Cold temps above treeline and in the shade kept the snow cold, chalky to powdery, lower down slope conditions varied from corny to crusty. Views sprawled across the deep glaciated mountains of the Chugach Range from the maritime zone surrounding the small port town of Valdez Alaska. Including the mighty Meteorite, the expansive Wortman’s and Deserted glaciers, all the way to the continental mountains of the Wrangell St Elias. In the week prior to and throughout the AMGA Advanced Ski Guide Course & Aspirant Exam we were treated to generally clear visibility and stable snow conditions. These great conditions allowed us to stake claim on a variety of classic Thompson Pass descents such as Tones Temple, Berlin Wall, Cherry Couloir, and many others while developing as professionals in one of the greatest freeride zones on earth.
After a full season of shred a diverse group of well-prepared guides converged upon the Chugach Range. Traveling from renowned ski zones in Iceland, Japan, Tetons, Sierra, Rockies, and the Cascades. These men and women brought an amalgamation of skills and insights gained through years of dedicated experience. Tossing bombs and ski cutting in ski area snow programs, fast pace turn and burn mechanized ski guiding, self-reliant human powered touring, and rugged steep ski mountaineering experiences led quickly to engaged discussions. Climatological snowpack metamorphism, targeted snowpack observations, and weather patterns, were factored to create our daily avalanche hazard assessment, danger ratings, and subsequent run lists. Not only were the course candidates well versed in all things snow sliding but so were our instructor/ examiners. Forest, Amos, and Mike delivered direct feedback on technical skills and application but also on a variety of perspectives of client care, the soft side of guiding. Even with ultra-diverse personalities, goals, and experiences all of the candidates and instructors created a supportive learning environment that fostered an opportunity to progress and succeed.
During the advanced ski guide course, the art of track setting and transitions were improved. Once that art was hard-wired, we focused on a mountain sense that enabled safe ascent lines and rad fall line descents. To practice mountain sense, we went and booted up the Stairway and Karat Chutes on Mount Dimond. While increasing our vulnerability to avalanche and overhead cornice and rockfall hazards we made accurate assessments on slope stability, wind loading, and rise in temperatures to maintain a suitable margin of safety. When practical we busted out the rope and added a complimentary element to the ski discipline. The rope provided security and granted us access to challenging and complex terrain on the Worthington Glacier. Another technical skill we applied was the short rope. While scrambling along Berlin Walls 4thclass mixed rock and steep snow we moved together prepared to brace a slip or short pitch when needed. Lowering and belayed skiing techniques opened up more terrain options. On the firm summit slopes of the Python high client rewards were achieved. Not only were client rewards achieved but guide security and perhaps as important, guide rewards were achieved. Throughout the course, we were given immediate feedback on our movement skills. Skiing mellow glacial pow, steep settled buff, and refrozen below treeline schmoo requires a diverse shred technique, mainly shred to inspire! Technical skill application, risk management, and client reward go hand in hand in hand. As a result, we climbed cool summits, enjoyed soft turns across the glaciers, over snow-covered moraines, and down glacial tongues into the valley.
Since we received and applied quality feedback, spent a week improving, the candidates understood our instructor’s expectations, so we moved confidently forward with the assigned guiding objectives. Socked in milky clouds and moderate snowfall rates met us for a day of guided assignments and to our surprise the instructor team proposed the option to start the aspirant exam a day early. The initial shock was quickly overcome and the candidates deliberated then accepted the proposal. A quick mental shift and the team prepared to perform at their best and at least, comparable to the level of a certified ski guide. Risk management, client care, technical systems, application of those systems, terrain assessment, mountain sense, professionalism, movement, and instructional technique were practically applied to achieve our daily shred objectives and achieve our aspirations to become Assistant Splitboard/Ski Guides. Through the aspirant exam process we demonstrated and were assessed at a standard to which employers and clients can be assured. Every candidate demonstrated the skills necessary to guide on complex glaciated objectives thus opening up additional opportunities. Most definitely the advanced ski guide course and aspirant exam was 10 days of turning it on.
Thinking back to when I decided to pursue snowboard guiding it wasn’t even really a thing. Splitboards were a gimmick, people didn’t have them, avalanche education was in its infancy. I remember the laughs of old schoolers who would scoff at the thought of a snowboard guide. Asking, “What are you going to do? Snowshoe?” At the same time a few snowboarders were carving the path. After persevering through the early days of splitboarding and mastering the split magic the only laughs I hear now are from the colleagues I’m ripping turns next to. I love being surprised by having 5 splitters on the course. Every one of these guides have contributed to the art of split guiding during a time of rapid snowboard guide development. Numerous times throughout the course I smiled while thinking how grateful I am for receiving the F.O.R.G.E. Scholarship, how much snowboard guides have progressed, about the people who laid the foundation for all splitboard guides, and how proud Rick Gaukel would be of all the AMGA apprentice, assistant, and certified Splitboard Guides.
When it rains it pours but when it snows it dumps. First the rain drives people away but for those willing to stay around get to see that when it snows it dumps. This is what draws folks in to shredding the Mount Baker Backcountry. Sometimes prime conditions show up on weekdays, providing deep snow, gray bird visibility, and mild crowds. Other times the best opportunity maybe on the weekend when there is time off work or friends are available to rip. When it’s prime, the low hanging fruit of the Table Mountain Zone is irresistible and the feeding frenzy of a weekend back country pow day ensues. In order to make the most of your time this is where not to go on a weekend in the Baker Backcountry.
