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Author Topic: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz  (Read 6335 times)
Jonn-E
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March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« on: 03/13/14, 12:27 PM »

I typically try to ski on my birthday, preferably in powder. Well I had a work trip scheduled this week, which forced birthday celebrations and my mandatory birthday ski back to Saturday, and led to this tour:
http://www.turns-all-year.com/skiing_snowboarding/trip_reports/index.php?topic=31067.0

One day into my work trip and it was unexpectedly terminated. On 3/11 I found myself back at home with proper birthday skiing back on the table. My buddy Dave and I had previously discussed attempting Baker during the next high pressure window and lo-and-behold the stars aligned to give a brief weather window, unexpected freedom from work, and partner who was also free and stoked to jump at the opportunity. 6 hours after the first phone call we were headed north in my kinda trusty kinda crusty camper van.

And then we got there.... except "there" happened to be a lot further from the mountain than we were hoping for! 1,700' elevation, not even 4 miles outside of Glacier. After hemming and hawing for a bit about the lunacy of what we were about to commit to, we agreed to follow blind ambition and go for it. Alarms were set for 3:00 am.

The next "morning" came too early. After a couple hours of headlamp tunnel-vision monotony, we arrived at the trailhead 2,000' higher wishing we were snowmobile owners. The skinning conditions were improved immensely by the fact that they actually groomed the road for smooth snowmobiling, but then again if it hadn't been groomed and compacted the road would have been driveable another mile or so. But then the skinning would be worse. We definitely had some time to contemplate these trade-offs! Moving forward, the transition for smooth sailing down the road and onto the trail was shocking. The "skin track" to get through the trees and into the Bruce Creek slide path can only be described as a dust-on-crust horrorshow. At least it's not that far.

Then it got steep. We needed to use ski crampons in the Bruce Creek drainage all the way up to the north-trending nameless ridge off Heliotrope, and it was quite the slog. Past a certain slope angle skinning efficiency actually goes down and we felt that inefficiency as we fought our way straight up out of Bruce Creek and into the alpine. Right as we crested that nameless ridge dividing Bruce Creek from the Coleman mega-circque the sun began it's rise and the results were spectacular:











And we gained some perspective on how far we'd already come:


After a quick rest and gear change to "day mode" we pulled ski crampons and headed across the flanks of Heliotrope Ridge to encounter increasing fresh snow from Monday night and increasing wind. Fortunately the wind wasn't strong enough to affect the snow much and there was only maybe 3 inches new, so we had no concerns about stability. Rounding the corner onto the Coleman Glacier we noticed the glacier had some crevasses showing on the route but was still very manageable. We were following a skin track apparently laid down on Tuesday by what appeared to be two splitboarders (FYI, if you are reading this I have part of a red boot buckle I found on the track!). Sunrise continued to produce inspiring vistas:





As we headed up the Coleman the suffering really began for me. I started running into my personal wall easier and easier as my legs felt the cumulative effect of a formula that goes something like (distance traveled) x (elevation gained) x (8 - [hrs. slept]) + (calorie deficit) + (hydration deficit x 2) = SUFFERFEST. I kept convincing myself I could go a bit further, and my partner Dave kept providing motivation at every stop by telling me it wasn't that much further to the col. The quality of the uphill skinning was actually really good with the exception of having to cross a very large slide that released from a Serac on the shoulder of Colfax, probably early on Tuesday. The hanging wall of the caved serac was at least 100' tall, and the debris field included chunks of blue glacial ice (a nice distraction from the unpleasantness of skinning through frozen debris). Sorry, no pictures of this. Frankly the camera stopped coming out because I was deeply focused on simply putting one foot in front of the other, and I was already the slow guy and didn't want to kill the pace further.

