Mount Baker

February 21, 2015

3170m

Wapta Icefield, AB/BC

After waiting patiently for a long while weather and condition finally lined up nicely towards the end of February in this past weekend, and Ben, Vern and I agreed to take full advantage of it. The original plan was to ascend Youngs Peak by Rogers Pass but unfortunately Asulkan Hut was fully booked so we switched plan to Peyto Hut on the Wapta Icefield, with the hope of bagging Mt. Baker and Peyto Peak. Speaking our first objective, Mt. Baker is a very prominent peak dominating the skyline on the northern edge of the Wapta and I’ve been wishing to climb it for 2 years already. It’s a major winter mountaineering objective out there – not very difficult but does require a bomber snowpack.

Ski ascent route for Mt. Baker and Peyto Peak

Ski ascent route for Mt. Baker and Peyto Peak. GPX DL

The plan was skiing to Peyto Hut on Saturday morning and making an attempt on Mt. Baker in the afternoon. While Vern has already climbed it he would wait and hang around for Ben and I tagging its summit. Ben and I car-camped by the Petro Canada on Highway 1 and woke up as early as we could (4:30 am) and met Vern shortly after. The highway condition was much better than expected despite the snowfall on Friday and we made to the parking lot and started our trip just after it’s bright enough. The weather was quite miserable at this point (it’s supposed to improve by noon) and the bush skiing down to Peyto Lake was just as ugly as what I remembered from the Trapper Peak trip last year, but at least we didn’t get lost this time. In about half an hour we were all down to the frozen lake, skinning across as fast as we could trying to stay warm in the cold wind and the blowing snow.

Skinning across Peyto Lake in marginal weather. Photo by Ben

Skinning across Peyto Lake in marginal weather. Photo by Ben

After a long slog across we arrived at the opposite end of this lake. Unfortunately we had to remove our skis to cross the creek two times and balance on some slippery rocks trying not to wet our feet. Last year in May we could just ski up and over the climber’s right side but this time we didn’t have enough snow coverage. Upon reaching the infamous moraine we ascended the sparsely treed slope on climber’s right, picked a nice rising traverse line and managed to avoid ascending exposed and steep slope. The moraine sucked as usual as we had to carry our skis and grind hundreds of meters upwards, either trying to kick-step into the frozen solid moraine or post-holing on some soft and deep snow. The deteriorating weather, the cold wind and the blowing snow did not help our mood neither. And the worst part, after cresting the apex we had to lose another 100 m to the toe of Peyto Glacier. Oh well…

Had to take off skis to negotiate this creek section. Photo by Ben

Had to take off skis to negotiate this creek section. Photo by Ben

Skis on our packs now. Ascending tediously up the moraine...

Skis on our packs now. Ascending tediously up the moraine…

On top of the moraine. Now we had to lose another 100 m down to the glacier...

On top of the moraine. Now we had to lose another 100 m down to the glacier…

At least the visibility wasn’t bad on the glacier. Actually, the weather appeared to be much better on the Wapta than looking back towards the Highway. All of the peaks on the Icefield appeared to be free of clouds and that was strange. We had no complain on that though as it worked just perfectly for us. Since we were doing good on time Ben and I decided to drop our extra gears to the Hut first before continuing towards Mt. Baker. To get to Peyto Hut we had to pick a wide contouring line to avoid the crevasses on the steep roll immediately below the hut. The skiing on the icefield was easy but the elevation gain from the icefield to the hut was surprisingly major.

Ascending onto the Wapta Icefield

Ascending onto the Wapta Icefield

Vern slogging up Peyto Glacier with some bad weather behind

Vern slogging up Peyto Glacier with some bad weather behind

Looking towards our second objective - Peyto Peak.

Looking towards our second objective – Peyto Peak.

