Climbing Mt. Baker: Here’s What You Need to Know
Mt. Baker or Kulshan has an elevation of3,286m and is among the five major stratovolcanoes known to have erupted more than 200 times over the last 12,000 years. It is found in the east of Bellingham, Whatcom County, Washington. The residents of Seattle are often tantalized by Mt. Baker on a clear day and the view from the San Juan Islands is simply breathtaking.
Although heavily glaciated, the cone is the youngest in the Mt. Baker volcanic field with no more than 80,000 years. It is hosted by Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and is known to offer great outdoor recreation opportunities like skiing, mountaineering, hiking, and snowboarding.
Skiing & Snow boarding at Mount Baker
Geology and Eruption
Mt. Baker was formed as a result of volcanic activity over many years and is a mixture volcanic debris and lava ash. Black Buttes, an older volcano where Mt. Baker now sits atop was active about 300,000 years ago. Much geological evidence has since been eroded when thick ice sheets surrounded the volcano and filled the valleys during the last ice age. Mt. Baker has two craters; Carmelo Crater and Sherman Crater. The Carmelo Crater is mostly ice-filled under the summit and is home to the mountain’s highest point-Grant Peak on the southeast side. Sherman Crater is the younger one located on the southern side of the summit. It has numerous fumaroles that vent poisonous gases like hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide. Mt. Baker has not had explosive eruptions like the other nearby mountains and the frequency has been quite minimal. However, it has the potential of being highly explosive. The mountain has a steep terrain with fractures and underground water which makes it prone to landslides, debris avalanches, and lahars. These are the major destructive events that occur on Mt. Baker. There have been four periods when fresh lava erupted (magmatic activity). The last major eruption happened 6000 years ago, although a small explosion was witnessed in 1973 where ash was spread in the nearby region.
Mt. Baker Ski Area
Mt. Baker is the second-most glaciated peak after Mt. Rainier in the Cascade Range. The snow and ice on this mountain have a volume of 1.79 km3 hence why it is famous for being among the snowiest places on earth. Mt. Baker Ski Area in the northeast set a world record in 1999 with the highest recorded snowfall of 1140 inches in one season.
Mt. Baker Ski area is a Ski Resort found on the North Cascades in Washington. It offers 1000 acres of skiable land. This area experiences the highest annual snowfall. It is serviced by 38 runs and 8 lifts covering an elevation gain of 455m. It will cost you an average $40 for a ticket as an adult for a day and $660 for a seasonal pass. As much as its snow quantity is unbeatable, the quality of the snow tends to be low. Its fresh snow has high water content and it keeps deteriorating. Many snow riders love this spot because the bountiful backcountry is easily accessible and the terrains are extremely inbound (expert terrain). There is a free handle tow for beginners with reasonable progressions, so you don’t have to fret. Since it is all about the chutes, trees, hits, powder, steeps and cliffs, the mountain is an expert area not advisable for grooming skiers. I suggest that you adhere to the weather forecast warnings and don’t forget to gear up! Inside scoop: if you don’t want to ski on tracked snow or to encounter crowds, avoid the weekends, wake up early to grab first lifts, and then go straight to chairs number 5and 6.
Facilities at the Ski Resort
The resort may not be heavily commercialized but it has several amenities like day lodges that offer great fare. It has no spas or sleigh rides. A quick summary of the Pros and Cons Pros
- It is rarely crowded unless it is a weekend.
- Plenty of snow volume and many powder days.
- Quite adventurous for experts because of the inbound terrain and backcountry.
- During midweek it is delightfully inexpensive and the lodgings will be worth your dime.
- The chair lifts are a bit slow.
- It has a small ski inbound area
- Don’t expect smiley weather. There is a reason why there are too much snowfall-rare blue skies.
- There is no accommodation on the mountain, limited internet access and cell phone service and few shops.
Mount Baker Climate
Precipitation ranges between 70 and 140inches in the higher altitudes and 30-50 inches in the lower levels annually. The average annual temperature in Mt. Baker is 43.3°F. The highest annual temperature is 55.8°F, and the lowest annual temperature is 30.8°F The highest recorded snowfall level is 641 inches.
Climbing Mt. Baker
Can anyone climb Mt. Baker?
This climb is ideally open to anyone with a passion for hiking or mountaineering. It offers excellent mountaineering with its tremendous snowcapped peaks, to beginners and veterans alike.
Crevasses at Coleman Glacier at Mt. Baker Photo by G310ScottS
Low visibility and exposure are the main challenges due to its variable changing weather. I suggest you confirm snow and avalanche conditions before attempting the climb. Crevasses are also a danger though they provide amazing camera opportunities. It is important that you have basic training on using crampons and ice-axes, crevasse rescue, glacier travel, self-arrest, and rope techniques. You will also need to have experience in carrying 30-50 pounds of weight on your back and will need to be in a top physical condition in terms of endurance, strength and cardiovascular. A tracker should prepare for about 3-6 months prior to climbing Mt. Baker. You will additionally be required to equip yourself with gaiters, trekking poles, technical clothing, climbing harness, hiking socks, mountaineering boots, sun hat, ski goggles,a headlamp and a helmet.
How long does it take to climb Mt. Baker?
It will take you 2-3 days to successfully summit Mt. Baker. The Easton Glacier route is normally done in 3 days while the Northside Coleman/Deming Glacier is done in 2 or 3 days.
When is the best time to climb Mt. Baker?
Any time of the year can be ideal to attempt a climb as long as you keep yourself updated on the mountain conditions and heed to the warnings. However, the most popular time is during summer in the months of May through to August.
Any permits, passes or reservations needed?
