Mount Baker Summit Climb

Pushing the Limits in the Cascades

"Oh yeah, this is a big whiteout," Saskia said as she crawled out of the tent. I put on a few more layers and followed her out. The world beyond our campsite was a thick wall of churning whiteness. The clouds had threatened to swallow us as we backpacked up to base camp yesterday, and it seemed it finally happened. I could see my breath and the rocks we were camped on, but nothing else. Our group of six novice climbers and two guides were dug in at 1,500 feet at the base of Mount Baker a 10,778-foot volcano in Washington's North Cascades that we couldn't see but hopefully would climb tomorrow.

So far our chances of getting to the top weren't promising. Saskia and Dave, our guides from Seattle-based Mountain Madness, informed us that in these conditions finding a safe route up the mountain would be difficult, not to mention foolhardy. Still, it seemed a shame to come this far for nothing. I guess we had learned our first lesson: The mountain sets the weather. Deal with it.

It was the first of many lessons we would learn this weekend. While most of us had hiked before, none of us had climbed. We ranged in age from late twenties to early sixties, and came from all walks of life: doctor, mortgage lender, real estate agent, retiree. I was here because I lived in Seattle surrounded by Cascade volcanoes—Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Mount Adams—and had always wanted to climb one. I had moved here five years ago from the flatlands, but it had taken me until now to gather the courage to make the attempt.

Most people looking for a Northwest mountain to climb head straight for Rainier, the 14,411-foot volcano dominating the south Cascades. I considered it, but in the end chose Mount Baker because it's a good training mountain: It's heavily glaciated and climbers have fewer problems with altitude. I told myself that if I could summit this mountain—and loved doing it—only then I would attempt Rainier. Baker would be my litmus test.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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