Headed for the Mountains
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Mt. Baker June 4 2004
Participants: Anton, EugeneK.
Total elevation gain: 2158m.
Round trip: approx. 20km.
Total trail time: approx. 13.5hrs
Photos: will be added later.
This trip has been on our minds for some time. Last Friday the opportunity presented itself in the form of good weather and optimal (in our opinion) combination of seasonal factors - already diminished avalanche danger and not yet developed crevasses.
We started on Thursday from Vancouver and reached the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead at about 8PM. At 8:15 we began the first part of the hike through the forest. While patches of snow appeared there almost immediately, the trail was mostly snow-free. The bridge-less crossing of one of the creeks (Kulshan?) could be a little challenging, especially with full packs. By 9:15PM the light started to recede rapidly, and we set up the camp just at the end of the forest - next few hundred metres up would have brought us to the continuous, open snowfields.
The hiker registry at the trailhead listed the snow conditions as 'poor, no overnight freeze'. So we decided to start out next day relatively late, and did so at 5:45AM. The initial ascent to the Hogsback was not too difficult, with minor post-holing (we did not have snowshoes). Then we met a group of five AT skiers on the way to summit. The area below the Black Buttes was a little more difficult, with frequent post-holing up to the knee level. There is a large avalanche field to cross, with car-sized chunks of ice and snow. There is no open crevasse at the top of the glacier, however, at lower levels it starts cracking up (as the other glaciers visible from the top later). We tried roping up, but quickly gave up as the progress became too slow, and the need for that was minimal.
The final ascend up (Roman Wall) was unexpectedly slow, and high altitude effects started to show. The snow conditions coming up were good, it did freeze overnight. At approximately noon we reached the summit plateau, and about 15 minutes later - the Grant Peak, the true summit. Elevation by my GPS: 3282m (the edge of the plateau reached by Roman Wall is just a few metres lower). From the peak we could see the smouldering crater, and the smell of sulphur was quite strong. The views from the summit are beyond any attempt to describe. Ferocious wind blew across the plateau, and it felt pretty cold despite the sunshine. So a short while later we turned around. Coming down the Roman Wall wasn't a lot easier or faster then up; the snow has softened, and the pitch required very careful walking. Once down to the more moderate pitch, we were able to boot-ski, and our speed increased. The snow has become very slushy everywhere. We have seen a lot of people coming up and setting up camps.
We were back at the camp at around 5:15PM. Surprisingly, hike back to the car took us even longer then coming up.
Recommendation: In addition to the regular glacier travel equipment, small, lightweight snowshoes could be very helpful on the gentle slopes.