Mt Baker 1999 Day 1

I was cleaning up an old laptop, and stumbled on my “write-up” from a climb of Mt Baker I did in 1999.  I read it, and it made me smile to remember my one “success” as a mountain climber.  Its a long one though, so I have decided to break it into 3 parts.  One for each day of the climb.

Bear with me though, I have changed nothing since it was first written.  In fact I was married to my first wife back then, and Michelle and I were just friends.  Lots has changed in 14 years, for the better.  But here is a snippet into the preblog, hell, pre facebook life of Moutainstroh.  Hope you enjoy.

Regardless of title, this actually starts in August of 1998.  I tried to climb Mt. Rainier.  Did great the first day, no problems all the way to Camp Muir.  I ate well, actually slept as well.  However, 2 AM came around and we started the second leg.  Just an hour later at 11500 ft I turned myself around, flat out of gas.  Since that time I kicked myself regularly for doing it.  Thinking I should have gone on for at least another hour.

Well March 1999 rolled around and I guess I was getting whiny or depressed, because My wife Susan told me flat to “Pick a goal and work toward it! You are much more fun to be around with one”.  Well after a couple days on the Internet, I was signed up with Alpine Ascents International ( to climb Mt. Baker.

You know something, she was right; I started that weekend climbing Mt. Si, a 3500 ft elevation gain 4 mile trail 30 minutes from Seattle.  This continued every weekend after that, with each week adding weight to get up to 35 to 40 lbs.  Not counting the weight of the rain I carried all but 2 weekends, meaning of course that the weather gods HATED me.  However, I worked to get back in climbing condition.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was awakened at 1:30 AM at the cabin the family and I were sharing by a torrential down pour.  NOT a good indicator of the rest of the weekend.  I awoke after a fitful night sleep (power kept blinking so alarm clock kept screwing up) to drizzle and cloudy.  Just as I should have expected.  (I might add the 7 day forecast a week ago said sunny and warm, thanks a lot channel 7).  The day started with gortex pants and coat.


I was feeling pretty good at trailhead (except for the washed out road and the non-4-wheel drive mini-van I ended up walking a ways to the group.)  My pack, though, was feeling actually light.  I was thinking the training was worth it.  THEN they started passing out group gear.  Food, tent, fuel bottle for the stove, a picket and a rope.  I had the heaviest pack I had ever carried (at least up and until that point).  It was going to be a long day.

The group was made up of 4 women, 5 men and 2 guides Alan and Barbara. Becky was a post doctorate, working for UW, somewhere around my age.  Gwynne and Beth were old friends.  Gwynne’s 35th birthday was the next day, and she liked to do something special each year, Beth was there to help.  Tom was a local engineer who had been hiking all his life and was using this as a test for Mt. Rainier next month.  Scott and Kevin were Marine buddies from back east, Michael and Susan were husband and wife, and then there was me, Customer Service/claims Supervisor for a local insurance company.

We loaded up and started out (after Barbara got over being unhappy with Gwynne and Beth for being minutes late.  In Sweden 7Am means 7AM!).  As you may or may not know Mt. Baker set the all time world record for snow this year.  So of course we were trudging through snow as soon as we left the trailhead. The good news is this makes it a shorter trail as you go straight through.  The bad?  It’s snow the whole way.  We all started in the gortex as it was wet and cold. As you might have guessed as soon as we got going the sun came out.  We stopped to layer and put on sunblock and it cooled off again.  NOT the best day I have had hiking.  It was pretty though, foothills surrounded us, the mountain slipped in and out of clouds, never quite showing us the final goal, but always there for us to consider.

We soon broke into two groups with the two guides.  Alan kept a steady pace, Becky the marines Gwynne, Tom and I stayed right with him.  Beth and the married couple were a little slower, and lagged behind with Barbara running the sweep.  This was the first mountain attempt for all but me.  Gwynne had made at least one run up to Camp Muir, 10500 ft by itself, and solid snow the whole way.  Tom had hiked the cascades all his life. Kevin and Scott said they were from the east coast so they KNEW snow.   The rest didn’t have much in the way of snow experience and had a harder time.

Most of the first day was a steady incline but not to strenuous.  It’s called the Railroad grade because it matches perfectly the maximum incline a train can travel. We were in a valley, your classic U-shaped glacier valley, and needed to be on the ridge.  So Alan starts right up the wall.  I happened to be right behind him, and therefore had to be kicking steps as I went as well (Didn’t know it then, but this foreshadowed summit day).  By the time we crested I could feel it!  Luckily it was lunch time.


Food, AAI does a very good job!  Lunch and snacks were bagels, cheese, candy bars, jerky, cliff bars and trail mix, more than you could eat.   Let me tell you the bagel and candy bar tasted great.  We had to wait for the second group to catch up so it was at least 40 minutes of rest.  This is more than enough time to stiffen up something fierce.  The view was gorgeous though!

Starting again I thought I was in trouble.  The legs were shot and I started to feel the pack pulling at me.  I maintained the pace for 30 minutes, but soon found I was alone between the fast and slower people.  I made it to the rest stop just as Alan started up yet another VERY steep slope.  This was to be the last one though.  (Our thoughts were: is this true or is he just trying to keep our butts moving?)

I did not think I would make it up the last hill.  I staggered into base camp exhausted and discouraged.  Hell if I couldn’t make it to base camp without dying how was I going to summit kept running through my head.   Visions of another year of wasted training came to mind.  I dropped my pack and just sat.  Only to hear Alan tell us we had to dig platforms for the tents.  You Bastard!  Now THAT was NOT in the brochure.  Sure enough, though, dig we did.  I was teamed up with Scott and Kevin.  We dug, it wasn’t pretty but it worked.  Next time I will be sure to stay for the whole lecture on tent set up though.  I had to go back often for more questions.  Poles, fly stakes, clips, damn that tent had a lot of parts!


OK, tent was up and I was starved.  We found a trickle of melt water above the camp, and Barbara got the hot drinks going.


Soon after we hear “Soups on!”  I come around to the cook tent with my bowl to find it is really soup (ramen to be exact).  “How the hell are we supposed to climb on Ramen”, was the first thought.  The second was to be first to get mine.  I was giving serious consideration to the snack bag when we heard main course was done.  Barbara had whipped up a killer spaghetti with salmon (and I don’t even like salmon).  I had thirds, and earned the reputation of being first in line for all food.

Dinner was done, dishes done, we were lectured on squatting on a rock and how to dispose of it, and I went to bed.  It did NOT take long to learn why the guides harped on flattening out the platforms, but after the day I had, sleep came quick, and I planned to sleep hard through the night.  Yeah that was the plan.



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