“what does Blueberry mean to you?” And if I could summarize the responses it goes something like, “that bowl, that chute, that cornice” while pointing in the direction of Artist Point. So, for the sake of this description I’ll refer to Blueberry Chute as the relatively moderate bowl on the skiers right end of the giant cornice along the ridge below Artist Point. Vague enough… Consequently, this is a go-to line for anyone from Heather Meadows or the ski area looking to get low investment turns. Subsequently, on a pow day there is a lot of traffic and you can expect to have people dropping in on top of you. This slope has been the scene of many avalanche burials over the years and during poor avalanche conditions this slope has run the entire 750 vertical feet to the lake. When the ski area is tracked, and you want some freshies don’t go to the chop and bumps you are likely to find on a weekend in Blueberry Chute.
ski area boundary you decided to zig zag a zipper skin line back up underneath these big lines. If pow days, steep terrain, and fun with friends is your bag then this is another place not to go on a week end in the Baker Backcountry.
A great tour is heading out to Herman Saddle or Iceberg Lakes. Often times there is a track dropping out of the parking lot towards lower Bagley Lake. This area is a hive of activity, but be diligent, you are traveling underneath overhead hazard. You start to see the flying bodies of the bros and brahs that chuck their carcasses into the air off big booters below Grandmas House. Sledding kids shoot out of the trees with beanies over their eyes as they slide into their run out on the lake. And finally, the big avalanche paths of Mount Herman that crash down the Boulder Field, into the gulley, and onto the lakes creating dangerous terrain traps are places not to go on a weekend in the Baker Backcountry.
There are numerous reasons to venture into the Mount Baker Backcountry. From big lines, to booters, to snowshoeing and sled riding this winter time playground is fun for all. There are guide books, online forums, and local knowledge that can tell you where to go. But on your next weekend off, during the next powder frenzy, when the low hanging fruit looks ripe hopefully where not to go on a weekend in the Baker Backcountry will help make your next visit a little less rotten.
Splitboard Courses and Trips 2018/2019: One the Most Comprehensive Splitboard Programs in the Nation
It’s no news to any of us that skiers and snowboarders use terrain differently. From berms and banks to bumps and ruts there is no doubt that we use the mountain differently. As a self-proclaimed stubborn and passionate snowboarder, I have always believed that it has to be done, developed, and refined in order to progress the sport of splitboarding. Through the "I wallow so you can follow" attitude we can now use terrain in the most efficient manner meaning less traversing, more fall line, and quicker turn arounds to our next run. Working with Pro Guiding Service based in North Bend Washington and The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) we now offer one of the most complete splitboard curriculum’s in the country.
Alpental Valley, and the legendary fall line Baker Backcountry. This will allow participants the opportunity to choose a venue they love or mix and match to experience more of the Cascades.
So, if you want to do a touring course one weekend then do an avalanche course 2 weeks later at Crystal Mountain, we have it. If you want to tour at Baker, then do an avalanche course in the Alpental Valley we can do it.
After a spending the winter season implementing the skills learned during the touring and avalanche courses our progression leads us into long sunny days, big 7,000’ descents, and stabilizing snow of spring time corn on the big mountains. During the Splitboard Mountaineering Courses participants will learn the fundamentals of camping on the snow, traveling on a glacier, crack fall rescue, and navigation. Even more advanced skills such as moderate to steep snow climbing, rappelling, white out navigation, and rescue sled construction will be introduced. This 4-day course takes place on the glaciated volcanic peak of Mount Baker with a culmination of a summit climb and descent. This venue offers a variety of route options and descents. Our mountaineering course has the condition dependent option of traveling to Mount Shuksan.
To compliment all the courses and instruction, I offer single day trips with the goal of traveling through terrain and getting in long, steep, and deep runs. These days can take place when conditions are good and short notice bookings are encouraged. This means if the forecast looks good and a pow day is nearly guaranteed you can book as late as the night before, 2 nights prior works great too! Group rates apply and private days are available especially if you have a special request such as avalanche mentorship or riding the White Salmon Glacier on Mount Shuksan's massive western escarpment.
Even more, with Pro Guiding Service we are offering lift accessed backcountry shredding at Baker, Whistler, or Crystal Mountain. Additionally, we offer splitboard trips to the big mountain mecca of Valdez Alaska, sailboat accessed fjord shredding in Andalsnes Norway, and high elevation summit shreds on Pico de Orizaba in Mexico. Check out Guided Exposure's Calendar for dates!
After 23 years of experience and years of program development we are proud to introduce one of the most comprehensive splitboard progressions in the nation. From first timers to seasoned splitters we have left nothing out. If you are looking to get out on single day guided trips during big pow days, shred gigantic lines on the big mountains, or quit your job and become an international shred bum we have something for everyone.
The snow on the glaciers was still thick and the days were still growing longer. My spring schedule had filled with multi-day ski trips and summit climbs on Mount Baker. This time of the year was typical and we received our share of rain, snow, and over all wet conditions. As we transitioned from spring to summer my instructional courses and shred trips on Baker moved to summit climbs in the southern complex of North Cascades National Park. By then the wet spring weather had become a distant memory as we sweltered in the hot, dry, and smoky summer haze. Along the way the Exped Black Ice 55 Liter was my go to pack on shred and send trips up to 6 days in length.
When the Black Ice showed up in the spring at Pro Guiding Service I was stoked to see it’s waterproof design. After spending over a decade guiding big whitewater, I immediately recognized the benefits this pack would have in the commonly wet North Cascades. In a classic dry bag design this pack is made of an ultra durable but light weight TPU Laminated HD Ripstop with a large opening on the roll top closure. The functionality here is top notch. The roll top secures with either 2 small carabiners that clip to daisy chain style loops down the side of the pack, or with larger loads that fill the pack, you can get a couple rolls in, bring the ends together, and clip them with a separate male/female style plastic plug and pinch buckle. During the spring with our cooler wet weather I felt 100% comfortable leaving my pack rolled up laying outside the tent vestibule to keep space open for boots and stoves. Never once did any gear get wet inside.
