June on Marmot Ridge: Splitboarding The West Side of Mt Baker

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Item: Marmot Ridge 2011
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The west side of Mt Baker sees considerably less action than the ski area access of her northern flanks. But, come spring touring season—and especially through the early part of the year when access via the Easton involves slogging through intermittent mud and snowmo whoops—Glacier Creek Road and the Coleman Glacier access are often crowded with a range of tele-turners, hikers and mountaineers making a summit push via Heliotrope Ridge and the Roman Wall. With a thick snowpack and reports of fresh snow through June on Baker’s higher reaches, I set out for a mellow Sunday mission to Marmot Ridge with Forrest Burki and Byron Bagwell.

The Glacier Creek trailhead parking consisted of a roadside junk show of 100 or so vehicles where the snow started, still a mile short of the ‘official’ trailhead parking. Not only were there skiers and snowboarders—a couple of BC-plated SUVs rolled up sporting a pit bull on a chain and designer shoes from LA, looking for “views of the mountain for the winter catalog.” They couldn’t really figure out how to park on the shoulder, let alone navigate snow—let’s just say that when piloted by main street fashionistas, a Range Rover doesn’t have much range.

A short walk up the road and transition to mud and snow skinning, and, finally, breaking through into grouse creeks avalanche path and 30 foot walls left the riff raff behind, and we shared a mellow three-hour skin to the top of the ridge with a few ravens, a lone bear traversing a gully, and a mountain goat up top. Burki jibbed some tundra and relaxed with a book—Bagwell sent a few spins into the not-quite-corn-snow and showed that when you ragdoll on a splitboard, binding pins sometimes lose their moorings. And rolling clouds provided the occasional glimpse to the seracs of the Coleman Glacier and the Coleman Headwall before we embarked for sticky turns back down the massive gulleys of Grouse Creek.

Yes, there’s still plenty of snow in the Cascades—with a little legwork and the solstice now behind us, it looks like snowboard season is going to run all year.


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