The Forest Service will not require you to have a permit to climb Mt. Baker. However, I highly recommend that you fill out the Voluntary Climbing Register. Campfires and leaving traces behind are prohibited. You should use the mountain toilets provided or pack out your human waste in blue bags that can be acquired from your ranger station and will require a valid recreation pass to access and park at the trailheads and the parking lot of the Artist Point. After that, you can get this from any ranger station or call +1 800-270-7504 where a day Pass will cost you $5 and an Annual Pass costs $30. The party size is limited to 12 people.
Accommodation on Mt. Baker
Camping on Mt.Baker
Once you acquire the regional pass, camping on the mountain is free of charge. But feel free to contact Mt. BakerRanger District for information on pay campsites that are situated within the park. The Easton Glacier route has few options with regards to camping. You can camp along the Railroad Grade or immediately before the Easton Glacier (can be overcrowded sometimes). The trailhead has a restroom and a very descent meadow. The Mt. Baker Lodge offers an awesome alternative to camping especially if you’ll be using the north side routes. The Inn at Mt. Baker is another fine Bed and Breakfast establishment that offers great views of the majestic mountain. Other hotels include Fairhaven Village Inn, Coachman Inn, Comfort Inn Bellingham, Chrysalis Inn and Spa, Moon Dance Bed & Breakfast et al.
Mountain climbing routes
The classic climbing routes to the summit are Boulder-Park Cleaver, North Ridge, Squak Glacier, Easton Glacier, Coleman Headwall, Colman Ski Descent and Coleman/ Deming Glacier. The North Ridge is the most difficult route because of complex glaciers and steep walls.
The Coleman/Deming Route
It is the most used by climbers among all the other routes. It is considered a moderate route for general mountaineers and can be done in 2-3 days. The approach is from Heliotrope Ridge Trail. Proceed south while ascending towards the edge of Black Buttes. You can choose to camp here or continue with the ascent. Skirt around Black Buttes while keeping ample distance to avoid rockfall or avalanches, then you will get to the saddle at the base of Roman Wall. Proceed past this wall to the summit plateau. Descend via the same route. You can also opt to descend while skiing.
The Easton Glacier Route
This is one of the easiest routes though a bit irritating due to the high use of snowmobiles as it lies in the mountain’s recreational area. The trail starts at Schreiber’s Meadows. You will hike through water streams, timber, and forested slopes. From high camp, you will proceed northeast to the base of Sherman Peak. Go past the Roman Wall to the summit. Descend via the same route. You can choose to do a hike out afterward to conclude the adventure by grabbing a bite at “Bobs” in Sedro-Woolley.
- In case of an emergency call 911
- For mountain conditions call the Sedro Woolley Office: 360-856-2714
- Whatcom County Sheriff: 360-676-6650
- Baker Ranger District –Glacier PublicServive Centre: (360) 599-2714
Flora and Fauna on Mount Baker
Animals in Mt. Baker considerably vary. Chipmunks, the grizzly bear, mountain goats, marmots, the elk, black-tailed deer, butterfly, and bird species are a huge part of this ecosystem. Along the river banks, you will spot the skunk cabbage, devil’s club, salmonberry and beautiful ferns that brighten up the landscape. A vegetative cover includes douglas fir, subalpine fir, western and mountain hemlock, western redcedar and at higher altitudes, you find the alpine meadows.
Hiking with Kids
It is very possible to summit Baker with your children. As long as they are well equipped and trained. Give encouragement as you go along and have several Nutella breaks, cool? Good news is that there’s a 6-Day Glacier Mountaineering Course that is offered at Mt. Baker for children between 14-17 years. However, younger children can also be trained.
Things to do
Apart from summiting Mt. Baker, there are so many other interesting things to do and see.
Mt. Baker has numerous hiking trails from beginner stretches to “experts only” trails. You can opt for guided hikes and be sure to make friends with other cool hikers like you!
Snowboarding and Skiing
These can be experienced at the Mt. Baker Ski Area because of its accumulated snowfall. It is normally open from November 1 through to May 2. There are other wintertime activities to explore like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, or you can go eagle-watching in the lower rivers.
The Nooksack River is a great spot for water rafting. I promise you it will be an experience to remember! You can also choose to visit the shuttering Nooksack Falls.
Many lodges and hotels have provisions for swimming. Large swimming pools are almost a necessity in the Baker region. Plus what a better way to cool off in the fine hot weather. But if you’re cut from a different cloth, you can go make an authentic, wild splash at Silver Lake Park!
In the Nooksack River, there are five salmon species which can be fished. The Silver Lake also offers great trout-fishing opportunities. But be warned, fishing requires lots and lots of patience! So be ready to be emotionally and mentally stretched before your first catch, no?
Oh! The sound of this! Whatcom County is blessed with amazing wining and dining facilities. Moreover, the cool evening breeze and glowing soft lights will make you feel so much at home, even when you are miles away from home-get the drift? Live music with its entire splendor, piercing the air with saxophones, trumpets, and violins at the Britannia Hotel Aberdeen will make all your senses come alive. Other dining spots include the Wake and Bakery, Graham’s Restaurant, Milano’s Italian Bistro and the Craven’ Burgers and Brew.
Additional things to do
- Berry picking and hunting during fall.
- The cottonwoods and maple leaves are at their peak color at the North Folk Valley between September and October. So it is the perfect time to enjoy a drive.
- During summer, moonrises color the skies and the beauty are just one to behold. You can enjoy an evening of peace and reflection at such moments.
- Outdoor barbecues are a great way to meet people and learn about their culture.
- Horse-riding, mountain biking, and backpacking are additional ways to spice up your summer days here.
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