Mount Baker Summit Climb

Mountaineering Specifics

Mount Baker is considered a beginner's mountain, but guide Saskia VonMichalofski stresses that "it's not a walk in the park. This peak is technical. You need a rope and ice axe and you need to know how to use them." Before attempting any summit, every climber should have a solid understanding of the basics of mountaineering and the required tools. Below you will find a brief description of some of the more important concepts you should know and practice.

Duck step
Walking forward with your feet splayed slightly outward. Useful on moderately steep slopes.

French Technique
A method of climbing steep slopes, essentially sidestepping by planting your right foot in the snow, then crossing over it to step with the left foot. Small steps are less taxing on the legs. (Reverse occasionally to lead with the opposite leg.) Be sure to keep all points of your crampons in the snow.

A controlled, sitting slide down a slope, using the point of your ice axe as a brake near your right or left hip. Face forward and dig in your heels (without crampons) to control your speed. If you get out of control, simply roll to one side and do a self arrest.

Ice Axe
This is your primary safety tool while on the mountain. It has a blunted adze end, a pointed shaft, and a longer pick end. Always climb with the axe in your uphill hand, adze pointed forward. Practice switching the ice axe quickly between gloved hands as you walk.

Kicking steps
A basic mountaineering skill that can be done with or without crampons. Use the edge of your boot to create a line of firm footholds in ice and snow. Works well for ascending or descending traverses.

Plunge Step
A fast way to descend in soft snow. Face away from the slope and drive your heels into the snow with each downward step. Keep your weight over your feet; if you lean too far back into the mountain you increase the chance of having your feet slide out from under you.

Rest Step                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         A leg-saver on steep hills. Lift your right leg and plant your foot as if you were preparing to take a step up. Place all your body weight on the bones of your locked left leg. Pause a moment before transferring the weight to the right leg. Repeat with a pause before each weight transfer. Done correctly the rest step can keep you moving forward indefinitely without becoming fatigued.

Your lifeline to your teammates and a safety line in case you fall. About 50 meters of rope can connect four people. Keep the rope on the downhill side as you climb, making sure it has just enough slack that it's dragging on the ground. Keep it tighter as you cross crevasses or ascend/descend dangerous slopes.

Self Arrest
The most important technique for stopping yourself when you're sliding downhill. (It can be done with or without an ice axe.) The first goal is to get on your stomach with your feet pointed downhill. From here, you can stop the slide merely by digging your toes, knees and elbows into the snow. If you have an ice axe, drive the pick into the snow at chest level and put all your weight onto it, while at the same time digging in your toes and knees. It's important to practice planting the axe from all sliding in all positions head first, on your back, sitting up, sideways. Get to the point where using your axe becomes an unconscious muscle reaction.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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