Standing more than 10,000 feet tall, Mount Baker is one of the premier climbing spots in the Pacific Northwest. With 12 active glaciers, novice and expert climbers alike will find a climbing route that meets their individual needs.
Mount Baker is also unique in that it’s extremely accessible. Most mountains worth climbing require days of hiking to even reach the base. This isn’t the case with Mount Baker ‒ you can basically drive up to the bottom and immediately make your way to the summit.
While there are many different ways to reach the summit of the tallest peak in the North Cascades, there are a few particularly options that are particularly popular due to their ease of access and moderate levels of difficulty.
The Coleman-Deming glacier is the most popular climbing route on Mount Baker. Situated on the northwestern side, it offers breathtaking views of Mount Baker’s northern face the lower part of Coleman glacier. The difficulty of this 2-day climb is about average, but you do need to feel comfortable navigating large crevasses and other route hazards.
Most people who attempt the Coleman-Deming route start at the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead, which is situated at about 3700’.
From there, you’ll begin your hike to the base of the Coleman Glacier. Shortly after leaving the trailhead, you’ll pass Kulshan Creek as you make your way to the 5000’ mark. At this point, you’ll begin on a climbers trail to the Hogsback Camp at 5900’. Make your camp here and prepare for the next day’s summit attempt.
The second day of the climb typically starts before sunrise, as you’ll need the better part of the day to get up and down the mountain.
First, you’ll rope up from the base to the top of the Coleman Glacier, which sits at 9100’. From here, you’ll make your way to the Deming Glacier, which will take you all the way to the summit. The Deming portion of the route is typically the steepest, so make sure to take a decent rest before climbing it.
The Coleman Headwall climbing route is a moderately difficult 3-day climb up the north side of Mount Baker. While it’s considered one of the easier ice climbs in the Pacific Northwest, it’s almost certainly the hardest route on Mount Baker. There are a few reasons for this:
- The relatively steep ascent can have up to 14 pitches of climbing
- You will absolutely need two tools to successfully complete this route
- There are some particularly steep sections that require climbers to move well and pick a line that goes around potential hazards.
The first day of the climb starts with a hike to the base of the Coleman glacier. This hike typically takes around 4 hours, though experienced climbers will likely move more quickly. The actual climbing won’t begin until tomorrow ‒ the first day is all about getting to the glacier and scouting for the next day’s ascent.
Camping sites after day 1 can vary by climbing group, but many choose to set up camp at on the glacier at about 6700’. It’s a bit of an extra hike to camp here instead of at one of the lower elevations, but the proximity to the summit makes it worth it.
Day 2 is when the climbing begins. After leaving camp, you’ll make your way to the iconic Roman Nose, which sits at 8500’. To the left of the Nose is the base of the headwall, which is where you’ll start.
It’s important to get an early start on the day, as the morning sun usually causes the upper part of the mountain to melt and shed ice. If even a small piece of ice hits you at the wrong moment, you could fall off the mountain.
The route you take up the headwall depends on the season. Most of the climbing is in the 45 to 50 degree range, with a few particularly steep ice steps to overcome before reaching the summit. You’ll likely need to wander from your intended route a bit to avoid crevasses.
Once you make it up to the summit, you’ll use the Coleman-Deming route to descend back to your camp. If you want, you can end your trip here and walk back to your car. You’ll likely be pretty tired though, and there’s a good chance you’ll want to rest another night before making the long trip back.
On day 3, you’ll pack up your camping gear and head back down the mountain. Make sure to bring back everything you brought with you ‒ the mountain doesn’t have a trash removal service.
The Easton Glacier route is probably the easiest way to get to the summit of Mount Baker. Situated on the south side of the mountain, this 2-day climb lets you avoid the steep ice steps that characterize most of the other climbing routes.
Most climbs up Easton Glacier start at the Park Butte trailhead, which is situated at 3200’. You’ll first take the Park Butte trail, on which you’ll have to cross some creeks. Recent rainfall can make these creeks quite wide, so be prepared to get your shoes wet while crossing.