In order to ensure waterproof performance the packs design has one large 55 liter tapered funnel shaped compartment, a small external waterproof zippered pocket, and a small internal pocket. In addition, a frameless design keeps the empty pack weight down, but with a removable ultra lightweight PE foam board it supports pack weight surprisingly well. No flaps, no drawcord openings, no brain. Using a classic brick and mortar packing style, I was able to stuff small soft items such as shirts and extra socks around medium sized hard items like a stove and fuel cans into the large main compartment. This would provide plenty of space for 6 days of gear on summer alpine climbing trips into Boston Basin and for as many days on splitboard mountaineering trips on Mount Shuksan.
The external waterproof zippered pocket has enough space for several small items such as a couple snack bars, map and compass, and the always critical blue bag. Over stuffing the zippered pocket could create a possible weak point in the waterproof performance of this pack fortunately the inside of the pocket is made of the same TPU laminated HD Ripstop so the inside of the pack will remain dry and protected if this were to happen.
Meanwhile the internal pocket offers a little organization for a few items such as more snack bars, a spare battery pack, and a bottle of sunscreen. After the main compartment is packed with all my gear this pocket becomes difficult to access. Another option is using the internal pocket to hold a 1.5 liter hydration bag or dromedary but there is no hydration tube port to the outside of the pack.
The simple waterproof tunnel design is effective but has limited organization options. A simple solution I have come up with is a small stuff sack for my regularly used items such as lip balm, sunscreen, tooth brush, and more snacks, that sits on top of my gear in the main compartment.
Compression and Extension
This pack is a stout 55 liters, large enough to carry enough gear for 5 or more days into Boston Basi in the North Cascades. But when it’s time to climb the West Ridge of Forbidden the Black Ice rolls down small. Even though there aren’t any integrated compression straps the pack rolls down tight enough to climb like a small summit pack while still maintaining space for a days worth of climbing gear.
Straps, what straps! This super slim, low profile pack allows a variety of strapping options for those must carry on the outside pieces of equipment. Additionally, low profile shoulder and waist straps provide just enough padding and weight distribution to carry the large loads. While any extra tail length rolls conveniently into velcro closures on the end of the adjustment straps.
First, this pack comes with removable compression style straps that allow custom arrangement on the 4 daisy chain loops running down the back and sides of the pack. Along with an adjustable over the top strap with a metal aluminum hook closure for a variety of arrangements. If you’re carrying a splitboard in “A” frame position or diagonal there are solutions, if you need to attach a rope on the outside there are solutions, snow picket access just clip it, crampons on the outside no problem. If you’re going for a day hike, remove all the straps and have a stream line pack that won’t snag on the drooping doug firs.
Next, the low-profile shoulder straps are padded and wide enough to distribute the fully loaded weight of a 55 Liter pack while maintaining low bulk and avoiding sponge like affect in wet conditions. At first, I was concerned with the padding packing out, but after a full summer of heavy loads this hasn’t happened. The floating sternum strap adjusts up and down easily and for my body shape and size I found the range to be a little limiting but still functions nicely.
In order to carry a big pack comfortably Exped used a removable seat belt style waist belt that connects with a coin and slot buckle. This modern buckle style is easy to use in the snow with gloves, so no snow clogging pinch to unplug buckle. The female coin slot piece is plastic while the male coin piece is aluminum. Throughout the summer I have seen noticeable wear on the plastic piece. It seems durable enough in materials and design to withstand being crushed if it gets stepped on. Thus more durable than a typical pinch and plug buckle but it has seen more wear than the aluminum component. Adjusting the buckle is easy as long as I adjust the metal coin, left side first, then after clipping the buckle tighten the plastic slot from the right side. I haven’t removed the belt to climb yet and in fact I prefer moving through vertical terrain with the belt buckled so my pack moves with me and doesn’t sway. But for those who prefer otherwise the belt can be removed easily and stored at camp or in the pack while scrambling, climbing, or sending.
Lastly, the pack easily carries an ice axe or two ice tools with a traditional loop and flip design for the head and a fish hook shaped shock cord toggle tightener to snug the shaft in place. Another design consideration I really liked is the large grab loop handle behind your head. This handle not only makes moving the bag around easy but when transitioning from ice axe use in moderate and steep snow couloirs to 4th class rock this handle doubles as a behind the back and head quick storage for a He Man, ninja sword, stow and retrieve security loop.
From Cascade deluges of rain and Andean snow squalls this pack has kept my gear dry all summer. Alpine climbing up steep snow couloirs, across classic rock ridges, down long gully rappels, and across broken glaciers to getting shoved under the back seat of a mini bus by an anxious driver in Caraz, this thing has held up incredibly well. Over all this pack has surpassed my expectations being able to adapt to any style I decide to use it. And seeing how it has survived a spring and summer of heavy use during work and on personal expeditions I believe strongly this pack will last for many more years of abuse.
Baker Splitfest 2018
were poked, jammed, and pitted for the simple enjoyment of shred.
The official start to Baker Splitfest was Friday evening. As the split tribe descended upon the fern and moss laden soggy nook of the North Cascades in Glacier Washington. Throughout the night, the host of the event, Chair 9 Pizza and Bar, turned out pizza pie after pint and rippers chatted with vendors about products while free demos were setup for the following days clinics and tours. At the same time splitters greeted each other, listened to the avalanche forecast and “state of the snowpack”, and registered for the weekends tours and clinics.
The night silently faded, then the morning beckoned rippers up to Heather Meadows. Gradually, the parking lot filled with splitboarders from all over the country. They would try their hand at some of the best advanced and expert backcountry in the nation. This area has a long history of ground breaking snowboard progression and the immediate Bagley Lakes Cirque holds some beginner and even more intermediate terrain. But for those looking to challenge themselves what really shines are the big lines that may define their snowboarding lives. Fortunately, professionally guided splitboard tours and skills clinics launched out of the parking lot and introduced the willing to this gem we call home. Kick turns and pow slashes were preceded by layers of sunscreen, cruiser skin tracks, and welcoming camaraderie Excited splitters slid out on new demo gear towards Artist Point, Herman Saddle, Table Mountain and deeper into the Mount Baker Wilderness towards Ptarmigan Ridge. Lap after lap of pure powder pleasure, P cubed, depleted energy reserves, and splitters trickled back into the parking lot. As afternoon wore onto evening, Chair 9 kept the stoke high with frothy refreshments pouring down thirsty throats, as shredders shared stories of steep lines with snow filled grins.
