If you can see Mt. Baker, you are part of The Experience

Mt. Baker in a Day


The quiet, pre-dawn air hit my face as I stepped out of the van. I gazed up the dirt road and saw a headlamp dancing off a nearby car. I called out to my friend Jessica and she answered with a sleepy yet cheerful reply. We had driven up to the south side of Mt. Baker late the night before and slept at the trailhead so we could be ready for our 3 a.m. wake up call.

Mt. Baker, the most prominent peak in the Mt. Baker Wilderness area, is an active volcano rising 10,781 feet above the North Cascades. It is one of the most popularly climbed glaciated peaks in the area, and with good reason. The relative accessibility as well as multitude of routes make it a great choice. While most people spend their summit day booting up and down the glacier, we had a different type of movement in mind.

The date was June 11, 2023. The objective: ski Mt. Baker in a day. Jessica and I had met earlier in the summer through an Instagram group and not only became fast friends but trustworthy climbing partners. We’d taken a few day trips to rock climb at Mt. Erie in Anacortes, but this would be our longest, biggest day in the mountains together. As we plunged into the darkness, the nerves were high but the stoke was higher. There is something so special about a big objective that you aren’t sure you can do.

Besides wanting to get out together and summit this mountain in a day, there was something bigger on our minds: We wanted to do this on our own. We wanted to fully own the independence and responsibility of such a serious endeavor. To top it off, while I am sure we weren’t the first and definitely won’t be the last, being the only all-female team we saw on the mountain that day felt extra special.

The first few miles of the ascent are through an eerie evergreen forest. Truly a fairyland of sorts, especially in the dark. There was still snow left in sometimes deep patches, as well as a lot of bare ground. We had decided to hike in waterproofing trail runners until we made it to the snowline, and we were so thankful that we did. Navigating through this forest can be tricky, but we had downloaded the track on the CalTopo app and were able to follow along.

As the sun rose we popped out of the trees, buckled into our boots and began the long skin up the Squak Glacier. There are several route options to the summit of Mt. Baker, all of them include some amount of glacial travel. Both the Squak and Easton glaciers on the south side of the mountain are some of the least technical and most commonly traveled. We chose the Squak because we knew there would be other parties, there was a good booter/skin track in, and we felt that our skills aligned with the objective.

Lower down, the snow was a bit crusty and patchy, but as we made it to the toe of the glacier, it evened out and we settled into a seemingly endless rhythm of movement up the sea of white. Moving over a glacier is wild; on the surface, and for most of the journey, it can look like a snowfield, however, there is so much more to it. Glaciers are constantly moving, shifting and readjusting. When you come upon a crevasse you can see into the depths of its being.

The blue of the glacial ice in the larger crevasses stood out in stark contrast to the snow as we steered clear of them and continued on our way.

It can be easy to lose track of time on these types of ascents so we made a point to stop for frequent snack and hydration breaks. We ran into a friend ski guiding and chatted with her. The day was gorgeous; not too cold or too windy, and crystal clear.

On this route, you pass the crater which is incredible in and of itself. We paused here to peer into its steaming depths, and transition to boots and crampons.

As we reached the Roman Wall we paused briefly to take in the crater and prepare for the last big push. Crunching up the wall and across the last stretch to the summit was surreal. We peered into the steaming crater, and looked out across the 360-degree view of the North Cascades. As we climbed up the final summit of the mountain’s prominence, it began to sink in – we’d made it! Under our own power, we’d navigated the dark forest, the long glacier trek and finally the Roman Wall, the daunting final section before the summit. As far as we were concerned we were on top of the world. It is hard to fully describe the feeling and significance of this summit, but hopefully photos give you at least an idea of what we experienced.

Jessica, having been raised in northern Washington, had grown up seeing Mt. Baker from her hometown but never imagined she’d be able to stand on its summit.

“I grew up in the shadow of Mt. Baker. I could see Mt. Baker from my house, from my school, from my drive into our tiny town. It never occurred to me that people climbed up its slopes,” Jessica said. “When I first started hiking, I discovered that people would indeed climb Mt. Baker. For years, I never thought that I’d stand on its summit, never thought I’d be strong enough or skilled enough. Even as I stood on the summit, looking over my tiny town in the Nooksack Valley, I could hardly believe it.”

I, on the other hand, grew up on the east coast, but my dad’s side of the family is rooted in Washington and I spent a lot of time in the state as a child. Standing on top of Mt. Baker, I felt an incredible connection and sense of belonging that I did not expect. It was such a special moment.

After a few photos and some summit snacks, we headed down and began the 7,565 foot descent back to the trailhead. Skiing down the glacier was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had on skis! Imagine an endless intermediate ski run of perfect corn for thousands of feet. Add spectacular mountain views, and the fact that you are skiing on a glacier with an amazing friend, and you’ve got an idea of what we experienced. It was a dream come true.

Thoughts from our day:

Hiking to the snowline in trail runners was worth it, especially for the way out.

Lots of accessible, calorie-dense snacks were helpful. Jerky, cheese, fruit snacks, gummy bears, candy, as well as a lunch wrap were all great for me. I also brought some emergency caffeine (caffeinated gel).

A water bottle with a filter cap is a great option for hydration. There is generally a lot of running water on the hike up so you can pack light and then filter what you need for the summit, and get more on the way down. We did this and it was perfect.

Sun protection! Glaciers are one big reflective surface so good sun protection is paramount. We wore sun hoodies, hats, glacier sunglasses and lots of sunscreen.

Skinning up makes you so warm! We still brought lots of layers though since conditions can change super quickly.

While the glacier travel felt pretty straightforward, it is still a glacier and having knowledge of crevasse rescue as well as how to navigate in this environment is a good idea.

Don’t forget the summit Snickers!

Our day’s stats: 14 hours 42 minutes 35 seconds, 14.31 miles, 7,565 feet of elevation gain. Strava link: https://bit.ly/3Vrqk9q    X