Glacier Ski Tour on the Coleman Glacier, Mount Baker
June 19, 2016
After the glacier ski and crevasse rescue course that I took with the Mountaineers I was looking to get some experience skiing and travelling on glaciers. Fortunately, Dave, a more experienced glacier skier with the Mountaineers led a trip up to Mount Baker to help give me and other students from the class that experience. The trip was to be an overnight trip departing on Saturday and returning Sunday, but due to heavy rainfall (snowfall at the higher elevations) on Saturday we decided to change the trip to a day trip on Sunday. The plan was to head up the Coleman glacier on the standard Coleman-Deming climbing route until an agreed upon turn-around time while discussing glacier travel and making informed decisions along the way.
Our group of four: me, Dave, Jiri, and John, left Seattle around 7 am and got hiking on the trail around 9:15 am. We had a fairly long approach to the snow (~2.5 miles and 2000′ elevation gain) so we hiked up in shoes and carried our skis and boots. The trail was quite muddy from the precipitation the day before which helped us feel good about our decision to turn it into a day trip. We had our skis on around noon and started skinning up the fresh (but dense) snow from the day before. The forecast called for clear skies during the day, but we were still socked in at this point hoping for the best. The lower portion of the Coleman Glacier was more of a permanent snowfield and other than a few moats below some rocks, we did not have any crevasses to deal with. As we climbed the skies began to clear and we started getting glimpses of the more crevassed parts of the glacier. Before long we had a glimpse of the entire glacier all the way up to the summit!
We were following a well-trodden path up the middle of the glacier unroped. Once we started to see signs of a few small crevasses we stopped for lunch and probed the area to make sure that it was safe before taking our skis off and sitting on our packs. While eating lunch we had a discussion around glacier travel. The main topic was when to rope up while ascending vs. when it is not necessary. Given the fresh snowfall from the night before it was likely that small crevasses that had opened up earlier in the season were masked. We decided that since we had good familiarity with our route and we weren’t breaking trail it was OK to not rope up as we continued. We set a turn around time of 4 pm and continued up the Coleman Glacier to about 7700′ which allowed me to get a pretty good look at the rest of the climbing route to the Coleman Saddle. Having climbed and skied both St. Helens and Adams so far this year, Baker is definitely next on my list so it was good to get up there and get a feel for it.
After probing around a crevasse and looking at a snow bridge, we transitioned to downhill mode and made some fun, fresh tracks down next to the way we came up. The upper 1000′ or so of our ski run was decent as it was late enough in the day that the snow was starting to firm up again, but once we got to the lower part of the snow it was survival slush skiing. That being said, the pictures of our tracks look great!
We transitioned back to hiking and slowly made our way back to the car. We got back to the car a little bit after 7 and I was home just before 10. I had a great time skiing on a glacier for the first time and am really thankful for Dave donating his time and knowledge to help me and the others on the trip gain some experience!