Squak Glacier, Mt. Baker, June 9, 2013
Kevin's brother Kelly has volcano fever. With a trip scheduled to climb Rainier in July, he figured he should warm up with a slightly smaller objective first, and Kevin suggested Mt. Baker. Done deal, except that our go-to route, the Coleman-Deming, would involve a 7 mile hike from the recently washed-out section of the Heliotrope Ridge access road.
And so it came to be that Kevin, Kelly and I headed out the Baker Lake Road on Saturday on the way to the joint trailhead for the Easton and Squak Glaciers. We squeezed Kelly's Outback in among a crowd of perhaps thirty other cars and trucks, many of them pulling trailers with snowmobiles. We opted for the Squak, hoping to avoid the crowds we felt sure would be swarming the Easton Glacier. Heading out at the crack of eleven, we traded greetings with a number of sledders and skiers and witnessed some pretty crazy antics, including one guy who rolled his sled into a deep ditch while trying to download it and damaged the front end before he even hit the snow.
Our plan was to split the roughly 7,300 foot ascent into two parts, and we found a nice scenic rock outcropping (we later heard locals refer to it as the "tractor") to set up our bivies on. The views were great, and we could see dozens of people camped at roughly the same elevation on the adjacent Easton "Railroad Grade." A few other people had chosen to overnight on the Squak as well, and we could see their tents from our perch, but never heard them.
Throughout the night, we saw streams of headlamps heading up the Easton side. The first big group was on the move shortly after midnight. Midnight? Whoa, for us early meant about two hours after it got light - about 6 AM. We cranked up the stoves, brewed caffeinated hot drinks, and downed oat cereal. The temperatures had gone well below freezing during the night, and the corn mush from the previous day was rock hard, so we geared up with ski crampons for the moderate pitches up to around 9,000 ft., roping up for a couple of crevass crossings. We ditched the rope and switched over to boot crampons for the Roman Wall, which was hard and smooth.
Making some new friends at the summit, we traded stories, talked gear, and took each other's pictures for a bit, then headed down. A steady stream of climbers and skiers was on the route, making for a party atmosphere, as we carefully scraped down the Roman Wall and into the fog. Lower down, the snow was softened corn, but the visibility left something to be desired.
A bit of routefinding plus some luck got us back to the access trail (typically, Kevin's GPS was having a hard time pulling in 3 satellites lower down in the woods - isn't this where most people get lost?) - and we joined the ongoing party at the trailhead, with climbers and sledders alike pulling out beverages and barbeques after a great day in the mountains.