Mt. Baker is an ever changing and unpredictable environment. Hazards on the mountain are many and varied. To list them all would be impossible. Follow safe climbing practices to enhance the odds for a successful trip. Below are a few general dangers and safety concerns which climbers should be aware of.
Mt. Baker is the second most heavily glaciated volcano in the Cascades after Mt. Rainier. The glaciers are particularly sensitive to minor climatic changes and tend to be severely crevassed as a result.
- Crevasses present a serious hazard to climbers on all routes on Mt. Baker
- All climbing parties should be familiar with crevasse rescue techniques
- Each climber should be prepared for a crevasse fall and be properly equipped for a crevasse rescue.
Reaching the summit of Mt. Baker requires travelling on heavily crevassed glaciers. All climbing parties should rope up for all glacier travel.
A solo climber on Mt. Baker has virtually no self rescue ability in the event of a serious accident or injury. Some injured solo climbers may get lucky when another party hears their call for help and can initiate rescue. Other solo climbers have not been so fortunate. Solo travel on the glaciers is not safe.
Practice safe glacier camping techniques when camping on glaciers.
- Probe camp area for hidden crevasses
- Set up a safe zone around camp
- Rope up when going beyond the safe zone
Glissading on glaciers and snowfields on Mt. Baker is extremely dangerous.
Rock fall, ice fall and avalanches are just a few of the objective hazards that may exist on the mountain. Colfax peak and the Coleman Headwall on the Coleman Glacier are notorious for falling debris which can be hazardous to climbers on route.
Avalanches & Lahars
Mt. Baker is an active volcano and thermal venting can cause sudden avalanches and lahars (mud and debris flows). Always be aware of snow conditions and check the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center before setting off.
Open moats (snow melted back from rock) are common on Mt. Baker. In particular, glissading or travelling down the gully directly to the west of the Hogsback ridge on the Coleman climbing route is unsafe. There is a hole that opens seasonally at approximately 5400 ft. over a snow covered creek and waterfall. The hazard is invisible from above and has brought tragedy to several climbers through the years.
There is also a moat that opens seasonally at 4,900 ft. on the upper section of Rocky Creek over a waterfall. This feature is difficult to see from above by descending skiers and snowmobilers.
When winter snow pack covers trail access to climbing routes, approaches require off-trail, cross country travel. Ascend and descend on ridge crests instead of snow covered gullies for off trail travel.
Snowfields can linger long into the summer season on Mt. Baker slopes. Treat all snowfields as a glacier. Hidden hazards such as holes, running streams and thin snow bridges can be found in snowfields as they are on glaciers.
Thermal activity in Mt. Baker's fumaroles and steam vents cause networks of ice caves to appear at various locations on the mountain. These caves are extremely dangerous not only because of their inherent instability, but also because of the poisonous gasses that fill them. Although they may appear inviting they are not to be entered under any circumstances.
Bridges on approach trails can be destroyed with the whim of a fall flood or a winter avalanche. Crossing glacier fed or heavily rain swollen creeks can be tough for even the most experienced mountaineer. Swiftly moving milky water creates challenging conditions and rocks can be very slippery. It becomes difficult to see the bottom of the creek bed to know where to step and to judge the water depth. Afternoon glacier melt causes higher water which is also more difficult to cross. Heavy rain can cause higher water any time of the day or night.
Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable and Mt. Baker is no exception. Conditions can change drastically and suddenly without warning. Clear climbing conditions can quickly become very dangerous and climbers should always be prepared for every type of weather condition.
Tips For A Safe Trip
- Have proper equipment and the knowledge how to use it
- Climb with an experienced leader
- Rope up for all glacier travel
- Have at least 2 experienced people per 3 person rope team
- Climbing with less than 3 people in a party is not recommended
- Be aware of current weather and route conditions
- Use good judgement and know your limits
Search & Rescue
Cell phone coverage on Mt. Baker is sporadic and climbers should not solely rely on cell phones to initiate Search & Rescue (SAR).
Whatcom County Sheriff's Department conducts all SAR operations on Mt. Baker. In case of an emergency, call 911 and alert the operator of the situation. Due to the complexity of SAR missions, a rescue could take several hours before rescue personnel arrive on the scene to assist.
Provide clear and concise information including:
- Name of reporting party
- Location (GPS Coordinates) and elevation of incident
- Extent of injury or medical condition
- Contact information to get back to you