Trip Report: Climbing Mt Baker via the Coleman/Deming route

Tom Romary, Jon Faller and I climbed Mt Baker via the Coleman/Deming route in August 2005.

We drove from Seattle on Friday night and camped at the very end of road 39 (just past the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead), which was an awesome place to car camp. It put us very close to the start of the climb and we woke up to stunning views of the mountain and great views of a deep wooded glacial valley. I’m actually not sure this is a legal place to camp, so don’t do it with your boy scout group.

We awoke to perfect weather—blue skies and not a cloud.

I had pneumonia.

I had coughed all night and didn’t sleep much as a result. As we had breakfast and packed our packs, I was totally undecided if I was going to drop Tom and Jon off and hang out in our illegal campsite for 2 days while they climbed or brave it. I had checked with the doctor who said that it really wouldn’t hurt me to climb. I never really decided to climb, but just got caught up in the packing & preparation and found myself at the trailhead and figured I’d see how far I could get.

We climbed the Heliotrope Ridge trail (also called the Mt Baker trail), which is gorgeous, water flowing everywhere, wildflowers abounding. The trail switchbacks up a very steep part of the mountain, and at times feels like it climbs straight up. My lungs were holding out, despite some hacking here and there. Tom and Jon didn’t seem to mind, so I kept going. We reached the glacier at 6000 feet. The lower glacier is heavily crevassed so we roped up and put crampons on. We arrived at our basecamp below the Black Buttes at 7000 feet at 3:30, just over 4 hours of hiking. I’d recommend this as basecamp as it broke up the hike well.

With the time we had, we tried out our crevasse rescue skills and watched Tom attempt to impress us with his ice climbing skills (which really just got him all wet.) It was very cool (literally) to climb down into this crevasse, something every mountaineer should experience.

Dinner sucked.

Someone had the great idea to mix everything into one bowl, soup, pasta, etc. Somehow it all turned into glue. We choked it down.

A million stars were out at night, with no moon, and shooting stars abundant. Any fears we had of the next day’s climb were stoked as we listened to the thundering icefall at night. My hacking cough surely guaranteed a good night’s sleep for Tom & Jon.

We awoke at 2:30AM and started hiking by 3:05.

Ascending from 7000 feet to 9000 feet we encountered many large crevasses and icefall. We crossed 2 snowbridges across 2 giant crevasses. I was leading and set some running pro because the bridges caused us to zigzag and would have left us unprotected. We climbed a steep face to a pumice ridge. We ascended this ridge to the “Roman Wall” which is about 800 feet high and fairly steep.

The conditions on the Roman Wall (and the rest of the climb for that matter) were excellent: cold firm snow.
This is where my pneumonia awoke. I suddenly noticed that I was heaving like a horse after the Kentucky Derby and looked down at Tom and Jon who were practically falling asleep because of our glacial pace. I felt bad and apologized. Using proper “rest step” technique, I kept moving.

We finally reached the summit at 7:15AM after 4 hours and 15 minutes of climbing. The weather was clear and windy at the top. We witnessed amazing views in every direction, including Mt Shuksan.

We descended to base camp and then the car. We made a bad decision to take our crampons off for the lower glacier and ran into a lot of blue ice which made for a very slippery go. We reached the car 11 hours after setting out that morning.

Tips for next time:

  • Bring a camera even if there are 2—both of the other cameras failed.
  • Make simple meals
  • Watch for crows! The crows at the car camping site were aggressive.
  • Eat more than you think you need while hiking
  • Keep crampons on until the end of the glacier


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