Saturday night is a Splitfest highlight. Demo gear exchanges take place with new setups, a splitboard transition competition rallied under the white tent, and of course the raffle. This is an opportunity to purchase tickets for a chance to win prizes from sunglasses to splitboards. All with the purpose of supporting our local avalanche forecasting center, The Northwest Avalanche Center.
Day three had cast a shadow weariness after a night celebrating this sub-genre of snowboarding. The mountains put on a new kit with light snow falling and a milky white fog drooped, sagged, and draped across the Bagley Cirque limiting visibility on the steep treeless slopes. Even so, crews of splitters flittered uphill to Heather Meadows for another day of adventure exploring the legendary Baker backcountry. Where, when, and how entered the thoughts of the uninitiated. For those of us accustomed to northwest ping pong ball shred conditions, moving through flat light and fog comes with experience and the territory. For those unfamiliar, finding well contrasted slopes can be challenging. Thankfully, we were able to bring my guided split crew into a zone that had less fog, rocky contrast, and quality turns in cold snow. The split crew was rewarded with a classic, rarely traveled, circumnav and a phenomenal climax to everything Splitfest has to offer.
Reluctantly, crews of splitboarders headed downhill, leaving behind the high walls of North Cascade snow, back down to the green valley below. Again Splitfest descended to Chair 9, drank and sipped pitchers of brew, chowed hot pizza pie and cheesy burgers all while sharing the stoke that Baker Splitfest provides. Contacts, connections, reacquaintance, and more importantly friendships and camaraderie were forged during this regional splitboard pilgrimage to the legendary Baker backcountry. Thanks to all the event sponsors, gear and swag donors, Chair 9 Pizza and Bar, and Bob Rodgers for organizing Baker Splitfest 2018. See you all in 2019 while spreading the love of split!
After returning from a rock climbing trip in Squamish British Columbia, the opportunity for a big solo outing presented itself. All of my potential partners were occupied in one way or another so I started to search for possible objectives.
Eventually I found the perfect 3 day route that would allow me to set up a base camp on the first day, make an attempt on Mount Maude and Seven Fingered Jack on the second day, then on the third day hike out. It was a perfect plan and the chances of summiting both peaks were good. The night before my departure, I drove to the trailhead to spend the night where almost 20 miles from the trailhead, I was stopped by a closed gate. This was very unexpected and decided it wasn't worth the walk.
It was a huge disappointment and I was having trouble figuring out what to climb instead. After a lot of thought I decided on a rugged and seemingly rarely climbed peak that towers over the Stevens Pass Highway, Mount Index. Since I was close to the trail head I drove up Forest Road 62 to find a gate closing off that road as well. This closure would mean ridiculously high miles of road just to get to my objective. Instead I decided to try a different route. Miraculously the road to the next trail head was open. So I cooked some breakfast and read about route options.
One of the appealing things about Mount Index is there is almost no info on this route, no mile marker, or any indication of technical difficulty other than a line in the guidebook. Because of this a true wilderness adventure awaits anyone who dares to go out there. It looked reasonable for a single day attempt so I packed a bag and I was off.
Rain pummeled through the trees, splashing into puddles, trickling into streams, as I meandered along a well trampled trail. The travel was quick, easy and beautiful. Passing many waterfalls, I met many day hikers in spite of the crazy amount of rain coming down. As I gained elevation I learned from others who were descending that Lake Serene was 4 miles up trail. Continuing uphill, the rain lessened and any chance of viewing my route was blocked by a thick fog that enveloped me. I left the trail and traversed through tangled brush to the only distinguishable land mark, a large talus slope.
Progress up the talus was quick but then slowed once I reached more vegetation. Eventually I scrambled to a point where the brush gave way to rock. Climbing in mountaineering boots, up steep mostly solid moss covered rock, water poured over me. Soaked to the bone I was careful to make sure my boots had purchase before moving to another hand hold. After doing this for far too long I reached a point where climbing any further would be a commitment to the top. Since I could not down climb what I had to go up it was not safe for me to continue so I decided to descend.
Reversing the route was tedious but manageable and just for a moment the storm cleared and a view emerged of what I was climbing. To continue on would have been over my head and with no question or regret I made my way back to the car to re-strategize. The outcome of my attempts left me frustrated but not defeated. I decided to attempt Index again from another route that I knew a little more about. So I drove over to the closure at Forest Road 62 and packed for the next day. The road closure on FR62 is 100 feet off Highway 2 at about 500 feet above sea level. The summit of Mount Index is at 6,005 feet making it quite prominent. The description for the dirt road, one that I would get to know so well, mentioned two forks in the road and said the route was obvious. It also said I would be on the road for about 11 miles to the fork where I break off to begin the route. On June 25 at 8 a.m. I began the long walk in sneakers with my mountaineering boots packed in my relatively light backpack.
The first part of the road went well until I got to a fork about 3 miles in. The map said to go left but it didn't feel like the right direction. Understanding the consequences, I went right, walked down hill which brought me to some turns in the road that were not on the map. Unsure of myself I continued along the road this ever present feeling is one I would get to know on this climb. Contrary to the route information I followed my gut. Miles and several undocumented forks later I was relieved to find a landmark that told me I was on track, the Weyerhaeuser Gate.
At a quick pace I passed the gate and hiked up the road until I finally arrived at the last fork before the old logging road. Not knowing when I would get to refill some water, I stopped, mixed some Aquamira and waited to purify my water when I was startled to hear voices behind me.
