Living in Bellingham, most everybody has had the chance to catch a glimpse of the incredible sight of Mount Baker on a sunny day. Standing at 10,778 feet, Mount Baker dominates the skyline and is a cherished source of recreational adventure for many Bellinghamsters. Most of these adventurers find their thrills on the slopes at the Mount Baker Ski Area, or perhaps doing a few short hikes around the mountain. However, if you’re interested in doing something a bit more challenging, thrilling or perhaps earning some solid bragging rights, you should consider pushing yourself and making a complete ascent of Mount Baker.
On the weekend of May 13, the Outdoor Center is leading one of their few trips up to the summit of Mount Baker. For those of you with limited funds or experience, this is the perfect introduction to mountaineering: clients will be given a full day of training, all of the necessary equipment—except for clothing—and a guided hike to the top of the mountain for only $100.
This may seem a bit steep to the layman, but as Outdoor Center staff member, and a leader for the Mount Baker trip, Scotty Dusek explained, “Usually a guided ascent from another professional company is within the vicinity of $600, and they won’t provide gear, like boots and crampons.”
Not only does the $100 cover instruction and gear, it gives you the opportunity to get a firsthand glimpse of a phenomenal view which is of “one of the most densely mountainous regions in the United States,” according to Dusek. “You can see the Olympics and Shuksan, as well as Bellingham and Vancouver. It’s an amazing 360 degree view.”
What might make this view even more incredible is the effort, knowledge and skill that is required to summit Mount Baker. To prepare clients for the trip—which Dusek describes as “definitely a hike, but not too technical”—the guides will provide several opportunities for the clients to either improve their mountaineering skills, or to build a solid enough base to get up the mountain.
The education will begin with a pre-trip meeting on Wednesday, May 10, which will be, “A little more involved than most,” according to Dusek. “We will probably go over knots and provide suggested reading to try to get people to study up before they go.”
On the first day of the trip, the group will hike up to the base camp, set up their tents and then spend the rest of the time going over skills such as crevasse rescue, self arrest and crampon use while also working to increase their general mountain knowledge.
“There is no experience necessary,” Dusek assured me. “We aim to have people as self-sufficient as possible by the time the trip ends. We also try to cater to each person’s different ability level. During some of the lag time we’ll have guides teaching more advanced skills to the more advanced, and more beginning skills to the beginners. We also recognize that some people want to just go and do it. We let them go up and have fun by teaching them what they need to know, then letting them hang out and kick it for the rest of the time.”
As for the ascent itself, although the Outdoor Center cheerily advertises a “full nights sleep,” the hikers well set off at either 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. and, “Most people don’t sleep very well the night before,” according to Dusek.
Though this is quite the early wake up time, it’s necessary to fit in all of the hiking before dark on the summit day. “The hike from base camp will take anywhere between four to eight hours; then it will take around three to get back to the base camp,” Dusek explained. “We’ll then pack up camp and hike back to the cars. So it’s about 14 to 16 hours of physical activity that day.”
Since the Outdoor Center promotes the trip as “no-experience necessary,” and it sounds like a very intense trip, I asked the obvious question; how fit does one have to be to make it to the top? “I would say if you can hike a regular three to four mile hike, or especially if you’ve done some backpacking, you’ll be fine,” Dusek said. “You’ll be dead when you get back, but you’ll do it. It’s a great introduction to mountain climbing for someone who’s just backpacked: it’s hard, but not so hard that you can’t do it; it’s tall, but not so tall that you have to worry about altitude. Physically, most people can do it; I’ve seen some pretty out of shape people make it.”
Surprisingly, however, much of the time it’s not the body that refuses to make the climb, but the mind. “A lot of times, people get mentally spooked,” Dusek warned. “Most of the time, people who don’t make it are the ones who convince themselves that they can’t to begin with.”
Also surprising was what Dusek had to say about making the summit, which I thought would be the most difficult part. In reality, he said that once you’re up there, you have to realize that you’ve “only done half the thing; you have to get down. [On my first time] I got a little sketched out. Also, once you finally make it back to base camp off the glacier, you have to pack up the camp and then hike on hard packed rock with heavy backpacks and heavy boots that you’re not used to wearing. By this time, your feet decide to go on strike, and by the time you get to the car, most people want to have their feet amputated.”
So why embark on this incredibly difficult adventure? Dusek has many reasons: “The view is one you don’t forget, especially in the early morning. You see strings of headlamps in the dark, as well as a view of the lights of Bellingham and Vancouver that most people never get to see.” Also, Dusek’s own first time climbing Baker was “probably the best.” He said that he was “really proud of making it up. It seems so impossible at first; then all of a sudden, you’re there.”
If you are interested in signing up for the Mount Baker climb, or any of the other fabulous Outdoor Center excursions, head on in to VU 150, or call (360) 650-3112.