Down on the Coleman I vowed that I would make it up to the col for the day, and I did make it there. Once there promptly drank most of the rest of my hydration, ate most of my food, and laid down in the snow to nap, die, whatever. Even Dave was feeling badly worked at this point. After 15 minutes or so Dave said something to the effect of "come on man, we can do this". The weather was just too perfect for early March, and it was my birthday, so even though I was spent I agreed to try. We donned skis, turned the corner onto the Roman Wall, and promptly hit rime ice. Off went the skis and on came the crampons. Booting used different muscles, so I actually started putting one foot in front of the other a bit more successfully, albiet maybe only 20 times before I'd have to rest. A couple hundred feet above the col I slammed into my wall for what felt like the last time. It was time to institute my last trick, play Plan F, whatever you want to call it. I rummaged around my pack until I found the coveted Espresso Love Gu, snarfed it, put in the headphones, and cranked The Glitch Mob's new album: Love, Death, and Immortality. This made me go all Beast Mode or whatever you want to call it, and the next hour was a dark, angry blur of kicking steps, gritting teeth, swearing at myself, and occasionally trying not to puke.

And voila, just like that we were standing on the summit! Except we weren't, so we had to walk through the sulfur bowl over to the officially slightly-higher Grant's Peak. Except in retrospect we feel the snow dome is actually higher right now. Obligatory summit shots, taken on our knees because the wind was unexpectedly HOWLING.






(my camera was in a wrong mode or affected by the cold so these photos were way overexposed and required a lot of post-processing).

We expected it to be warm and calm in the alpine. Instead, on the summit the ambient temp was 18 degrees and we estimated the wind at 60 mph, giving a wind chill of about -8 to -25 depending on the formula you use. We had to get out of there fast or risk frostbite. Back on top of the Roman Wall the wind was still strong but manageable, so we transitioned and prepped for what was to be the longest ski descent of either of our lives.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-_V6IKoo80

The highlight of the descent was the Coleman Glacier, it never got warm enough to soften, never windy enough to pack down, and remained a creamy dreamy 3 inches of powder on a smooth base. Best glacier skiing I've ever had, felt like I was in Europe as we schussed effortlessly past seracs! The rest was skiing, with nothing terribly good or bad to say about it. We made it from the summit to the van in about 1.5 hours, a descent of 9,000 vertical feet.

Car to car was about 11 hours, total trip distance was 20 miles, and the vert was 9k as mentioned above.
http://www.hillmap.com/m/ag1zfmhpbGxtYXAtaGRychULEghTYXZlZE1hcBiAgICAxYKmCww

Food and beer at Graham's in Glacier never tasted so good! Huge thanks to my partner Dave who provided limitless stoke to make this happen, and see it through to the end. In good time he may have some fun stuff to contribute too. Finally, we saw no stability concerns whatsoever, it's very solid up there. If you are thinking of going, GO NOW!
« Last Edit: 03/19/14, 08:59 AM by Jonn-E » Logged
Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #1 on: 03/13/14, 01:56 PM »

The seracs have been busy lately, it would appear. Happy birthday!
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Jonn-E
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #2 on: 03/13/14, 02:08 PM »

Any idea when that was taken? The two we dealt with released from the shoulder of Colfax, with the bigger one mentioned in the TR closer to the col. However, our server at Graham's asked us about a serac fall that people had seen from town; I wonder if this was that.
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johndonee
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #3 on: 03/13/14, 03:01 PM »

Quote
I found the coveted Espresso Love Gu pack, ate that, put in the headphones, and cranked The Glitch Mob's new album: Love, Death, and Immortality. This made me go all Beast Mode or whatever you want to call it, and the next hour was a dark, angry blur of kicking steps, gritting teeth, grunting, and occasionally trying not to puke.
Effing hilarious!!!

Quote
...a creamy dreamy 3 inches of powder on a smooth base. Best glacier skiing I've ever had, felt like I was in Europe as we schussed past seracs. The rest was skiing, with nothing terribly good or bad to say about it. We made it from the summit to the van in about 1.5 hours, a descent of 9,000 vertical feet.
And this is why we do what we do Smiley Happy Birthday!
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hop
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #4 on: 03/13/14, 05:27 PM »

Rylan's photo was from Tuesday.  Not sure what time.  The debris field is visible from Glacier.
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It doesn't matter where you've been as long as it was deep.
Jonn-E
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #5 on: 03/13/14, 07:22 PM »

And this is why we do what we do Smiley Happy Birthday!