Eventually, the Park Butte Trail intersects with the Railroad Grade Trail at 4660’. You’ll take this path until about 6,000’, where you’ll come to Sandy Camp. The Sandy Camp area is a series of tent sites maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, and you’ll be pitching your tent here.
Once camp is made, you can enjoy some gorgeous views of the Twin Sisters mountain range, the Black Buttes, and the far-off peaks of the North Cascades.
The second day will require an early rise and a late descent, so make sure you’re well rested. Most groups choose to leave camp no later than 2am, as cold temperatures make for a safer climb.
After you leave Sandy Camp, head to the southwest edge of the glacier, which is located at about 7000’. From here, you’ll be aiming to climb to the rim of Mount Baker’s volcanic crater. As long as the weather is good and your group has some basic experience, you should reach the rim in 4-6 hours.
Once you reach the rim at about 9600’, you’ll be in close proximity to the Sherman Crater steam vents. These often emit a sulphurous gas that smells like rotten eggs. If you can bare the smell, it’s recommended to take a break at the crater rim to drink and eat before proceeding to the summit.
It takes about an hour to get to the summit from this point. You’ll be conquering the hardest part of the climb ‒ the Roman Wall. With a steepness of 45 degrees and the dangers of a potential rockfall, completing this portion of the journey can be harrowing. You’ll also be on little sleep from the night before, which only adds to the difficulty.
Once you ascend the wall though, the remainder of the climb becomes quite leisurely. The path to the summit is broad and sits at a leisurely 30 degrees.
Once you reach the summit, you can rest and take some pictures before heading back to camp and packing everything up. The descent typically takes half as much time as the ascent, so you should be off the mountain well before sunset.
The North Ridge climb is a relatively easy 2-day affair, though it does have some particularly steep 70 degree sections. You can tackle this route at almost any time of year, though going in the May to September season will get you the best ice and snow conditions.
Experienced climbers can complete the North Ridge route in a single day, though most groups will take at least two to summit and return.
The North Ridge route starts at the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead. Most climbers take this path all the way to 6800’, where the flat portions of the Coleman Glacier provide an adequate camp site. The hike is pretty easy, and you won’t have to do any real climbing until the second day.
Like the other routes, it’s recommended you get up and start your climb before the sun rises. To start, you’ll leave your campsite and drop down a few hundred feet into the glacier. You’ll need to make your way across a number of crevasses until you get to the base of the North Ridge.
From here, you’ll climb up the first half of the Ridge until you reach 8800’. Once you cross the halfway point, you’ll need to use roped climbing to make your way to the summit. The steepness can reach 70 degrees at some points, but anyone with ice climbing experience should find it relatively easy.
The descent from the summit will take you down the Roman Wall between the Demming and Coleman Glaciers. From here, you’ll make your way below the Black Buttes and return to camp.
The Squak Glacier route is located on the southern side of Mount Baker. Many climbers use it as an alternative to the Easton Glacier route, as both start from the same trailhead.
The Squak Glacier route is shorter in length and steeper in incline than the Easton Glacier route, which makes is a bit more challenging for beginners. The route is often used when visibility is poor, as the descent line is easier to follow.
The first day on the Squak Glacier route starts at the Park Butte trailhead. Instead of taking the Park Butte trail ‒ which would take you to the Easton Glacier ‒ you’ll instead take the Scott Paul trail.
This path eventually leads to a divergence where the Scott Paul heads west and a climbers trail heads north. You’ll be taking the climbers trail to the base of the Squak Glacier, which is where you’ll make your camp for the night.
After an early morning rise, you’ll be headed up the Squak Glacier to the rim of the Sherman Crater. At this point, the Easton and Squak routes merge, and you’ll make the rest of the way along the crater rim and up a rather steep slope to the summit. To descend, just backtrack and follow the route you took up.
The Boulder Glacier route is one of the least-trafficked climbing options on Mount Baker. At 2700′, it has the lowest starting elevation of all the route up the mountain ‒ which also means it has the highest elevation gain.
