Author’s note: This post is one week old. I’m now sleep deprived and sporting the dorky combination of scrubs and a white coat. Looking back on this gives me a satisfied smile. Enjoy!
I’m on a ferry, out on puget sound, sailing from Friday Harbor to Anacortes. Despite my best efforts (hours of quietly watching at the rail), I’ve yet to see an Orca. That’s the only hope I had for this trip that I have yet to fulfill.
In eighteen hours or so, I’ll be starting one of the rights of passage that every medical student is forced to endure: a surgical rotation. For four weeks, I’ll work longer than twelve-hour days for six or more days per week. Sometimes I’ll be there overnight. Thank goodness there are restrictions; I’m not supposed to work more than 80 hours per week averaged out over four weeks, or more than 28 hours at a time. So reasonable.
That’s not to say that I resent the rotation, or that I’m not excited. I don’t, and I am. This is what I signed up for. Still, it’s a transition moment from a few months that have afforded me a lot of time in the mountains to a few that will afford me little.
To mark the occasion, and to ornament some travel that we were making to a wedding on San Juan Island, Tay and I decided a few weeks ago to climb and ski Mt Baker It is one of the cascades volcanoes that has managed to avoid attempts by either of us.
With a tight 1.5 day weather window surrounded by rain and sleet, we opted for the Easton Glacier route. In retrospect, the Easton Glacier may be one of the easiest routes up any of the cascades volcanoes, with a moderate pitch allowing skiing to its very summit.
We left Portland at nine in the morning, following a meeting that I had to attend. We hit I-5 and by two PM we were mired in Seattle traffic, stopping off so that Taylor could make an appointment to look at wedding dresses. I killed an hour mostly by looking for and not finding parking before retrieving her and hitting the road North. We made the trailhead by four thirty, and after handling a camelback explosion in Taylor’s pack, left for our high camp at five.
We found easy travel on an over-maintained trail for a few miles until reaching snow surprisingly low in the forest. On instinct, we resisted swapping shoes for skis and were rewarded with dry trail up the “railroad grade”, a trail section that traverses the very edge of the Easton glacier’s lateral moraine, name for the persistent but mild angle at which the trail climbs. Low clouds obscured the mountain and had me worried that we might sit in camp tomorrow for lack of visibility
The clouds began to break as we set up camp in an outcropping of trees around six thousand feet, and we quickly grabbed our dinner supplies and headed up the moraine for a view. Mt Baker unfolded in the evening light, with the North cascades drifting in and out for a backdrop. Mt Rainier glowed in the distance, and regardless of climbing, the trip was then a success.
We opted for the late and lazy start and left our camp at 7:30 the following morning. As we left, we could see a trio of parties high on the route, with big rope teams and the slow pace of guided groups. Skiing from our camp, we enjoyed good conditions along a well tracked route. Deploying a rope when we began our travel on glacier was a purely academic affair, as only one snow bridge along the entire route showed any sign of fatigue or weakness.
At a casual pace, we passed a few parties along the route and stopped to look into Baker’s volcanic crater, a hellish fumarole hole that conjures up images of a sulfurous death for anyone who crept too close to look.
We opted to boot the final headwall, as the guided parties had begun to creep their way down and were blocking the logical path for a skin track. Chatting with a few of the guides, we learned that they were bound to stay on the mountain through the coming bad weather because their clients were there for a multi-day skills course. Sorry boys.
The flat, anticlimactic summit of Mt Baker is reminiscent of Mts Adams and Rainier, and the latter could be seen not far off, with excellent views of Shuksan and its neighbors rolling off into Canada. I stubbornly skied from the summit lump though that forced me to skate a ways to the true descent of the route, while Taylor sensibly skinned across the summit plateau.
We began our descent with the Roman Wall, a great, steep pitch at the head of the route that even now I can see from the ferry. It had softened just so, permitting aggressive and fast skiing. The moderate pitch of the remainder of the route also proved well-timed, offering fast and easy skiing past the guided groups plodding down. The lower reaches devolved into sticky mashed potatoes, but what else can you expect along a descent of five-thousand feet?
Back at camp in five hours, just forty minutes after leaving the summit, we packed up and boogied back to the car. A victory beer rehydrated us for a trip down to the Birdsview brewery and we spent another night camped in the woods. The following morning we awoke to a heavy misting rain and we nailed our transition to a wedding weekend on San Juan island by stopping at Refugio’s cafe in Deming for an amazing breakfast before heading to Bellingham to peruse their budding beer scene (Recommended: 1. Aslan Brewing: Organic, huge space, many good offerings. 2. Structures brewing: Tiny two-man operation, soulful, incredible prices and beer to match.)
Now, after a few days of soaking up the seashore life on San Juan island, the port of Anacortes is off the bow, marking the beginning of the ritual drive down I-5 back to the normal world where I will stay, for eight hours, before disappearing into the world of surgery.
You can support MountainLessons and score yourself some world cup race skis (which are awesome mountain tools) for hundreds of dollars off retail. Check it out!