This was a fantastic unexpected day while en-route to Valhalla Mountain Lodge in BC. John Crus and I stayed with his friend Toby in Bellingham for 2 days before driving up to our planned Canada ski vacation. Toby's friend Tim brought us to an amazing sight in the lower parking lot of the Mt. Baker Ski Area. No tracks, super cold temps, and knee deep blower powder. Tim had skied the route once and felt confident snow stability was good for this ski tour.
Having zero info on the snowpack history and skeptical about so much new snow and avy terrain, I wasn't so sure we would be hitting the best line, which was just beneath all the exposed cliffs and down through some steep, thinly covered rocky terrain below that. My crew seemed to agree, and Tim seemed to be happy just letting us do our own thing and hanging in the back. He may have been right that the snowpack was BOMBER from what he saw in the tracked out nearby Table Mountain area, but my snow pit showed sketchyness at mid mountain.
There isn't much for an avy report around Mt. Baker, the mountain ranges are too vast up there. What weak info I had from the night before said "considerable". I didn't have a map or a chance to research anything online either. With no tracks, thin coverage, lots of new snow, and a snowpit showing a deep enough "strong over weak" snowpack, we stopped 2/3 the way up when we could no longer weave around on 30 degree bumps and benches. We also weren't about to ski down the actual white salmon glacier run we saw from the parking lot, so there was no point continuing.
Until...another local showed up behind us and kept going past. the fact that he got to watch us ski all over some steeper terrain down lower might have influenced his decision to keep going. He also knew the route, which we couldn't see from below. Our local friend Tim wasn't going further, and it wasn't apparent that there was a low angle way up anyway. There wasn't, we were on 35 plus slopes at times, and above the steep long fall line in spots.
So....we let these two variables count heavily and we went back up to the top after tracking up the lower 35 degree snow for 1000 feet, including some steeper short sections. And we watched this local guy skin the steepest part without causing a slide. We figured we could always come back near our skin track, which is what we did. His line was asthetically beautiful, and I'd like to go do it next time, but it sure looked risky to us. Factually, this was probably one of the safer days to ski this line due to the cold temps. Nothing was coming down from above, and maybe this guy really did know it had been tested recently by others.
We skinned a little groomed part on the ski area to this spot, and then skied down 800' to the drainage.
The black line is the route we didn't feel comfortable going up at first. That's were you get exposed to a larger slide.
You cross a few bridged cracks. We didn't have a rope, which was another reason I wasn't into continuing at first. We probably still should have had a rope crossing the one big one at the top. Why not.
I always picture it cloudy in the Cascades, but Toby says they get a week of high pressure here and there. Mt. Baker blew me away. This is a huge ski touring meca area all around it and on it.
This is where the lone skier went beyond our high point and booted up another 100' to get into the true continous ski descent, under the cliffs.
Mt. Shuksan summit in the background. Toby has skied from the summit on the other side, in a steep couloir above a different glacier. You can also tour around the summit apparently. I hope to do the circumnavigation combined with the peak now that I know about it. It's in the guidebook for the area.
This is the route the other solo guy did. All that new snow stayed on the cliffs today, it was suprisingly cold even though it's springtime.
Our route in yellow. People probably skin around this steep island, but I took us through it to be out of hang fire. Tim didn't try to talk us out of it, but I bet he wanted to. As we found on the descent, you can wrap around it and get up out of the avy path easy enough. We went down where the black arrow is.
The next day Toby took us to Table Mountain, for some sidecountry above the higher Mt. Baker Ski Area parking lot. Another amazing shot of Baker.
Looking back at Shuksan you can make out the summit circumnavigation possibilty here.
Mt. Anne behind Shuksan. A few tracks were visible on that peak.
Part of the Ptarmigan Ridge behind Table Mountain