Mt. Baker – North Ridge Climb
Considered one of the best snow and ice routes in the US, the North Ridge of Mt. Baker is a must do for climbers seeking a true alpine climbing experience on a big mountain.
The route involves multi-pitch snow and ice climbing up to 70° using two ice tools, with long portions of steep 40-50° snow climbing, and complex glacier travel. Combined with a generally long summit day, this Grade III route offers an excellent challenge for climbers looking to take their mountaineering experience to the next level.
Previous mountaineering experience is essential for the North Ridge, and previous ice climbing experience is recommended. It’s possible that on day 1 we’ll have the opportunity to practice some ice climbing technique in a nearby crevasse, but this is dependent on time of year and glacier conditions.
Mt. Baker’s North Ridge is sometimes compared to Mt Rainier’s Liberty Ridge, scaled down slightly, more accessible, and “in” condition for a longer season.
We guide the North Ridge at a 2:1 ratio.
We meet at the Glacier Public Service center in Glacier, WA for introductions and a gear check. After securing our permits we drive up to the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead where our approach begins.
The approach takes us through old growth forest, sub-alpine transitional zones, and up onto glacial moraines. Here we’ll place our camp next to the Coleman Glacier, at around 6,000’.
After setting up camp, we spend the rest of the afternoon reviewing climbing techniques necessary for this route. We eat dinner on the early side, finalize our preparations for an early start, and head for bed.
DAY 2 – CLIMB
After a quick breakfast and final preparations, we set off from our camp with a pre-dawn alpine start. The
It’s a long traverse through a maze of crevasses on the Coleman Glacier to get to the base of the North Ridge, and once there we’ll select one of two variations onto the ridge proper. At around 9000’ the ridge narrows and steepens. Above this point is the defining feature of the route, a 65-70° step of alpine ice, which we climb in 2-3 pitches (longer late season). From here it’s sustained 45-50° snow and ice offering dramatic exposure in an unbelievable setting. Once we top out on the route it’s a short walk to the summit.
On top we’ll snap a couple summit photos, take a short break, and prepare for our descent. Rather than down climb the steep terrain of the North Ridge we’ll return to camp via the Coleman-Deming route.
Back at camp we enjoy a nice dinner, relax for the evening, and reflect on a big day.
DAY 3 – WALK OUT
After breakfast we descend to the trailhead.
MT. BAKER – NORTH RIDGE CLIMB
Specific examples of items on this list (guide favorites) can be found on the Gear Recommendations page.
In addition to the items on this list, participants will be given a portion of the group equipment to carry.
PACK & SLEEPING SYSTEM
☐ BACKPACK: 50-75 liter internal frame pack.
☐ SLEEPING BAG: Rated between 0° and 20°, down or synthetic. RENT
☐ COMPRESSION STUCK SACK: Sized appropriately to your bag.
☐ (1-2) SLEEPING PAD(S): We recommend bringing one closed cell foam pad, and one inflatable pad. One of your pads can be 1/2 or 3/4 length and the other a full length.
☐ TECHNICAL MOUNTAINEERING AXE: We highly recommend a 55-68cm hybrid mountaineering axe. This is different from a standard mountain axe, characterized by a semi curved shaft and more aggressive pick (ex: Petzl Summit or Black Diamond Venom). RENT
☐ 2nd ICE TOOL: 50-55cm hammer recommended (ex: Petzl Sum’Tec Hammer or Quark Hammer). RENT
☐ TETHERS/UMBILICALS or LEASHES: We highly recommend umbilicals such as the Black Diamond Spinner Leash (available to rent) as they allow for leashless climbing without the risk of dropping a tool. Standard leashes are also an option. RENT
☐ CRAMPONS: 12 point steel mountaineering crampon. Avoid waterfall ice crampons with fully rigid frames and vertical front points, as well as older crampons with leather straps. Make sure that your crampons are compatible with your boots (ex: Petzl Vasak). RENT
☐ HARNESS: Alpine harness with adjustable leg loops. For safety reasons, your harness needs to be less than 10 years old and in good condition. Be sure to check the fit of your harness. RENT
☐ (2) LOCKING CARABINERS: Pear shaped recommended.
☐ (3) NON-LOCKING CARABINERS: Wire gate recommended.
☐ DOUBLE LENGTH SLING: 120cm length (ex: Petzl Fin’Anneau).
☐ BELAY DEVICE (ex: Petzl Reverso 4).
☐ CLIMBING HELMET: Needs to be climbing specific. RENT
☐ TRANSCEIVER: Modern, digital transceiver, preferably less than 5 years old. A 3-antennae model is highly recommended. RENT
☐ POLES: Ski poles or trekking poles with powder baskets. RENT
☐ MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS: Boots must be specifically designed for mountaineering (ex: La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX).
☐ GAITERS: Provide a clean interface between your pants, boots, and crampons.
☐ SOCKS: 2-3 pairs (wool or synthetic) that fit well with your boots, keeping in mind that warmth comes from good circulation, not necessarily heavier socks.
☐ SUNGLASSES: Glacier glasses or dark tinted wrap-arounds, should have full UV protection. Consider bringing an extra pair. RENT
☐ WARM HAT: Fleece, wool or synthetic.
☐ SUN HAT: Baseball cap, visor, etc.
