Mount Baker's Park Glacier Headwall route boasts one of the most scenic approaches to any route on the mountain. It starts from Artists point, the very end of the Mount Baker Highway and offers stunning views into both Mt Shuksan and Mount Baker. This is among the most scenic spots in the Cascades that one can drive to, certainly rivaling the beauty of Cascade Pass and Paradise. The approach starts high and stays high, following Ptarmigan Ridge crossing deep, green valleys, lunar landscapes, and small glaciers. The approach would make a fine day hike in its own right.
Although not as continuously steep as the North Ridge or the Coleman Headwall, the route offers challenging route finding and steep snow and ice for several pitches, making it one of the few technical routes on the mountain. The high camp for the route is another reason to go: perfect sand tent sites with running water in the midst of expansive glaciers. Five star luxury camping! The approach and route are long for Mt Baker so expect to take 2 long days at least. Three days would be more leisurely.
Mt Shuksan from Artist's Point
Ptarmigan Ridge Trail
Drive highway 542 (Mt Baker Highway) to its very end at Artists Point. The road doesn't melt out until late in the year so plan accordingly. From Artist's Point hike the Ptarmigan Ridge trail 5 miles to past Camp Kiser, a lunar landscape which does not invite one to linger. From Camp Kiser drop down on snow to the climber's right to below the ridge line and traverse until a rocky saddle where you can pop over to the left side of the ridge. Traverse cliffs on the left, dropping onto the Rainbow Glacier eventually climbing up to the Park Glacier. At the the toe of the rock ridge you have been following, climb onto the ridge and find flat, black sand camp sites among the rocks. Hiking at a moderate pace with a few short rests we took 5 hours to reach high camp.
Sunrise on Mt Shuksan from high camp
From camp the route goes up towards the obvious headwall. In early August when we climbed it we found numerous, large crevasses which made for a longer, circuitious route. In fact route finding around the many large crevasses was the crux of the climb. We had to backtrack several times which ate up time.
Crevasses on Park Glacier
Make sure to get an early start to account for route finding also realizing that this side of the mountain gets sun early and all day turning the snow into mush.
Climbing on the Park Glacier
Once below the headwall you will need to find a way across the bergschrund. This will dictate your route on the upper mountain. We were able to gain the face of the right hand ridge and climb three 50 meter ice pitches to the ridge crest which we followed to the summit.
Climbing the 50 degree ice headwall
To descend we retraced our steps, down climbing the icy rige protected by a running belay with screws. We made five 25 meter rappels down the face on V-threads. Early season the face may be snow which could more easily be downclimbed.
Climbing the headwall
We each used a pair of ice tools, 5 ice screws, 2 pickets, a 50 meter rope, lots of perlon for v-threads and standard glacier gear. Helmets and crampons are also necessary. The camp site has room for many tents.
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