Home > Trip Reports > August 13, 2011, Mt Baker, Squak Corn and Suncups

August 13, 2011, Mt Baker, Squak Corn and Suncups

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by Amar Andalkar on 8/14/11 9:20am
Summary: The Squak Glacier is still in excellent shape for mid-August, offering a continuous run of over 6300 vertical feet from the summit down to 4500 ft or below. This is probably the most continuous skiable vertical on Mount Baker so late in the summer since 1974. Crevasses are opening in many spots, yet the hazard remains minimal on skis with proper routefinding, and even the very large crux crevasse at 8800 ft can still be easily end-run without much danger. BUT: the smooth skiing is gone below 9000 ft, as extensive suncups and runnels (generally 6-12" deep) have developed since the most recent reports of a week ago. Nice skiing remains above 9000 ft and up to the summit (Grant Peak is still entirely snow-covered), but even the Roman Wall is no longer completely smooth: modest 1" shingles are developing which will soon grow into suncups there too, unless cloudy weather smooths the surface or new snow falls up there.

Kyle Miller and his twin carving up the corn on the Roman Wall, with the Black Buttes and Twin Sisters Mountain far below.

This year's record-setting August snowpack means that snow coverage is far more extensive than it was even during the exceptional summer of 2010, but snow smoothness is now much worse than in 2010. I skied the Squak Glacier 3 times in August 2010 (see TRs: ,
Breaking out of the marine layer near 5000 ft.

Small snow patches could still be found at the Schriebers Meadow trailhead (snow at 3300 ft in August!), with much larger snow patches in the forest only a few hundred feet up the Scott Paul Trail. The snow soon became semi-continuous above 4100 ft, but was firm and very bumpy, not skinnable at all and even difficult to walk up with no established boot-pack along the sidehilling trail. We skinned from the saddle at 4600 ft, the sun warming the snow as we climbed out of the forest and above the patchy clouds of the marine layer.

View of Sherman Peak and the Squak Glacier from about 6000 ft.

The extensive suncupping was quite a surprise given recent reports, especially as we traversed onto the Squak Glacier at 5900 ft and continued heading up past 7000 and even 8000 ft -- still not smooth even up that high. Definitely took some extra time and effort to skin up such an uneven surface. Eventually the snow did smooth out after we end-ran the crux crevasse, then crossed another crevasse just above 9000 ft, and the route above that was much nicer.

Looking up the Roman Wall from the junction of the Squak and Easton routes at 9400 ft.

But unlike my trips in August 2010, the Roman Wall was too textured to skin up easily this day, so I was forced to put the skis on my back and crampon for a short stretch from 10100 to 10600 ft, before switching back to skins to finish the ski ascent to Grant Peak (for Kyle on a splitboard, booting from 9700 ft to the summit). We topped out around 3:45pm, not too bad considering the late start and difficult skinning conditions. A lovely day on the summit, 34 °F with a steady 20 mph SW wind atop Grant Peak, but almost no wind at the saddle just west of the peak. An extensive marine cloud deck filled most of the Puget Sound basin, fracturing into patchy clouds closer to the foothills and along the Cascade Range.

Snow-covered Grant Peak with Mount Shuksan in the distance.

We skied down a bit after 4pm, finding nice sweet corn on the Roman Wall as expected, but ending all too soon as we angled eastward onto the Squak and dropped below 9000 ft.

Corn on the Roman Wall, with Sherman Peak below plus Glacier Peak and Mount Rainier (barely visible) on the horizon.

Looking down on the Easton Glacier, the suncups and runnels looked as bad or worse than the Squak, highlighted well by the late-afternoon sun. A bumpy ride the rest of the way down, the snow now too consolidated and this day not hot enough to soften more than the top 2-3". We still had fun skiing and riding this part, but certainly some may not like it much.

Suncups and runnels near 7000 ft on the Squak Glacier.

Near 5000 ft and just after 5pm, we dropped down a creek drainage to intersect the trail below the saddle (this gully also intersects the trail above the saddle too). This provided the worst skiing of the day: hard semi-frozen bumpy conifer-needle covered snow in the forest here, not really worth it to get a few hundred extra vert. We stopped where the drainage crossed the trail just below 4500 ft, although continuous snow still extended much farther down the gully and out of sight. Definitely an easy choice to skip that and just hike the trail back from here.

Looking down the creek gully, a few hundred feet before the trail.

It was another outstanding day of sunshine and solitude and skiing on the very snowy monarch of the North Cascades, despite the suncups. The smooth conditions of last August have perhaps spoiled and skewed my expectations forever -- but by any objective standard, this was exceptional skiing for mid-August. Over 6300 vert including 1500 ft of sweet corn on a nice sunny day is nothing to complain about, and we were both totally happy to have gotten out and enjoyed it. Get it soon if you want some too.

After a big barbecue bonfire party on the beach at Golden Gardens on Friday night, well-attended by many TAYers, Kyle Miller was the only one willing to join me, waking up at 4:30am the next morning to head for the snow. T

Can't imagine why. ;) Glad to hear you guys made it happen!

Looks really nice Amar!  You've convinced me that I really need to get out of the southern Willamette Valley and come up and explore the south side of Baker! 

Skied from Coleman-Deming saddle on Saturday. Similar findings on the Coleman, smooth down to 8000', then suncups and runnels down to our ski-boot transition at ~6000'. A few obvious and avoidable crevasses on the route, one does requires some narrow bridge negotiating. One other party of snow-riders on the route ahead of us, lots of climbing parties at various stages of ascent/descent.

The debris pile from the large serac fall from the shoulder of Colfax onto the upper Coleman is impressive, anyone know when this happened?

I was hoping the forecast would be wrong, but I woke up this AM in camp near Table Mt. to zero vis and drizzle.

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Amar Andalkar
2011-08-14 16:20:58