Date: March 17, 2016
Participants: Rob Janousek, Geoff Zenger
Difficulty: 3. Easy skiing, but summit scramble sketchy in current conditions.
Report: It’s been a while since I’ve written a trip report. A trip to Peru, the last few months of Brittany’s pregnancy, selling a condo & buying a house, renovating said house, surgery in December, and the birth of my daughter in January all conspired to limit the number of peaks ascended in recent months. Nonetheless, a look at the forecast earlier in the week spurred me to book a vacation day and hunt for someone to go on a mid-week trip with me. I’ve hardly done any uphill in recent months and expected to go for a short tour in the Mt. Baker ski area backcountry, but conditions were good, one thing kept leading to to another, and by early afternoon I found myself standing with Rob atop Coleman Pinnacle.
We set off in Rob’s Delica from my place in Coquitlam just past 6:20am, and after a quick stop at Tim Horton’s we crossed the border at Sumas where there was no line up to speak of and we quickly made our way to the Mt. Baker ski area. We started skinning from the Heather Meadows base area at about 9am, and made our way up towards Artist Point. We had been expecting soft powder but to our amazement the whole trip up to Artist Point was atop a thick crust that must have developed on the previous day due to the sun. Our weather was perfect all day, cool (hovering around or just below zero and nary a cloud in the sky)
The crust combined with an existing track meant that the climb to Artist Point was quick (just under an hour), and from there we reached our main decision for the day, whether to descend to the bowl below us to the east and make an attempt on Mt. Ann or whether to head around Table Mountain and see where we ended up. Due to the crust we chose the latter and hustled around Table Mountain as quickly as possible in order to minimize our time spent under the south facing avi slopes that had apparently spent their previous afternoon sloughing prolifically. By 11 o’clock we were on the backside of Table Mountain, where after a few peeks at the map and surrounding terrain to determine that we would be able to return to the car in the evening via Herman Saddle, we decided to ski down the slopes below us and make our way up Ptarmigan Ridge. Amazingly, behind Table Mountain there was no more crust and the snow from there on was a perfect powder on top of a good base.
The ascent of Ptarmigan ridge from the basin below Table Mountain to Coleman Pinnacle is a superb tour. It is varied but never overly challenging, at times requiring some routefinding, such as one steep step that was avoided by ducking onto snow slopes on the right and regaining the ridge a little later by skinning up through a gap in the cornice. A couple hours after leaving Table Mountain behind we were standing on the ridge below the pinnacle with a conundrum on our hands. On one hand, the summit was so close, but temperatures had risen throughout the day and the direct ascent of the summit from the ridge would have required kicking steps up a snow slope of very questionable stability. Rob saved the day by noticing a gap in the cornice that we could use to tour around the west side of the peak on steep shaded slopes, which we did, and soon ended up on the ridge just to the SW of the summit. Here we took off our skis and stopped for lunch.
The pinnacle itself holds some significance for me because it was the destination of one of the two BCMC trips that I had to cancel when I became extremely sick in the Winter of 2013, and I was extremely pleased to be so close to its summit as we finished our lunch. In good firm snow conditions the ascent of this SW ridge would be trivial, but for us it had a bit of excitement. The snow to the side of the ridge crest was too sugary to be any good for step kicking and so we ascended the ridge directly on a mix of snow and rock. Nothing too hard, but slippery enough to keep the blood flowing. Nonetheless, after a 5 or 10 minute scramble we were standing on the summit with gorgeous views all around! We were on the summit at around 2pm.
Back at our skis we took off at around 2:30 and we decided to make a slightly traversing descent down the bowl below the pinnacle to the west, making our way down to the basin below Table Mountain, from which we would ascend to Iceberg Lake and up to Herman Saddle. The ski down was superb with many of the best turns I can ever remember, and with only a couple minor annoyances due to descending a bit too low at a couple points, we made quick time to our low point. From the low point it is straightforward to ascend up to Iceberg Lake, but was extraordinarily exhausting for me because I was accumulating snow on my skins and I’d forgotten to pack skin wax. Eventually it hit me that maybe Rob would have some and I borrowed some of his, but by that point my thighs were pumped. From Iceberg Lake we found a skin track up to Herman Saddle (thank you!), and the route was straightforward yet slow due to my tiredness.
In good conditions, you could probably make it from Herman Saddle to the parking lot in about 5 minutes, but it took us a little longer than that because the horrible crust that we’d encountered in the morning was found once again. The ski down to the valley bottom was simply terrible and not really any fun at all, but we made it back to the van at 5:30 sharp for a total round trip time of 8 hours, 30 minutes. Coleman pinnacle is one of the best tours I’ve done and it was only made better by the perfect weather. Many thanks to Rob for heading down and being great company for a mid-week adventure!