisfied with a great adventure on a great route.
July 29, 2016
Day one on a Mt. Shuksan Fisher Chimneys trip is a big day, maybe the biggest day of the climb. Most guided parties take eight hours to reach high camp perched at the edge of the Price Glacier above the Chimneys. So when the team drove to the trail head in a heavy wet cloud we needed to make a decision about hiking in those conditions. We stood in the parking lot in our gore-tex, gathering large beads of water that collected from simply standing in the cloud. We drove back down the mountain hoping the forecast for better afternoon weather would prove true. It did not and we decided to try again in the morning.
The following day, as clouds started to pass over the area, we began the approach in a drier cloud and took every bit of the eight hours to climb the Chimneys to high camp. The plan was to set up camp, rest for a few hours and continue towards the summit unburdened by heavy packs. At 4:30 p.m. we began the journey upward, traversing the Price, climbing the steep Hell’s Highway and cresting onto the upper Sulphide Glacier. A cloud followed us up the Sulphide, hiding the summit pyramid but we were able to climb on instruments towards its base. At 7:00 p.m. the clouds parted long enough to show us the pyramid and in what condition it lay. A steep snow traverse gained the lower rock band where it usually is a low angle scramble and we spotted a few teams descending in the early evening light. So far, we had been moving for 12 hours and now we were looking at summiting around dark and descending complicated terrain under headlamp. We made the conservative call to turn around and made our high point the base of the pyramid, just 600 vertical feet shy of the very top. Disappointing sure, but the team put in an extraordinary effort to climb all day and we were satisfied with the decision to leave the summit for another day.
July 25, 2016
Posted by: Jake Beren
Mt. Baker did not fail to impress our small team this week! We set out from Glacier, WA to make an attempt on Mt. Baker’s mighty North Ridge. Our approach put us at camp at the toe of the Coleman Glacier where we reviewed relevant climbing techniques and relaxed ourselves to sleep.
We awoke under the full moon and set out at dusk to begin the climb. A few hours of casual glacier travel found us at the base of the route. The forbidding clouds to the west stood down and we began our ascent. We gained the ridge and with some steep snow climbing and we were in business! Soon it was time to get into the meat of the route, the ice pitches. Under the snice (snow+ice) there was quality ice, so it didn’t take too much excavation to find good placements for our tools. As we topped out the ice pitches the clouds returned and soon we were relying on instruments to find the top. After a bit of thought-provoking route finding we navigated the jumbled glacier that guards the cumbre (summit) and celebrated efficiently before descending the Coleman route back to camp.
It was a great day with good company - all you can ask for in the mountains! Standing on top doesn’t hurt either.
RMI Guide Jake Beren
Congratulation Jake + team..Thx again support on Rainier ‘12
..Walter / IN
Posted by: Walter Glover on 7/26/2016 at 5:13 am
June 22, 2016 - 2:33 pm PT
Here’s a soggy hello from just south of the Canadian border. Caleb and I are sitting in a coffeeshop in Bellingham pouring over radar maps and weather forecasts, while our boots dry in the parking lot.
Yesterday we were suppose to have climbed Mt. Buckner, but both the weather and route conditions shut that down. On Monday we made it to one of our potential camp locations after eight hours of climbing only to find that it was buried in snow. We had to dig for 20 minutes to make snow platforms for our tents. It started raining later in the night and by the time we woke up at 3am to launch, everything was rimed over with several inches of ice. Because the first hour of the climb requires scrambling on six-inch rock ledges and the use of bare hands, we knew it wasn’t an option.
After checking the weather every 20-30 minutes until 8am, we gave up and went back to bed. The wind continued to blow and spit light precip. Around 10am, there was a clearing and we decided to capitalize on the opportunity by making a quick trip to the summit of nearby Sahale. From the top, we had incredible views of our camp and the surrounding peaks before the clouds obscured them again.
In the early afternoon we packed up camp and started the trek downhill. As a group we decided to focus our efforts of the next objective, Mt. Shuksan, and take a full rest day in Bellingham to dry our gear and prepare.
Wish us luck and a drier next few days.
It poured rain all night. It was still pouring this morning when we woke up. It took us awhile to work up the courage to get out of our tents and pack up but we did it. We packed our gear and booked it down the trail to find somewhere a little less wet. Now we are back in town, still soaking wet, but oh so happy to know we can finally start getting dry. Despite the soggy finish to our trip, we had a great time training on Mt. Shuksan.
RMI Guide Mike Walter and team