I spun around and saw two people walking towards me, immediately apprehensive, one of them waived at me in a way that I could tell he was friendly. I waved back energetically, to show I was a good guy too. Backcountry interpersonal communication!
Come to find out the two were John and Lisa. John was working with the forest service and logging companies and had keys to all the gates. While surveying for endangered species he hit a boulder in the road and drained his vehicle of all its transmission fluid. They spent the night in their vehicle and were walking out today. They were unsure of the best way to get out and although they had a map, it was not very detailed. They would have been able to figure it out, but just to be sure I wrote down some directions for them. After laughing together at the situation we parted ways en route to our own adventures.
From there several large downed trees blocked the road at least it correlated with the maps and descriptions. At 3,000 feet there was a large portion of the road that was washed out by a river coming down the mountain side, thankfully it was easy to cross.
After the washout, the "road" changed a lot. Accordingly, I switched into mountaineering boots. After a quarter mile it became so densely vegetated that I could not see the ground or the sky at times. Long periods of thrutching through branches for the next three switchbacks of the road didn't even let me touch the ground.
At times I wasn't even sure if I was on the road until I figured out a trick. I would climb to the top of the brush, survey my surroundings, and see different vegetation growing on either side of the road. With that I was able to follow the road with relative ease and peace of mind.
Due to all the rain and lack of wind or sun for the last few days the bushwhacking was exhausting. There was water on all of the plants and I was soaking wet while constantly groveling through the shrubs. Knowing I would have trouble drying my cloths later, I stayed in a t-shirt, hiking pants and rain pants. The rest of my cloths stayed mostly dry in my pack. Following the road and my compass to assure the correct route this battle continued for hours.
The description said "go to the roads end" and then go northeast up timbered slopes. When I got to a huge waterfall I wasn't sure if the road had actually ended. The maps and guidebook didn't say anything about it so if this was a new washout it had happened since the guidebook was written. After 9 hours on the move I decided that it was indeed the end of the road so I set up camp. I made several attempts to dry my cloths, but to no avail. They were drenched and I shuddered at the thought of putting them on in the morning. As the day ended I warmed with a delicious meal of dehydrated chili mac and crawled into my rocky and uneven tent for the night, at least it was dry.
In the morning I slept in, my hope was that the improving weather would be warm enough for me to put on my wet clothing with less misery, but I was wrong. I drank a bunch of hot water to raise my body temperature and wriggled into the wet freezing clothing. Immediately I started doing jumping jacks to warm up.
I didn't want to wander through the jungle looking for my stuff so I packed up the remainder of my gear. With everything shouldered into my pack I followed my compass northeast through the sopping wet vegetation. The jungle was just as dense as the road was, except now it was steeper and had a lot more sharp plants. I stayed northeast, skirted some cliffs to the east but continued until I got cliffed out. The idea was to find a broad bench at 4,700 feet that would grant access to the upper mountain.
Then the first miracle of the trip happened when I popped out of the thick brush about 50 feet to the left of this bench. It was the only feature like that around. Pleasantly surprised at the rocky and comfortable bench I decided to take a short rest.
According to the maps and guide there were 3 options from here. Option one was to climb class 3 rock directly above the bench to gain the west ridge and follow it to the summit. Option two was a gully just south of the headwall (which in reality was downhill in the opposite direction) or option three which was another gully even farther south that was the longest but reportedly the easiest. The rock in front of me was definitely harder than 3rd class and neither of the gully options made sense. I decided to follow what looked like the best route and continue northeast up a gully. Once again the gully was very steep and densely vegetated. I used my ice axe to swing into the mud and grass and use my free hand to pull up on branches. I call this class 5 bush whacking!
I scrambled up onto a saddle with a little snow on it and rested for a bit. Then continued east up the only obvious option. A forested ridge that was not too steep or overgrown. I followed this ridge uphill until cresting a saddle. Here I thought I would be within a stones throw of the summit instead I was greeted with an incredible view of a huge basin. A glacial melt stream flowed through the center with snowfields surrounding, and feeding it as the bright sun melted the snow. At the far side of the basin was the bulging crown that was the summit of Mt Index, it seemed very far away.
At first I tried to traverse a ridge around the north side of the basin in hopes of not having to lose much elevation but I ended up getting cliffed out. I retraced my steps back up the ridge and scoped out a new route through the basin. I began descending, getting cliffed out numerous times and eventually found a mountain goat track to follow that led me up the path of least resistance to the creek at the bottom of the basin. I took a nice rest and refilled some water then began working my way up a rocky drainage coming from one of the upper snowfields. At this point the route finding was relatively strait forward and I was making good time. It was easy to travel through the upper snowfield and into a gully where the bottom half was filled in with snow. The upper half was terribly loose talus but I didn't care, at least it wasn't bushwhacking!
I continued to move quickly through easy terrain until I reached a small saddle where I had some route options. Now I saw the snow traverse that I had read about and it looked as scary and dangerous as everyone said. So I opted, instead, for a steep mud gully with the occasional rock or branch for purchase rather than a muddy ice axe. Although it was a short crux, only about 50 feet tall, it had striking exposure, it had my full attention.
From the top of the gully I was relieved to see gentle snow slopes trending uphill towards the summit. I hiked and enjoyed my last few steps to the top of this very special mountain. The summit was lofty but comfortable. The views were outstanding. I saw all of Washington's highest peaks, including Mt Rainier which dominated the skyline to the south. The air felt crisp and warm, it was a still day in this wild place. There was a kind of silence that you can only "hear" when you are alone. It seemed like the world revolved around this point.
With a full understanding of the grueling descent ahead, I only stayed about 10 minutes. I was concerned about getting lost in the brush on the way down. I reversed my way back to the bottom of the basin and up the other side, and although it was a pain, it was without any trouble.
