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Author Topic: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit  (Read 6139 times)
Lowell_Skoog
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June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« on: 06/17/08, 12:07 AM »



Climbing the west ridge of Sherman Peak with the Black Buttes (Lincoln and Colfax Peaks) in the background.


In the spring of 1932, Ben Thompson, Don Henry and Darroch Crookes skied from Heather Meadows across the north side of Mount Baker to the Kulshan Cabin.  They packed a silk tent for three, down sleeping bags, a Primus stove, concentrated food for several days, ice axes, crampons and 100 feet of climbing rope for glacier skiing.  Their packs weighed about forty-five pounds.  After three days of unsettled weather, they arrived at Kulshan Cabin below Heliotrope Ridge in a storm.  Three days later, they left the cabin hoping to complete a counter-clockwise orbit around Mount Baker.  They circled west of the Black Buttes and crossed the canyon below the Deming Glacier to a camp near Easton Glacier.  On their eighth day, running low on food, they hoped to cross the south and east flanks of the mountain and ski all the way back to their starting point at Mount Baker Lodge.  Unfortunately, a thunderstorm forced them off the mountain, and they hiked out the Middle Fork Nooksack River 14 miles to civilization.

Although they failed to complete the orbit, their adventure was a tour de force.  It preceded by two years the first ski encirclement of Mount Hood by Ralph Calkin and James Mount of the Wy-east Club.  It also preceded the 1934 traverse from Paradise to the White River around Mount Rainier by Otto Strizek, Orville Borgersen, and Ben Spellar.  Both the Mount Hood and Mount Rainier traverses were skied as fast, one-day trips.  The 1932 Mount Baker traverse was more remote and strenuous, requiring snow camping and skiing with multi-day packs.  The trip was a half-century ahead of its time in the Cascades.

It is unlikely that the ski orbit attempted by Ben Thompson and his friends has ever been completed.  In fact, the only ski encirclement of Mount Baker that I know of was made just five years ago by Matt Peters, Josh Stern, and Jim Cronan.  They completed a shorter orbit of the mountain at a higher elevation.  Starting from a camp on Heliotrope Ridge, they climbed to Colfax saddle then made a long descending traverse across the Squak and Talum Glaciers to cross the Boulder-Talum cleaver southeast of Sherman Peak.  They descended below the Boulder-Park cleaver then made two more climbs and one more descent before reaching Bastile Ridge between the Mazama and Roosevelt Glaciers.  A crossing of the Roosevelt and Coleman Glaciers returned them to their camp 13 hours after leaving it.



Upper left: Ross admires firnspiegel and ski tracks on the Coleman Glacier in the morning.  Upper right: Crossing the Deming Glacier toward Sherman Peak.  Lower left: Benj and Ross ski roped down the Mazama Glacier past to the Dorr Fumaroles, site of Ben Thompson's second camp.  Lower right: David views the Roosevelt Glacier headwall from Bastile Ridge.


On Saturday, June 14, Ross Freeman, David Perez, Will Silva, Brian Smith, Benj Wadsworth and I drove as far as we could up the Glacier Creek road.  We were stopped by snow about 1-3/4 miles from the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead.  We bivied next to our cars and started out on foot and by ski around 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning.  When we reached the trailhead, we followed the Grouse Creek route, skiing through the woods due south of the Forest Service outhouse and climbing a big, open basin to the north shoulder of Heliotrope Ridge around 6400ft.

We rested, put on sunscreen and harnesses, and continued up the Coleman Glacier to Colfax saddle, where we met many climbers and skiers.  Since we hoped to complete the orbit in one day from the cars, and since none of us had climbed Sherman Peak before, I plotted a route that would take us to the summit of that peak and might offer a more efficient traverse route.  After an early lunch, we crossed the Deming Glacier, which was still hard snow.  We didn't rope up because the snow bridges were still frozen and it would have been hard to stop a slip without some sort of belay.  Around noon we reached the summit of Sherman Peak and enjoyed its unique view of Lincoln, Colfax, and Grant Peaks and the Sherman Crater (top photo).