After a wide contouring we finally could aim directly towards the Hut

After a wide contouring we finally could aim directly towards the Hut

Ben following up with the immense Wapta Icefield behind

Ben following up with the immense Wapta Icefield behind

Here's the Peyto Hut

Almost arrived at our first destination – Peyto Hut

The nice and cozy hut.

The nice and cozy hut.

The hut was nice and cozy compared to the wind we just experienced outside. Ben and I got lazy and spent about 1.5 hours resting and cooking lunch in the hut (and waiting for the weather to improve for just a little bit). Eventually we figured it’s the time to get out again. We ditched most of the mountaineering gears (including a ton load of rock climbing gears which we brought for Peyto’s true summit) as Baker was supposed to be an ‘easy’ snow climb. So with each of us arming with an “red axe” and steel crampons we set off crossing the Wapta Icefield towards the distant Baker/Tilly col. Vern was originally planning to ski to the high col with us but felt lazy as well after staying in the warm hut for more than 1 hour. He decided to just follow us from behind and do some nice and easy turns on the glacier. After dropping down to the icefield proper we stayed fairly to the climber’s left side and managed to avoid any further elevation loss. Terrain got steeper towards the col but not as bad as it looked from afar.

Weather was definitely clearing up. This is our objective. Ascent route on the right skyline

Weather was definitely clearing up. This is our objective. Ascent route on the right skyline

Me on the Wapta again. Photo by Ben

Me on the Wapta again. Photo by Ben

Ben skinning towards our objective

Ben skinning towards our objective

We constantly switching the lead to help maintaining a fast and steady pace. Photo by Ben

We constantly switching the lead to help maintaining a fast and steady pace. Photo by Ben

Getting higher now.

Getting higher now.

At the col, looking towards the north side. I'm told the terrain immediately north of the col offers some of the best skiing

At the col, looking towards the north side. I’m told the terrain immediately north of the col offers some of the best skiing

Trapper Peak from the col. Vern and I climbed it last spring. It's much tougher than Baker.

Trapper Peak from the col. Vern and I climbed it last spring. It’s much tougher than Baker.

The snow climb on Mt. Baker’s NE Ridge was just as expected – not very difficult but not for the faint of heart neither. Comparing to the ones I did last year (Collie, Trapper, Ayesha) this one was fairly tame but still, there was steep snow and cornices to negotiate and a mistake on this ridge would not be optional. The lower half of the climb felt more like a face climb than ridge. It started easily but terrain got steeper soon. With cornices on climber’s left that we couldn’t tell the boundary we were forced to ascend some steep snow on the N. Face side. The snowpack was indeed bomber though as we had to often front-point or kick very hard step into the snow face.

Me kicking-step up the face. Photo by Ben

Me kicking-step up the face. Photo by Ben

Looking down at Ben following up.

Looking down at Ben following up.

Excellent view of the Wapta!

Excellent view of the Wapta!

Steep terrain

Steep terrain

Higher up we had to stay on the North side to avoid the cornices. Photo by Ben

Higher up we stayed on the North side to avoid the cornices. Photo by Ben

Upon reaching the top of this triangular snow face we were on the transition zone to the NE Ridge proper. Here was the unexpected crux on this route – a massive cornice on a narrow ridge that we couldn’t tell the boundary. Due to the wet and sticky snow we got in this winter the cornices on these snowy summits were absolutely massive. The room for negotiating this section was very limited as the terrain on climber’s right was snow covered down-sloping rocks. After this bit of excitement we still had to overcome many cornices but the foot placement was fairly straightforward from here on. There was another huge cornice near the summit that we had to traverse onto the N. Face side though. The summit view was great but due to the coldness and the lateness in the day we didn’t linger any longer. The air temperature must have dropped to below -20 degrees and the wind was strong. My camera would fail within half a minute if I forgot to warm it up inside my jacket.

The heavily corniced upper ridge

The heavily corniced upper ridge

Ben ascending the ridge in very cold weather

Ben ascending the ridge in very cold weather

Me leading the way up. Photo by Ben

Me leading the way up. Photo by Ben

Summit Panorama from Mt. Baker. Click to view large size.