From there the biggest miracle of the trip happened, I found my EXACT path of ascent all the way down to where my camp site had been. I recognized this the entire way and was thrilled. It was still challenging to find the route and there were a few times that I got off track but I quickly retraced my steps and found my way.
Once back at the logging road I could breathe again. The worst of the route finding was over and now all I had to do was the horrid bushwhacking down the road. It wasn't totally dry this time but definitely better than the last time. I crossed the washed out road at 3,000 feet and knew that it was time to just shut up and suffer. Ahead of me was a long boring road hike, at least I had two pairs of shoes.
Around 8:00 p.m. I was almost to the trail head when John came speeding around the corner in his red Ford, as he passed he yelled "flag Lisa down she'll pick you up" I laughed, and knowing I was close, ran the remainder of the road.
One last miracle was the perfect finale of the trip. Upon arrival at the trail head, John rewarded me with an ice cold beer! I was so grateful for that beer and it stands out as one of the best I've ever had. Lisa came in a different vehicle shortly after. John explained that he had just enough fluid to put in the car to drive it out as it drained, hence the rush as he passed me. We passed time drinking some beers and talking about our adventures over the last few days. I was really happy to have met them and I look forward to hanging out with them in the future. After cooking some dinner I headed back to Leavenworth for a good nights sleep next to the soothing sounds of the Wenatchee River. I was too tired to clean up the mess I had made in the car while packing for the climb, instead I just crawled into bed and fell asleep thinking about the wild mountains of the Cascade Range.
The North Ridge of Mount Baker is one of the most sought after climbs in the Cascade Mountain Range, as well as one of North Americas 50 classic climbs. Jere had been working a lot on Baker and always had a lot of interest in climbing the route. I had never climbed this stunning volcano before but I always wanted to. When our schedules lined up on June 29 we took full advantage of a beautiful weather forecast, drove to the trailhead, and prepared for a car to car attempt.
Finally I set off over the initial steep step climbing above a snow picket anchor. The ice was firm and in the shade but not too hard. I placed one of my eight screws, swung my tools over the arête, and made sure to get solid stances to save my energy. Without the benefit of a solid freeze the night before the ice on this side of the ridge had been in the sun all morning and was beginning to turn to slush. I felt insecure as I swung my tools feeling for a confidence inspiring stick into real ice. Now it was time to place another screw, so I chopped away at rotten snow and ice to get reliable protection into anything solid. Gradually the angle steepened and the chopping became exhausting but it had to be done. Even though I was scared I effectively and carefully moved, I kept my head straight, I totally focused, I was in flow.
Towards the top of pitch 1 the climbing was even slushier. I ran it out for 50 feet from my last screw instead of using the energy to place marginal protection. My confidence soared knowing I wouldn't fall and decided to just climb. We were climbing with a 40 meter rope and knew I was getting close to the end. Just then I felt the rope tug and knew that it was Jere and I was out of rope. But I was so close to a solid ice ledge to set up a belay. Quickly I placed my last screw, saving two others for an anchor. At the same time Jere disassembled the picket anchor and climbed up a little while not being in a strained position. He did a damn good job and gave me just enough rope to work with. Outstretched as far as I could, reaching way out in front of me, I placed two screws and equalized them with a dyneema double runner. I was so close but didn't have enough rope to put Jere on belay. So I extended the master point with a basket just enough that I could put the rope through my ATC guide. Once Jere was on belay he climbed enough to give me the slack I needed to clove hitch myself into the anchor. It was good teamwork. Jere cruised the pitch, thoroughly enjoying it the whole way. I could not stop smiling.
We flipped the rope and I set out on the next pitch expecting it to be much easier. Luckily I was correct! After an easy snow traverse I placed another screw in pristine, thick, blue glacial ice, the first such ice on the route. After that I pulled a bulge out to the right onto easy steep snow, climbed for about 10 meters, and kicked out a platform. Here I built a two deadman anchor with a snow picket and one of my ice tools. Jere followed the short pitch and then we were committed to the summit. Next we unroped and soloed for several hundred feet up moderate to steep snow, over snow bridged bergschrunds, and past a looming serac. The climbing was fun and the exposure was terrific!
Once on the summit ice cap we had a wet, slushy, difficult but short walk, a small price to pay for having beautiful and sunny weather. We spent just long enough on the summit to refuel, snap some pictures, and transition to get ready to glissade.
We descended the summit snowfield towards the Roman Wall where we were able to glissade down the Deming Glacier, along the pumice ridge, to the 9,000' saddle, and the Coleman Glacier. Baking in the sun we roped up, crossed the glacier through heavily crevassed terrain, and back to the campsites to repack and refuel for the hike back to the cars. The trail that was so quite this morning was now teeming with loud hikers. Good conversation with each other quickly brought us to the trailhead. We were ecstatic to be able to climb such a magnificent route in good style. Overall it took around 14 and a half hours car to car, which is not bad at all.
At the end of the day, the North Ridge of Mount Baker stands true as one of the best alpine climbs around. It was a great experience for my first time on Mount Baker and I look forward to coming back to repeat this route and likely try some others as well.
It is with great excitement that we are now offering splitboard courses in the Central Cascades! We have partnered with Pro Guiding Service conveniently located in North Bend Washington at the base of Snoqualmie Pass. The intro to splitboard courses will have two fantastic locations and offer either 1 day or 3 day instruction in a 4:1 group setting. We can also arrange private instruction outside of the scheduled dates.
During the 1 day course you will be introduced to the skills necessary to move through the mountains on a splitboard. Eager first timers and never evers will go from timid to confident, while experienced splitters will go from confident to competent.
The 3 day course is where movement skills get hard wired and well thought out backcountry tours are developed. After these 3 days you will be able to fill day after day, season after season with deep soft powder snow.
