Mt. Baker

August 4-5, 1994

After climbing Mt. Shuksan two days earlier, the Obsidian party of three left the community of Glacier, Washington, and drove nine miles south on graveled Glacier Creek Rd. The group left the trailhead at 3 pm on a marathon trip that would have them back to the car 24 hours later. The party hiked up the heavily forested canyon of Kulshan Creek, past the Kulshan cabin site and upward to a difficult stream crossing at timberline before taking their first break. They had ascended 1500 ft. in less than three miles. After a food break, the party would feel the presence of cascading water everywhere until the Coleman Glacier was reached an hour or-so later. Here below the terminus of the glacier, water runs down grooves in ice-shaved rock seemingly everywhere. This is a wonderland of running water. In several spots, fast running water cascading down these grooves would hit big rocks and shoot to 10 feet as fountains: water falls running upwards! Where the streams poured out of the ice was where the glacier started. The party continued on, climbing up the Coleman Glacier, the mountain to the left, the barren Heliotrope Ridge to the right. After being on the ice for about a mile, darkness was nigh and it found the group in a protected area under a rock face, just past a part of the ridge called the “Hog’s Back”. If one is looking for a real glacier climb, it can be found here on the flanks of Mt. Baker. No matter which route, it’s a glacier route. The summit is completely encircled by great glaciers.

Four am came early, and it found the climbers having breakfast and getting ready to go. Using compass bearings and climbers’ intuition, the climbers weaved in and out of gaping crevasse openings in thick, thick fog for hours. Miraculously, they managed to veer to the south properly following the route between all the crevasses and crested a saddle between Coleman and Demming Glaciers — just as the route book instructed. During a very short rest break here, the thick fog lifted and the climbers suddenly saw the great volcanic summit reaching for the sky to the east. A steep but easily negotiated ridge provided the pathway, mostly ice covered, for a vertical distance of 1,000 ft. to the broad summit crater of Mt. Baker. While crossing the crater, it was hard to imagine that they were actually walking on 1,300 ft. of ice that filled the great hole. The climbers enjoyed a sunny early lunch break on Grant Peak, the highest point on the summit rim. From the summit the climbers studied a truly awesome sight. In recent days, a large avalanche had occurred when cornices gave way on the north face of Colfax Peak on the upper reaches of the Heliotrope Ridge. It was surmised that they must have just skirted the avalanche debris while traveling in the fog earlier.

On the way back to camp, they approached the avalanche trail that they had been studying. It told a story of magnificent power and destruction: hundreds of huge, house-sized blocks of ice had traveled at a great rate of speed, digging a wide, 10-ft. deep, smooth-bottomed trench for over 2,000 ft. Moving around among the ice blocks made the party members feel insignificant. As the climbers approached their camp, they observed the U.S. Navy conducting a crevasse rescue school. Yes, that’s right, the Navy! Climbers on this Obsidian trip were Rick Peterson and Ken Ball (leader). Pat Antoine was camp tender.

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