Climb Every Mountain
Posted by Joseph Anderson
The big dramatic peaks of the North West are our showcase trips. People travel from as far away as Australia and Israel to climb these mountains with us. Without the summer season in the Cascade Mountain Peregrine Expeditions would not exist. We wanted to take the opportunity to share a concise overview of these places; their character, their history, and the climbs that give the breath of life into our company Peregrine Expeditions.
Beautiful, big Mt Baker is essentially home. More than half of all Peregrine trips throughout the summer take place on this mountain and for a very good reason. It’s the 15th most prominent peak in the United States, which includes Alaska and Hawaii making it is visible on a clear day to a population of over 3 million people. At 10,770 feet it has 9,000 feet of vertical relief from the valley bottom. What really set it apart from the rest is that Mt Baker is considered one of the snowiest places on earth and is almost completely covered in sheets of ice and snow. But it’s also made of fire as it is the second most active volcano in the contiguous United States only after St Helens but unlike most volcanoes it is completely surrounded by a jagged ensemble of non-volcanic mountains called the North Cascades.
The Mountain goes by many names but it’s common name Mt Baker is named after third Lt. Joseph Baker who during Vancouver’s mapping mission of the North West Coast in 1792 wrote this when first saw it:
About this time a very high conspicuous craggy mountain ... presented itself, towering above the clouds: as low down as they allowed it to be visible it was covered with snow; and south of it, was a long ridge of very rugged snowy mountains, much less elevated, which seemed to stretch to a considerable distance ... the high distant land formed, as already observed, like detached islands, amongst which the lofty mountain, discovered in the afternoon by the third lieutenant, and in compliment to him called by me Mount Baker, rose a very conspicuous object ... apparently at a very remote distance.
Long before the Europeans ever set eyes on it, it had of course already been named. The Lummi, who, from their land north west of the mountain had the grandest view of it and has the most well known native name: Coma Kulshan meaning “White Sentinel”. But this was not the only name given to it. The Nooksac tribe who live on it’s flanks called it Kuck-sum-iq meaning “White mountain”.
While on the mountain itself you will notice that it has in fact risen from the sea. When the sun descends on the horizon, you can watch the dark outline of the foot hills trickle into islands surrounded by the pool of bright orange of the Puget Sound. It’s in this moment that you can sigh with relief as you are in good company, for Mt Baker is truly The Ice King.
Mt Baker Climbing Routes
Our Two Day Mt Baker Summit Climb, climbs the route of it’s first documented ascent. On August 1868 an Englishman named Edmund Coleman on his third attempt climbed the mountain via today’s Coleman Glacier topping out on the Upper Demming via the North Western Edge of the Roman Wall. This very athletic glacier hike teaches people the basics of Glacier Travel and Alpine Mountaineering skills while taking a tour through an other worldly adventure of ice.
The big ceras and cracks of the lower Coleman Glacier are a natural sculpture gallery of ice cliffs. There are short crags and tall walls up to 90 feet in height - some low angle and some incredibly steep. This is the greatest ice climbing playground the summer could offer anywhere and it’s the classroom for our Summer Ice Climbing Courses.
First climbed by Fred Becky in 1948 The North Ridge of Mt Baker is THE alpine ice climb. Like no other in the contiguous US it is one of our absolute favorites. For those that feel fit enough, you’ll travel across complex glacier and up steep mountain walls of snow and ice until you find yourself high up in the sky tackling pitches of vertical ice climbing that follows an unlikely solid ridge of blue to the top of the mountain.
Other routes include the intimidating Coleman Headwall and complex and dangerous Cockscomb Ridge, which actually includes some rock climbing on surprisingly solid rock up to 5.5.
Dressed in it’s robe of white and blue glaciers Mt Shuksan receives even more snow than Mt Baker through the winter months. An incredibly decorative and complex mountain, Mount Shuksan has a reputation of being the most photographed mountain in the state of Washington. Along with this candelabra type structure come numerous ice and rock climbs that take the climber up elegant ridges, through impossible cirques, and weave amongst hanging glaciers all to arrive at the final well-defined Summit Pyramid.
Shuksan is the Lummi Native word meaning “High Peak.” It’s summit is at 9,120 which gives it about seven thousand feet of steep relief to the valleys below. Its rock is a green Schist and structurally it’s the remains of a thrust plate created when the Pacific Plate buckled against the North American Plate.
The Two most popular routes to climb Mt Shuksan are the Sulphide Glacier and Fisher Chimneys.
The Sulphide Glacier was the route of first ascent in September of 1906 and is a surprisingly moderate Glacier Hike up to the base of the Pyramid. From here there is the option of the more technical SW Ridge or the very moderate Summit Gulley. Regardless of which route is chosen either choice requires the added excitement of rappelling to get back off the steeper Pyramid and onto the Glacier below.
The Fisher Chimneys is more involved and requires a higher level of fitness, which at the end of the day is worth every bit of extra effort. The Chimneys proper winds it’s way up a sneaky route amongst an incredible back drop. Summit day involves moderate ice climbing and the option to climb the more technical SE Ridge of the summit Pyramid which has some great rock climbing up to 5.6.