Our 1 day and 3 day courses are offered at two different backcountry venues. Our first course of the season will be held at Alpental on Snoqualmie Pass. This area offers easy access from Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport as well as the east side of the Cascades. In addition, we have a 1 day and 3 day course at Crystal Mountain. This classic mountain delivers with great access, large vertical, high elevations while soaking in the incredible views of Mount Rainer.
Both the 1 day and 3 day courses are a 4:1 ratio meaning each participant will receive ample individual attention. In this way everyone will benefit from their time in the field. Even better get your entire crew together and build a breakthrough team dynamic that will be prepared to track out your favorite zones!
Click the buttons below to choose one of our weekend courses.
Or contact Guided Exposure directly to schedule a private day.
1 day 3 day
Alpental January 7th February 24th-26th
Crystal February 11th January 20th-22nd
Green ferns wave and tree leaves flutter overhead the spring cloverleaf and cherry tree flowers have bloomed. Along the green flow of the Nooksack River the sunlight reflects in calm pools, off babbling flumes, and over cascading waterfalls. Punching the gas, Daniel and I accelerate uphill past snowmelt fed curbside creeks and old growth deadfall dripping in moss. We pass the White Salmon base area and in March the walls of snow were 15 feet high but as we continue above 4,000' the walls are now 5 feet high and there is much less snow than I thought there would be. Last month I was in Colorado where they clearly are a month or two behind and when I left we were getting regular 14” dumps of snow. But here in the North Cascades passing Picture Lake, the Mountaineers Baker Lodge, and chair 1 to park at Heather Meadows it is warm, sunny and by maritime standards dry. At this point we are committed to our trip by dropping off our shuttle vehicle at the end of the Watson Traverse.
This 17 mile traverse was originally done on a day in 1939 by Dwight Watson, Erik Larson and Andy Hennig (http://alpenglow.org/skiing/baker-2004/index.html). When they pioneered this route they started low in the valley near Glacier Washington. Now we have the privilege of driving 8 miles up Glacier Creek Road to the trailhead at 3,600’.
At the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead a few cars were in the parking area, but as afternoon wore on to evening the lot slowly filled with ambitious climbers. One of them would be our 3rd team member Jack and eventually later that night Carl, our fourth team member had arrived. By the time we shouldered our packs at 5 a.m. Saturday morning there were dozens of climbers and skiers booting up the Heliotrope Ridge Trail. Meter deep patches of firm snow slowly melt into puddles and muddy trails lead us through the first switchbacks. The four of us continued boot packing up to the Hogs Back camp with splitboards and skis on our packs. By this time we had caught several groups that started earlier than us and we all gravy trained to 5,400’. Gradually the rosy hues of sunrise filtered onto the summit ice cap of Mount Baker. At the same time we put our splitters and mr. chomps to work and skinned onto the Coleman Glacier. Below the looming and ominous black buttes, Lincoln and Colfax, up to the 9,000’ Coleman-Deming saddle our exquisite contours, allowed us to avoid numerous crevasses while we effortlessly passed many groups. After a several hours of causal skinning we reached the saddle, took a break, and reviewed crampon and ice axe use. As we exited the lower angle slopes of the Coleman Glacier and entered the steeper frozen snow slopes of the Deming Glacier we developed great crampon foot work with ski poles in hand eventually trading those for ice axes for our final 1,700’ push up the Roman Wall.
Onto the wind buffed and iced ridge line above the crevasses of the Deming Glacier, across from the conga line of climbers on the Easton Glacier Route, under a sunny rainbow colored halo, we duck stepped then crossover stepped while gazing up at the Roman Wall. Near the top the angle eased and we made our last few steps onto the enormous summit ice cap. Finally on top we relaxed with lunch, conversation and accomplishment. After a short break we wandered over to the 10,781’ Grant Summit, soaked in the views of Shuksan, Takobia, and Tahoma then headed back towards the Roman Wall. At this point we said goodbye to Jack and Carl since they were descending back to the trailhead via the Deming and Coleman Glaciers. As for Daniel and I we would stay the night atop Komo Kulshan and descend the Park Glacier in the morning.
Soft swooshing grains of snow and crisp ice crystals pattered against the tent as they tumbled south across Komo's vast ice cap. The wall of snow on the windward side of the tent deflected prevailing winds creating fluted drifts and small piles under the vestibule. The immense brisk alpine darkness fell away to broken scattered islands of pulsing artificial light far below. Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Vancouver indistinctly melt away into the lowlands as warm rosy and orange hues spread across the cool black, blue, and violet pre dawn sky. A night spent high above the Pacific Coast overlooking the Puget Sound, Straight of Juan De Fuca, Straight of Georgia, the Salish sea gazing upon the Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver and the San Juan Islands felt like observing a newly discovered civilization while in orbit.
First thing in the morning we ventured out to observe current conditions. I wandered over and peered down on the Park Headwall. It had been wind scoured down to hard melt freeze crust mixed with pockets of drift that hung over gaping bergschrunds and crevasses. Looking over at the original party's descent route, the Cockscomb, hanging snow fields fell off into giant open holes, a maze of snow bridges covertly could provide passage to those willing to hang it out there. That's when it became clear that the skiers right line on the Park Headwall entrance was dirty and the Cockscomb entrance was filthy. Safe passage on either route would have been at least contrived and at most dangerous, despairing, or deadly.
