I tell people they shouldn’t follow me when I’m scrambling. I usually take a more adventurous route, you see. Something a little more fun than the straightforward or usual way up a thing. Turns out Melissa is the same way. This past weekend brought us up Baring mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness off of Highway 2. Baring is a prominent and conspicuous peak right off the highway. The route promised a “vertical snow wall” and I’ve wanted to scramble it for a while. Besides the fun steep snow step, we found a few super fun class 3 moves and one of the best glissades in Washington. The conditions were perfect, the views amazing, and the company great. The price was insanely steep climber’s trail.
The route starts with a trail right behind the outhouse and after not enough of a warmup turns south to head up the north facing slopes of the west ridge. Route beta mentioned that this was the crux of the route. I didn’t think it could be all that bad. I was wrong. It gains 1600 vertical feet in half a mile, 3 times steeper than cable line! There’s not much else to say about the trail, as it is what you’d expect. Steep, root-filled duff. Some class 3 steps. Lots of veggies belays.
I was pretty tired getting up to the ridge. A snack break of some gummies and crackers left over from Mt. Olympus fueled me for the ridge walk. Walking on ridges is universally good, and this ridge was no different. Easy walking quickly brought us to 4200’ in elevation. I had read some trip reports that indicate the ridge cliffs out here and to drop in some elevation. At these rocks I heard the natural thing from Melissa: “Hey, Matt, do you want to see where these rocks go?” “Sure!” They don’t go. Don’t take the rocks. It was fun, but there’s only so much loose mossy rock or duff that I want to walk on. It honestly wasn’t that bad, but clearly doesn’t go and the slope is pretty steep. Easy mode is to lose elevation with the trail. Do that.
After adjusting our travel decisions, we followed the trail for a bit until it started gaining in wooded slopes back to the west ridge. We lost the trail once and again decided on the adventure way. This time it went, but I still wanted to find a better way down on the way out. We did, and on coming down I realized that the trail is actually kind of obvious. Stay on trail. Anyways, the last bit of duff climbing brought us to 4840’ on the west ridge.
4840’ on the west ridge brings you in to the gulley between the north and south peaks of Baring. The gulley is a pleasant snow walk. Almost no post holing and easy kick steps meant good time to the notch between the two peaks at 5550’. This is where that “vertical snow wall” is, and we found a mix of rock and snow to scramble up. The snow here accepted steps super well, and a little bit of high dagger and kick steps got us over the crux. It wasn’t vertical, was certainly steep.
The rest of the way to the summit is easy; we followed some tracks in snow that were going the same general direction we wanted to go. We found one more rock step in the snow, this time mossy and slimy and wet, but otherwise it was straightforward. The summit block provided us with a few fun class 3 moves and then we were there! The views were expansive – in front of us was Merchant peak, and some of my faves were visible: Stuart, Daniel & Hinman, Glacier, Baker, Seattle, Bellevue, into Canada, the Olympics, and on and on. The tallest peaks were obscured in clouds, but it was a great way to eat some lunch.
After some quite pleasant summit banter with another party we began to make our way down. The snow remained luxurious and we started bombing down the slope. We soon ran in to a guy named “Dex” who had left the summit before us. I guess his party had let him do this part of the scramble alone and had gone down before him. Dex asked us to hang around for the steep snow step because he wasn’t comfortable going down it alone. We said yes, and, seeing he was going to be moving much slower than us, decided to take time to put on extra sunscreen, get another snack, and so on. We ran in to him again and he told us he was only looking for help with the snow step, so Melissa and I agreed to wait for him there. We got to the top of the step and saw another guy waiting there. I asked him if he was with Dex and this other guy said he was. We relayed what Dex told us to this guy and he said that he would take care of it. Being satisfied, Melissa and I started to descend the snow step and then turned around to see Dex sliding down a slope out of control. Shit. Leader dude ran toward him and they got it all sorted out, but Melissa and I decided to wait at the top of the snow steep anyways. We had brought a rope and picket, mostly because we had toyed with the idea of playing around with snow anchors and snow rappelling, and wanted to be around to make overtures of support if necessary. Dex and leader dude made it to us. Dex looked a bit shaken but was otherwise okay. Leader dude started helping Dex down the steep bit and looked like he was handling it. Our overtures to help or stick around rebuffed, Melissa and I left. The snow step was absolutely perfect. We plunge stepped most of it, only facing in for the steepest bit.
The snow gulley is over 600 vertical feet, and we glissaded all of it. All of it. This rates as one of the best glissades I’ve had. Glissading always ends too soon, and we found ourselves climbing back out of the gulley to the ridge notch and 4800’. It was time for another snack and to change out of snow gear. We lollygagged for a little bit. Taking one last look toward the gulley, we saw Dex’s group still at the top. He looked like he was getting down alright, so we’re pretty sure he was fine if not slow.
Going down was pretty much the same as going up, just a lot more tiresome on the knees. Back down the ridge trail (this time avoiding any extraneous rock adventure). Back down the steeper-than-hell slope. Downclimbing the class 3 steps. And then, finally, on to way trail by the outhouses.