Redwic and I wanted to climb Baker via the Easton Glacier. Prior to June we assembled a team of 8 climbers, all experienced and very strong. Unfortunately, a long period of bad weather in early June derailed our plans completely. We lost all of our team members. It was nearly impossible to find other glacier climbers who could be available on such short-notice. If the storm ever broke, we might only have one day to work with, rather than the standard two day ascent. Could we travel the 16 miles and climb 7500 feet in a single day? Were we up to the challenge?
Potential Hazards Of The Easton Glacier
After another bad weekend (June 17,18) we noticed an upcoming weather window mid-week, just one day of clear skies, as we had suspected. Lucky for us, our supervisors at work were willing to cooperate. I contacted Joe (SP member Fjes6) and was happy to hear he had Wednesday off work. He asked if he could bring his friend Jeremy along.
The four of us set off from the cars at 8pm Tuesday night. We carried no tents or sleeping bags, no room for error. Our intention was to climb Baker in one long push. I estimated that we would reach the summit around sunrise, or thereafter, and then get down below the glaciers before the snow bridges started softening.
The first half-mile to the end of the road was still snowed in. Joe made a good recommendation for where we should cut up onto the Railroad Grade ridge. Part way up the ridge, the last light of day faded, and we switched to headlamps. We passed several groups of tents at the various camps and we later learned these were mostly students for the Alpine Ascents climbing course.
We roped up at Sandy Camp. Redwic was in the back, ready to initiate Z-Pulley if needed, while Jeremy and Joe, were in the middle. We followed tracks to around 8000 feet. I felt bad for the previous climbers when I saw the tracks end at 8000 feet. Judging from the depth of the tracks, it had been raining when they were here.
At 9500 Feet
We passed by a couple small crevasses off to the side, but so far they few and far between. Perhaps with all the June precip, there was still too much snow to see the majority of them. I said, "hey, maybe we won't see much in the way of crevasses". Then I immediately wondered if I shouldn't have said that. The tracks ended at the base of a steep incline. I started leading up the slope until I heard a strange tinkling sound. I immediately froze in my tracks. Something in the back of my mind told me I had heard that noise before, and it was bad thing. I took one more tentative step forward and then I could see it. I was on the very edge of a massive gaping maw, the largest I had ever been close to.
Lincoln Peak Alpenglow
The other side was at least 40 feet away. I couldn't see the bottom. The tinkling sound was caused by small icicles that were breaking off the underside of the lip. Someone down behind me asked "how does it look?". "It looks like shit!". They asked again, probably wondering if they had misheard me, and I said, "It looks really bad". I looked down at my feet and there was a large split in the snow that I hadn't seen at first. This whole lip could sheer off at any moment. I turned around and told the rope team that we needed to reverse direction. I told them to keep the slack out of the line. Redwic led the way back until we could try another way around the steep slope and giant crevasse.
South Twin And North Twin
We went to the right and passed between a series of very large crevasses. I wondered how Joe and Jeremy were feeling. This kind of thing can be pretty exciting/scary the first time. We continued to climb and had to cross over several smaller crevasses. Most of them were still covered enough that we could step from one lip to the other. Just after 4am there was enough natural light to see without headlamps. The crater was above us. We could see the gases pumping out and we could smell the sulfur on the wind.
Volcanic Gas Above
Alpenglow was now painting the peaks around us. The view of Lincoln and Colfax was especially good but we could also see the Twins, Glacier Peak, and Rainier very clearly. I was surprised about the lack of wind. We were over 9000 feet and the temperature was below freezing but very comfortable for climbing. At the rim of the crater we paused to absorb the ambiance while giant clouds of volcanic gas rose hundreds of feet above our heads.
Sherman Crater Rim
Beyond the crater we contoured the rocks and ascended far right of the Roman Wall. At this point I remembered my first ascent of Baker in 2006 and how the Roman wall had been icy and unsettling. But the snow conditions today were perfect, very firm but not the least bit icy.
We reached the summit around 8am. It was Jeremy and Joe's first volcano climb. A wonderful accomplishment! But this was also a historic moment for peakbagging in Washington State. At the summit Craig became the 10th person to complete the WA County High Points. But not only that. He also completed the WA County Prominence Peaks, the WA 25 Mile Isolation Peaks, and it was his 100th 2000 foot prominence peak. Pretty amazing if you think about it. I felt very proud of him and honored to be a part of this pivotal climb and several of the other challenging ones we had done together on those lists. I laughed out loud when he pulled out a bakers hat and put it on his head. Get it? A bakers hat on Baker.
Steep Slope Above Sherman Crater
We left the summit around 8:30am and followed our crampons tracks back down to where the deeper boot tracks were. The snow remained firm until that point but then it started softening up. Around 7500 feet we encountered some post-holing action which was discouraging now that the team was getting tired. At the camps we passed by several groups practicing various snow climbing and glacier travel techniques. It seemed a few of the new students looked at us longingly, jealously aware of what we had just done.
Redwic The Baker
Once we were off the glacier we untied from the rope. Joe and Jeremy went on ahead to meet us back at Joe's house to exchange gear. They were faster than us and we didn't want to hold them up. After a seemingly endless road walk, Redwic and I got back to the car around 2pm. It was hot and we were feeling exhausted after 18 hours of climbing. It was now approaching three full days without any sleep for me. Excitement and anticipation had kept me awake the night before this climb. On the way back to Mount Vernon I started hallucinating. I saw some very odd things on the side of the road. I stared at them hard, hoping that would make them go away, but they didn't disappear. I guess I was dreaming awake.