The forecast for our descent was a bit warmer than the day before. Since we anticipated snow conditions to soften our camp was packed, harnesses were racked, splitters assembled and we were strapped in ready to descend off the 10781’ summit by 10 a.m. Embarking down the most reasonable entrance onto the Park, we found enough softened snow on the upper Boulder Glacier to slide a turn, to edge, to maintain control during our onsight of the Watson Traverse. Down the summit cone with ice axes in hand, following along the summit cliffs we slowly slid turns on sun kissed snow south east for 600' until a passage north would grant us access through crumbling volcanic scoria. Along the rock ridge separating the Boulder from the Park, across the first snow bridge, over a concealed crevasse at about 9,900’, the snow varied from sun softened to wind buffed dust to coarser hard packed melt freeze crust. Even though traversing further left would have linked in directly below the dirty right line on the Park Headwall we aligned above our next landmark simply dubbed "the bulge." This next section of ridge divided the glaciers and lead us down a moderate ramp for the next 700’. Next we continued on the south side margin avoiding a series of big holes. Then far above the Park Cliffs and lower ice falls we previously identified snow bridges at 9,200’ that would lead left and take us across the dished out center of the Park Glacier towards our next landmark the blue ice block. Traversing mid glacier, below the headwall, under hanging seracs, across ramps, bridges, and slopes we ended up slightly lower than anticipated. So we boot packed 25 yards above the blue ice block as we were soaked with an overwhelmed feeling of admittance into this colossal landscape.
Once we reached the lower Park directly below the Cockscomb we cruised turns down 2,100’ of moderate slopes, weaving a path among frozen trap doors, on snow that was like sun softened butter, a popsicle left in the fridge, like an almost frozen beer slushy that’s just soft enough to slurp out of the can. Surfing down to a prominent black rock horn at 7,000’ we exited from the Park Glacier and continued our descent north east another 1,300’ below Portal South onto the Rainbow Glacier at 5,700’. A single complex descent included fall line turns on hard pack to corn snow, ice axe plunging traverses over snow bridges and crevasses, a short kickable boot pack next to the house sized blue ice block. Weaving, slashing, buttering, axe spike dragging turns on a never ending glacier took us down nearly 5,200’ from the Grant summit into the Portals. Congratulatory hoots and hollers exuded between sun drenched ear to ear grins. Feeling the beating afternoon heat we transitioned to split mode, and began our sweaty one hour ascent to the pass in between Portals West and East. Meandering along Ptarmigan Ridge we descended the Sholes Glacier in split mode, climbed 800’ up to point 6,332’ at the headwaters of Wells Creek where we had lunch and melted snow for water.
An alternative in great conditions would be to stop where the Park, Rainbow and Mazama Glaciers intersect and climb over Portal South to Portal West then descend the Sholes glacier for a 1300’ run. This adds a fair amount of ascent but the reward is another great run.
By this time the snow had softened to sloppy slurp slush on a firm frozen bed surface which made good turns but also focused and deliberate skinning. Another 1,300’ run down smooth corn, through a short rock chute, over roller slopes, under Lasiocarpa Ridge and the sentinel Coleman Pinnacle, took us into the Wells Creek drainage. The next couple of hours we were like bouncing human sing along balls while traversing in split mode below Ptarmigan Ridge, up to the Table Mountain Pass, under South Table, across Artist Point, over rolling humps of snow, next to the deeply buried summer road, back into the closed ski area, down old groomed trails, split skating with out skins, along flat trails, past families, hikers, snowshoers, finally we arrived at Heather Meadows.
A buzz of activity at the parking lot greeted us. Daniel and I traded our heightened mountain senses for relaxation accompanied by cold Washington ciders and beers. The Watson Traverse took us 2 moderate days covering approximately 17 miles with one of our runs descending nearly 5,200'. This is truly a classic repeatable ski traverse over a legendary Cascade Volcano in one of the best split boarding zones anywhere.
For more photos of the trip check out our Instagram Feeds
Snow is still piling up above treeline depositing the deepest snowpack of the season. We have become intimate with an entire winters worth of layering and welcome the commonly stable spring skiing conditions. Our legs are strong and our endurance is high from miles of track setting up thousands of feet through the thigh deep.
AMGA advanced ski guide courses and exams are wrapping up winter programs while summer programs such as rock guide courses, advanced rock and guide exams start to swing. Many of us are making our annual migration north towards the arctic circle to chase deep cold snow at the same time a long cold wet winter drives others to escape to drier climates like the Colorado Plateau. In the coming weeks we will strengthen our fingers on sandstone varnish plates and granite chicken heads, pump our guns on run out pitches up fountain sandstone, and remind ourselves that 5.9 was a hard rating in the 60’s and sure feels hard this early in the spring. After the first day of rock work for the season I am reminded of the skills we as a result of the American Mountain Guide Association Rock Guide Course.
The American Mountain Guide Association rock guide course increases a guides confidence and abilities in multi pitch rock climbing terrain. A wide range of technical skills will align guides and instructors with preferred practices of the trade that will leave onlookers bewildered and in awe. Tacoma based guide Andrew Powell said,
“I impressed a group of Seattle Mountaineers on the top of Concord Tower on WA Pass when I converted a munter hitch into a clove hitch after belaying my client to the summit. I learned that skill in the RGC.”
Since the course last year I have progressed through other baseline guide track courses and along the way I gained professional and personal climbing experience. These experiences have developed a foundation in the fine art of mountain guiding. The AMGA instructor team members deliver their art in a professional structured manner that enhance professional guides. Often times we learn something that wasn’t in the course description or handbook. Bozeman and Jackson Hole based guide Cat Coe says the best thing she learned on course was,
“That you can make a living out of guiding! Inspiring to see instructors with different approaches make it”
Year after year the world of american mountain guiding continues it's upward progression with a commitment to professionalism. Employers play an important role in this upward progression by encouraging guides to train and certify through the American Mountain Guide Association. For many, applying for and participating in a course for the first time can seem intimidating.
When RGC participants were asked "Did this course help and would you recommend it to others?," the irrefutable response was “definitely.”
Whether or not you believe in the AMGA or plan to certify as a rock guide, the rock guide course will develop technical, personal, or instructional skills. If nothing else you get to climb with exceptional people at some of the best climbing venues in the country. Who knows you may even get to ride in a new friends hot boxed Subaru on your way to a stare down with an overprotective turf defending goose.