Mt. Baker has been staring me in the face for months, ever since I started hiking Central Cascades peaks again. Rising almost straight out of the ocean from some viewpoints, Baker towers over the North Cascades with one of the most extensive glacier systems in the lower 48 states. While nearly 4,000’ lower than its neighbor Mt. Rainier, prodigious snowfall more than makes up for the difference when it comes to ice and snow.
This trip was lead by Radka and Chris, a couple of instructors with the Mountaineers glacier ski and snowboard travel course. This was the second year that they had agreed to lead a trip for recent graduates of the course like myself, and I had to take advantage of the opportunity. (See C&R’s turns-all-year trip report)
Mt. Baker made me a little nervous as a ski objective. There were a lot of “news” associated with this trip: first time summiting a glaciated peak, first time skiing on a glacier unroped, first time wearing crampons with my ski boots, first time climbing on steep snow as a rope team. Most of all, I was concerned about my admittedly not awesome skiing ability when considering the “Roman Wall” on the upper mountain. I had skied to 30 degrees steepness on Mt. Adams with no trouble, but under icy or hard snow conditions, the 35 to 40 degree Roman Wall would be some of the tougher skiing I’d ever done outside the resort, and with pretty terrible consequences in the event of a fall. This kept me thinking twice about whether I should join the trip, but ultimately I resolved to go along, knowing that I could hang out at the summit crater and wait for the rest of the group to summit and come back down if I didn’t like the looks of the conditions.
This weekend the weather wasn’t looking promising anywhere, so I hopped on Summitpost to see what was around I-90 that I hadn’t been to the top of yet. I was planning on running a mountain just as a workout even if I couldn’t see anything from the top in the clouds. McClellan Butte had been on my radar for a while – I had seen it in every proximity search but never clicked through to the page. Once I saw folks describing the route as a scramble at Class 3 or even Class 4 I knew that I had to give it a shot.
The trailhead is relatively close to Seattle, right at Exit 42. This was my first time checking out the south side of the valley but it all looks fairly similar. McClellan Butte’s trail gains elevation fairly gradually for the first couple of miles, crossing the John Wayne rail-trail at just before the one mile mark.
After the road crossing, the route gently pitches up until I ended up walking some of the steeper upper sections (the whole thing is runnable, I’m just not in my best shape right now). The upper mountain started to drizzle on me.
After mile 4 or so, the trail crests a ridge and juts to the (south?) in order to avoid some cliffs. It traverses along the upper mountain until reaching the final summit scramble.
I signed up for the Mountaineers ski crevasse rescue class which ended up being a really worthwhile way to spend a few weekday evenings and a weekend field trip. We learned about basic glacier travel, route finding, and especially crevasse rescue pulley systems. The purpose of learning the system is to be able to haul a potentially injured skier out of a crevasse on a rope using mechanical force advantage.
For our field trip we spent a rainy Saturday refreshing self arrest skills and practicing roped travel in Paradise environs at Mt. Rainier. On Sunday we spent a beautiful sunny day hauling each other out of a real-life crevasse on the Nisqually! Here are a few shots:
Becca (a classmate from the Mountaineers ski/snowboard mountaineering class) and I headed up Mt. Adams from the parking lot at Cold Springs to take advantage of the beautiful weather window and no permit fees yet. This would be my second climb of Adam’s – after a trip on foot in 2012, I was really savoring the idea of a ski descent.
We arrived from Seattle after a 5 hour drive through Portland at about 9:30pm and crashed for a very short time.
We headed out at around 3am thinking the snow would get soft and sloppy early in the morning given the warm night. The first ~mile and few hundred feeet were on dirt but we hit continuous snow at 6000′, transitioned to skis, and found that the snow froze harder under the clear skies than we were expecting; a breakable glaze covered everything and made skinning a bit challenging, especially on the steeper sections. As we skinned up Suksdorf Ridge we got pulled a little bit too high below South Butte in the dark and had to backtrack a bit to regain the line.
With a beautiful sunny weekend ahead, Ryan and I set out to do some spring snow climbing and chose a prominent summit in the Snoqualmie Pass area, Kaleetan Peak (meaning “Arrow” in the Chinook language). With the shockingly low snowpack this year, we weren’t exactly sure what sort of conditions we would encounter.
We opted for a lazy alpine start of 6am leaving from the Denny Creek trailhead in order to minimize the already-small risk of wet loose avalanches on the descent (in warm afternoon conditions, “solar” aspects can often become destabilized).
Our plan was to ascend the peak via an East facing couloir to access the normal scrambling route from there to the summit. We packed for non-technical snow climbing including ice axe and crampons, both of which turned out to be essential on this route in these conditions.
The Denny Creek trail to the pass is very pleasant – dense forest, waterfalls, and nice views down the valley as the trail gradually gains elevation to Hemlock Pass..
Intermittent ice and snow can be found just below Hemlock Pass but it should be gone fairly soon. Arriving at Melakwa Lake early in the morning, the air was cool enough to break out the gloves as we admired the thin glaze of ice on the water from the freeze the night before – a good sign that snow conditions would be nice and consolidated on the path ahead. Continue reading Kaleetan Peak→