Mount Baker

My first tour with Ziff and the start of an important friendship that had a huge impact on my approach to the mountains. Thanks Ziff!

Coleman Glacier
Halloween 2004

Those who know me would emphatically agree when I say that I’m a bit obsessed with backcountry skiing. Despite this obsession, I’ve generally been skeptical about early season turns. My experiences with the fall tours hasn’t been fantastic, and usually leaves me pretty unsatisfied. Maybe I’ve been unlucky, maybe I don’t know where to go, maybe I haven’t given it enough of a shot. Whatever the case may be, I was by no means a believer in the pre-season trips.
Things have changed after last weekend.

Stephen Ziff had seen a trip report to Mount Baker for the previous week on Sky Sjue’s excellent website. Steve was keen and the good weather on Saturday motivated us to plan a trip to Baker for Sunday. Joining us was Colin Cheng, another backcounty keener.

We left town at 5:15 am and drove to the Heliotrope ridge parking area in just under 2 hours. The last couple miles of road were snow covered but drivable. Cloud and falling snow was exciting to see on one hand, and a bit of a bummer considering that we were planning on skiing a glacier. Poor visibility and uncovered crevasses weren’t part of my ideal ski picture. Regardless, we left the car at 7:15 am skinning from the parking lot up the summer route. Within an hour and a half we were breaking trail above treeline. We roped up once on the glacier and plowed up the classic Coleman-Deming route towards the summit. The toe of the glacier didn’t have quite enough snow cover, and the skis skittered a bit on icy patches, but soon we were traveling trough high quality, boot deep powder. Visibility was pretty variable with clouds moving in and out, so we took several GPS waypoints and compass bearing to aid in a cloudy descent. We made our way up through the crevasses until we were only a couple hundred feet shy of the col at the base of the roman wall. Clouds rolled in and what little visibility we were working with during the morning disappeared. At 12:45 we were sitting on the edge of a large crevasse unsure of which way would lead us above it. We decided to bail on the summit and turned tail to head down.

Of course, as soon as we had linked the first couple hundred feet of turns, the sky parted to reveal great views of the summit and blue skies, which would remain with us for most of the afternoon. Now in descent mode, and given the time, we decided to turn our focus to the inviting powder. The summit would wait.

We spent the rest of the day making beautiful turns off the two summits of the Black Buttes located directly west of Colfax Peak. The north and east facing slopes were in prime condition and the snow was as light as I’ve seen here on the coast. We were fortunate to run into a group of friendly fellow Vancouerites. By 5 pm we were back at the car having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on a very satisfying early season ski trip. Over 7000 ft of skiing off the couch left me with some tired, tired legs.