Also on Mt Shuksan we climb the SW Rib with 7 pitches of rock up to 5.7, The North Face with steep glacier snow and ice and The Hour Glass for early and late season, which involve two and half pitches of water ice climbing on summit day. No matter what route you choose Mt Shuksan will unleash near constant diversity in adventures of the best kind.
Through a damp fog of temperate jungles, valleys meander deep within the North Cascades like arteries. Finally the forbidden heart of the mountain range is reached. But still glaciers guard steep mountain walls on all sides. Forbidden Peak possesses a general feeling about it that it is barred from human access. Its location is in what is considered one of the densest group of steep alpine peaks in the country giving it a feeling of true wildness. Due to its remoteness it was unknown to the outside world until the middle of the 20th century when finally a man as wild as the mountains themselves would venture here and tame it.
Fred Becky first climbed the West Ridge with Loyd Anderson in 1940 and would from there on after speak and write so affectionately about this mountain that it is as if he had in fact found a piece of his own heart on the mountain. He writes “The remarkable ridges are so quintessentially perfect, and it’s setting so grandiose that Forbidden has a special status….” Today the mountain is a favorite amongst all mountaineers and it’s west ridge route is now considered one of the 50 most classic climbs of North America.
The West Ridge begins with roping up for the steepish un-named glacier that leads climbers up to the South Face. From there you transition into steep snow and ice climbing up the couloir portion of the climb. In late season this actually becomes too broken up and climbers instead take the Cat Scratch gullies further west. Topping out on the couloir you gain the ridge and are greeted by the reality that you are truly in the thick of the mountains - 360 degrees of big steep mountain walls with heavy glaciers are as far as the eye can see….aaahh American Wilderness at it’s best.
Other fantastic routes on the mountain include The East Ridge, The North Ridge and The North West Buttress. The West Ridge is the easiest and our most common line of ascent. Regardless this should not be taken lightly because it is very complex, technical and exposed. Many participants who have not realized they have a fear of heights have felt the incredible exposure sneak up on them with no warning once on this climb.
Forbidden Peak is in Boston Basin which is about a half day’s hike. This gives us access to quite a few different summits that we climb on a fairly regular basis. Sehale Peak is perhaps the most moderate of all the high Cascade Glacier climbs and there is also Shark’s fin Tower which has multi-pitch rock climbing without the huge commitment of Forbidden Peak. If you climb up and over the technical fortress like ridge you gain access to the Boston Glacier, which is the largest of all of the non-volcanic glaciers in the North Cascades. From Boston Glacier motivated climbers can reach the steep North Face of the highest peak in the region, Mt Buckner.
Mt Goode is the biggest, grandest, most spectacular mountain that you’ve never heard of. At 9,220 feet it is the highest peak in North Cascades National Park (Mt Baker is not in the National Park). The mountain flaunts its beauty in the simplest way…Ka BOOOM! When you see it a surge of adrenaline will jolt your veins, you will then want to climb something, anything, but for those bold enough you’ll see yourself climbing that proud, 3,000 foot mountain wall. But it’s intimidating… With a big approach via the Pacific Crest Trail it’s way out there in the wilderness, there are lots of bear (last time in there I saw 5) and it’s BIG, did I say that already? The fact is that most of the climbing is fairly easy, 5.5 at it’s hardest. Once on the route you learn that it’s more fun than it is scary and difficult. This Mountain is a favorite and what makes it even better is once the climb is done instead of hiking all the way back up the Pacific Crest Trail we just stroll down hill to Lake Chelan where we take a float plane back to Bellingham.
Mt Rainier… at 14,411 feet and standing 13,211 feet above it’s surrounding valleys it is one of the most prominent mountains in North America. It’s visible to almost 10 million people living within a 100-mile radius at any given time. It’s where dreams are realized and bigger ones are made. There are more people planning and training to climb Mt Rainier right at this moment than any other mountain in the world. Mt Rainier speaks for itself.
The mountain was originally referred to by the local natives as Tahoma or Tacoma which is thought to mean “Bigger than Baker” or to break that down Ta-Coma. The name Rainier was given to it during the same expedition as Mt Baker was named. Rainier was simply a friend of Vancouver’s also in the Royal Navy.
Most of the people that climb Mt Rainier will hire one of three guide services: Alpine Ascents, RMI or IMG and they will climb the mountain via the Muir Snowfield and Disappointment Cleaver route. We consider ourselves incredibly honored to be one of the 15 other guide services that hold a single trip authorization to guide on Rainier. That means every year we run one trip to the mountain. In the past we have used a variety of different routes but we are now committing ourselves to one route: The Kautz Glacier Route. We climb the mountain by this route for many reasons, first is that it’s the route of first ascent by Hazard Stevens and PB Van Trump 1870. But also because it is much quieter than the busy Emmons or the crowded DC route and with still incredibly easy access, but most of all it’s because it’s an incredibly fun adventure. There’s big mountain ambiance, steeper ice climbing, rappelling, elegant glacier travel and the end of the route tops out on the summit.
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Michelle Anderson LMHC