It was gray, foggy and began to rain. Why on earth did I want to do this again, I wondered? Weather in the mountains can get pretty moody and this is just what we ran into on our approach to base camp. We took the railroad grade trail up. And although mostly snow-covered in mid June, the snow at lower elevation was melting fast. This made for an interesting trek with our full packs as we broke through countless snow bridges. Once we reached base, and the clouds started to part a bit. The excitement of knowing I was about to get a chance to climb Mount Baker left any suffering down wind.
I have always loved this mountain, between the fact that it is the second most thermally active in the cascades to its record-setting snowfall each year. Mount Baker is a pretty amazing glacier covered volcano in the northwest. I decided to take a course while doing so through Baker Mountain Guides. This was to not only brush up on my glacier skills but teach me much more than I could have ever imagined. I cannot say enough good things about the company and guides from this place. I would go back and take courses through them in a heartbeat! My guides were Matthew and Vince, they made 4 days on the side of a mountain as a class room fun and exciting. There knowledge and passion about the sport shined through and this made learning from them easy.
A few weeks prior
I decided to do some training and made an attempt on Mount Adams. This mountain although taller is less overall elevation gain and has an easier route up the south side with snow fields instead of large glaciers. At 10,000 feet and base camp I got pretty sick and my Crohn’s decided it was a great time to show its face. Instead of put my friends in danger by pushing on and risk needing to be rescued I decided to end my uphill battle and headed down in the morning. This was tough to swallow after so much planning, anticipation, excitement, and effort was made to get so close only to turn around. This lead me with a nervous gut about my Baker trip only a few weeks ahead. I did not want to put anyone in danger if I was not feeling 100%. And the sang goes the mountain will always be there tomorrow. I decided to get some blood work done before my trip up Baker. My inflammation had gone down, however my iron levels were getting pretty low. This meant I was going to have to work twice as hard for a summit on Baker.
Back to the mountain
The plan after setting up base camp was to spend the next 3 learning and re-learning glacier skills. And the 4th day, have us students lead 2 teams up to the summit. We prepared by walking in our rope teams, learning knots and pull systems. As well as dropping each other in a crevasse so we could pull each other out. This was a great experience in itself. For a brief moment I felt like a scientist studying the solid ice glacier and the 15 feet of snow that still lie on its surface. It was cold and wet but none of that seemed to matter.
Our weather seemed to be typical moody Seattle style weather with clouds and sprinkles one minute. Then sun glaring down opening up views the next. However the top of the mountain seemed to have some bad winds the days leading up to our summit attempt. We saw multiple teams miss the summit due to weather. Our morale was high and we pushed on learning and developing our team skills.
After talking with a few other groups and doing some quick math on our pace. We decided it was best to wake around 1 am and start our ascent at 2 am. This would put us at the summit around 8:30. This meant crawling into our tents early. At 5 pm we prepped our gear for the morning. Assigned someone for coffee duty and said our good nights. I was so excited it was hard to sleep, and even more so I was picked to lead our group with Vince our guide keeping me on course from the rear. Before I could even does off the sound of rain started, this then turned to hail. And before we knew it you thunder was rumbling everyone on the mountain.
Not sure how much, if any sleep any of us got as our alarms seem to come quick. The camp was quiet as though we all knew how to communicate without words. We headed off up a path that lead us around a few other camps higher up. Our plan was to break every hour, keep things short, water and some food to keep us going and continue on. On our first break we looked up and saw a large string of lights heading up the mountain. We did not anticipate this many groups. We managed to set a great pace and pass most the groups. This was ideal as the crevasses became bigger and the snow bridges became smaller.
Breathe, Step, Breathe…
Breathe, step, breathe, step… don’t fall. This seemed to repeat in my head as we made our way toward the crater. You can make it I kept telling myself, although still unsure what I was doing on the side of a mountain with my lungs on fire. But as we got closer the sun began to light the sky up. It was the views that seemed to help push me through the suffer fest up the last section known as the roman wall. We took a short break at the sulfur smelling crater and I was awe-struck of the beauty even more from this mountain. Wind whipped hard, but there was no clouds that were stopping us now. The last section was tough but the excitement of seeing the top made it go by quick. Reaching the flat top was a sight in itself, we made it. I never felt so happy to walk on flat surface as I did at that moment. The actual peak being no more than a 25 foot hill. 7:15 am we had made it to the top and 10,781 feet above sea level.
I asked Vince who was my one man cheer squad all the way up the mountain for a photo-op and the Climbing for Crohn’s flag. He happily obliged. The feeling of accomplishment always feels so good when you reach your goals. The winds made it tough to stay long, but we all enjoyed a much deserved snack and some incredible 360* views. The skies were clear enough to see Rainier from the top. Even if the winds felt like we would all just blow right off the top. And just like that we were starting our descent. That was the moment that you remember you are only half way. I almost forgot now we must get back down safely. It was good that we made great time coming up, as the sun started to rise, the snow conditions went down. Exhausted but not wanting to make any mistakes. We hustled the best we could as safely we could to make it back to camp.
Why we challenge ourselves
It felt like forever, plunge stepping down back to camp. It was great to see our other team back at camp and we all sat down for some lunch. Nothing but smiles and laughter at that moment. However this also meant we had to pack up camp and continue back down the trail to our van. However after all the miles and sore feet I was more than happy that I took this opportunity to climb this mountain. I was even more excited that my Crohn’s decided to stay under control and for a brief moment I felt normal. Maybe this is why I do it, maybe this is why I have decided to challenge myself. What have you done lately to challenge you?