My partner Alex had July 10th and 11th off, so we had been planning on climbing something during those two days. We spent Saturday texting back and forth trying to figure out what our objective should be. It was between the North Ridge of Baker and Liberty Ridge on Rainier. We decided that since we knew the North Ridge was in good shape and we only had two days, we decided on the North Ridge of Mt. Baker. Sunday night we drove to and camped in the Heliotrope Ridge parking lot. On Monday morning we slowly woke up and packed our bags. I had a new Arcteryx Bora 63 that I hadn’t used and never done the big backpack thing for mountaineering, so we loaded up extra stuff we didn’t really need including a books, a shovel, lots of yogurt and blueberries. About 2.5 miles of beautiful forests and streams took us to the Hogsback camp where there were lots of tents and people packing up after a successful day. We decided to rope up and continue up the snow to a campsite on rocks at about 2100m. It took us 3 hours with heavy packs to get to our camp.
On the way to our camp we were looking at potential routes for crossing the Coleman Glacier towards the North Ridge. Being new to glacier travel, I thought all the routes looked challenging and did not see where the route went that was labeled on our Green map.
In the morning we woke up and saw a party of two crossing the Coleman glacier towards the North Ridge much lower than the listed route on our map. This party had been camping a couple hundred feet from us, so we decided to give that lower route a go. After a while we started to notice the occasional old footprint which reassured us that this was the way. The route finding was much less complex than we thought based on the views from our camp. Fortunately there was no obvious footpath and I had to choose my own way around the crevasses with the occasional confirming crampon print from the party above us. A little before we arrived at the base of the North Ridge, a party of 4 AAI employees arrived below us. It looked like they had camped lower down near the 6,500 foot level and took a more direct bath than us towards the North Ridge. We opted for the Hour Glass start on the west side of the ridge as it was in the shade. It was quite easy snow at a reasonable angle. There was a bergscrund at the base which required a little bit of thought and care. Once on the ridge it was just a typical slog to the base of the ice cliff. To me there were three obvious routes up the ice cliff. One to the right which went up a scrambly rock section and then a very short and low angle section of ice, one of various steep lines up the center, or a low angle 30m looking section to the left where I believe most parties go. Being an ice climbing and not a mountaineer I decided to try for one of the steeper WI4 lines. In many sections the ice looked sun affected, but I thought Id be able to scrape off the top layer and find quality ice underneath. I got two good screws in and then about 50-60 feet up I tried to put in a screw and had to dig about 6 inches before I found some not good ice. I did not trust the screw at all. I moved over to the left and tried to get in another screw at a slightly different level, but I experienced the same thing. Above me the ice looked the same. Slightly over hanging and hard to protect. I decided that given our remote alpine environment backing off would be the best idea. There was no way I could get a quality V thread in the ice, and it was still too hard for a picket, so I left three screws with the hope that Id be able to lower in from the top and retrieved them. We started with 7 screws and I left behind three, so we had a total of 4 screws to use for the ice pitch. No problem. We headed over to the easier section of ice on the left hand side where it looks like most parties climb up. We started exchanging gear and Alex dropped a screw. We watched it tumble down the snow slope towards a large crevasse 90m below us. The whole time I was just hoping it would catch on a snow divet. Finally it caught and Alex quickly down climbed the 55m to the screw and back up. The ice section when quick and easy. The nice flat ledge I was hoping for on top of the ice cliff was a steep and doming snow slope spattered with baby crevasses near the cliff edge. I guessed on a location of my ice screws, made an anchor and had Alex lower me down to the cliff edge. I peered over the edge and to my surprise I saw the ice screws 10 feet to my left. I lowered down, retrieved the screws and climbed backup the steep, challenging and bulging ice.
Up some more steep snow and through a visually interesting ice fall area brought us to the summit where we ate summit yogurt and took in the sites.
A quite long and uneventful trip down the Coleman Demming route brought us back to camp and then the car.
If I were to do the North Ridge of Baker again I would revert to my normal style and do the route car to car with a small pack. The route is totally doable in a day for an efficient party. I would also consider trying to pass through the Coleman Glacier lower down than we did.