Late Season on Mt. Baker (Easton Glacier)

Page Type
Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Aug 24, 2018
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Late Season on Mt. Baker (Easton Glacier)
Created On: Sep 6, 2018
Last Edited On: Sep 6, 2018

Approach 8/23

We arrived at the Park Butte trailhead at approximately 12:30PM on 8/23/2018. Our objective was to establish a high camp near the foot of the Easton glacier at approximately 6,500 ft. THe hike from the trailhead is quite straightforward until you reach the glacier’s moraine. You begin with a leisurely hike through the forest which transitions as you reach the railroad grade. The trail becomes steeper as you follow the railroad grade on an easy to follow trail along the ridgeline. Eventually you reach a moraine field with various cairns marking a decent path through the rocks. Soon we passed Sandy Camp at about 3:30PM (image below) which is the main camp for the Easton Glacier.

Sandy Camp
Sandy Camp

We continued past Sandy Camp approximately 500 more vertical feet before reaching the portal. There were a few decent spots to camp. We snagged a spot close to the glacier at around 4:00PM. It took us about 3.5 hours from the parking lot to our campsite.

Camping at the portal
Camping at the portal

As climbers descended we were able to get some beta: the route was in passable condition but some of the snow bridges were marginal. We were also told that there was a crevasse that a group had to jump across. They told us they placed a picket before that crux section on the way up but not on the way down. Based on this information we decided to wake up early (2:30AM) to start by 4AM so that we could be heading down before conditions deteriorated in the afternoon sun. We also heard that there might be some weather coming in so figured we might be able to miss that with an early start.

Summit day 8/23

We woke up at 2:30AM and opened the tent door to a depressing sight: we were in the middle of a pretty bad whiteout. We got out of the tent and flipped on our headlamps to go to the bathroom. We didn’t walk far from our tent but when we turned around the tent was swallowed in the whiteout. We decided that visibility was too poor to make a move so we crawled back into the tent.

We checked the weather again at 3:30AM. Same thing. 4:30AM. Same thing. We decided that our climb was not happening and switched off our alarms and went back to sleep, figuring we would descend later in the day.

At 6:00AM we heard some noise from near the tent. A large guided group from the American Alpine Institute was roping up on the snow 15 yards from our tent. We got out of the tent and saw blue skies. We decided to get ready to climb! We knew that we would be getting a late start and that we risked facing deteriorating conditions later in the day. That said, we decided we would rather climb part way in good weather then turn back than go home without stepping foot on the glacier.

We roped up and left our camp at 7:15AM. After a small rock scramble at the base of the glacier a few hundred yards above the portal we were able to mount the glacier. The glacier was intensely cut up with small crevasses at its base but they were easily visible as it was mostly bare glacier. Soon (within 1000 vertical feet) we ascended past the bare glacier onto snow and could follow a well defined boot pack. There were many marginal snow bridges to cross over fairly narrow crevasses. The majority of these crevasses would be easily passable even if the snow bridges failed.

We reached a minor ice fall which was roughly 2000 vertical feet from the portal and reached the first crux of the climb. We walked onto a fairly wide bridge with crevasses on either sides. The trail continued across a gap--this is what the other climbers had warned us about.

Protecting the gap
Protecting the gap

We placed two pickets before the gap spread fairly far apart so we could have as much rope running through protection as possible before the leader jumped across. He made it across fairly easily then set up similar protection on the other side so the follower could remove the first set of pro and continue across the bridge.

We then quickly encountered the second crux, a 10 foot nearly vertical wall of ice and neve surrounded by crevasses.

Short ice/neve wall
Short ice/neve wall

The leader front pointed up this small wall and placed an ice screw at the top to protect the follower. On the way down we reversed this, with one exception: once the leader was down he placed a picket since if the follower fell down climbing he would likely land in a crevasse:

Protecting the down-climb
Protecting the down-climb

As we exited the icefall we encountered low angle climbing on bare glacier for about 100 yards. Since the runout was into a crevasse this was a “no fall zone” but was not challenging climbing. The remainder of the climb to the summit was fairly non-eventful minus periods of marginal visibility. We saw other groups using running protection with pickets on the roman wall but didn’t feel the need to do the same.

Climbers descend the Roman Wall
Climbers descend the Roman Wall

We summited around noon, snapped some photos at the top, and ate some food. Despite not intending to stay on the summit for long, we were up there for nearly an hour. We did not begin our descent until after 1pm. We followed the same route down as we took up and found that the snow conditions had deteriorated but not enough to do more than simply slow our progress. We reached our camp at about 6pm, spent the night, and hiked out in the morning.


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