The omnipresent cone of Mount Baker's Grant Peak has a tendency to creep into the landscape at the most unlikely of moments, casting a long shadow over the aspirations of island-bound mountaineers across the Salish Sea. Looming high above the Fraser Valley's coastal plain, the mountain's glaciated summit often appears detached from the very earth through which it shot skyward about 15,000 years ago. How that vision is changed when cresting through the treeline at the end of the well-groomed Heliotrope Trail.
Aside from the walk-up approach, well-developed infrastructure and need for parking permits, little has changed since Edmund T. Coleman led the first-known ascent of the mountain back in 1868. Back then he recalled being "solemnly impressed" by "the tender beauty of the wild flowers blooming around" and "the grandeur of the rocky peaks shooting up into the deep blue vault." It's as though, he wrote, "we were in a temple not made by hands."
|August wildflowers below Hogsback Camp|
|Mt. Baker's snow-covered dome rises towards the "deep blue vault"|
The following day we awoke to the sounds of some intrepid climbers passing our tents making their way up to the summit along the boot-packed Coleman-Deming Route from the parking lot below. By 7 a.m. we were roped up and prepared for the quick 90-minute glacier walk to the impressive Gargoyle Camp (2,210m/7,250ft), appropriately named on account of the stunning panorama that beholds those fortunate enough one of the few spots of the melted out ridge.
|Hanging out at Gargoyle Camp|
I was already awake and pretty psyched for the journey before us when my watch began to chime at 2:30 a.m. One energy bar and a cup of tea later and the group were ready to join the distant parties who'd already set out from below to climb under a the starry and silent late-August sky.
|Hot late-season weather had exposed most of the glacier's hazards|
By day break, we'd succeeded in plodding our way around the series of exposed crevasses to reach the saddle, where two other groups had elected to spend what must have been a frigid and much more windier night than we'd endured. Up the pumice ridge, through the odour of sulpherous emissions, across the Roman Wall's booted track and along the great walk past the playing field-sized summit dome brought us to the summit pimple (3,285 m /10,778 ft) in fine form and without incident.
|Monkeying around before sunset on day 2|
Mountaineering on the Pacific, by Edmund T. Coleman, Harper's New Monthly, November 1869
All photos courtesy Alan Bibby.