Mount Baring is an attractive mountain for several reasons. It has a low elevation trailhead, a non-technical route, and I found lots of trip reports of early season ascents. Not to mention its massive local relief and sheer north face makes you pee your pants just a bit as you drive by it on Highway 2. So, taking full advantage of the fact that no one in my ragtag climbing threesome has a fixed job schedule, we took off on a Wednesday morning in late May to see what we could do. As usual I was the guide, armed with a topo map and about 10 trip report committed to memory.
We arrived at the sheet of ice covering the road at about 7am. That’s what’s been taking the place of the trailhead this year. We were maybe half a mile short of the real Barclay Lake trailhead. After a quick stroll, we took the obvious abandoned road off the right side Barclay Lake parking lot. We soon ran into a fresh avalanche across the overgrown road, complete with trees, rocks and plenty of snow. Within a few minutes the beginning of the climber’s path was obvious to the right. It’s where a small creek crosses the road and it’s marked with a cairn. The ground was free of snow and not too muddy.
This is where the pain starts.
We headed up, starting on the right side of the creek. It was a little brushy, but with how steep the trail was it actually helped to have something to grab on to. We crossed to the left bank, then back to the right relatively quickly. The path then angled up to the right away from the creek, meeting another creek further up.
This is where we got off the path. The inviting way was to cross this second creek and keep angling up to the right. We discovered on the way down that here you should go straight up and wind through the low cliffs. The path is hard to see looking up, but very obvious on the way down.
Anyway, so that detour put us onto some very steep and loose slopes where we discovered that ice axes can double as mud axes, root axes, or bio-mass axes. At one point Chris was pulling something out of his bag when his sunglass case slipped out and started rolling. The last thing we saw of it, it was flying into a bush 100 feet downhill at about 35 miles per hour and still accelerating. Oops.
We finally got some relief when we ran into some snow-fields that were steep but much easier going. Despite our detour we gained the ridge directly in front on the big blaze marking the correct path.
We had paid for our sins on those hellish mud slopes and were now reaping the sweet redemption of a tranquil stroll along the ridge. We had gotten above the remnants of the marine layer and were enjoying the views of Merchant and Gunn through the trees. We were on snow and there were no foot prints, but the ridge was easy to follow. I knew it would get cliffy and we had to drop to the right. I kept jumping the gun: “I don’t know guys, is that a cliff? We better start losing some elevation.” I kicked myself when we reached the real cliffs and I saw how painfully obvious they were. After a quick drop we were paying for those sins again, going straight up on snow, still in thick forest. There was nothing to navigate by here and the tree wells were deep and plentiful.
Finally we rounded a corner and the basin and gully opened up before us. The summit of Baring towered above. We decided to stop for a bite to eat. Next thing we knew, Chris had thrown off his bag, grabbed his camera, and was running around snapping pictures of everything and planning out poses. When we finally coaxed him back into his backpack, we headed up the gully. The snow was on the hard side so we left the crampons on. The views started opening up. After gaining the notch our mouths dropped a bit as we stared at the wall of ice we had to climb. I had heard talk about a seventy foot ice wall, but it just seems so much bigger when you’re at the bottom looking up. To make thing worse things were heating up and the snow on the south facing slope was getting soft. It was probably around 55 or 60 degrees of incline. It wasn’t quite as bad as it looked.
Once we were up that, we wound through some cliffs and trees and finally scrambled up to the summit. The views were amazing. The clouds from the Puget Sound were spilling up the Skykomish Valley and over Mount Index and Persis. Thunder clouds were building over the Monte Cristo range and Pilchuck was an island rising out of the clouds. More clouds were forming off the Snoqualmie crest, and Mount Daniel, Stuart, the Enchantments, and the Chiwaukum range were all clear and snowy. It felt like you could just hop across Barclay Creek to Merchant Peak. I wasn’t getting anywhere near the north face, but it was a long way down, trust me. We enjoyed some well-deserved summit snacks.
Once again it took a while to get Chris’s pack back on his back, but we eventually started down. Getting back into the notch was even hairier then getting out because the snow was softer. We glissaded down to the basin. Unfortunately, there were no more glissades after that: too many tree wells and too icy. It had rained while we were above the clouds and the lower parts of the trail were wicked muddy. At least the path was easier to follow on the way down. I witnessed my first ever self-arrest on mud; beautifully executed but not pretty nonetheless. When we finally arrived at the car it was 6pm. So six hours up, about an hour on the summit and four hours down. Ouch.
Although this hike kicked my trash a bit, I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a challenge, doesn’t mind having to hose off their gaiters, and has an understanding significant other who won’t murder you when you get home four hours later than you had said.
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