Summit Panorama from Mt. Baker. Click to view large size.

Mt. Des Poilus rises behind Ayesha Peak. Des Poilus will be my last major summit on the entire Wapta Icefield!

Mt. Des Poilus rises behind Ayesha Peak.

Looking deeply south towards the giants by Lake Louise/O'Hara

Looking deeply south towards the giants by Lake Louise/O’Hara

Mt. Habel in the foreground looks fairly small

Mt. Habel in the foreground looks fairly small

Behind Mt. Thompson are peaks in the front ranges

Behind Mt. Thompson are peaks in the front ranges

Mt. Mummery is always the eye-catching giant looking west.

Mt. Mummery is always the eye-catching giant looking west.

Hawse Peak and Mt. Chephren in the distance

Hawse Peak and Mt. Chephren in the distance

Behind Mt. Laussedat are giants in the Selkirks - Sir Donald, Rogers, Iconoclast, etc.

Behind Mt. Laussedat are giants in the Selkirks – Sir Donald, Rogers, Iconoclast, etc.

Rising behind Mt. Collie are the intimidating Goodsirs

Rising behind Mt. Collie are the intimidating Goodsirs

Another panorama from the summit. Click to view large size.

Another panorama from the summit. Click to view large size.

Me on the summit of Mt. Baker. Photo by Ben

Me on the summit of Mt. Baker. Photo by Ben

The descent still required extra caution on the foot placements but since we already had a track to follow it went by reasonably fast. In short time we were back to the face and some easy plunging-step brought us back to Baker/Tilly col. It’s apparent none of us was in the mood to post-hole up “Tilly Peak” nor did we have enough daylight time left. The run from Baker Col back to Peyto Hut was described by Vern as one of the best runs on the Wapta Icefield so we were all excited about that. The snow condition was just perfect for cruising down the hills and we made back to the hut minutes after the last bit of evening alpenglow.

Ben negotiating the gigantic cornice on the way down

Ben negotiating the gigantic cornice on the way down

Excellent views in the background. Ben is still on that cornice on lower right.

Excellent views in the background. Ben is still on that cornice on lower right.

Back to the Baker/Tilly col now, looking north

Back to the Baker/Tilly col now, looking north

Mt. Forbes finally decided to show up

Mt. Forbes finally decided to show up

So does some high peaks on the Freshfield Icefield

So does some high peaks on the Freshfield Icefield

Mt. Outram and Mt. Erasmus almost free of clouds!

Mt. Outram and Mt. Erasmus almost free of clouds!

Even Mt. Willingdon was trying to show up!

Even Mt. Willingdon was trying to show up!

Mt. Olive and St. Nicolas Peak - the icons of Wapta

Mt. Olive and St. Nicolas Peak – the icons of Wapta

Crowfoot Mountain another easy peak on the edge of Wapta

Crowfoot Mountain another easy peak on the edge of Wapta

Mt. Habel - apparently one can ascend it from this side too.

Mt. Habel – apparently one can ascend it from this side too.

Peyto Peak is the hardest summit on the Wapta - our objective for the next day

Peyto Peak is the hardest summit on the Wapta – our objective for the next day

Evening glow on Caldron Peak

Evening glow on Caldron Peak

Glow on Observation Peak across Mistaya Valley

Glow on Observation Peak across Mistaya Valley

The last bit of sunlight on Mt. Thompson

The last bit of sunlight on Mt. Thompson

Needless to say we were both very satisfied by a successful climb of Mt. Baker in February as it’s one of the major objectives in our radar for this winter. Two other skiers arrived at the hut via the Bow Hut approach and after chatting briefly we found that it took them the same amount of time to get here as us (4.5 hours)… That’s something interesting to mention.. The night was peaceful and apparently the wind had died down so we were all looking forward to a successful climb on Peyto Peak the following day.

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