Watson Traverse – Mt. Baker

On May 20th, Garrett Grove, Pat Haggerty and I took advantage of some fine weather and completed the Watson Traverse of Mt. Baker. I’d never been to the summit before so I am pretty stoked to have finally made it after looking at the thing for so many years. We left my car at at the snowline on Glacier Creek road at 0520 and skinned up Heliotrope to the Coleman Glacier, summiting via the Roman Wall. 

There were quite a few other parties on their way up and we joined our friends Mark, Andy, Lyle, and Allan for the first bit of the journey.  Here we have Garrett and Lyle waiting for the rest of the group at our first rest stop with the Coleman Glacier and Mt. Baker looming above us. Garrett, Pat, and I continued on as a trio from here.


Looking back down at Pat hiking up (the tiny speck in the sunny patch in the middle of the shadow) and our starting point somewhere along the road in the patchy forest (middle right edge of the photo).


Garrett and Pat leading the charge up and off the Coleman Glacier with the Roman Wall above us.


I’m a moron and did not take any photos looking west off the summit. I’m kind of bummed about that because it’s a spectacular view of the San Juans, Bellingham, and pretty much everywhere else I’ve called home for the past 15 or so years. I blame this on the freezing winds up there and the onset of some serious fatigue. That being said, I did take some shots of the route down the Park Glacier to our destination (Heather Meadows, Mt. Baker Ski Area) that is stupidly far away.


Me, at the top of the Park Headwall, looking down towards Table Mountain (horizontal rock band in upper right corner skyline). Our destination is on the other side of that. It’s all downhill from here, or so our optimism would have us believe.


We certainly weren’t the only people thinking of the Watson Traverse. There were ~10 other tracks from the previous two days. Generally speaking, our tracks are the farthest on the looker’s right. The snow was firm and wind-scoured but smooth on the summit, but once we dropped in it became softer, ranging from “almost powder” to “almost corn” with a hint of funk thrown in to keep us on our toes.


We had heard that the exit from the Park Glacier would probably be possible with minimal to no skinning and it would only take us three hours. That was bullshit and we knew it but we believed it anyways. I wanted to believe it because if I known how much of a slog it would be I might have passed on the adventure. It ended up being closer to ten miles, taking about six hours. We transitioned from skins to skis somewhere between five and ten times. This is somewhere near the halfway point. Garrett is milking the perfect corn. It was excellent skiing but I was definitely feeling the effects of not doing anything active for the previous three weeks so it was hard for me to fully enjoy.


We’re “almost” home here, having almost made it to Table (left edge of the photo). Pat and Garrett were still moving pretty well. I, on the other hand, was totally drained and nursing a fair amount of full-body pain.


The home stretch. All we had to do was traverse under that giant cornice that shed 1/3 of itself earlier in the day (notice Garrett below the debris), traverse under Table, and make the final climb up to Artist Point and ski down to the ski area. It felt good to be in familiar territory here and I delved deep into my mental and physical reserves to make the final push.


We made it to the parking lot 13 hours and 20 minutes after leaving the car. I’m sure Garrett and Pat could have easily cut an hour or more off that time if they didn’t have to wait for my worthless carcass (thanks for waiting guys!). We hitched down to Glacier, retrieved my car, and finished the day with burgers and beers at Chair 9. This was easily one of the top 2 “most exhausting days in the mountains” I’ve ever had. Here’s our route in red, starting on the left and ending on upper right. 13h20m, ~16 miles, ~10k vert. Good times.


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