Andy: The North Ridge on Baker: The perfect route for people who aren’t that great at ice climbing, but want to climb something more than steep snow in the mountains. It was as perfect fit for us! The North Ridge is a pretty direct route, which is nice for those of us that want to do it in day and it provides some wonderful climbing on a mountain that can feel much bigger than the elevation would have you believe.
We started from the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead, which is also the launching point for the Coleman-Deming route, accessed from Forest Service road 39. Heading east on 542, this road is also labeled as Glacier Creek Rd and you will probably see the sign for road 37 before you see where road 39 branches off. Standard sedans can make it up this road, but something with a little more clearance and a suspension made for rough-roads will make the 8 mile drive more pleasant.
The alarm was set for 2:00am and we were on the trail with the GPS ticking at 2:27am. The approach trail is well marked and steep with plentiful roots, rocks and big steps. There are two distinct stream crossings. We found both to be easily navigable by stepping between rocks or balancing across logs, but I could see how these would be significantly more difficult early in the season or after a heavy rain. In the dark, we didn’t quite see the trail signs and followed the Heliotrope Ridge trail left, until it hit the snow about 3.4 miles in, at about 5,700’. There is at least one sign that indicates a branch in the trail, with the climbers trail leading right (south), but we stayed climbers left which actually turned out to be a more direct route towards the North Ridge.
The Coleman Glacier was in pretty good shape, with minimal crevassing which allowed us to move fairly directly towards the ridge. We observed two parties swinging wide around the left side of the toe of the ridge, which is a good option for mellower angles and less rockfall potential. We opted to take a short but steep chute onto the ridge, observing no rockfall and finding firm snow. The ridge lead quickly to the base of the ice cliff, which we surmounted on center right, above some exposed rocks. There was a very large party (7 people?) clogging up the left option, but it looked like a myriad of options existed along the wall, depending of the desired spiciness level. We did a couple moves that might have been close to AI3, but most of the climbing was very casual and protected well with screws.
Above the ice cliff, the angles eases and steep snow leads to the broken precipice at the top of the ridge. We passed around the ice blocks and crevasses on the climbers left (east) and traversed over to the summit around 1:00pm. We skied sweet corn down the Coleman-Deming back to the trail, totaling 5,000’ of vert! We reversed our steps down the trail to retrieve ice cold beers we stashed near the trailhead and relished the sweet success of another fantastic day in the mountains.
Corie: Hiking up a trail at 2am with skis on our backs is always a nice way to wake up in the morning. Luckily, we'd had the forethought to bring lightweight trail runners which made the "techy in the dark" approach on dirt much more straightforward. We stuck on the trail until we hit enough snow to switch to ski boots (phew, a slightly lighter load!), stashed our shoes under a rock, and climbed up a mellow snowfield to a bench where we could survey the approach across the Coleman. It. Was. Warm. The extra layers would be remaining in my pack for much of the day.
Hiking up the last section of Heliotrope, we were greeted with views of the lower Coleman- big chunks of ice and a vast, broken-up glacier gradually faded into a snow-covered field with a few small breaks and a couple truly impressive gapers. We clicked into our skis, roped up, and started crossing the glacier, finding navigation to be very straightforward. The neat thing about this direct approach (the "complete" approach) was that there wasn't the typical marring of boot pack to ruin our views- we got to skin across virgin snow... at least for a few hundred feet.
The ice cliff was in our sights almost immediately and we made a bee-line straight for it. We made a couple of silly transitions, the most memorable of which involved Andy crossing a crevasses with just enough length on his skis to bridge the gap and then taking my skis from me while I put on crampons and jumped across the open space- I hate doing this. Shorter skis are great for me in most circumstances in the mountains but the lack of length cost us 10 or so minutes of transitioning. Ugh.
The remainder of the approach was fun and good snow made for quick travel. When we reached the final pitch below the ice cliff, a party above us was knocking down a lot of rock and ice. Looking at our different options, we elected to climb a section of mixed rock/ice that lead into what we were hoping was good AI- it looked maybe a little spicy but also super fun. We were able to take refuge beneath a large cliff band while we waited for the group above us to climb through the section they were in, pulled out gear, and got ready to transition into climbing mode. I lead us up to the base of the cliff, taking a steep ramp through a mix of rock, firm snow, and a bit of melty ice and Andy climbed up to me. He set off to get into the business of the route, climbing in and out of drips but finding good, solid, super awesome ice! I followed him up, enjoying good sticks, and we made our way up the final snow fields toward the summit, winding through 'the secret passageway' on the way up.
The skiing was incredible. I've never skied through an open field of crevasses before so we moved cautiously, getting info on the locations of the bigger gaps from folks who had skinned up the Coleman-Demming. The Roman Wall kicked ass- perfect skiing conditions and views for days! If I had any doubts in my mind about bringing skis along for such a long hike, they were quashed in those first few turns. We skied back to our shoes, enjoyed a nice lunch break, and gulped down freshly flowing glacier water (not the bottled nonsense) before hiking back out to the car. Also... I climbed and skied the entire route in these pants. So...
Start: Heliotrope TH: 3,700'
Elevation Gain: 7,080'
Time: 14:38 hours round trip
CalTopo GPS Track: https://caltopo.com/m/3MMT
(Download GPX and KML files here)
- 1.5 liters of water each
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 60m 8.5mm rope
- Harnesses & ATCs
- Crevasse rescue gear
- 2 pickets
- 6 ice screws
- Skis, AT Boots, Poles
- Crampons and two tools