Through out November winter storms have been rolling across the western United States leaving deep blankets of snow across all mountain regions. The parched Sierra is reveling in good early season snow conditions, as the San Juans in Colorado have been reaping the outcomes of “El Gordo” the pet name of this years persisting El Nino pattern.
In the Northwest there has been a steady stream of precipitation. Fortunately the Mount Baker region has been on the cold side of this flow. According to the Heather Meadows Telemetry which is 4,210 feet above sea level there is a 34” base and on Pan Dome which is at about 5,000 feet the base is at 60”. These measurements are from with in the ski area, a small sample of what is really out there.
As the winter's snowpack builds I start getting anxious about my annual pilgrimage to the classic zones near Mount Baker, such as the Bagley Lake Cirque. On any given day this zone holds more easy to access world class riding than anywhere else. Even though from the parking lot, many tracks are visible, its important to remember that this area has many objective and subjective hazards including but not limited to enormous avalanche paths some of which have been ‘the last run.’
First, we leave Heather Meadows up an hour long skin to a short but steep snow climb to the top of Table Mountain. From here we dive down a classic north face line called Little AK. This line relentlessly drops for 1,300 vertical feet to the valley floor with slopes near 55 degrees. Steep, deep, and full on welcome to Baker B.C.!
At the bottom of Little AK we glare up at second run of the day, namely Diamond Trees. This 1,100’ east face plummets 45+ degrees through open glades, tree lined chutes, and gullies. Beware of these slopes since sluff management is a required skill and this is not a classroom. One wrong turn into moving snow and you may find yourself in the body capturing tree strainers near the bottom.
Our third run lies 1,500’ above us on Mount Hermans South East Ridge. From Hermans false summit we escape into the snow globe that is the south bowl. A short fourth run down 500' north slopes takes us to a quick 700’ skin track cruiser up to Hermans south sub-summit. From here east facing 40 degree slopes descend powder filled bowls, over wind lips and off a steep cliff playground before reaching a moraine called the dragons back.
The fifth line of the day takes us back up to Hermans South East Ridge summit for another steep line. From nearly 5,700’ we descend 1,500’ down steep 50 degree steps and benches and over cliff drop zones up to 25’. Creatively named the Lot Line this slope demands a variety of riding skills and intricate route finding to lead back to, you guessed it, the parking lot.
This is one of my favorite full day tours that requires technical skills including route finding, skin track setting, and sluff management. It's physically demanding with full day pace management and a total of nearly 5,100 vertical feet. Fill in the steep expert lines with deep blower pow while possibly following the skin track of one of your favorite pro riders you may have the best day of your life!