☐ FACE PROTECTION: Buff® recommended.
☐ LIGHT GLOVE
☐ MEDIUM GLOVE: Should be wind and water-resistant; think ski glove.
☐ EXTRA PAIR
There are many layering combinations for your upper body that will work well. Use the following recommendations as guidelines:
☐ BASELAYER TOP: Light to medium weight synthetic fabric.
☐ (1-2) INSULATING LAYERS: Fleece, softshell or synthetic/down. Two lighter layers are more versatile than one heavy layer.
☐ HARDSHELL JACKET WITH HOOD: Lightweight and waterproof.
☐ SYNTHETIC OR DOWN INSULATED JACKET
☐ BASELAYER BOTTOMS (OPTIONAL)
☐ SOFTSHELL CLIMBING PANTS: Lightweight, breathable synthetic fabric. Zip-off trekking pants also work.
☐ HARDSHELL PANTS: For adverse weather. These must have full side zips.
☐ (2) HEAVY TRASH BAGS: Cheap lightweight waterproof lining for your backpack.
☐ SUNSCREEN: SPF 30 or greater, avoid spray on.
☐ LIP BALM
☐ WATER BOTTLE(S) or HYDRATION SYSTEM: Should have a screw top (no bike bottles); hydration system should have an insulated tube.
☐ WATER PURIFICATION TABLETS or STERIPEN
☐ THERMOS (OPTIONAL): Half-liter size recommended.
☐ COMPACT CAMERA
☐ EXTRA BATTERIES: For your transceiver (usually AAA), headlamp, camera, etc.
☐ HEADLAMP: LED headlamp recommended. RENT
☐ SEE DETAILS
☐ INSULATED MUG
☐ (2) SPOONS or SPORKS
PERSONAL FIRST AID/TOILETRIES
Guides will carry a well-equipped group first aid kit.
☐ PERSONAL TOILETRY KIT: Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper and/or baby wipes, gender specific items, small bottle of hand sanitizer.
☐ PERSONAL FIRST AID KIT: Band-Aids, blister repair, anti-diarrheal (Immodium), antacid, ibuprofen or aspirin, as well as any personal prescription medications (be sure to discuss these with us).
☐ EAR PLUGS
☐ CHEMICAL HAND WARMERS
☐ BOOK or KINDLE
☐ JOURNAL W/PENCIL
We will provide all necessary group equipment for you trip such as tents, stoves, ropes, and rescue gear.
- Previous mountaineering experience, including steep snow climbing, is required for the North Ridge of Mt. Baker. Good prerequisites include the Alpine Mountaineering Course, Mt. Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier or Fisher Chimneys, Mt. Olympus, or Mt. Rainier.
- Previous ice climbing experience is recommended.
Summit day on the North Ridge can be quite long (12+ hours). Excellent physical fitness is required for this route, and physical conditioning should not be underestimated. Some sort of training/exercise regimen leading up to the trip is essential.
You should be able to hike/climb 1-2 hours at a stretch, taking 10 minutes breaks, for up to 12 hours. In addition, you should be able to ascend 3,000′ vertical feet in a day carrying 50+ lbs on your back, and 5000′ in a day carrying 30 lbs.
- Guiding and instruction
- 2:1 ratio
- Group equipment including tents, stoves, fuel, ropes
- Permit costs
- Lodging and transportation before and after the trip
- Personal equipment and food*
*provided for an additional fee.
Lunch Food: In the mountains, “lunch starts after breakfast and ends before dinner”. In other words, on a given day we generally won’t stop for a formal lunch break, and instead we’ll snack all day long. This is vital to maintaining high energy levels in this environment.
Be sure to bring foods that you like and emphasize variety. Energy bars and gels are great but in limited amounts – real food works just as well and tastes better.
Breakfasts & Dinners: Bring meals that can be cooked with just boiling water. Examples include freeze-dried pouches (Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry), ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, etc. The stoves we’ll use are very efficient for heating water but terrible for actually cooking anything.
WHERE TO MEET
Glacier Public Service Center, just east of the town of Glacier, WA on the Mt Baker Highway (Hwy 542).
Address: 10091 Mt Baker Hwy
From Seattle: 2.5 hrs
From Bellingham: 55 min
Flights: Fly in to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. If you intend to fly out on the last day of the program, be sure to schedule an evening flight departing no earlier than 8pm.
Car Rental: Renting a car in Sea-Tac tends to be the easiest option for ground transportation. Let us know if you’re interested in carpooling with other participants on the program and we might be able to help with arrangements.
We recommend staying in Bellingham, WA for this program. Options for accommodations and food are plentiful and it’s less than an hour drive to Glacier, WA where we’ll meet on the first day.
We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance for your program. Note that many plans require you purchase insurance within 21 days of your initial deposit.
- Selected Climbs in the Cascades: Volume 1 by Jim Nelson and Peter Potterfield
- Cascade Alpine Guide Volume 3: Rainy Pass to Fraser River by Fred Beckey
“I have spent some of the most exciting and inspiring days of my life with Pacific Alpine Guides, including an awesome ascent of Mt. Baker’s North Ridge. Our guides kept us safe while challenging us to test our limits and develop our skills, and the rewards were a spectacular climb and great summit!”
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