Boulder Glacier, Mt. Baker, July 22-23, 2006
Paul Russell had been chased off the Boulder Glacier by lightning on the Fourth of July weekend, but being a lover of straightforward approaches, he'd contacted us the next week about reprising the trip. It took a couple of weeks to put together, but Michael Trommsdorff and I decided to join him on the weekend of July 22nd and 23rd, along with Paul's friend Mike Cohen from Bellingham.
I was having second thoughts on Friday, with Seattle simmering in a 93º stew of stagnant air and smog - how about hitting the beach with a cooler full of beer tomorrow instead? - but decided if we didn't do it this week, it would be another year before we got up there. We convened at my house in Lake Forest Park and tossed the gear in Paul's "Hibachi Crusher" Forester.
We ran into the usual Montlake Terrace-to-Everett logjam leaving town, but the rest of the drive to Baker Lake was smooth. The climber/skier preference in automotive transport was obvious at the trailhead parking lot - Subaru 7, all others 2. We hit the trail around 5:30 PM.
We were sweating profusely by the time we got our skis on the packs. On a 90º day, constantly whacked by brush, skis catching on low branches, swarming black flies, never cleared blowdown . . . what's not to like about the Boulder Creek Trail? Then there's the infamous Boulder-Park Cleaver fixed rope. I'm not sure who to thank for maintaining this, but it seems to be still in decent shape, and we all made it up and down safely, so thanks. Some sort of weird bowline-like knot attaches it to the tree.
Around 8:00 PM we hit a patch of snow with ample running water, washed off and cooked some couscous with fresh herbs and Gruyère. As the sun went down, the temperature cooled to a manageable and then downright pleasant level.
We got up at a "skier's alpine" 3:45 AM, which we thought pretty early, but there were already headlamps well above us on the mountain. Having more or less decided on the central, heavily crevassed main glacier which looked like more exciting skiing (as opposed to the smoother climber's left part or the popular Boulder-Park Cleaver), we were able to skin directly from camp at about 5,030 ft.
Cruising up the flat lower portion of the glacier, we caught a gorgeous sunrise over Shuksan. We switched to crampons and put the skis on the packs at about 7,000 ft. Alternating cold and warm winds made it hard to select the right mix of clothing once we ascended to the more heavily crevassed section, but it was a perfect day to be in the mountains and, we suspect, far better than anything in the flatlands.
Unfortunately, many of the lower crevasse lips were higher than their upper counterparts, making them invisible from our campsite. We were stopped by uncrossable crevasses at 8,500 ft. and 8,800 ft., requiring lengthy backtracking and traverses. At around 9,030 ft. we encountered a thin snowbridge that looked like it would go, and I asked Paul for a belay.
About halfway across, however, I was able to get a better look at the supporting snow, which looked dangerously undercut, and got a bad feeling. I retreated and decided to look for a possible end-run option, which proved fruitless. When Michael and Paul took a good look at the bridge, they too declined to do the honors, at which point we decided to downclimb and assess our lunches.
Looking at the altimeter and determining that we had already ascended 7,980 ft. from the car (meaning that we would have just a few feet of climbing left if we had taken a direct route to the summit), and all of us having been on top of Baker before, we made the decision to ski.
We had to downclimb a bit through some exposed sections and uphill traverses before actually putting on the skis, but the end result was some smooth corn skiing for around 3,000 feet back to camp. As we reached the 5,000 foot level, we spied a lone skier higher up on the climber's right side of the glacier - this turned out to be Mark Harfenist, noted Turns-All-Year moderator, who took the photo of the four of us roped together on the upper Boulder with a long lens.
A little ice-cold glacier-fed Gatorade, a quick re-pack, and the rest was downhill. Rapped down the fixed line, wallowed in the mud in the meadow, fell in the bushes to the side of the trail a few times, and hit the parking lot in a lather. Paul, the master of such things, had an ice-filled cooler full of lemonade and beer waiting.
We hit the delicious Tacos Guaymas in Burlington for maximum calories on the way back to Seattle, and decided that a month sooner on a good snow year would be ideal for this route - the crevasses would be well covered, and you could ski all the way down the Boulder Creek drainage to around 3,500 ft.
Next year, gentlemen?
Update: Two days later, a huge avalanche ripped down the side of Sherman Peak and onto the upper Boulder Glacier - Flying photographer John Scurlock was able to photograph the results that evening, http://www.pbase.com/image/64205338, http://www.pbase.com/nolock/image/64205337/original, http://www.pbase.com/image/64205336