Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mt Baker

The road to Mt Baker was cleared of snow this Tuesday to Artist's point, and I took full advantage of that this weekend and climbed it on Saturday.  On the drive up there, it was still rather overcast, and only the broad shoulders of the mountain were visible.

I started the climb at the Ranger Station, about 24 miles from the summit, which provides an opportunity for parking, changing and a natural break.  The road starts up from here, but at this point the gradients are milder and the road stair steps up with some flats and even brief downhills.  It follows the Nooksack River upstream, at some points the valley is quite wide, but at others the slopes close in on both sides as the road climbs up and the river is visible far down the valley below.

The early going is a fairly steady gradient and is nicely shaded.

The road truly starts up in earnest with about 12 miles to the summit, and continues steadily for that duration.  After a long haul with the mountain to my right, I encountered the first of the switchbacks that become more frequent when as you reach the top.

The next set of switchbacks looms.
After climbing a long way through forested slopes, the trees give way to alpine rocks and meadows just about the same time that the road flattens out for a brief respite at the ski area.  From here, it is just a couple more miles to Artist's Point, though in the best tradition of climbing, the road continues to steepen from here.

This is where the first embankments of snow can be found along the roadside at this time of year, and it always reminds me of some of the Alpine passes of the Giro in May.  The snow certainly has a cooling effect, when combined with the wind.  With nothing to impede the wind or shelter the rider at this point, as the road switchbacks up the grade, the wind alternately helps and hinders the ascent.

Ride to the clouds.
At the top, it's time to scarf down a granola bar, put a hat on under the helmet, and put a windshell on prior to the long descent.  Despite these preparations, the first part of the descent leaves me shivering with the cold of the snowbanks and the speed and sweat evaporating.  I would never make this climb, even in the hottest weather, without some warmer clothes to descend with.  Once I got below the snow line, the temperatures increased, and it was a comfortable ride back to the ranger station, mostly down hill.

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