I had previously done Mount Baker in 2014, going up the “fun way” via the Coleman Headwall and walking down the standard Coleman-Deming route. This time I decided to have my fun on the way down instead, lugging skis up the Coleman-Deming. Mid-July is late for skiing, but I figured that Baker is the northernmost Cascades volcano, that it accumulates incredible amounts of snow each winter, and that the generally north-facing Coleman Glacier would have decent snow-cover. However, I underestimated how much the recent heat wave had melted off. While there was still some good skiing on the Coleman, the west-facing Deming had a couple of unavoidable patches of bare glacier, which skis better than waterfall ice, but is not exactly fun. Heliotrope Ridge, like seemingly every other National Forest trailhead in Washington, is a fee area, so I drove past it to park in a flat spot a quarter mile beyond. I understand that the Forest Service is badly underfunded, but this sort of nickel-and-diming, like the good old “Adventure Pass” to park on roads around Los Angeles, just annoys me. I would happily spend $80 on an Interagency Annual Pass to make the problem go away if they made it easy to buy one, but I refuse to spend money on a regional forest parking pass.
Anyways… knowing that the suncups would have to soften for the snow to be skiable, I took my time getting started in the morning. The first stream crossings were easy, but I somehow missed the turnoff for Heliotrope Ridge. Running into an uncrossable stream, I looked at my map to realize I had come too far toward the Coleman Glacier overlook. I was soon back on track, feeling slightly ridiculous as I passed the Real Mountaineers (helmet, picket, boots) in my trail runners with skis and boots strapped to my pack. Heliotrope Ridge was as spectacular as I remembered, covered in various wildflowers, with Baker and the large Coleman Glacier as a backdrop.Passing a few tents at the normal camping spot, I scrambled up a rock rib for a bit, then got on the glacier. I thought I might have to put on skis and skins here, but between the suncups and a solid boot-pack, I found it easier to stay with running shoes and ski poles. I met a guided-looking party coming down at the ridge separating the Coleman and Deming glaciers, a novice Asian couple and a slightly overweight white guy carrying extra gear. The latter informed me that there was quite a bit of ice on the Deming, making me question my choice of activities. Hiking up the choss-ridge between the two glaciers, I saw that the Deming was indeed in sorry shape. I sketched my way up the icy patches and over a small crevasse on the way to the summit plateau, sort of wishing I had brought crampons, but refusing to take out my ice axe. I stashed my skis at the top of the glacier, then hiked across the glacier plateau to the summit dirt-hill. I met an Eastern European couple from Chicago on top, acclimatizing for Rainier. Looking at my feet, the woman began “coming up here in just shoes seems…” “Sketchy,” I suggested, before she could bring herself to say “dangerous” or “stupid.” We talked for awhile, then I took some time to look over the familiar peaks, from nearby Shuksan, to the Pickets, to the more distant high peaks like Goode. On the other side of the range, I saw a fire blowing up near Silver Star, which would eventually close Highway 20 near Mazama. A large guided group had arrived from the Baker Lake side, so I let them have the summit and returned to my skis. After an awkward transition standing in the boot-pack, I made a few hesitant turns around some rocks, then skied a bit quicker down to the ice, where the surface had softened enough to make crossing it safe, if not fun. Below, I stayed left of the choss ridge, finding decent snow for some asymmetric turns along the right side of the Deming Glacier. Rounding the corner where I would cross back to the Coleman, I was surprised by a small crevasse, which forced me to make an emergency hop. I put my skis back on my pack, then kicked steps back to the ridge and crossed the choss to get back on the boot-pack.
I had thought of doing Colfax, a bump on this side of Baker, but once again lacked the motivation. I instead skied down the Coleman Glacier near the boot-pack, finding the suncups softer but still a bit bumpy. I managed to open up in a couple of places, but only hit around 30 MPH. Cruising down the final slope to camp, I sailed by some guys hiking in boots, and felt happy to have brought the skis. While transitioning back to hiking mode, I met a couple of undergrad girls sampling stream insects, and congratulated them on choosing a major that let them hike around in the wilderness for their summer research. I passed the usual tourists on the hike back, plus a trio headed up to camp and ski. So I wasn’t the only crazy one…
Having made two trips to the Coleman-Deming route, one on 7/31/14 and the other on 7/14/21, I took some similar photos, which give some idea of how the mountain has dried out in seven years. Here is Colfax in 2014 and 2021:
And here is Baker itself, showing the Coleman Headwall: