Ski Mount Baker – Guided Summit Ski Descent
Mount Baker is one of the best ski mountaineering objectives in the Cascades, offering long descents up to 8,000′ vertical feet, exciting glaciated terrain, spectacular views, and quite commonly, smooth corn snow.
Skiing Mount Baker, we typically take 3 days, on either the Coleman-Deming route on the north side of the mountain, or the Squak Glacier on the south side. Our first day we approach camp, and spend some time on skills training and review: ice axe arrest, roped travel, and techniques for skiing on a glacier. On day 2 or 3 we launch for the summit (depending on weather conditions). Both routes involve crevassed terrain, and 35°+ degree turns on the Roman Wall.
Participants should be advanced skiers or riders, comfortable in a variety of snow conditions on black diamond terrain. Snowboarders should be on a splitboard touring setup and have experience using their equipment.
DAY 1 – APPROACH
Coleman-Deming route: We meet in Glacier, WA at the Glacier Public Service Center.
Squak Glacier or Easton Glacier: We meet in Sedro Woolley, WA at the Park and Forest Information Center.
After introductions and a gear check, we drive to the trailhead and begin our approach to high camp. On either route, we typically camp somewhere above 6,000′ feet, the approach taking anywhere from 3-5 hours.
DAY 2 – SKILLS TRAINING, GLACIER TOUR
We spend the morning learning and reviewing basic ski mountaineering skills: transitions in glaciated terrain, ice axe and cramponing techniques, and roped travel. In the afternoon we head out on a glacier tour above camp, previewing the terrain for our ascent the next day.
DAY 3 – SUMMIT SKI DESCENT
With an alpine start, we eat breakfast, pack up, and begin our ascent. Depending on snow conditions we may utilize the rope on sections of the ascent. The terrain on Mt. Baker transitions from rolling and benchy, to a more consistent angle as we go higher. The Roman Wall is the steepest section (around 35° degrees) and we may opt to switch from skinning to cramponing for this section.
As we crest the expansive summit plateau and traverse towards Grant Peak, the views become more and more impressive. After some celebratory summit time, we click into our skis and begin a long descent back to camp.
Before we know it we’re back at our camp, in awe of how fast the down is relative to the up. We pack up camp and continue down to the trailhead.
MT. BAKER SKI DESCENT
☐ Skis with touring bindings – AT, tele, or splitboard: Your setup needs to be suitable for uphill touring and downhill skiing/riding.
☐ Boots: AT, tele or snowboard boots.
☐ Poles: Adjustable poles with powder baskets (ex: Black Diamond Traverse).
☐ Climbing skins: Fit to skis (ex: Black Diamond Mohair Mix).
☐ Ski crampons: Specific to your setup, these are essential for this program.
☐ Overnight pack: 45-70 liter internal frame pack (ex: Black Diamond Mission 75).
☐ Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic, rated between 0° and 20° F.
☐ Compression stuff sack: Sized appropriately for your bag.
☐ Inflatable pad: With a good warmth to weight ratio (ex: Thermarest Prolite Plus), a shorter size works will in tandem with a foam pad.
☐ Closed-cell foam pad: Additional warmth for sleeping on snow.
AVALANCHE SAFETY GEAR
☐ Transceiver: Modern, single frequency [457 khz] transceiver, preferably less than five years old. A digital 3-antennae model is highly recommended (ex: BCA Tracker 2, Mammut Pulse Barryvox, Peips DSP). RENT
☐ Shovel: Lightweight avalanche shovel. A metal blade and extendable handle are recommended (ex: G3 Avitech, BCA Companion EXT). RENT
☐ Probe: Dedicated probe, ski pole probes are not sufficient. RENT
☐ Ice axe: Lightweight 50-60cm mountaineering axe recommended (ex: Petzl Snowracer). RENT
☐ Boot crampons: 10 or 12 point mountaineering crampon, aluminum or steel (ex: Petzl Irvis). RENT
☐ Harness: Lightweight alpine harness with adjustable leg loops (ex: Petzl Adjama). For safety reasons, your harness needs to be less than 10 years old and in good condition. RENT
☐ (1) Locking carabiners: Pear shaped recommended (ex: Petzl Attache or Attache 3D).
☐ (1) Non-locking carabiner: Wire gate recommended (ex: Petzl Ange S or Ange L).
