With all this nice weather we have been enjoying lately, Tundra and I got sucked into heading up Baker earlier than in previous years. Our plan was to go up and practice some glacier travel skills. We ended up parking about 1/2 mile down from the trailhead because of snow on the road although I'm sure a vehicle with high enough clearance could make it the whole way. A van driven by our American Alpine Institute friends gave us a short lift to within 1/4km of the TH.
The trail was basically dry for the first 1/4 km and then it got progressively covered in snow as we got higher. I think the snow beneath the treeline was the most hazardous part of our trip because of all the postholing, gigantic treewells, and narrow slippery trail across some steep slopes. All of the creek crossing were bridged with snow but they still made me nervous. There were only two blowdowns across the trail which were easily overcome.
A really enjoyable thing about this trip was how we could follow a creek draw straight up towards the hogsback once we had cleared the treeline rather than switching up to a steep climbing trail which is covered with loose scree at other times of the year. A cornice had earlier collapsed off one of the nearby bluffs, which line this route, and created a small wet snow avalanche. I suspect conditions are soon going to get worse on this little route as temperatures get even warmer. We kick stepped our way up to low camp. The snow was slushy. As much as we would have liked to use our crampons to take more secure steps, they would have been useless in this slushy snow so they stayed in our packs.
For almost the whole trip we were engulfed in cloud but we did get about a 20 sec teaser of Grant Peak on our way up when a sucker hole opened. All the crevasses are well covered and the route is completely safe for now although I would be concerned about avalanche conditions under the Roman Headwall. There is even deeper slush, up to 3 feet of postholing on top of the Coleman Glacier all the way over to the Black Buttes. Apparently it was just as soft all the way up to the summit.
We stopped for lunch and watched the clouds as they thickened around us. It was almost whiteout conditions. Surveyeor's Rock, the icefall, and the tents at low camp disappeared in the mists. Reluctantly we turned back. We thought we'd be able to glissade all the way back down to the trail however the snow was too heavy and deep for that. We developed a sort of sink slide step.
It was nice to see this route at this time of year even though we weren't rewarded with the usual stunning views. It was uncrowded and there were no bugs yet
. We'll be back up there once we get a little more ice to play on...
pictures to follow
"Function is beauty"