North Ridge of Mt. Baker

Our first foray into technical Mountaineering, aka the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Kasia has similar thoughts for her life. Our 5 day trip to Mt. Baker was a huge success but physically and mentally the toughest battle so far. What a stunning trip with an awesome guide.

Kasia on the Crux AI2 / mixed pitch just under the ice cap. Right variation of the North Ridge Route.
Climbing the 2nd leftmost spine in the photo, up and over the ice cap.
Coming down the Coleman-Deming route.

The prep.

We booked a trip with Miyar Adventures back in March for a 5 day mountaineering skills course. After a few classes in our scrambling class we realized we wanted more. It seemed like a good fit but lots of the material overlapped with what we knew already. We booked for two people anyway. We got in touch with Ryan our guide a few weeks after that and he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: Baker by the North Ridge.

After some quick googling we said yes! Our major concern: that this was quite the escalation versus what we had done previously before. This was exactly the right time to have a guide and practice skills over multiple days. We ended up having to buy a bunch more gear but almost everything we brought (52lbs for me, 49 for Kasia) we used.

We had never been in any serious exposure and I’m glad to say we both handled it well. The gear we brought worked extremely well and had no qualms trusting our lives to it. This is not the place you want to cheap out on anything.

Loaded for Bear.. err Baker.

Day 1 – Forest Camp

After a 2.5h and 120 mile drive we arrived at the Heliotrope ridge trailhead on a Monday. It was quite and not quite yet raining when we arranged the final gear and headed up to Camp 1. It started raining off and on and didn’t stop until Day 3 mid morning. After that we had great weather and snow conditions.

We made camp after a relatively short ~3.4km, 330m↑ hike and spent the next two nights out in the forest.

Relief after the sketchy snow bridge water crossing.
It was wet. Alpha SV keeping the wifey dry.

Ryan (our guide) ended up going through some rope skills and gear talk that afternoon and evening.

Day 2 – Ice Climbing / Glacier Rescue

The second day was spent learning to travel on a glacier.

Aww yeah, Seracs baby.

Two rope/skills systems are required for glacier rescue. Either hauling (1:1/2:1/3:1/6:1) systems or ascending systems. We had the gucci Petzl Crevasse Rescue kit each and it’s worth it’s weight in gold. The micro traxion progress capture is so much easier to use rather than just pure rope skills.

Ryan showing Kasia the truckers hitch to equalize two pieces of protection, in this case two ice screws.

There was no large crevasses this early in the season so we ended up using a pack to haul out. Kasia setup a 3:1 system and I went with the 6:1. Both have their uses.

It was rather cool walking on the bare ice and stepping over the obvious cracks (that’s what a crevasse is) in the ice.

Then we moved onto the actual ice climbing!

Kasia getting ready for the send.
Casual overhang free solo, no send.

After a few pitches we ended up heading back to camp. This involved a steep snow gully which was a sign of things to come on Day 4.

Day 3 – Glacier Camp

We broke camp early, packed everything up and headed up the mountain. After another ~300m↑ vertical gain we made it to our final camp for the trip.

180* Panorama with the 14mm GM.
What a mountain!

I saw some marmots and ran off for what turned out to be a 1h adventure in wildlife photography.

Marmots are relatively large ground squirrels in the genus Marmota, with 15 species living in Asia, Europe, and North America. These herbivores are active during the summer when often found in groups, but are not seen during the winter when they hibernate underground. They are the heaviest members of the squirrel family.

via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmot

I’m ready for my closeup – says the marmot.

We ended up chilling for hours as it was so incredible. Ryan was buried in his Kindle as he had been up here many many times before. I spent some time on the eReader (kobo) and finished A Life on Our Planet which seemed appropriate considering the glacier retreat around the world.

3:1 moving the wifey quick.
The other party that did the North Ridge the next day. Jeremy and Steven. Ryan knew both 🙂

We spent some more time doing crevasse rescue practice and tried to get some sleep for the 12:30AM wakeup for the summit bid.

Day 4 – Successful Summit via the North Ridge

Little bit of astrophotography on the monopod/trekking-pole combo. A7R4 – 14mm ƒ1.8

We woke up at 12:30AM on Thursday. After some quick breakfast and some nightscape photos we set off ~1:30AM. 14h, 10km, 1500m later we were back at camp!

It was zero dark thirty for sure.
First steep snow.
A rare photo of me, once the technical climbing started, after that I was the only one shooting photos.

After about 3 hours of traverse we made it to the bottom of the North Ridge. It was rather eerie walking around crevasses at night but most were filled in this early in the season. We were roped up the entire time in case one of us accidentally broke through a snow bridge.

We pitched out the first steeper snow section but later on ended up doing much steeper snow without a belay. I think this was Ryan sussing us out if we can do this. We passed the test 😅.

