Base-camp life

We’re settling in for the night…at 5 PM. Feeling tired enough from the approach (including 2.5 miles I tacked on the beginning to run back to the car for my glasses) to fall asleep soon.

Alarm is set for 12:30 for breakfast and coffee in time to start the climb at 2 am. Weather looks great, freezing around 11 am and thawing when the sunny skies warm the snow. Hopefully we are most of the way to the summit before it softens.

We made camp at around 6300′, which is maybe halfway through the series of camps that stretch from the end of the Railroad Grade Trail up to the Portal, where we get onto the Easton Glacier.

One member, who caught up to us at base camp after starting late, isn’t feeling too well in the stomach. We’ll see if he goes up or down tomorrow. The rest of us, while tired and plenty sunbathed by the clear afternoon of collecting water and making food and plans, are feeling good.

That’s about it, except the photos below. There may be a brief update tomorrow when we get back to camp — or from the summit if this bit of 4g coverage stretches up there.

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Packing up

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Emily and I are just about set to leave this afternoon on the ferry from Port Townsend to spend the night at the trailhead. Meeting the rest of the team there tonight. We’ll head up to base camp together tomorrow morning, planning for a summit attempt early Sunday. The seasonal bridge has been installed on the trail, and rangers reported good conditions on the trail and at the various base-camp locations as of June 10th.

A heavy round of precipitation hit the area yesterday — around an inch and a half of rain below the snow line probably means Baker got a bit of snow. A lighter round is moving through today, but some freeze-thaw tonight and tomorrow with rising temps bodes well for snow conditions. That could still shut us down, so we will be taking a look tomorrow afternoon after we make camp.

D.C. di Chiaro

Five days until our next shot at Baker. This is likely the last set of dates that will work for our group this season. While we lost quite a few who were available the first planned weekend but are not this time, we still have five and are hoping for good weather. The excuses of the less fortunate include BASE jumping in Europe, summering in Alaska and climbing in Peru, so it’s hard to feel sorry for them, but they will be missed by our smaller team.

We’ll be a single rope of five. Four of the five went up Rainier together last year, and Emily is the fifth. She’s as strong and capable as I am or more so, just a bit less experienced, so it’s a solid team.

Weather actually looks good. The longterm forecasts were positive, and the only exception was a blip in the NWS discussion, this past Saturday’s revision, that mentioned “a system” indicated by one of the conflicting models. That has eased as the models have become more consistent, and while they still disagree confidence appears to be growing for clear skies and a ridge over the area beginning early on Saturday and lasting through Monday.

While we plan to overnight at the trailhead Friday, the approach, climb and hike out should take just two days. We need only Saturday morning through Sunday afternoon to be relatively trouble-free, and it looks likely to give us that plus a bit of safety cushion on the back end.

I suppose the gear and food we packed away a few weeks ago needs to come back out soon. From the beginning, under clear skies, I hope.

Blue sky

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Baker is behind the garage and tree under today's clear skies.

The weather seemed to play out as forecast, so the right call was made to delay the climb. Emily and I were in Seattle Saturday night and yesterday, where we walked, ran and drove through rain. It cleared up as we were heading back to the peninsula yesterday afternoon. A upper ridge has replaced the low pressure, and while it’s a bit hazy over the north Cascades, it’s going to be clear through Wednesday. We’d be worried mostly about too much sun if we were going today and tomorrow, but scheduling these things with sufficient warning to take vacation from work is tough. Hoping we get the group and the wx together for another attempt in four weeks.

Scrubbed

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.

Gear and food are packed away for now.

Wx, wx, wx

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.

Prep and wx watching

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.