How do you train for a hike like this? Given that I’m in good shape to begin with, what specifically makes hiking 20+ miles a day difficult? From my PCT experience, the only thing I wished was that I had trained my feet not to get blisters. I still don’t know how to avoid them short of going for 4-6 hour hikes every day, so that leaves me without much training to do. All I do is go for a couple weekend backpacking trips (which I would probably be doing regardless of the CDT).
So, instead of this being a training guide, you get a trip report! I climbed Mt. Baker this weekend, in the good company of friends Kent and Danger. Mt. Baker is volcanic, capped in glacier, and 10,700 feet tall. Right now, it is buried in snow, down to 3 miles below the trail-head. We arrived Saturday around noon and slogged up the snow-road to the trail, then upwards snow-shoeing onto firmer snow until we reached 6000 feet. There’s a nice big flat spot called the Hog’s Back that we completely ignored, instead climbing another 100 feet up the steep ridge, then digging out our own campsite. We had tons of light, and a fun afternoon digging around in the snow building the perfect campsite.
We got up at 5:30am the next day and snowshoed up in a whiteout. We had a bit of a snow trail to follow, which saved us from having to navigate too much. Eventually we came across an even better snow trail from the same day, and they had even put up “wands” (bamboo sticks with bright tape at the top) to mark the way. We followed their trail up to 9000 feet, and then ran into the party that had set them, just as they were coming down from the summit. They were very hard-core looking, two big teams of 4 climbers festooned with climbing gear, helmets, ice axes, crampons, fat ropes, etc. We were a little embarrassed at our lack of gear, so we waited until they headed down before we agreed that we wouldn’t bother roping up due to the beautiful conditions.
We caught our first glimpses of the summit while Kent and Danger put on their crampons, and we dumped bits of gear that we wouldn’t need for the last 1700 feet. After that, it was a pretty straight climb upwards, and then traversing across a big face to a less steep final slope. The traverse turned out to be the most tedious part, as I only had my snowshoes with me, and they are not so super at traversing. I did fine by just going slow and keeping my ice axe well-planted. There were some steep drop-offs all around, but we were above the clouds and enjoying the views. After an hour or two of puffing in the thinner air, we hit the top, took some pictures and had a snack.
A bit more after the break…
Our trip down was uneventful until we got near our campsite. The afternoon sun had warmed up the snow until it was very slushy, making some of our downhill traverses annoyingly slippery. We got back to our tent and briefly debated heading home, but instead enjoyed our cozy camp for one more night, before heading down early the next morning.
Two particularly entertaining things happened on our trip. The first was at the border, when the guard asked us what we did for a living: Kent (economist), Danger (accountant), and I (computer programmer). He had been somewhat suspicious of us up until then, but the sheer boredom of our professions lulled him into complacency. We were let through without a problem. The second amusement (I’m using that term loosely) was how incredibly and weirdly burnt we got from our brief foray above the clouds. Out of the three days of the trip, we saw the sun for ~3 hours. The bottoms of my arms and nose, and the insides of my ears are burnt crispy. Kent got a season’s worth of goggle tan. We all had weird neck/face tan lines from our vain attempts to sunscreen up.
We’re obviously not mountaineers, but we had fun pretending for a day. Everything went our way really, the crevasses that pock the glaciers were fully covered over in snow. The snow conditions didn’t suggest any avalanche activity (and we only saw evidence of minor avalanches). Being in the clouds most of the trip was excellent, as we proved we weren’t capable of dealing with prolonged exposure to the sun. We always had a trail to follow in the snow, which saved us hours of navigation.