From Sherman Peak, Will headed back toward Colfax saddle.  (He tagged the summit of Mount Baker along the way.) The rest of us skied the northeast flank of Sherman Peak to the crater outlet. We began traversing the Boulder Glacier at about 9300ft.  East-facing slopes had been softened by the sun, so we roped up in two teams.  Over the next hour and a half we made fast progress, wending a route that led right where we wanted to go without climbing or backtracking.  The terrain seemed to pass effortlessly.  We descended to 7800ft to pass the cleaver northeast of the Cockscomb.  Here we found the Dorr Fumaroles, the seldom-visited "north crater" that was Ben Thompson's second camp during his 1932 traverse.  By holding a level contour we reached the 7600+ foot crossing of Bastile Ridge without using skins.

Since it was only 2:30 in the afternoon, we treated ourselves to a one-hour break in the sun.  We skied good corn snow down and across the Roosevelt and Coleman Glaciers and rejoined Will on his return from the volcano's summit.  Again we were able to traverse efficiently and we reached the 6400-ft shoulder above Grouse Creek without using skins at all since the summit of Sherman Peak.  Continuous snow, with just a few short carries on the road, returned us to the cars at 5 p.m.

The Mount Baker orbit is remarkable trip.  Taking advantage of ideal conditions, we completed the loop with just one ascent on skins.  The nearly ten-mile spiral descent (turns, gliding and striding) from Sherman Peak to the car was a delightful surprise.  For those who like the notion of going places on skis, this is a classic tour.



David approaches the Mazama-Roosevelt saddle with Mount Shuksan in the distance. From the normal trailhead our route involved about 6800ft of climbing and 17 miles round trip.



« Last Edit: 06/17/08, 10:28 PM by Lowell_Skoog » Logged
Pete A
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #1 on: 06/17/08, 07:42 AM »

getting all the way around Baker with a single ascent and a 10 mile long glide must've been a blast!  great photos! 
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Stugie
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #2 on: 06/17/08, 08:08 AM »

It would have been great to meet you up there!  Nice tour, and what a weather window!
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"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals; the houses where I practice my religion." - Anatoli Boukreev
Marcus
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #3 on: 06/17/08, 08:26 AM »

Great stuff Lowell, thanks for posting the details of both the old and new orbits...
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brownc9
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #4 on: 06/17/08, 09:03 AM »

Incredible.
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Jason_H.
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #5 on: 06/17/08, 09:22 AM »

Nice trip. Seems like we thought alike for the weekend.
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Paul_Russell
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #6 on: 06/17/08, 09:29 AM »

Great trip, report and pics Lowell.  Glad it all went so well for you guys.  Was interested in your decisions to rope up (or not) for some of the glacier travel after all the recent discussions.  Nice choice to go to the top of Sherman.  Sounds like great potential for a Mt Paradisio style rando course?  Smiley
« Last Edit: 06/17/08, 11:16 AM by Paul_Russell » Logged
ski_photomatt
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #7 on: 06/17/08, 09:49 AM »

Great photos and trip report Lowell.  This is a huge improvement over our route.  Skiing from Sherman Peak to the trailhead without skins sounds dreamy!
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Telemonkey
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #8 on: 06/17/08, 02:48 PM »

Great effort - and cool pics!  Right on guys.
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Big Steve
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #9 on: 06/18/08, 10:06 AM »

Cool route and great job engineering a route with only one skin leg.  Wow.
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jd
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #10 on: 06/18/08, 11:58 AM »

Very cool. Did your left leg get more tired from all the side hilling?
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skierguitarist
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Re: June 15, 2008, Mt Baker High-Level Orbit
« Reply #11 on: 06/18/08, 04:10 PM »

Good on the engineering;  only one skin up...nice!!!!!!!!!!!!
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