Mt. Baker has the distinction of being the third tallest mountain in Washington and was once thought to be the most active volcano in the Cascade chain. (This was just prior to the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980!) Now, this massive snow and ice covered peak offers one of the best alpine training grounds for learning snow and ice climbing, glacier travel skills and as a place to prepare for higher peaks around the world.
The Easton glacier is considered to be one of the least technical routes on the mountain. Offering a wide and low angled glacier that runs uninterrupted to the summit, this can be one of the most direct lines on the mountain. For this reason it is also very popular as an early season ski or snowboard descent.
As with most volcano climbing, the key to success on this route is good weather and good endurance. While the climbing is not very technical, it does require over 7500′ of climbing from the trailhead and a long summit day with close to 5000 vertical feet of elevation gain.
Mount Baker is the quintessential Northwest volcano climb. It is typically done as either a 2 or 3 day outing, depending on previous experience. You will begin at the Schriebers Meadow trailhead on the south side of the mountain. The first day will involve hiking on a trail or on snow, depending on the time of year, up to the “railroad grade” – a lateral moraine named for its uniform slope, alongside the lower Easton glacier. From here will will locate our high camp at around 6000′ on the mountain.
The second day is spent covering the necessary skills that will be used climbing the mountain. These include efficient snow climbing techniques, use of ice axe and crampons, traveling as a rope team and self arrest skills. We will eat dinner and get to bed early on this night as we will be getting an alpine start to leave for the summit bid the next morning.
Day three typically begins sometime between midnight and 4 am depending on conditions. After roping up, we will begin ascending the glacier by headlamp and sometimes the light of the moon. Viewing the dark night sky and the Milky way from high on the mountain is an experience you will never forget. We take a well-deserved break at the summit crater (9700′), before making the final push up the Roman wall to the summit plateau. After the requisite summit photos, we retrace our steps back to camp. After a short nap, we will pack up camp and make our way back to the trailhead by mid-afternoon.
In the early season, this makes for a great one- or two-day ski ascent. This is ideal for those wishing to gain some experience in the ski mountaineering world.
- No previous climbing experience necessary
- Good physical fitness
While Mount Baker is very much a stand-alone peak, some climbers may wish to combine with an ascent of the Sulphide Glacier on Mt Shuksan to bag two of the Northwest’s most famous summits. Some climbers may want to move to the East side of the range to focus on alpine rock climbing, turning this into a well rounded alpine training program.