Because so few people use this route, climbers choosing to summit via the Boulder Glacier will need better path-finding skills than are needed for some of the other more popular routes.
Your trek up Boulder Glacier starts at the Boulder Ridge Trail. Unlike the other routes that have well-maintained trails, this path becomes faint and foot-beaten a couple miles in. You’ll need to pick a path through the meadow and brush to teach the base of the Boulder Ridge.
Once you reach the Boulder Ridge, you’ll begin hiking a steep uphill section. You’ll eventually come to a basalt cliff about 75′ high ‒ continuing with the journey requires scrambling or climbing this cliff.
Once you reach the top of the ridge, you’ve got a long but leisurely walk until reaching your campsite at the Toe of the Cleaver, which is situated at 6800′.
Once you wake up for the climb, you’ll want to head a bit southwest and begin ascending the Boulder Glacier. There are a few crevices to deal with, but this climb is easier than the alternative of going directly up the Cleaver face.
From here you’ve got a direct route to the top of the mountain. Your descent will mirror the way you came up.
All routes up Mount Baker require glacier climbing gear. Before attempting any of the climbs, make sure you have the following equipment:
- Two ice tools
- Two pickets
- 5 ice screws
- Crevasse rescue equipment
You also need to have some basic glacier climbing knowledge. In particular, you should know these basic skills before attempting a Mount Baker climb:
- Crevasse rescue
- Crampon use
- Ice axe self-arrest
- Team arrest
- Proper climbing efficiencies
If you’re interested in summiting Mount Baker with the help of experienced climbers, there are a few companies who offer guided climbs. This is almost a necessity for beginners ‒ while Mount Baker is considered one of the easier mountains to summit, climbing glaciers is still a pretty difficult feat. You can’t just watch some Youtube videos and buy some gear and expect to reach the summit safely. Proper training and guidance is an absolute must, and the best way to get it is by paying for a group of experienced climbers to help you with the process.
The Alpine Institute offers guided climbs of Mount Baker at a relatively affordable price. They operate in the May – September season, and a Mount Baker summit typically costs $795.
If you have a particular route in mind, the Alpine Institute can accommodate you. They offer climbs of the four major routes: Coleman-Deming, Easton Glacier, Coleman Glacier, and North Ridge.
The Alpine Institute also offers some helpful courses to improve your ice climbing skills. If you’re a total novice, they offer a comprehensive 6-day Alpine ice climbing course that will give you all the information required to successfully summit Mount Baker.
Alpine Ascents is another company offering guided climbs. Unlike the Alpine Institute, Alpine Ascents does not offer multiple climbing routes ‒ they will only summit via the Easton Glacier.
This makes sense, as Alpine Ascents is a bit more beginner-focused than Alpine Institute. Their 3-day climbing package assumes you have zero mountaineering experience and trains you from the ground up. You’ll learn everything you need to know about glacier mountaineering, including ice axe use, rope techniques, self-arrest skills, and glacier travel fundamentals.
Each trip up Easton Glacier with the Alpine Ascents team has a maximum climber-to-guide ratio of 3:1 ‒ so you’ll get plenty of one-on-one time with an expert team of mountaineers.
If you don’t have your own equipment, Alpine Ascents provides climbing ropes, technical hardware, and tents. The complete gear list is much more exhaustive than this though, so you’ll need to rent the remainder from Alpine Ascents or one of the other local mountaineering retailers. And each item on the gear list is necessary ‒ if you don’t have each and every item, you can’t go on the climb.
The climb schedule is as follows:
- Day 1: Drive to Schriebers Meadow (Alpine Ascents provides transportation). 4 hours walk from Schriebers Meadow to Sandy Camp. Set up tents and camp overnight.
- Day 2: Practice climbing skills at the campsite.
- Day 3: 7 hours climb from Sandy Camp to the Mount Baker summit. Rest at summit, then 7 hours descent to the parking lot.