We do not get a lot of sunny and relatively warm days
in January. It would be a shame to waste one. With that in mind I joined
Bob, Kolleen, Carol, and Joe for a long drive up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.
Our goal was to take a shot at Mt. Herman. We had a little info but not
that much. At the least we would get up high for views of the peaks of the
North Cascades. We met at a park and ride lot in South Everett at 6:45 AM.
Thanks to Joe's big Toyota Sequoia we were able to fit all five of us and
our gear in one vehicle. It's a long ride up to Mt. Baker. We at about 9:30.
By 9:45 we were ready to get started.
It was 26 degrees at the bottom of the valley but by the time we climbed
up to Heather Meadows it was 37 degrees. The sun was out and the sky was
cloudless. The view from the parking lot is pretty darn good. It was to get
much better. We only went up the snow covered road about 50 feet before starting
a descent to the basin of Bagley Lakes. The lakes are buried under 15 feet
of snow. We were not along as a number of skiers and snowshoes were also
on the route.
There was avalanche debris on the side of Table Mountain. The avalanche
hazard was low this day. The route snakes up the valley with tall steep
walls on both sides. Farther along the route split. Some tracks continued
along the bottom and others went steeply uphill on the right side. The snow
was very hard providing good traction for our snowshoe crampons. We chose
to head uphill.
The tracks climbed steeply then began a traverse up the valley. We could
soon see a ski track traversing fright to left towards where we expected
the pass to be. A group of at least 8 snowshoers were going straight up to
a pass located right of the main pass. A small peak separated them. We considered
following that group up the right side pass but instead chose to head farther
left to the larger pass.
We soon met up with the lower tracks and continued up steeper slopes
towards the pass. The telelvators on our MSR snowshoes really helped avoid
calf pain here. Joe had a new pair of longer Atlas snowshoes. He did fine
but it was a bit more work for him. At first we were in shade in the valley
and it was a bit cold. Once we were in the sun it became very warm. It seemed
to get noticeably warmer as we ascended.
When we crested the slope and arrived at the pass we had a close up
view of Mt. Baker. Shuksan was behind us and Baker was right in front.
Table Mountain was also across from us now. We pulled out the map and after
some discussion we determined than Mt. Herman was some distance from the
left hand pass we chose not to ascend. Too far away for us this day. We
did see that Mazama Dome was not far at all above us. The slope up was very
steep but looked like a reasonable climb. We brought ice axes and crampons
just in case.
Joe decided he would rather enjoy the sun and views from the pass and
the rest of us packed up for a shot at the peak. It appeared that one peak
was right above the pass and a higher one was a little higher along the
same ridge beyond a saddle. A set of snowshoe tracks traversed over then
appeared to head up to the saddle. I chose to head straight up the slope
to the closer summit.
The snow was still hard but softening in the sunlight. We were able
to climb right up the slope, avoiding a few trees near the summit. We popped
out onto the ridge near the high point. The earlier snowshoers were already
there. We now had a 360 degree view. We could see Tomyhoi, Yellow Aster
Butte, American Border, Larrabee, Goat, Hannegan, and Ruth Peaks to the north
and east. Glacier Peak and even Mt. Rainier were visible farther south. There
were now a few high clouds but it was warm and very clear.
The other snowshoers pointed out the group we had seen earlier at the
other pass. They dropped down, and crossed one large gully. It was apparent
that they would cross another ridge and drop into a very deep gully leading
to a col below Mt. Herman. That gully looked like a very dangerous place
with even moderate avalanche danger. Mt. Herman looked to be much more
difficult and dangerous than I had anticipated. I was quite happy that
we ended up where we did.
The other snowshoers said the ridge was not just an easy walk up to
the close by summit of Mazama Dome. It did not look too bad and we chose
to give it a go. There was a considerable cornice on much of the ridge.
We bashed through several high snow bumps before deciding to leave our snowshoes
and boot it up. At one point we had to drop down to get around a high snow
bump. Bob led the way and in pretty short order we were on the final slope.
The summit was not much taller than where we first reached the ridge but
we now did have an unobstructed 360 view.
There was no wind at all on the summit. There really is no place in
Washington state that compares with the North Cascades when the peaks are
cloaked in winter white. A warm and crystal clear day like this in January
is a very unusual treat. We definitely made the right destination choice
this day. All to soon we finished taking photos and packed up to leave.
Back down on the ridge top we picked up and our snowshoes and returned to
where we first reached the ridge. We easily convinced the other guys to
follow our tracks up to the summit. We chose to just use boots and plunge
step back on down.
The slope had softened considerably in the short time since our ascent.
It was now perfect for a quick plunge step descent. In just a few minutes
we were back at the pass. Joe was resting comfortably when we returned.
He had no problem staying warm while we were gone. Looking at a few books
it seems that we were at Herman Saddle. If so, it is much farther from Mt.
Herman than the other smaller saddle on the other side of Mazama Dome.
We had hoped to be able to glissade down the steep slope. It was still
fairly hard but I could not get going. Joe had on plastic rain pants and
he would glissade a bit. By constantly pushing off with my hands I did manage
one decent slide. The others gave up and booted it. This time we chose to
follow the winding valley all the way back. The route was no problem at
all. As is usual, we found a much bigger crowd the last mile back. Sledders
joined the skiers and snowshoers.
All too soon we were back at the parking lot. The statistics for this
trip were very moderate. It is about 2 1/2 miles to the pass with a little
over 1000' of net gain. The summit of Mazama Dome adds about 1/2 mile and
450' of gain. With ups and down we gained about 1700' over 6 miles round
trip. This trip is all about the views. When you have a clear day they
We did not get close to Mt. Herman but it was a very successful day.
Joe had a chance to try out his now snowshoes. Carol added another winter
summit to her small but rapidly growing list. Bob, Kolleen, and I snowshoed
a place we have been planning on visiting for several years. The weather
was beyond anything one should expect in January. When I returned home I
checked the online hourly telemetry for Mt. Baker ski area and it listed
a high termperature at 1:00 PM as being 49 degrees. I don't know if that
is accurate but it sure felt like it.
The drive home was long and slower than we would have liked. By Marysville
we reached the skier traffic from Highway 2. We inched along until passing
the bottleneck. I arrived home at 6:25, 12 hours and 15 minutes after leaving.
We drove for seven hours and hiked for five. Even with all the driving it
was well worth it. A great destination, great weather, and great people.
I couldn't ask for more.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Table Close Up
Big Avy Block
Joe & Shuksan
Near The Saddle
Joe Near The Top
Shuksan From Pass
Carol & Kolleen
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2007