At this point Jeremy and Steven (the other party) caught up with us but took a longer break so we moved on to much steeper snow. The 2nd almost pitch was aborted when rock/icefall started raining down on us so we had to haul ass to get out of the danger zone.

It’s not steep at all right? Strava lies. 20% my ass. This was probably 45° it got worse.
Pitch two around the rock face.
Side-hilling-like-mofos. Super nice firn snow.
A rare “flat” bit of break. You can see the ice cap behind us.
A better view of the ice cap after some steep snow.
This bergschrund seemed BOTTOMLESS, Ryan walked over the snow bridge and belayed us across.
Trying to capture some of the badass essence with photography.

We busted out the twin tools for the first time on the steep snow getting up to the ice face. Still type 1 fun at this moment.

Kasia getting up to Pitch 1 of the ice climbing.
End of Pitch 1 of ice, Right Variation.
Ryan clove-d off a screw on the crux pitch he lead like a beast. No falls from anyone the entire route.

After the crux pitch which was AI2 / some mixed rock, we made it onto the ice cap. The ice climbing wasn’t over at this point. We had two long ice pitches until we got to the steep snow. This mentally was my low point, at this point it’s “only” steep snow with significant exposure behind us so we are off belay. Ryan continues walking forward while I’m crawling on my hands and crampons watching the goalpost move further away. I ask him to stop so we can at least get up to him, he thankfully complies despite a “flat” section being only a few feet away.

We get up to him and he congratulates us that the climbing portion of the trip is over. He wasn’t expecting the non reaction from both of us as mentally getting to that point was the hardest thing we’ve done.

Endlessly staring off into infinity, that million mile gaze. Everything was great from here on out, back to Type 1 fun.

After the highest peanut butter to bagel ratio sandwich ever, we were back in good spirts and only had a couple hundred vertical feet left to climb. After one last crevasse/bergschrund scare we made it to the summit block.

Last bit of steep snow.
Thank you Ryan, we couldn’t have done this without you.
THE SUMMIT.
Heck yes, brewski carried up that route. 3,286 m.
FUCK CANCER. Kasia’s brother has been fighting Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for almost 2 years now.
Pointing off to the next objectives.

After some summit beers, congratulations and ~20min of hanging out we set off via the Coleman-Deming route down. This was a relatively easy “hike” down with little crevasse danger but we were roped up all the way into camp.

My favorite photo I’ve ever taken so far I think. Just off the summit block. Colfax peak and the Coleman-Deming.
F16 doing some passes over the mountain. Air force I assume?
The scale of the mountain is hard to capture, but check out the next photo by the arrow.
Thanks 61MP, these folks were moving SLOW and very LATE, no clue was they were thinking here in the sun. Probably what are we doing here? You can see our traverse here by the rock and ice on center of the frame. We came up that!
A small sea of tents, and visible relief.
The 10lb beast in some alpenglow glory. This tent will do the Himalaya, years away, but it will happen God willing.

We learned Steven and Jeremy did the route in 12h, looks like we did slightly over 14 according to the gpx route.

What an experience, hard to believe we did that. Words and Photos do not do it justice. I wish I could have taken better photos on some of the pitches but honestly the risk of death let alone dropping the camera was not worth it. Someone on fredmiranda told me to take a point and shoot, fuck that. It was worth taking up all that gear for the photos I took. I’m looking forward to printing some of these and putting them up on the walls of the house I just bought.

Thank you Honey for being amazing, you showed some true grit and what you can really do. I’m so happy I was able to do this with you. Let’s climb Washington’s second highest mountain next weekend before the puppy comes 😃.

Thank you Ryan for taking us up this safely and without incident. You rightly assessed that we could do this, but no way in hell could I repeat without a guide for a long time. From Worm Flows on Helen’s to this was quite a few levels of skipping grades.

Day 5 – 2 hours down.

We broke camp and were heading out by 10:30AM ish. I forgot to start my watch so the track starts a bit late.

I got a nice glissade in, otherwise it was uneventful. The water crossing was much mellower and the snow bridges were mostly gone.

Somewhat lighter packs but not much.

We ended up grabbing some BBQ with Ryan and getting a bunch of beta for things to do next. We made a quick stop at the Arc’teryx and North Face outlets before making it home. I write this now on Day 6 I guess. I can’t say anything like this route has changed me, or something maudlin like that, but I will never forget this trip and that route for sure.

Ryan said we had to have this picture, so here it is. The infamous bridge at the start/end.

If you can do something like this, do it. I’m lucky enough that I was able to. This is not for everybody.

I have a backlog of posts before this, Camp Muir with Arvind, Dan, Jon, Rob. Scrambling up Three Brothers. Getting a callout from the Expedia CEO on 8000 person call for my 6 person team !!!!! And closing on our first home but I wanted to get this out because things like this are something else.

Let me know what questions you have and I’d love to tell you more.

-Sylvester

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