I actually stopped on the way down the Coleman as it hit me that I was actually enjoying myself, and quite a lot at that!  Once we were clear of the crevasses we opened it up and ripped some huge GS turns!
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Amar Andalkar
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #6 on: 03/13/14, 09:20 PM »

A couple hundred feet above the col I slammed into my wall for what felt like the last time. It was time to institute my last trick, play Plan F, whatever you want to call it. I rummaged around my pack until I found the coveted Espresso Love Gu, snarfed it, put in the headphones, and cranked The Glitch Mob's new album: Love, Death, and Immortality. This made me go all Beast Mode or whatever you want to call it, and the next hour was a dark, angry blur of kicking steps, gritting teeth, swearing at myself, and occasionally trying not to puke.

And voila, just like that we were standing on the summit! Except we weren't, so we had to walk through the sulfur bowl over to the officially slightly-higher Grant's Peak. Except in retrospect we feel the snow dome is actually higher right now.

Awesome trip and report Jonn-E, I admire your grit and determination, that's often what it takes up high at elevation to fight through and make it to the top in the face of adversity. Congrats on a well-earned birthday summit ski descent of Baker!

I think the summit dome is often essentially equal in elevation to Grant Peak (10781 ft mark), especially with a very deep seasonal snowpack, and may occasionally exceed it. The dome has a 10760 ft contour on the 1989 topo map, i.e. between 10760 and 10800 ft, and has basically an identical contour on newer digitally produced topo maps using DEM elevations instead of stereophotography. I measured the dome's elevation on November 23, 2013, before this season's heavy snow accumulation had really started, with a highly accurate GPS (Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx, which has typically been within about 1 meter / 3 ft of the correct elevation at almost every summit benchmark I've checked) and found it to be about 10758 ft as of then. It very clearly looked lower than Grant Peak that day. We did not bother going over to Grant Peak that day to check the GPS elevation at the benchmark, since it was 3:30pm by then, windy and cold, and the just over half-hour left till sunset was best used for skiing down the Roman Wall and the upper Coleman Glacier to reach safer terrain before dark. I may try to measure both the summit dome and Grant Peak on all my future Baker summits which have no fading daylight or high wind issues, since I'm usually up there 5+ times each year and I'm very curious about how the height of the dome varies, and whether it ever does actually exceed Grant Peak.

...on our knees because the wind was unexpectedly HOWLING.

We expected it to be warm and calm in the alpine. Instead, on the summit the ambient temp was 18 degrees and we estimated the wind at 60 mph, giving a wind chill of about -8 to -25 depending on the formula you use.

I'm wondering what forecast you used which showed calm winds up there (and warmth), since what you found up there matches the forecasts I looked at quite well, see below. I'm guessing that you looked at the NWS point forecasts? -- but those are not designed for use in the mountains (especially those with extreme relief like the Cascades), they are based on a grid interpolation and are intended for the flatlands where 99% of the US population lives. They do not accurately predict either winds (too low) or snowfall (often way over-predicted) at high mountain locations, especially on the volcanoes. Nor do they list the freezing level either, just a temperature (which is usually reasonably correct, but only at the elevation listed at the center of the grid quadrilateral shown on the map). I've been trying to make this issue more widely known in the backcountry skiing community, and strongly discourage anyone from using those point forecasts for mountain trip planning, since those inaccurate wind forecasts (always far too low) have contributed to numerous incidents and accidents (including fatalities) on Rainier, Hood, and probably other volcanoes too, when parties were trapped by "unexpected" high winds and whiteout, which were well-predicted in proper mountain forecasts. Really, the NWS should put a disclaimer to this effect in BOLD on the point forecast for every mountainous location. It is criminal to list inaccurately low winds, far better would be to not give winds at all.

