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Kyle Miller Summits and Rides Shuksan and Baker Back-to-Back
Posted on May 27, 2011






Story by Kyle Miller; photos by Jason Hummel

The North Cascades are filled with rugged, ragged peaks filled with frozen rivers of ice. Some are volcanoes, but most are mountains. No place is this more evident than the Mt. Baker ski area, situated between Mt. Shuksan, a 9,131-foot mountain, and Mt. Baker, a 10,781-foot volcano. The plan was simple: With the hopes of a two-day break in the relentless rain, we would attempt to pull off both the peaks back-to-back.

There is nothing like driving four hours to a mountain under cloudy skies, fearing that you read the forecast wrong. This was the case pulling up on Glacier Creek Road, two miles before the trailhead. Our goal for the first day was Mt. Baker.

The team—Jason Hummel, Adam Roberts, Zach Clayton, and me—skinned below dark, gray clouds. From the get-go, we saw a brief glimpse of the upper slopes of Baker, confirming our suspicions: While wet and nasty down here, we would be basking in glorious sunshine once we got above the cloud deck.

Before long, we skinned into the clouds and whiteout conditions. With the help of our GPS, we navigated the mellow contours of the slopes that Jason and I had been on numerous times before. It wasn’t long before a small silhouette of Baker became a full display of colors. We had reached the cloud deck. Below us was an ocean of clouds, but above was a world of white and blue with a few inches of new snow covering all previous tracks.

Each one of us had smiles from ear to ear. All of the concern from previous hours had washed away, and we knew the only thing between us and the summit was 5,000 feet and numerous hours of skinning. It was amazing to see how filled-in the glacier was as we skinned over areas that are usually littered in crevasses.

Once at the Roman Headwall, we decided to bootpack the steep face, switching off trail-breaking duties and hoping for quick glances of the surrounding peaks that were engulfed in the clouds. Once we reached the summit, only the highest of the Cascade peaks were jutting out of the clouds.

We sat on the summit for less than a minute before moving to a more sheltered area for transitioning. With the weather window closing and the clouds slowly rising, we knew we had to get out of there fast, so we made a team decision to ride back the way we came—not the most exciting but by far the safest way back.

The sun was lowering as we made the descent, with shades of pink and orange highlighting the slopes—a photographer’s dream. It wasn’t long before we were back into the clouds and following our skin tracks back to the lower slopes. We would wait for the occasional weather window and push on down slope until we were at the car at dusk.

We made a quick dash down to the the town of Glacier in hopes of ordering pizza at the local bar, only to find that the kitchen had closed. Then it was off to the next town where we ordered food minutes before they closed the kitchen, too. If all went according to plan, we were going to have another long day on Shuksan, so food and rest were in order.

Morning came far too early in the White Salmon parking lot of Mt. Baker ski resort. From our view, we could see clouds covering Mt. Shuksan, but off in the distance we could see blue skies to the west. That was enough motivation to push forward. Our bodies were stiff, and our minds exhausted as we skinned up the lower slopes of Mt. Shuksan, which was and always is littered with avalanche debris 30-feet high in places. Once arriving at the White Salmon Glacier, we shared the skin track with another group, making great time up to the Curtis Glacier.

There are so many rad lines to be accessed from here, but these weren’t our focus of the trip. We had come to summit and ride the summit pyramid headwall, so we pushed on up the famous area referred to as “Hell’s Highway” onto the Sulphite Glacier.

The summit was in view and seemed to be a stone’s throw away, but like all high alpine peaks this wasn’t the case. We pushed on and up to the base of the summit pyramid before switching to bootpacking. The afternoon sun had taken its toll on us, but we bootpacked up the 50-degree slopes to the summit, conscious of potential avalanches, and before long we were standing on the summit.

The weather couldn’t have been better for us, with views deep into the Cascades. To the west, Baker was covered in a huge lenticulor, and we were stoked to have chosen to ride it the day before, knowing a summit today would have been brutal if even doable.

Riding down the summit pyramid, we carefully managed our sluffs of massive wetslides with every turn. Each time, it was take “two turns then cut a hard right until the slopes mellowed out.” The snow was slush but great for turning as we ripped our way down the Sulphite and onto the Curtis. It was getting late, and our intended exit route was filled with avalanche debris, so we descended via the White Salmon glacier this time in the middle of two decks of clouds, one above and one below.

Once again, we arrived at the car just before dusk, relieved that the weather and our bodies had cooperated the past two days.

Mother Nature had really put on a show for us, created dramatic scenery both days on an area I had become very familiar with. While I had been in these areas years prior, it was amazing to see just how much my perspective had changed.

Author: - Friday, May 27th, 2011

  1. Kathy Chrestensen

    way to go .. strong work man!

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