Mt. Baker - Ice and Skiing

When: November 17/18
Who: Phil, Greg, and Emily

___________________________________________________________________________ Saturday

Phil, Greg, and Mt. Baker. Big packs, nice day.

Phil was interested in going ice bouldering on the Coleman glacier Saturday, and Greg was itching to try out his new "RandTele" ski setup. So it was settled, the three of us would head up to Baker with ice tools and skis. This is great, I thought, because if the ice is snow covered, we can just ski around! Little did I realize that the trail in was largely snow free! ak! My Randonee ski setup weighs over 10 pounds!

We left the parking lot around 10 am with tools, crampons, and actually a rope in my pack. I think my pack weighed over 50lbs, by far the heaviest load I've carried all year. Though our packs were big, it didn't stop us from passing about 8 people that had left on the trail before us (they had small packs too). This left us in the unique position of having first chance to knock the snow off of loaded branches with our skis, which would then fall down into our parkas. We made it across the freezing streams ok and were soon breaking new trail through the fresh snow towards the moraine overlooking the icefall.

The Coleman Glacier in the "early" morning light.

We stashed our skis by the rock and headed down into the icefall. The fresh 3" of powder snow hid many of the subtle features of the icefall, and it was a bit scary walking around to get to the ice. We climbed around a bit, but the crevasse floors were suspect, and the walls were pretty high for ropeless climbing. The ice was also extremely blue and brittle--simmilar to what you can find in your ice cube trays! Unfortunately we'd forgotten our lemonade. I climbed around a bit, going up, around, and over little seracs until I spied a great little bouldering area.

Typical ice bouldering in the Coleman.

Greg and I downclimbed into the slot with a nice smooth floor, and Phil walked right in from it's end. This crevasse is at the upper end of the jumble near the entrance onto the glacier. The walls were perfect for bouldering around. A short 20 ft wall of 70 degree ice on one side, and a 30 foot wall of 60-90 degree ice on the other. The walk-offs were not the usual knife edged ice ridge, but rather smooth ramps back to the slot's opening!

Phil took some "video" with his digital camera of some wild ice climbing antics, and we all climbed around a bit before having lunch.

[Check out Phil's Video of Ice Climbing (1 MB)]

It was already 2 pm or so, and due to the difficulty of the ice conditions, we decided to hit the slopes on our skis. Our first run just went down through the glades back to the trail

Greg's ingenious "RandTele" setup.

Greg was trying out his new ski setup which was allowing him to ski in his plastic mountaineering boots without shelling out the cash for silverettas. He had basically modified his old Tele binding by adding a toe bail and some anchors further up on the ski (for his knee-lanyards). This combined with the round-the-heel strap rounded out the setup to a tele-like system. In short, it worked great!

Phil skiing a gully on our second run.

[Phil's Video of Saturday Skiing! (507K)]

We skinned up twice more to get successively higher runs. The snow conditions were rather strange, 3-4 inches of light powder on top of a hard icy base. We dubbed it "winter corn", because it called for regular technique, and of course, because it is so close to thanksgiving. Up high, around 6000 ft the snow became a little wind-blasted crusty. Phil made nice tele turns down from our high point, and I, well... I fell while setting off a 10 ft crown of 1 inch crust slab. More of an embarrassment in front of video-Phil than any real danger. :)

Phil starts a nice turn while the sun sets.

We skied back to the trail and setoff just before the sun was gone. The alpenglow was firey red on Baker, and we took yet another freaking picture of it from that vantage. If Phil, Greg and I piled up all of our slides taken of Baker from the North side, I think we could build a small "ice" bouldering wall of our own! We hiked back down the extremely icy trail, and made it back to the car around 6. Phil and I, of course, relentlessly "advised" Greg of any icy section of the trail on the way down. I suppose he'll never live down his ankle twisting experience from our North Ridge trip. heh heh heh...

___________________________________________________________________________ Sunday

The skiing was so enjoyable on Saturday that I had to come back with Emily the next day. Phil came too, and we all headed BACK up to Baker. Hiking in with simply skis was really enjoyable, and we were soon at the usual summer camp on Heliotrope ridge. We skinned up the slippery snow until we were near the basin atop the ridge on the far right. The weather did not have the spectacular still blue skies of yesterday, but rather an ominous and dark overcast. The winds began to pick up and we were treated to huge "snow devil" tornadoes. They often started below us and then raced up hill until we were wrapped up in their icy stinging winds of death...

Emily skiing down the best slope of the day.

We didn't go all the way to the top of the valley because the slope above the "bench" looked to be in really good condition and almost totally untracked. Skiing down was pure joy. Nice powdery like snow on a soft base.

[Phil's Video of Sunday Skiing (553K)]

We yo-yoed this slope for a few 600 ft runs, and then headed down the maze of gullies and cliffs trying to make a continuous track down to the trail. Just below the bench the snow conditions went back to the snow on icy crust, and thinned out again. A rock scored a full-length hit on Phil's nice skis, and Emily and I hit our fair share on the way down as well. After a little hiking around down low, we found the cool looking gully we'd spotted from the hiking ridge earlier in the day. The gully turned out to be steep, icy and a little crusty. I followed last and was thus able to thoroughly enjoy the scraped-away snow conditions. :) Unfortunately during my ice skiing bliss, I slipped and jammed my thumb into a rock, spraining it.

Emily and Mt. Baker.

We followed the slope down into the trees along side the stream. Phil thought at one point that his skiing was through, and we'd have to concede to booting it down to the trail. Lucky for him Glade-Master-Dave spotted a open field in the forest, and we were able to turn and scrape our way down to the trail. yeehaw! Well, actually Emily and I stopped just short of the trail. You see, we were not up to the challenge of the last icy stream crossing. Stream-Master-Phil show'd us up by skiing across and getting a full island more of skiing! It was a weekend without sleeping in, but a great weekend of skiing.

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