Here are the better forecasts which were available as of noon on March 11:
The NWAC mountain weather forecast of March 11 (issued 7am, updated 2pm) predicted free winds at 9000 ft of WNW 20-30 mph in the North Cascades on Wednesday afternoon March 12, with the freezing level 8000 ft at midday decreasing to 6000 ft during the afternoon and evening. A freezing level of 8000 ft corresponds to a temperature of 22 F at Baker's summit (3.5 F per 1000 ft x 2800 ft = 10 F below freezing), and 6000 ft corresponds to 15 F up there. The UW model forecast (12 km, 700 mb, temps winds heights) from the morning of March 11 predicts a temperature of -5 C at 700 mb (approx 10000 ft) near Baker (i.e. 20 F at Baker's summit) at 2pm Wednesday March 12, with winds WSW at 25 knots (30 mph), and temps rapidly dropping by several degrees over the next few hours with winds increasing somewhat too. So the UW model and NWAC mountain forecasts are essentially identical for both predicted temperatures and wind speed.



But the wind must accelerate significantly in order to flow past large obstructions like volcanoes. My own (very rough) rule of thumb for high on the volcanoes is to multiply forecast free-air winds by a factor of 1.5 to get expected average winds up there, and a factor of 2 to get expected gusts. This is a good conservative rule of thumb. And those forecast winds are for 9000 ft (NWAC) and 700 mb (approx 10000 ft) for the UW model, so you have to add a bit more to account for Baker's extra elevation too. Based on a free air wind of 30 mph, my rule of thumb gives winds atop Baker averaging 45 mph and gusting to 60 mph, which matches what you found. The temperature you measured matches the NWAC and UW forecasts quite well too.

Hopefully this info will help you better predict expected winds and temperatures on future volcano summit trips.

By the way, the creek beside the trailhead is Grouse Creek.

« Last Edit: 03/13/14, 09:27 PM by Amar Andalkar » Logged

FairiesWearBoots
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #7 on: 03/14/14, 09:53 AM »

We watched two serac falls off baker around 3pm on Tuesday.
It was impressive!
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Daver
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #8 on: 03/14/14, 05:20 PM »

Thanks Johny for an awesome day out and sticking it through. The footage is below. Work was rough yesterday...

Dave.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmJASv__FEM
« Last Edit: 03/22/14, 09:21 PM by Daver » Logged
lrudholm
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #9 on: 03/14/14, 09:20 PM »

Well done!!!

Doing the road approach plus the rest of that mountain is quite the big day, but so worth it.
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Leyland
Jonn-E
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #10 on: 03/14/14, 09:39 PM »

Dave,
Awesome video! Glad you thought to bring and use it! I cringed when you hit the rime ice on the Roman Wall, and then again when you went into the frozen slide debris.

Amar,
thank you for the weather analysis, that really is helpful. I have never heard of multiplying free-air winds by 1.5 with gusts to 2x but that does seem to match up well. As you can see in Dave's video the wind is quite strong when we start at the top of the Roman wall, and lessens significantly below the col. I would say Grant Peak had winds that were 50% stronger than the beginning of the video.

I see those UW model forecasts on Cliff Mass' blog a lot but I can't figure out which ones to use for forecasting when I go the modeling website. If you understand these atmospheric models enough to make a little guide on how to navigate and pick the useful ones from the UW site I think that would be very helpful to the ski community. Just a request, if you got the time.

As for my fitness, I looked through my records tonight and this was my 15th volcanic summit. However, most of the others were classic 2-day trips without skis, and the numbers on this single day push were definitely superlative for me. Beyond the increased physical demand though, I feel that in pushing myself like this I found I have room for improvement concerning nutrition and hydration preparation, planning, and pacing that could improve my performance and enjoyment.
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Atraslin
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #11 on: 03/15/14, 09:55 PM »

Great place for a birthday.
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kciari
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #12 on: 03/17/14, 09:03 PM »

AWESOME Johnny! Although I'm not upset I missed this adventure. i will, however, always remember this math equation, as I think its entirely too perfect:


As we headed up the Coleman the suffering really began for me. I started running into my personal wall easier and easier as my legs felt the cumulative effect of a formula that goes something like (distance traveled) x (elevation gained) x (8 - [hrs. slept]) + (calorie deficit) + (hydration deficit x 2) = SUFFERFEST.
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peteyboy
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Re: March 12, 2014 Baker Birthday Blitz
« Reply #13 on: 03/19/14, 06:31 AM »

Right on fellas.  I'm so grateful for my winter Baker summit skis, but they are full on gnar missions.
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