Baker (Coleman-Deming ski)

Baker from near camp

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

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.

Baker and Colfax

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.

Fire near Silver Star

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.

Deming descent

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…

Glacier comparisons

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:

Colfax icefall (2014)

Colefax icefall (2021)

And here is Baker itself, showing the Coleman Headwall:

North ridge (l), Headwall (c), standard (r)

Baker from near camp (2021)

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