Overview & ApproachThe Boulder Glacier / Cleaver
route has much to offer; minimal crowds, fine sunrises, beautiful scenery, interesting climbing and 8000' of elevation gain. The Boulder has the lowest TH starting elevation (2700') of any of the climbing routes on Mt Baker. Some route-finding skills for both the approach trail and also the climbing route are needed. Strong climbers who are fortunate enough to have excellent conditions, and also going light, can do this car-to-car in about 10 hours; most of us mortals will want to do this as a two or three day trip.
Drive WA State Route 20 (the North Cascades Hwy) E or W to approx MP 82 and turn N onto the Baker Lake Road (FS Road 11) following it for almost 18 miles. After crossing Boulder Creek [bridge] park on the N side of the bridge, walk back and look uphill; you are looking at the Boulder Glacier flowing directly down the center of Mt Baker towards you, the Boulder Cleaver (and Ridge below) are on the right-hand side of the glacier. Return to your car and take the very next left turn W (uphill) onto signed FS Road 1130 and reach the intersection with FS Road 1131 in about 1 mile. Turn left onto FS Road 1131, continuing as far as conditions allow. The TH and Parking Area are at the end of the road. A Forest Service parking pass
is required on all vehicles (at the TH).
Forest Service Boulder Ridge Trail #605
starts [downhill] in an old clear-cut for ¼ mile then enters timber for slightly less then 2 miles (with very little elevation gain) to a Mushy Meadow, more of a boggy clearing. This is the proximate boundary of the Mount Baker Wilderness area and the end of the seldom maintained trail; from here on the path is Boot Beaten
. Cross the meadow and then start hiking, steeply uphill, along the Boulder Ridge (on your right).
The objective now is to access the upper ridge with as little bush-whacking as possible. At a point (about 1 mile) from the meadow you will find a section of low (Basalt) cliff, about 75' high. Here you must climb up and gain the crest of Boulder Ridge. Note:
This section involves some 3rd class scrambling; with overnight packs it is handy to rig a fixed line from anchor trees above and self belay with prusiks (up this pitch). Remember where you accessed the ridge in order to aid descent on your return
Once on top of the ridge continue NW above Boulder Creek. Hiking on the ridge is pleasant and open (though increasingly steep); views of both the route above and the surrounding mountains are fantastic. Suitable high camps can be found starting around 5200'
in elevation but a higher and more protected site is at the Toe of the Cleaver around 6800'.
From High Camp several lines of ascent are possible; ascend the Boulder Cleaver directly or traverse slightly WSW and then ascend the Boulder Glacier (beneath the Cleaver), both routes converge again above 9200’
. Negotiating the crevasses, on the Glacier route, is the chief obstacle for that choice. Climbing the Cleaver route is easier and provides about 2000' of elevation gain without the worry of crevasses. Once above the Cleaver negotiating the "Schrund" near 9800' is variable see here
. Around the schrund traverse obliquely W and up (this avoids the upper rock band directly below Grant Peak). After passing below the upper rock band a final slope leads to the summit plateau W of but close to Grant Peak.
Descend the route. White-out conditions can occur quickly (on the Mountain) and the route up or down can quickly be obscured, wands are necessary.
Glacier gear is required; pickets, prusiks, wands, ice axes, crampons and ropes. Ice screws (a few) and some rock protection for the upper ridge could prove handy in certain conditions (late in the season); also some extra slings for exit rappels.
In the section between the meadow and the Basalt cliff, avoid game trails (which lead down to the creek) and stay near the moraine crest (N) of Boulder Creek to the cliff band.
Weather & Avanlanche Conditions
Check with NOAA
for current weather conditions.
Check with NWAC.US here
or here (text)
for avalanche conditions.