This is perhaps one of my most special climbs as it was a grudge climb and the only mountain I have attempted twice and failed, per my two trip reports here:
My first attempt was a c2c aka “Fast and Light” (of which I was neither apparantly!) (car to car – as in a single push and no camping) effort with friends Joe and Liz, both of whom were in excellent climbing shape. The climb requires nearly 7500 feet of vertical ascent and 12+ miles in a single push, with 5000 feet of technical glacier travel, steep snow climbing, and general mountaineering skills. I crapped out after 5000 feet of gain and had the good fortune of connecting with another guide from Mountain Madness (our guides on all of my trips) so that I could descend with Mallory and her client, and not thwart Joe and Liz’s climb – this is one reason on technical routes I often prefer to hire a private guide so I can plan and manage a trip along with my own agenda, timeframe, pace, ability to bail or push beyond a structured program and be free to make last-minute adjustments not subjects to other people’s schedules.
After bailing at the icefall about 8500 feet and wobbling all the way to the trailhead, and waiting for Joe and Liz to descend, I slept in the car in 95-degree heat for about 6 hours and thought I would probably not do this again, as I lacked the fitness and determination to make it to the summit. I realized that it had been 15 years since I last donned crampons and that if I truly wanted to resume mountaineering and climbing I needed to be more fit, committed, and train more physically and mentally.
After a couple of months of training for a Rainier climb (also another non-summit effort), I made a late-season attempt back to Mount Baker with Mallory to hopefully exercise my summit demon. Sadly, the route up to the summit via the Easton Glacier was very busted up and fractured, and we did not find a viable route up – we made it up to 9300 feet before descending among amazing, beautiful seracs and crevasses, and crossed a particularly dicey snow bridge with about 100 feet of exposure on both sides. We made it across safely, but my Mount Baker summit would have to wait.
This year, 2021, I planned to attempt Baker again, given I have been climbing all year and winter and spring, and planned to complete all of my unfinished climbing business and summit all things I have previously bailed on – a Glacier Peak 1995 attempt is last on my list. A last-minute opportunity with Jake and Aga, part of my climbing team from Rainier 2019 opened up while I was on vacation in Jackson Wyoming and I jumped on the chance to finally bag this peak. I was expecting (hoping) to take the Easton route up on a c2c push as I am pretty fit. As the date approached, the heatwave was hitting the Northwest and would influence our plans. Jake had been on Baker within the month skiing and said the Coleman Deming route was the one to take – fewer people. Now I had some emotional baggage given this thing kicked my ass a couple of years ago, but thought what a better way to finally get my summit and revisit the scene of my prior defeat.
Our plan was to climb in the evening in a single push, beat the heat, avoid the climbing conga line up the CD and hopefully enjoy a great sunrise. We started at 6: 15 PM at the Heliotrope trailhead and made off in very hot and humid temps. It was perhaps the most humid I have ever hiked in Washington. It was still in the upper 80’s and I was sweating like I was in Florida. The weather forecast for the summit was about 50+ degrees and low winds at 5MPH. Just over a mile and a half into the hike up, we came across Kulshan Creek which was flowing high and fast. The path across looked a bit sketchy as there were no apparent good exposed rocks to easily walk across. Aga had bad blisters from climbing all week with Jake and was not as nimble as Jake or I for jumping – we reconnoitered the creek up and down for about 30 minutes and agreed that the best path unfortunately was the one we initially encountered. Jake jumped across safely and we tossed our packs to him to lessen our load for our flying leap of faith. I tossed my poles unsuccessfully and lost one to the current – it was carried downstream down the steep flow, a harbinger of what could happen to a body caught into the current. I lept across and landed without incident, and we got Aga across safely as well. I think this may have been the crux of the climb.
We moved on up the trail, encountering snow, and took a more direct path up the ridge than the normal trail and made it to Hogsback Camp in short order. When I hiked this three years ago, it was in the dark, and I recall the feeling of trepidation and despair hiking up the steep rocky trail, with no view of our destination, tired from hiking and tired from a 10 PM start. This time I felt great, and the effort seemed much easier than my last venture. We took a long break at the camp to filter water – our last potential source to the summit, change into climbing gear, and set forth at 9:15PM for our summit bid. We were treated to an amazing sunset as we climbed up the Hogsback Headwall, making good time up the glacier!
Then the wind! From the top of the Hogsback Headwall to the summit, we encountered unrelentless 30+ MPH sustained wind to the summit with gusts up to 50MPH! It significantly slowed our progress and made climbing difficult. A typical pace for mountaineering is a goal of 1000 feet of vertical gain per hour, and a climbing party will typically climb for an hour and take a 10-minute break. I felt a little winded and complained to Jake that I would prefer a 30-minute effort with a 5-minute break – the math was the same, right? After a few minutes of banter, Jake verbally agreed or relented. After 90 minutes of non-stop climbing and 1500+ feet of gain, we reached the saddle between Colfax Peak East and the approach to the Roman Wall at approximately 9000 feet. Only 1700 more feet to go – doable in less than two hours.
It was here we had a brief respite from the wind, and finally saw the full moon which would guide our path the remainder of the climb to the summit.
We were the first and only party on the summit – the benefit of climbing all night!
Views expanding to Vancouver Canada, Seattle, Puget Sound, and even Mount Rainier!
We descended the summit, encountering a few parties making their way up the Roman Wall.
We made fast time down, passing the conga line of climbing parties, and moving fast to avoid the sun and increasing heat.
As we dropped our altitude to get to “camp” where we switched from our climbing gear for the final hike out, I glissaded the Hogsback Headwall, narrowly avoiding a hidden crevasse with flowing water – in the process I lost my other pole, leaving souvenirs – I should open a gear outlet of all the items I have lost on all my adventures! Fortunately, I am highly skilled at self-arrest and avoided any newsworthy news incident.
On our way down we encountered several climbing parties, one led by Mallory, the guide who got me down my initial C2C Coleman Deming attempt and also led me up the Easton Route. She was super stoked to see that I finally made the summit and also on the same initial C2C route I had attempted. Serendipity had come full circle and I was super proud of my accomplishment this trip and happy to share it with several friends in my climbing community.