Sunday, March 21, 2010


A while ago I made a list of things I wanted to do. A couple of things on that list were: make marmalade, ice-skate on a frozen canal, and climb Mt Baker on skis. Mt Baker has a special place in my mind as I spent many hours looking at it through the "Mt Baker" meeting room window at my old job. Yesterday I didn't make any marmalade... but we did climb Mt Baker.

Paul suggested it could be a good day for it, and seeing as he was the only one of Lina, Kala, Paul, and myself who had done it before... who's to argue? We were all a little apprehensive as we were expecting a 11-12 hour day, and we only have around 12 hours of daylight to do it in... so not much margin for error. Thanks to Kala we overcame another alarm-clock setting failure and picked up Paul at 5am. Urrgh. We crossed the border into the US and the border guard told us that it was very early in the morning. He had a point.

By 7.30am we were on the move... up through the forest and toward our volcano, which confusingly didn't look all that big or far away.

As we came out of the forest, the terrain revealed its true scale and it became clear why this was going to take a while... but we were moving fast and the sun was shining, so no complaints there.

The wind was blowing tiny tornadoes of snow around us and once in a while a huge swirl would appear in the distance and spin out until the wall of air and blowing snow hit us.... but this was just the beginning of our meteorological fun for the day. As we made the saddle below the Roman Wall, the wind was howling. We tucked into a gulley with some other folks who were out to try for the summit and dumped our skis. Paul was keen to ski from the summit, and strapped his to his pack for the hike up. As we stepped out onto the windward side of the ridge we got pounded by blowing ice and snow and the wind tore at us. It was only around -2 degrees, but the wind was bitter.

After a few minutes we huddled together to put on goggles, face-masks, and anything else we could get our hands on. Any thoughts of skiing back down this slope (or carrying skis up it) ended here. The hike up took us the best part of 2 hours and I was feeling pretty exhausted as we reached the summit plateau. Luckily Paul and Kala got their wave of mountain enthusiasm going and we staggered off towards the knoll that forms the true summit, buffeted by wind. It also stinks of sulphur up there... despite the howling gale. This is a strange kind of fun... but we made it at around 2pm, and have a photo to prove it.

There was no hanging around to be done and we started back down the wall. The wind had picked up so much that I felt I might be lifted right off the ridge and flutter down to one of the San Juan Islands we could see in the distance. I did get blown over once, but that was it. Back at our skis we all agreed to get out of there and out of the wind as quickly as possible, despite our complaining legs.

I love skiing down a mountain. It seemed like only moments after battling up to the summit, being pounded by the wind... we were looking back at the peak from the warm and calm of the glacier. We even got a couple of good ski runs in on the way back... a bonus. The weather in the valley had been warm and sunny all day and we saw a couple of hikers hanging around in shorts and T-shirts. It's amazing how 2000m of elevation can take you from summer to being in fear of your nose freezing off. We were back at the car in around 9 hours or so... and in the pub not long after that. It must be time to add something new to my list...

Paul has a few more photos here.