Itinerary

Mount Baker Climb + Ski Descent Itinerary

Day Before Trip

Our trip starts in Seattle with a mandatory gear check at the Alpine Ascents office at 4pm to ensure that everyone is fully equipped and prepared to depart the next morning. Rental gear is fitted and packed at this time. We’ll review the functionality of each piece of gear, packing methodology, wilderness ethics, and Leave No Trace practices. This orientation lasts about 2 hours.

Skills highlighted today:

  • Gear functionality & layering systems
  • Leave No Trace Principals & wilderness ethics
  • Packing methodology
  • Route planning
  • Overview of touring on glaciated terrain

Day 1

We depart from our Seattle office at 6am and drive for 3 hours to the Mount Baker trailhead. We’ll stop along the way for coffee and a grab-and-go breakfast. We will drive up through the town of Glacier, WA to the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead at 3,700 ft.

The approach to our camp is 2,500’ – 3,000’ of elevation gain and takes four to six hours. Approach conditions vary from year to year and can even change significantly in a week. Some trips we will be able to skin from the trailhead, others we wear trail shoes and carry our skis and boots until we hit consistent snow cover.

We will travel from thick forest to a camp location in open alpine terrain, taking short breaks each hour of uphill travel. Once we establish camp at around 6,000 ft near the edge of the Coleman Glacier, we will take time to cover Leave No Trace principles. We’ll aim to sneak in an end of day ski run before settling down for hearty dinner and shuteye.

Skills highlighted today:

  • Trailhead safety check
  • Nutrition, hydration, pressure breathing, and temperature management
  • Maximizing efficiency in backcountry uphill travel (kick turns, heel risers, and breaking trail techniques)
  • Route finding
  • Avalanche hazard recognition
  • Camp craft
  • Glaciated ski mountaineering techniques
  • Descending techniques for skiing/riding in the backcountry

Day 2

: A successful ascent and ski descent of a glaciated mountain like Mount Baker requires a diverse skill set. Depending on conditions, we may need to ascend the final push to the summit on foot instead of skinning, and all team members must be able to travel safely both in and out of skis/splitboards. To ensure we have these skills down, we will spend this morning learning safe and efficient steep snow and glacier travel skills, including crampon technique, ice axe usage, and self-arrest.

In the afternoon, we will don our harnesses and head out for our first glaciated ski tour. Guides will instruct on ski/splitboarding techniques for ski mountaineering, including the nuances of skiing on a glacier and how to use ski crampons. Our goal will be to make a 2,000’ powder run back to camp. Once back at camp we will brief on the route to the summit. We will have dinner, prepare for summit day, and get some rest.

Skills highlighted today:

  • Crampon techniques for boots as well as skis/splitboards
  • Ice axe usage & self arrest
  • Glaciated ski mountaineering techniques
  • Descending techniques for skiing/riding in the backcountry
  • Efficient transitions

Day 3

Unlike summer ascents of Mount Baker where we get up pre-dawn to climb, our departure time will vary based on conditions. Warm temperatures overnight will necessitate an early start whereas cold frozen conditions on the upper mountain call for a later departure so we have soft snow on the descent.

After a quick breakfast, we depart camp on skis and skin up the Coleman Glacier. The route will take the team 3-4 hours through and around crevasses until hitting the base of the Roman Wall, the final steep climb to the summit of Mount Baker. This major feature on the west side of the mountain is shared by the Easton and Coleman Glaciers and is usually the transition point where skis go on our packs and boot crampons go on our feet. After a final 1,000’ of elevation gain, we hit the summit plateau and make the short traverse over to the true summit.

Unlike standard mountaineering ascents where the descent on foot can be a tedious affair, we strip the skins from our skis and prepare for a 5,000’ ski run.  From the summit, we navigate the steep entrance to the Roman Wall, which has short sections of terrain up to 35 degrees. Below the Roman Wall we can open up our turns and enjoy the thrill of skiing a big, glaciated mountain. Once back at camp we bask in the glory of our descent and enjoy the view of our tracks snaking down the glacier above. Once rested, we’ll pack up camp and make our way back to the trailhead using a combination of skiing and walking depending on snow cover.  We’ll drive back to Seattle, stopping along the way for a celebratory meal.

Skills highlighted today

  • Our summit attempt allows us to implement and enforce all the skills we learned over the previous 3 days.
  • Terrain selection
  • Advanced ski / ride techniques
  • Group management

“Fantastic wilderness experience!  Mt. Baker feels like it’s a million miles from anywhere.”

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