Elementary, my dear Watson

Wednesday I saw a break in the weather coming. I rallied myself for a solo mission, choosing something fairly modest from my Cascade wish-list. Watson's Traverse is what Lowell Skoog calls the traverse of Mt. Baker, from Glacier Creek road, up the Coleman-Deming route, and down the Park glacier on the northeast side; Ptarmigan ridge takes you back to Heather meadows and the upper parking lot of Mt. Baker ski area. You can read about the history of the traverse here.

Glacier creek road is snow-covered for two miles below the Heliotrope trailhead. I started at 5AM and chugged up the road, trying to pace myself: it's 8,500 feet of vertical gain from the car to the summit. From the trailhead I veered up the so-called Canadian Direct, following Grouse Creek straight toward Heliotrope Ridge. Here I traveled along the debris of a monstrous avalanche which in all likelihood destroyed the fine new bridge they put in last year. Some of the debris up near the crown was up to two meters along its sharp, angular edges. That was one big hard slab!

The Coleman Deming, predictably, was filled-in and straightforward. All the landmarks appeared in subdued relief; Pumice ridge was less of a ridge than usual, and I was able to skin right up it. The Roman Wall, too, offered easy travel.

From the summit I chose not to drop directly onto the Park; the headwall, although enticing, is quite steep and had been in the sun for a few hours already. I skied instead down the Cockscomb to where I could reasonably gain the Park proper. As expected, this east-facing slope produced some vigorous wet slides when I ski cut it. A few judicious turns got me across the bergshcrund. Then I floated down 3,500' of May powder. I was speechless, and a little bit tired.

Although it's nearly 8 miles, the exit to Heather Meadows only took 2 hours. With careful gliding and a bit of sidestepping, I managed to do it with only 25 minutes of skinning. In true spring conditions, I am sure that one could do as Lowell Skoog did and make it from the summit to the parking lot without donning skins at all. Looking back over my shoulder, I couldn't help but think it would be a beautiful way to approach the mountain some day.

The trip totalled 18 miles and 9,500' of climbing, which makes it a little easier to sit still today. It's raining again in Seattle, and Mt. Baker is back in the clouds.