Story and photos by Skye Schillhammer
For most people, pushing the last thousand feet up the Roman Wall to the summit of Mt. Baker is a big accomplishment. But for my dad, Gary, on this day in May, it wasn’t just another summit, it was also his 65th birthday.
I’m one of the lucky few who still get to enjoy these types of adventures with their parents. Growing up in the North Cascades, it was always a part of what we did. With regular views of these incredible mountains all around us, it just made sense to see what it all looks like from the top.
My dad is not one to shy away from hard work. While many think these sorts of adventures are crazy at 65 years old, he would surely go crazy if he ever stopped.
Twenty years earlier, and long before the splitboard was mainstream, my pops had two boards strapped to his pack while he kicked steps up the same steep slope with me in tow. Back then I was a mere 10 years old, probably wishing I was catching a lift at the resort, without the slightest perspective on how rad this experience was. I definitely don’t take it for granted now, and gladly kick in the steps these days.
For an ascent like Baker, with 7,000 feet looming in front of you, getting the timing right can make or break your trip. On this particular day, everything came together just right.
With the projected temperatures in the valley hitting the mid 70s, we started this scorcher of a day at 5 a.m., meeting in Schriebers Meadow parking lot. Inhaling the still crisp air, we pushed off into the darkness.
Cold snow and a worn-in skin track made for fast moving, and before we knew it, we had popped out onto the glacier. Looking up, we could see a few groups ahead, navigating their way through the crevasses. Luckily, this time of year keeps many of them safely covered, a major plus for the ride out.
Just as our stomachs started growling, we breached the rim of the crater, taking a long lunch at one of the most epic places I’ve ever stood on Earth. With a bottomless fiery pit into a volcano to my left, and endless mountain ridgelines leading to the ocean to my right, it is a truly incredible spot. Our early start allowed us a long break to appreciate the powerful and exceptionally vulnerable perch while we ate cheese, crackers and sliced meat – a family favorite.
As we absorbed some calories, the beating sun started to soften the frozen Roman Wall. Skiing Baker isn’t a technical endeavor, but more often than not, the top 1,000 feet are a frozen crust littered with crevasses. (Not exactly the type of turns I’m after.) But on this day, the clear skies and warm sun created perfect creamy corn snow from the very top.
Giddy with excitement, we pulled in what little oxygen we could find, and booted our way up.
Looking down on our little corner of the country, I couldn’t help but feel an immense gratitude for where I was in the world, and that in a few minutes I’d be laying down more untouched turns in a single run than a full day in a ski resort.
We tipped our boards off the top, and in less than an hour, we slid to a stop at our truck. An incredible day in the books, and a 65th birthday that will be tough to beat. x