splitboarder hikes with the glaciated summit of mount baker, kulshan, behind

Route Info: Mount Baker High Lunar Orbit

On May 13th – 16th, of 2021 Guided Exposure lead guide Jere Burrell completed a High Lunar Orbit of Mount Baker with 2 very strong riders Eric and Alex. This fantastic route was completed over 4 days during our Advanced Splitboard Mountaineering Course.  Along the way we summited and rode Mount Bakers satellite peaks of Colfax via the South Couloir, Mount Sherman via the North East Face, Kulshan via the Cockscomb Ridge, and crossed 9 of the 11 glaciers on Mount Baker. This counterclockwise circumnav is a Lunar variation of the first High Level Orbit completed by Martin Volken in 2010. 

Advanced Splitboard Mountaineering Course Info

a snowboarder hikes up Mount Sherman with Mount Baker in the background

 Photo: Alex Rupp

Day 1: Glacier Creek to Black Buttes

On our first day we met in the morning and completed a gear check at the Glacier Public Service Center in Glacier Washington. This perfect hub of mountain adventure is where our company is based and we launch many of our summer and winter adventures right here in town. In short order we were packed up, driving up Glacier Creek Road to the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead and skinning directly from our cars. In typical fashion we made our way up to the Hogsback and Heliotrope Ridge to camp below the Black Buttes at 7,000'. 

the guide stays warm in his tent while the sunsets on the glaciers of mount baker

 Photo: Alex Rupp

Day 2: Black Buttes Camp to Colfax Summit

From our camp we ascended the standard Coleman Glacier route to its saddle with Colfax Peak at 9,000’. From the col we skinned directly onto Colfax. At the time a sagging crevasse guarded access but I probed the snow bridge and never found a hollow spot. We skinned then boot packed to Colfax's 9,355’ subsummit. Here we transitioned to downhill and descended to the Colfax subsummit saddle. Good cramponing conditions and competent footwork allowed us to short rope up the final slope to the higher 9,439’ Colfax summit. 

guide and guest tie kiwi coils on Colfax Peak while preparing for a technical splitboard descent

 Photo: Alex Rupp

South Couloir of Colfax Descent:

Great turns were had riding off the summit of Colfax. A beautiful hanging snow slope teeters off the summit tilting away from the Salish Sea and Puget Sound. We rode 35- 40 degree southwest slopes at the top of the bowl into the narrowing couloir and above the crux constriction. The middle 1/3 of the route was narrow toe side slipping and gradually the couloir widens, emptying out onto the apron, around crevasses, and eventually onto mellow glacier turns over perfect sun softened spring corn, down to our camp on the lower Deming Glacier. 

splitboard tracks are coming down Colfax peak with the Salish sea in the background

 Photo: Alex Rupp 

Overall Impression:

A fun and approachable climb to the Colfax Summit. While not very steep the South Couloir is a serious descent but was quite fun with good snow and beautiful position. One rider described this as his favorite descent of the trip. Camping in the flats on the lower Deming Glacier gave us a sense of isolation, ruggedness, and beauty that exemplifies ski mountaineering on Mount Baker. 

splitboard guide descends the south couloir on Colfax peak during the advanced splitboard mountaineering course

 Photo: Alex Rupp

Day 3: Deming Glacier to Mount Sherman Summit

From the lower Deming Glacier we easily ascended up the middle Deming Glacier and towards the standard Easton Glacier route. Continuing up the Easton to near the active Sherman crater we traversed the upper Squak Glacier to the base of the west ridge of Mount Sherman. Then up Sherman’s south ridge 
following moderate snow slopes. We stashed our backpacks below the summit and continued up to a 10’ section of mixed rock and snow onto the summit @ 10,160’. A short belayed down climb and ice bollard back up for the guide led us back to our gear and our next descent.

 splitboarders boot packing up Mount Shermans south ridge on Mount baker

North East Face of Mount Sherman Descent: 

From 10,000’ we descended 40-degree slopes on the upper Talum Glacier high above Baker and Shannon Lakes. Then we turned onto the 35-40 degree slopes of the North East Face of Mount Sherman. This led us to an easy bergshcrund bridge crossing onto the Boulder Glacier. We continued descending towards the Boulder/Park Cleaver and rode the riders left side of the Boulder Glacier. Camping in the flats of the cleaver, over looking Mount Shuksan and North Cascades National Park we soaked in the sunsetting alpenglow on the quiet side of Mount Baker.

snowboarding down the Talum glacier on kulshans east aspects high above Baker Lake

 Photo: Alex Rupp

Overall Impression:

This was a pleasant way to spend the day as dozens of groups climbed the standard routes. Just enough climbing to Shermans Summit to call it splitboard mountaineering with a fairly moderate descent. The north east face onto the Boulder Glacier was a great descent and a great leg for our 3rd day. 

lead splitboard guide rides on the edge of a Ridgeline with the valley far below

 Photo: Eric

Day 4: Boulder Cleaver to Kulshan Summit to Roosevelt Glacier

We ascended the Boulder/ Park cleaver route following short boot packs in deep bucket steps mixed with sections of skinning. Soft travel conditions allowed us to skin the upper Boulder Glacier all the way to Kulshan's summit. A seemingly rare occurrence.

 guide and guest stand on the summit overlooking the mount baker ski area

 Photo: Alex Rupp


Summit to Lower Coleman Seracs: 

Our descent took us down from the Kulshan summit towards the Cockscomb Ridge. Firm icy bubbly boiler plate kept the teams attention. Once at the Cockscomb Tower we rode onto the sun softened Park Glacier face. Crossing crevasses and traversing back and forth we descended onto the Mazama Glacier. Moderate slopes greeted us as we continued along the upper Mazama until we returned back to the Cockscomb Ridge. As the ridge broadens and slopes open up we exited down onto the Roosevelt Glacier. Descending west along the Roosevelt Glacier we trended towards the Coleman/Roosevelt cleaver. A passage through cliffs and willows delivered us onto the home stretch towards the Lower Coleman Glacier. A short skin then boot pack up to Harrison Camp and easy skinning across the snow-covered creeks brought us back to the bottom of Hogs Back moraine.

split boarder has his arms raised in joy as he descends the Mazama Glacier on Mount Baker

 Photo: Alex Rupp


Overall Impression:

A beautiful link up directly off the summit, down the iconic Park Glacier with reasonable slopes, across 4 different glaciers for 6,000’ of vertical. On this leg the slopes were fun, position beautiful and the line, elegant. 

When conditions, fitness, and terrain awareness aligns we are capable of executing spectacular routes like the Lunar Orbit on Mount Baker. Many factors have to align but with an in depth local knowledge and a solid group we completed a fantastic classic tour on Mount Baker!  splitboarder transitions below the seracs on the Coleman glacier on Mount Baker

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