Summit Elevation (m): 3172
Elevation Gain (m): 1550
Round Trip Time (hr): 24
Total Trip Distance (km): 25
Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 2/3 – You fall you sprain or break something – unless you’re caught in an avalanche. Then you could die.
Difficulty Notes: Glacier route includes crevasse issues and steep snow slopes. Don’t minimize these risks and learn how to manage them before attempting this trip.
Technical Rating: MN7; YDS (Skiing)
Map: Google Maps
A group of us had originally planned a trip up to the Asulkan Hut in Rogers Pass for the weekend of April 19-23rd. Due to poor conditions the objective was changed at the last hour to Peyto Hut on the Wapta Ice field instead. Some of us could only make it for Friday night while a group went in on Thursday already and left on Sunday. Wietse, Scott, Kelly and Robin all headed in on Thursday. They initially had intentions of climbing Mount Habel after getting to the Peyto hut but the warmth of the hut combined with deteriorating conditions led them to drink beer and eat good food instead!
Approach to Peyto Hut
Unfortunately the weather continued to deteriorate on Thursday night and by the time Bill, Kevin and I left the parking area on Friday morning we were in clouds, moderate to heavy snow flurries and wind. The best part was that Bill and I both left our GPS units at home! Ooops. Neither of us had been up the Peyto Glacier either…
As we approached the canyon / moraine on the approach, I had a decision to make. I knew from recent MCR guide reports that the canyon approach was in shape – which is sort of rare. I had no idea where this route went or what condition it would be in with the fresh snow loading. I was willing to follow obvious tracks if they existed, but the fresh snow had erased an previous sign of ascent so I reluctantly chose a line up the moraine instead. I’ve been up this moraine a couple of times, once on skis when we attempted Jimmy Simpson and another time in the summer when Raff and I did our crazy one day trip of Mistaya and Caldron. Both times the moraine managed to suck a lot of energy out of me but this time was different for some reason. I ascended rather effortlessly to the research station with only one short avy slope that made me pause. Old ski tracks were visible going right up the slope but I chose a more conservative line and still felt a bit exposed on it.
After Bill and Kevin caught up to me at the research station (which seems to be falling apart), we all headed for the Peyto Glacier. The whiteout conditions made navigation a bit tricky but we managed to ascend the glacier no problem and did a wide contour to skier’s right before heading towards the hut which was visible in between snow squalls. It was a bit disappointing to realize that there would probably be no summits this day. We were originally planning to ascend Baker on Friday afternoon and Trapper early on Saturday. We even thought we’d be following the previous groups track up Baker – making it a fairly benign trip. Considering our tracks were disappearing behind us almost as quickly as we were making them, we doubted very much that Scott, Kelly, Wietse and Robin had ascended anything yet. We were right.
After making it to the hut (I was surprised how much height gain there is to the hut from the glacier) we discovered some slightly disappointed faces from the other guys. They were making the most of the situation (it’s all about the journey right Wietse?!) but two days with no summits was wearing on the more peakbagger types in the group (i.e. Wietse). The group had attempted Baker earlier but with whiteout conditions and strong winds they turned around. After a 20 minute break I still felt like at least attempting something. I hate sitting around too long with nothing to do. Wietse and I gamely tried another attempt of Baker. Again, we were turned back by intense snow flurries and whiteout conditions. Better safe than sorry! At least we got a few more hours of exercise.
The hut was booked right full. After some good laughs and discussion we turned in to the sounds of people doing dishes until midnight. We got pay back the next morning.
Mount Baker and Tilly (Barrel) Peak
At 0400 on Saturday things weren’t looking real good. The wind was still howling and clouds were still out. After a couple more hours of sleep there were a few anxious questions, “How does it look?”. It looked great. We got up in good spirits and after a nice cup of coffee and some breakfast we were ready to rock ‘n roll Mount Baker. We were a bit cautious in our enthusiasm due to the last 36 hours of wind and snow but at least the weather was good! While everyone else skinned up for the ascent, I decided to try my kick wax and forego skins as high as possible since the wax seemed to be holding up so well. I know from my x-country skiing how well wax can work in certain conditions.
