Mountain Madness guides Chris Marshall and Casey Henley led a group up the Squak Glacier on Mt. Baker from July 18-21. Although it was only the second half of July, the south side of the mountain was in typical late-season condition with exposed glacial ice, many large open crevasses and tricky route finding.
Passing a crevasse as the morning sky lights up. Chris Marshall photo
This trip, offered as a special four day “Slow-Boat” experience, allowed the team to be fueled by gourmet backcountry cuisine and to spend a full day on snow and glacier travel skills and to get adequate rest before a summit attempt. Plus, the guests’ packs were significantly lighter hiking into basecamp since there were two porters on the trip carrying all the group equipment and food! If you’d like to climb Mt. Baker, and do so in a more relaxed and less strenuous trip, the “Slow-Boat” is for you!
Mount Shuksan on the Approach. Chris Marshall photo
The past winter wasn’t kind to the Pacific Northwest, delivering near-record, low snowfall. The summer has been hotter and sunnier than average too, which is great if you are a beach-goer, but has allowed the glaciers to suffer. Many of the large glaciers on the volcanoes in the PNW are showing late-season conditions in the middle of the summer and are so broken that some of the “standard” routes are impassible.
The steep, broken Roman wall in late-season conditions. Chris Marshall photo
That didn’t stop Mountain Madness’ team from attempting a summit on Mt. Baker. We chose to climb the Squak Glacier instead of the Easton. This allows a shorter overall approach, a beautiful base camp at the scenic Crag View, and an excellent location for teaching a snow school and glacier travel class in preparation for a summit bid. A high camp at Crag View shouldn’t be missed; you have stunning views of Mt. Shuksan to the East, and the Coast Mountains and Puget Sound to the West.
Snow School! Chris Marshall photo
Practicing self arrests. Chris Marshall photo
Gourmet food on the “Slow-Boat” is a top-priority, ensuring that our guest eat nutritiously and in style. We had carne-asada tacos, complete with guacamole, salsa, and other fixings the first night! Other dinners included pesto pasta topped with wild Alaskan smoked salmon, and a pad-Thai with chicken and a peanut sauce. Sure beats the dinner-in-a-bag that some other guide services offer on their Mt. Baker climb!
Casey prepares the finishing touches on dinner. Chris Marshall photo
An alpine start brought the rope teams to the Squak Glacier in the dark. The route to the summit was all but straight-forward, involving crossing blue glacial ice, stepping over and winding through crevasses. Almost to the summit, on the final steep slope know as the Roman Wall, Chris’ team found that the bridge over the bergschrund (large crevasse) had collapsed, and had to punch new tracks out of the schrund and onto a steep and icy slope. The traverse back to the east onto of the schrund was steep and exciting. A number of hours after leaving camp, the team was standing on the summit with a blue sky and swirling clouds below! Bravo.
On the summit! Chris Marshall photo
If you’d like to climb Mt. Baker, and want to do it with a lighter pack, with gourmet food, and a relaxed schedule, come find yourself on the Mountain Madness “Slow-Boat”!
~ MM Guide Chris Marshall