|| By The Numbers ||
Statistics: 14 miles, 7500′ ascent round-trip
|| Pre-Trip ||
This trip was part of a month-long trip in the Cascades, where I bounced from trip-to-trip. For this trip, my Dad flew up on a long weekend to Seattle to join me on Mt. Baker. Ellen was an Instagram friend of my mom’s, and was interested in trying out mountaineering, so my mom connected us.
Over the years, my Dad and I have done some awesome adventures together, from the John Muir Trail to Kilimanjaro to the Grand Canyon. My Dad had never tried glacier mountaineering, though, and as a parent he was “curious” to see what craziness his son was engaged in all the time. So he “volunteered” to fly up to Seattle on a long weekend to come climb Mt. Baker with me…what a sacrifice, I know?!?
Dad flew in on Saturday, and I picked him up from the airport. Justin was so kind to let BOTH me and my Dad crash at his place…quite the amigo. We did an REI run (or two) for some gear, food, and other items, and planned to meet up with Ellen at her place in northern Seattle on Sunday around 9 AM or so. From there, we would drive up to the Park Butte Trailhead and approach the Railroad Grade camp, on the south side of Mt. Baker.
I had done the Easton Glacier route previously, as my first glacier climb, so I knew the ins and outs of the route. In my opinion, it is a great introduction to glacier mountaineering: a low-angle, low-commitment objective just hours from Seattle. The Easton is a gradual, rolling glacier, with little overhead objective hazards. There is not really any rockfall or serac danger to deal with, unlike the Coleman-Deming route on the north side of the mountain. The route ascends the Easton Glacier via the Railroad Grade trail; from the end of the Railroad Grade and the terminus of the glacier, the route winds its way up towards the Sherman Crater, where it then ascends (or traverses, depending on conditions and time of year) the Roman Wall towards Grant Peak and the summit plateau.
|| Day 1: Up To Camp ||
We arrived at the Park Butte trailhead by mid-morning. The road up to Park Butte is FULL of potholes, but is driveable; for reference, we drove my Dad’s rental car, a Nissan sedan, with no issues. Just go slowly.
It was a cloudy day, sadly, for the approach up the Railroad Grade, with a light drizzle of rain. Every now and again we would get a glimpse of the glacier, but did not see the summit until later in the evening. The trail up towards the Railroad Grade is very easy to follow and straightforward, not much more to say about it. There is a small footbridge across Sulphur Creek that may be out earlier in the season, but by the time we went the guiding companies had already been running numerous trips up the mountain, so it was in good shape.
We stopped for a lunch break along the switchbacks up towards Park Butte, taking respite from the rain under the cover of trees. It was misty and cloudy, and our view had a spooooky vibe.
By early afternoon, we were making our way up to camp at the top of the Railroad Grade, just below the terminus of the glacier. There were numerous other groups present, some guided parties, most just groups of climbers. We found ourselves a spot amongst some rocks near the beginning of true snow coverage, not far from a water source of snowmelt. PERFECT!
That afternoon, I ran a quick crevasse-rescue school for Ellen and Dad, teaching them the basics of roped glacier travel, pulley systems, and a brief lesson on glacial features. Ultimately, I would be responsible for route finding, risk mitigation, and identifying the objective hazards on the route, but it was important to show them the basics.
The REAL treat came at dinner time. Ellen, Dad, and I are all “foodies”, and we had dreamed up a delicious idea: fresh CURRY. Not out of a can or some Mountain House meal…no. We packed in real veggies, chicken, and spices. We were going to eat WELL on the mountain! We packed in a small pot set and I began chopping on my “cutting board” of a rock.
The aroma was INCREDIBLE…I could hardly wait to dig in. We turned around and there was Baker. What a dinner with a view?!?!?
After dinner, we set in for an early night, with an alpine start scheduled for the morning. Our plan was to be up around 3 AM or so, and leave by 4 AM so that we could be turning around and off the summit before conditions deteriorated in the later afternoon. Time for bed!
|| Climbing Up ||
We kicked into early morning gear once the alarms sounded. Dad fired up his morning oatmeal, and we briefed on the day’s climb. We would rope up at camp and begin up the boot track towards the glacier. I would take the lead, with Ellen in the middle and Dad at the end of the rope. I coiled slack on my end, leaving Dad with just enough to work with in the event of a crevasse fall. I had a picket on my end, as did Dad. Crampons were strapped on and off we went!
The early morning glow was magnificent. Yesterday’s clouds had parted and left us with gorgeous high pressure…barely clouds in the sky. We could see Glacier Peak in the distance, Rainier even further back.
Dad and Ellen were doing a GREAT job. Mountaineering is no easy sport to pick up. It takes all of the challenge of hiking and adds more objective hazard, a lot of pack weight, and for the most part, removes daylight, which can be a huge mental hurdle for many people.
Around 9,000′, just before a climb up the Sherman Crater, we had to stop to let…well, to let my Dad take a poop at the back of the rope team. HA! He grabbed his wag bag, Ellen and I faced forward, and he did his thing on a glacier. What a story. Not long after, though, my Dad called off his summit bid. Hiking straight uphill on ice just wasn’t for him. Ellen and I looked at one another; I had already summited previously, and asked Ellen, “So…what do you want to do?” Ellen wanted to give it a shot, and I asked Dad if he was comfortable returning to camp by himself. I CLEARLY explained to him that unroped glacier travel solo was risky, but he felt comfortable returning along the clear boottrack to camp. He would wait for us there.
Ellen and I re-configured the rope and continued on up. We set a steady cadence, stopping every 100 steps for rest and breaks to split up the climbs. This was a big step up for her from backpacking, but she was breaking it down into bite-sized chunks, using many of the coaching strategies she employs in her job as a personal coach. We took a break on the Sherman Crater, with the smell of sulphur making us want to continue moving again.
Step-by-step, Ellen and I made our way up the Roman Wall, switching back along the boottrack. We traversed onto the Roman Wall, rather than following the crater ridge. Earlier in the season, the route would stay closer to the crater ridge to avoid the avalanche exposure from the face.
ON TOP! We gave each other high fives and unroped for some pictures on the summit. Ellen had CRUSHED IT! Her first glaciated climb…what a step up! We roped back up and began the long slog back down the hill. The snow was just beginning to become mushy and sloppy, so we were glad to be heading back down.
We met back up with Dad at the tent and laughed about the day. We packed up, headed back down, and celebrated with ice cream back in town.