Planning for Baker

The big climb discussed this year by our team that went to Rainier last year has been Mount Baker. We didn’t pick a date months in advance like last year, when we lined up successive months’ climbs on the Brothers, Constance and Rainier. But it’s been on the horizon, something to look forward to after spending January through March sitting in a classroom getting licensed as an EMT.

A month ago plans solidified around Memorial Day weekend, which is only two weeks away now. We picked up a few people that didn’t go last year, too, so we may be two or even three rope teams depending on how many stay at base camp.

I’ve been sorting gear and filling a few holes, like the gloves torn up by the tow rope at Hurricane Ridge this winter and the backpacker meals we’ve haven’t restocked in a while. Being located so close to Outdoor Research means the gloves ordered yesterday will be here today. Backpackers Pantry order should be here next week. And a resupply of Gu arrived the other day.

Everyone knows you can’t climb a mountain on four packets of Gu.

The Gu is in larger packages this time, because I’m hoping a single pound stuffed into my pocket will eliminate the practice of searching every pocket and corner of my pack for the little bastards (and always only finding empties until I get home and unpack). I really do not function well at all when I don’t get regular energy inputs. I am slow, cranky as hell and prone to injuring myself due to shaky, not confident legs — it makes for miserable descents.

But you can if each contains a solid pound of the magic life-sustaining substance.

I’ve also been studying the route: the Easton Glacier, approached via the Railroad Grade moraine-top trail. From the pictures I’ve seen, the mountain starts to look pretty small once you get to base camp. The major feature toward which the lower part of the route is aimed, an actively venting crater, appears to sit within reach, and what can be seen of the summit above that looks equally attainable.

The same thing happens on Rainier. They are huge from down here, with Baker especially looming over the water northeast of Port Townsend. Rainier, when visible to the southeast, isn’t quite a massive presence on the skyline but is obviously enormous as evidenced by its distance and its height above everything around it. Yet when you approach to within a few thousand feet of the top, what remains is reduced to a few thousand feet, obviously. A day’s hike here and a day’s climb there and you’re at the top.

That’s not to minimize the effort involved in climbing nor the difficulty in finding one’s way up and then down that apparently minor distance. Route finding on Baker in any kind of weather is reportedly difficult, especially on the descent, due to the vastness of the upper snowfields. We’ll be running a couple of GPS track logs and wanding those portions of the route.

Mentally, I need to feel I can do a better job on Baker than I did last year, or I’ll stay at base camp. It’s apparently not likely that we will find as much ice on Baker, and a little snow on the steeper sections would make for a more psychologically secure climb. A surface that takes more than just the tiniest bit of crampon teeth and one that the ice ax of a self-arresting climber actually bites into rather than skittering off would be ideal. However, as I learned last year, an overblown fear of a steep descent on a solidly frozen surface that freaks me out during the ascent can be worse than the actual descent — I must control the mind.

More to come, of course. I don’t know if I’ll be posting from camp on 4G like Rainier, but I will write and post when we find coverage.

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