Robin is in fantastic shape and he broke trail most of the way to the Baker / Tilly col. I managed to break for about 5 minutes before he got tired of my slow pace and passed me. Hey – I had the 50 meter rope in my pack and he does yoga.The wind was howling pretty good at the col. I knew from TJ that it’s possible to ascend the north east face to the ridge on skis in the right conditions. We had a mix of hard slab and soft snow drifts – not the best skiing conditions, so we took off the skis and put on crampons at the col. I led the way up the steep face, trying to stay clear of the freshly corniced ridge, yet close enough to it that we’d be on top of any sliding. The higher we got on the face, the more exposed the situation became. Near the top of the face Robin and I took turns bashing through knee to waist deep soft drift on top of rock hard slab – not the most encouraging of avy situations! It didn’t help when we looked down and the rest of the group was waiting it out to see if we made it. 😐 (Obviously that was the right thing for them to do, but it does add to the drama of being the first one across a freshly loaded, steep snow slope!) Robin and I were both very relieved when we finally made it to the top of the face and onto the north east ridge where things felt more stable.
Kevin and I led the way up the final ridge to the summit. This was a fantastic snow climb! The ridge was quite exposed with fantastic drops on both sides and a freshly formed cornice to our left just to keep things spicy. The final little face to the summit was tricky with 1-2 feet of sugar snow on top of rock hard slab. The sugar snow provided very little support for our steps and the slab underneath was so hard you could barely get your ax into it for any sort of anchor point. A slip here would not have been pretty. The summit view was pretty though.
Views were fantastic in all directions and we thoroughly enjoyed the accomplishment of this summit. Bill Kerr enjoyed a very special birthday on a very nice peak – we all congratulated him on a nice achievement at his (young) age. Nobody (except maybe Robin) wanted to hang out too long on the summit due to the steep and loaded slopes we still had to descend.
At the col we decided that since we probably wouldn’t be back any time soon and we still had tons of time we might as well bag Tilly Point too. There was some debate about whether or not it’s a real peak but what the heck is a “real peak” anyway?! If it has a name it goes on my summit log! It only took about 20 minutes to get on top of Tilly and the views were much better than you’d think. It’s almost the same height as the neighboring Trapper Peak and the view of Baker is impressive from this angle. Robin and I sat down for a few minutes to soak in the awesome views of the Wapta while the others started heading down. Bill, Kelly and Scott were cold at the col so they decided to forgo Tilly and headed down on skis, trying to stay as high as possible on the bench between Habel and Baker in order to coast all the way to the tripod device on the Wapta where we had dumped our extra gear in the morning.
Robin and I were the last to leave the col and we managed to stay very high on skier’s right and coasted all the way to the tripod. As an interesting side note – it seems entirely possible to do Mount Habel and Baker in one day by gaining the north end of Habel from the Wapta between Habel and Baker. I don’t know if this is feasible every year but it certainly looked easily feasible this year. Once at the tripod Wietse, Bill, Kev and I packed up our extra hut gear and parted from the other three who made their way over to Peyto.
Egress via Peyto Creek Canyon
Our exit from the Peyto Glacier went without a hitch. We coasted easily down the ramp on the glacier and pretty much glided all the way to the toe. From there Wietse led us down the canyon route, which his group took on ascent. I must admit that I wasn’t 100% confident in our decision to exit via the canyon. There was talk of a few “no slip” zones where a slip would sent you plummeting into the canyon below and with the warming trend I was also concerned about avalanches in the confines of the canyon where there is no room to avoid the run outs (i.e. typical terrain trap).
The canyon lived up to my expectation. It was gorgeous, somewhat exposed and a terrific terrain trap! It was also a very fast exit. I’m really glad we took the canyon so that I know what it involves, but I don’t know if I’ll be taking it again anytime soon. Avy conditions will have to be bomber for me to consider going up it (in the trap longer on ascent) and I wouldn’t exit it unless I knew someone else did it before me. There were sections of waterfall ice where we had to descend into the creek which would only work in low water / high snow conditions. There were huge rock faces on both sides of the creek that definitely hold snow and threatened to avalanche at least half the route or more. There was also a tricky down climb that was crazy exposed to skier’s left for 3 or 4 moves – probably the most dangerous thing we did all weekend! (We could have avoided this by looking further to skiers right but we blindly followed someone else’s up track here…) All-in-all the route went and went quickly which was nice, but my feeling is that the moraine (canyon bypass route) is much safer and more practical for most people in most conditions.
The ski out of Peyto Lake was long but pleasant (I burnt my arms from rolling up my sleeves!) and the exit to the parking area was better than I expected. For all the grouching over the Peyto approach I didn’t find it that bad. It was much more pleasant than I remembered from my first two versions – so maybe a high snow pack helps ease the pain! I also can’t figure out the initial approach route to the fire road that people take from highway 93. Did you know that there’s a perfectly easy route that descends 30 feet down an open slope directly onto this road? Just follow Chic’s guidebook description exactly the way he writes it and save yourself a nasty first and last few minutes through trees on this route.
Mount Baker was a fantastic summit to attain and most importantly provided a great outing with friends in the backcountry. What more do you need out of life?