Learning Ski Mountaineering on Mount Baker’s Coleman Deming Route

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We summited Mount Baker!

And not the ski resort, we summited the volcano. All 10,781 feet of it this past Saturday, June 4th.

Myself, Shawn and Becky on the summit

The adventure began in February when Shawn, Becky and I all realized we were interested in summiting Rainier. For me, I’ve been interested in summiting Rainier for years but would always decide too late in the year to tackle it. Turns out that starting to plan in February is pretty late, but not too late. After pulling together all the options to climb Rainier we decided to invest in learning how to summit ourselves which would likely mean postponing a Rainier summit to 2012.

To learn how to summit Rainier we called Martin Volken at Pro Guiding North Bend and had him put together a ski mountaineering course for us. Our classroom turned out to be Mount Baker. Our instructor & guide, Dave Jordan.

After hours of planning and preparation this past Tuesday we were packed and ready to go when we got a call from Dave wondering if we’d seen the forecast. For our five day trip we were facing two days of rain and three days of sun. Unfortunately we couldn’t push our trip back for better weather because of Shawn’s work plans so off it was off to Bellingham to crash at Becky’s friend’s place.

Day 1 – Bellingham sleepover to camping at Mirkwood

Alarm went off at 6:30 am, we loaded up the super cruiser [pic] and headed to Glacier to meet our guide, Dave, at the US Forest Service Station in Glacier. After quick intros, a last pit stop at a real bathroom before blug bagging it, we had Dave explode his pack and walk us through everything he was taking. Turns out from a gear perspective we were in good shape but from a food perspective Shawn and I had way too much food, Becky on the other hand had planned perfectly [pic]. I ended up ditching a bunch of food but in the end I still had way too much :).

Once loaded up [pic] we headed east on Mt. Baker Highway 542 and took a left on Glacier Creek Road #39. We traveled about 7 miles before hitting snow on the road. After gearing up [pic] we left the cars behind and skinned (skinning is uphill travel on skis) up the road [pic] to the trail head.

From the trail head we took the Heliotrope trail to Mirkwood which took three or four hours. Parts of the trail were nice and mellow [pic], other parts were tricky because you had to cross a stream on skis [pic] and others because it was steep and challenging on a split board [pic].

As this was my first time skiing with a large heavily loaded pack I was pleasantly surprised to find it easier than hiking with an equally weighted pack.

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At Mirkwood we setup what would be our camp for two nights [pic]. As this was my first time winter camping we learned to shovel a flat platform, stomp it out with your skis on to compress the snow, and then once you have your tents up to dig out vestibules so you can sit in your tent and easily put your boots on. We also learned that when our guide winter camps he builds a snow cave with a tarp and bivy. Turns out to be a much lighter and roomier setup, though requires more shoveling. We’ll have to give it a go next time.

Day 2 – Waiting out rain, a little training

It rained throughout the night and when we awoke it was sadly still raining. So much for an early morning departure to go skin over to the Mazama Col navigating our way through the Roosevelt Glacier. Fortunately I brought my iPhone and had downloaded a couple books so I spent the day reading Born to Run. Around 3 in the afternoon Shawn was getting antsy so we geared up and spent an hour or two learning how to setup anchors and self rappel [pic]. It was great to get out of the tent but we were all a little nervous about getting wet and not being able to dry our gear out. Sure enough, when we got back to the tent Becky found that her sleeping bag had gotten wet while were gone as we had to collapse our tents since our poles and ice axes had staked it up but we needed them for our side trip. For future reference, put your sleeping bag in your garbage bag while you’re gone for the day so it doesn’t get wet.

For trip planning class four of us crammed into a two person tent. It was cozy!

After dinner we crammed the four of us into our two person tent [pic] and learned how to read a map, use our compass and write out a tour plan. Turns out the cheap Brunton Classic Compass I bought isn’t going to cut out. I think I’m going to upgrade to a Suunto MC-2G Global Compass.