☐ Climbing helmet: Needs to be climbing specific (ex: Petzl Elios or Meteor III +). RENT
There are many possible layering combinations for your upper body. Use the following recommendations as guidelines:
☐ Baselayer top: Light to medium weight synthetic fabric (ex: Patagonia Capiline 1 or 2).
☐ (2) Insulating layers: Light fleece, softshell or synthetic layer (ex: Patagonia R1 Hoody or Guide Hoody).
☐ Shell jacket with hood: For wind, snow, rain, cold, etc.
☐ Puffy (insulated) jacket: Synthetic or down with a hood (ex: Patagonia Micro Puff).
☐ Baselayer bottoms: Medium weight (ex: Patagonia Capiline 2).
☐ Softshell pant: Light to medium weight (ex: Patagonia Alpine Guide Pants).
☐ Hardshell pant: Should have full side zips.
☐ Socks: 2-3 pairs. Wool or synthetic, they should work well with your ski boots. Keep in mind that warmth comes from good circulation, not heavy socks.
☐ Sunglasses: Glacier glasses or dark tinted wrap-arounds, should have full UV protection. Consider bringing an extra pair (ex: Julbo Dolgan).
☐ Goggles: Preferably with low light lenses (amber or rose) and UV protection (ex: Julbo Around Excel or Down).
☐ Warm hat
☐ Sun hat: Baseball cap, visor, etc – Weather dependent.
☐ Face protection: Buff® recommended.
☐ Light glove: For touring.
☐ Ski glove: Warm enough for sub-freezing temperatures.
☐ Heavy trash bags: Cheap, lightweight waterproof lining for your backpack.
☐ Sunscreen: SPF 30 or greater, avoid spray on (ex: Doc Martin’s of Maui).
☐ Lip balm: With SPF protection.
☐ Water bottles(s) or hydration system: Should have a screw top (no bike bottles); hydration system should have an insulated tube.
☐ Water purification tablets: Small bottle of iodine tablets or similar (ex: Potable Aqua). Avoid chlorine dioxide tablets as they are light sensitive and require 4 hours purification time.
☐ Thermos (optional)
☐ Camera: Don’t forget extra batteries.
☐ Watch: Altimeter recommended.
☐ Extra batteries: For your transceiver (usually AAA), headlamp, camera, etc.
☐ Headlamp (ex: Petzl Tikka XP2 or Tikka Plus). RENT
☐ See Details.
☐ Insulated mug
☐ Spoon or spork
PERSONAL FIRST AID/TOILETRIES
Guides will carry a well-equipped group first aid kit.
☐ Personal first aid/toiletry kit: Toothbrush, toothpaste, small bottle of hand sanitizer, gender specific items, ibuprofen or aspirin, any personal prescription drugs (please discuss with us).
☐ Repair kit: We suggest carrying a small repair kit with items specific to your ski or splitboard equipment. Extra parts, especially for bindings, duct tape, bailing wire, zip ties, etc.
☐ Wax: For skis and to prevent snow from glomming onto your skins.
☐ Whippet: Feel free to bring one if this is something you’re already comfortable skiing with.
We will provide all necessary group equipment for you trip such as tents, stoves, ropes, and rescue gear.
- For this trip you should be an advanced skier (comfortable on black diamond resort terrain).
- Some previous backcountry skiing, ski touring, and/or avalanche training is recommended but not required. If you are unsure of your qualifications give us a call or email us.
- Excellent physical fitness is required for this program.
- You should be able to ascend 3000′ in a day carrying 45+ lbs on your back, and 5000′ in a day carrying 30 lbs on your back.
- Physical conditioning should not be underestimated; the better shape you’re in, the more fun you’ll have.
- Guiding and instruction at a 4:1 ratio
- Group equipment: tents, stoves, fuel, ropes, and technical gear
- Permit and insurance 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
Coleman-Deming route: 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
Squak Glacier or Easton Glacier routes: Park and Forest Information Center in Sedro Woolley, WA. On the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) approximately 5 miles east of I-5. Address: 810 State Rte. 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284 From Seattle: 1.5 hrs, from Bellingham: 45 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.
Bellingham (Coleman-Deming route) and Mt. Vernon (Squak and Easton Glacier routes) both have a good selection of hotels. Bellingham is 55 minutes from Glacier, WA. Mt. Vernon is 20 minutes from Sedro Woolley.
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
- Climbing Washington’s Mountains by Jeff Smoot
- Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering by Martin Volkin, Scott Schell, and Margaret Wheeler
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