Skiing The Coleman Glacier on Mount Baker in the North Cascades of Washington
Elevation Gain/Loss: +/- 7800 ft.
Distance: 16 miles
USGS Quads: Groat Mountain, Mount Baker
On April 10, 2014, Spencer Hennigan and I headed toward Mt. Baker to ski the Coleman Glacier. We drove up Forest Service Road 39 for about 6 miles. The road is 8 miles long, but we were stopped short because of high snow levels on the road. We camped around 2300 feet at a roadside turnout in the back of the Tacoma. We packed our nicely dried gear and hit the Therma-Rest about 8 pm.
After a wet night near the Sulphide Glacier the night before, we were thrilled to be dry. We crashed so hard that we did not hear the other two vehicles pull up in the middle of the night. But they were there when we woke up at 3am. Yes, it’s an alpine start mission.
We ate some oatmeal and bratwursts for breakfast and started walking by headlamp. It’s a long road when you have to walk in your ski boots to the Heliotrope trailhead – about an hour plus, 2.5 miles, and 1000+ feet. Then the adventure began. Routefinding by headling and crossing bridges is challenging through the thick forests of the PNW. Eventually we had to transition to crampons for a steep boot pack that took us up to about 5400 feet.
At this point we harnessed up, put our skis back on and started skinning with ski crampons. Another group was just in front of us at this point. We imagine they were the ones that parked near us on FS39. At this point we walked and walked.
The biggest learning curve on Mt. Baker is that there is no real scale. It is massive and just keeps going. We cruised under massive seracs, weaved around bridged crevasses, avoided other parties, and gained elevation.
We took the Coleman glacier up to the Pumice Ridge, where gale force winds were whipping snow crystals into our face at mach-chicken speed. At the Coleman-Deming Col we admired the Easton Glacier, Colfax Peak, and the sheer incredibleness of Mt. Baker. We transitioned to crampons and started up the Pumice Ridge – the summit almost within sight.
Unfortunately, at this point we turned around and started skiing without a summit. The snow was different than other snow i have skied – creamy, moist, soft, awesome. We cruised down Mt. Baker on a sliding adventure for about 7000 vertical feet. We crossed the glacier and skied a massive avalanche path right back down to the bridge we had crossed in the moonlight earlier that morning.
After a short bootpack we made it back to the trailhead, put the skis back on, and hit up the whoop-di-doos left from countless hours of snowmobiling. Finally we returned to the Tacoma and enjoy the delicious taste of a Teton brew.
We’ll be back to Mt. Baker. There are so many options.
A few extra photos courtesy of Spencer…