Day 3 – Move camp to Heliotrope Ridge, training

We woke up to no more rain and cloud cover that was on its way out. We were even treated to our first view of Baker [pic] as we tore up camp [pic].

We had to gain 2100 vertical feet over two kilometers to Heliotrope Ridge which took us a couple hours. The views were incredible.

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At Heliotrope Ridge we were the only ones camping on Friday night so we got to pick an awesome spot nestled in the ridge [pic]. Saturday night, the place was packed with tents everywhere.

After setting up camp we practiced our self arrests, then self rappelled off a small cornice, and learned to setup a 3-1 haul system. After a few hours playing in the sun and snow [pic] we were burnt out and starving.

Day 4 – Summit day

We woke up around 4 am for our 6 am departure. Which wasn’t a problem since we’d been waking up around 4 am each day with the sun. At 6 am the snow was very firm so we broke out our ski crampons for the first time on the trip and started moving [pic]. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky, chilly, but I was able to wear just a long underwear top.

Around 9000 feet Becky decided to continue on foot instead of skinning as it was getting steep and technical. She roped up with Dave and Shawn and I continued skinning. Dave had us go off on our own but after a few hundred vertical feet we got ourselves onto a pretty steep slope and were struggling to get onto the ridge line so he tossed me down a rope to ensure if I had a misstep I wasn’t going for a ride. Once we all gained the ridge I decided that the consequences of a misstep were pretty high, so I put my skis on my pack, crampons on my boots (as did Shawn [pic]) and roped up with everyone else and we booted it up the thousand or so feet to the peak. But once you hit the peak you still have a haul until the true summit [pic] at 10,781 feet :).

We summited at 12:16. We had predicted it would take us 4.5 hours of travel so we must have taken a few breaks along the way.

The views from the summit were incredible! You could see the San Juans, Rainier and Vancouver.

Myself, Shawn and Becky on the summit

We didn’t stay on the summit for long, with crazy winds we quickly ducked by down, ate lunch, boiled water and waited for the snow to soften. A little after one we headed down on skis. The descent off the top is definitely a no fall situation. Given that I had fallen in Alaska I was taking any chances and skied with an ice axe in one hand until we got down to 9000 feet and could really tear it up. Since we were summiting on Saturday and had an early start we were some of the first people down on skis which meant the conditions were excellent [pic].

Back at camp were high as a kite.

Sadly we had no beers to celebrate. Instead we drank snow melt and watched some folks from Turns All Year tear up the Coleman Headwall. We also watched a bunch of hikers struggling up and down (skiing is so much faster.)

Day 5 – Heading home

Sadly all good things must come to an end! After “sleeping in” (okay, not really) we had breakfast, tore up camp, waited until 10 when the snow had warmed up a bit, and then tore it up [pic]. Skiing with a 50lbs pack was challenging, but still a blast. Instead of going back the way we came we followed an old avalanche path to skip skiing through the forest. Along this path we saw a fresh slide. Likely from Saturday afternoon. And sure enough when we returned to the Glacier forest station there was a warning about increased avi danger this weekend [pic].

Skiing the old avi debris was challenging to ski but likely much easier for Becky than fighting through the forest.

Heading home.

Once in Glacier we headed to the nearest bar for burgers, which was closed! But then hit up Slide Mountain.


What an awesome trip! Can’t wait for the next adventure :). Maybe Shuksan, Adam’s, Helen’s or Hood. Then Rainier next year.


  • Stove to get seems to be the Jet Boil.
  • A tent with two vestibules is really nice. I liked the MSR Hoop tent that Pro Guiding lent us.
  • Two Nalgene’s wasn’t really necessary, one would have sufficed since it was warm enough to put snow in your Nalgene and have your water melt it.
  • For wet gear, boil some water in your Nalgene and put the warm Nalgene and wet clothes in your sleeping bag.
  • I was jealous of Dave’s Fozzils bowl
  • Guide services aren’t allowed to lead ski trips on Rainier.
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