Well, fuggity fuggity fuggity. This wasn’t our weekend to climb, based on the forecast and the already difficult route finding necessary on Baker’s upper slopes. It was never a horrible forecast…just a miserably unpromising one.
It appeared we would huddle in our tents for a night, maybe get some play time on the glacier the next day or maybe just head down — but almost certainly would not have made an attempt at the summit. We’ve canceled for this weekend and are trying to put most of the group together for an attempt the last weekend in June.
So things are not looking good for this weekend’s attempt to climb Baker. Baker, by the way, is another of those feature names that sticks only because it’s an easy one to pronounce and was bequeathed to the mountain by a European. Let’s call the mighty volcano, which would be visible from where I lie on the living-room couch but for the peak of the garage and the neighbor’s tree, Kulshan, at least for the remainder of this post.
Kulshan is sitting in an upper-level trough, which will be followed by an upper-level low and another trough. Plenty of low pressure to go around these next few days. The NWS says up to a few inches of snow will fall on Wednesday and up to another few on Thursday. Mountain-forecast.com has around 10″ Thursday, 15″ Friday and lighter snow continuing through Sunday.
There’s not much more detailed or reliable info on Kulshan’s forecast available as far as I can tell. Upper-level lows are apparently difficult to forecast and result in snow at altitude and otherwise very inconsistent conditions. Or that’s my simplistic understanding, anyway.
Were we on a distant expedition, we’d sit tight, move up when we could and await a break in the wx. Maybe that break will come Sunday, and maybe the snow that falls before then will be in good shape. Or maybe it won’t. So do we try it, possibly to spend a sodden weekend below 6000′ and lessen the chance that we get the group together later to try again? Or do we make other plans and try to align schedules for another go in a few weeks, possibly to spend a dry weekend under high clouds when we could have walked on top of Kulshan?
Hopefully the forecast becomes a little more clear in the next day or two. Until then we wait and look at forecasts (like this tabular version and the discussion, both of which I forgot to include in my last post). It’s too late to do an effective high-pressure dance.
Six days to go before we head toward Baker. We are currently a group of ten: four tents, three ropes if everyone goes beyond base camp.
We’ve been filling some gaps as a team — allocating tents, finding enough pickets, counting wands, counting ropes. The majority of the group went up to Marmot Pass on Sunday. It was mainly an opportunity to check our conditioning, but we tied in at the top and practice clipping through, practiced self arrest and ran through a crevasse-rescue scenario.
The hike also provided an opportunity to test some gear, so I tried out my new gloves and hoodie. The gloves are OR Highcamp, which have Primaloft Gold insulation and Ventia instead of Goretex. They replace the OR Arete gloves I tore up on the tow rope, which had Goretex but no insulation. The Arete gloves were really good to me, but I have cold fingers and like warm gloves — the Highcamp gloves seemed to keep me warmer playing around in the snow at Marmot Pass.
The hoodie is OR’s, too. They just started making a men’s version of the Echo hoodie, which been around for a couple of seasons for women. Long overdue and a quick favorite. OR makes other versions in the Echo line now, too, but we only have the hoodies. It worked well on the hike, and it goes to Baker.
Emily has an alpine harness and inflatable sleeping pad on the way, but everything else is here and just needs to be sorted and packed. Eh, maybe a little more. Gotta set up the four-season tent, which has been stowed for over a year, and the screens on my ABC watch need to be reconfigured to be more useful when climbing.
Other than those things, we just check the weather. Several times per day. We’re not quite up to next Sunday on mountainforecast.com. Same for the NWS point forecast. That’s a lot of snow over the next few days. The Weather Channel thinks they can see more of the future. The drier weather they predict for Saturday and Sunday is a good sign, but it’s not very solid.
Edit: Based on what I was missing on last weekend’s hike, I revised the Garmin Fenix (original version) mountaineering and hiking profiles to this sequence (plus a navigating screen when in track-back mode):
It’s a few too many screens, but I can delete them easily later if some are never used.
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.
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.
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.