Baked on baker

A journey into the wild with Bird, and a fine feathered friend, the wing nut of the Washington shred, Mr. Jason Hummel, with whom I finally united for a little midsummer ski.

We walked in darkness up through jungle forest, and when I could see around, there was so much nature to be found. Ferns decorated the forest floor, and from the earth, fresh water streams, their life blood babbling. Moss hung like fruit from the trees, giant cedars and firs touching the sky, and birds sang so happily. “It’s not like this where I come from, just over the hill,” I said to Jason, “but it’s a hell of a lot easier to hike.”

We’d been on the move for several hours, the sun was finally coming up to reveal a jungle of biodiversity so differentfrom the pine forests and arid landscape of my valley, only a few hours drive away.

Jason Hummel

I had been blindly following, the renowned Washington skier and photographer, Jason Hummel to the wild east side of Mount Baker. Jason is part of the WA freak ski crew who ski all year. He’s clocked 20 years in a row skiing every month of the year. I should have known, when he said it would be a big day out, that he meant we were actually gonna walk a long freakin’ way.

Mount Baker, an active volcano located in the far north of the Cascade Mountain range, offers a large vertical relief with access that is pretty easy, from Bellingham, where most mountaineers and skiers normally go. But, Hummel had something a little different in mind, to access the mountain through the Baker wilderness and climb and ski the less visited wild east side of the mountain.

Popping out of the forest canopy just as the mountain was greeted by the sun, I could see why he chose this route.

Jason Hummel

The mountain stood immense, dwarfing the foothills. Standing alone, glowing in the morning sun, it’s pronounced white amidst everything so green, the snow line defined where we would put on our skis.
The streams raged, singing their run-off song, pouring from the glacier’s terminus.

My eyes trained upwards to gleaming broken ice, the upper snow fields slashed with crevasses. I had no idea this mountain was so glaciated. It looked as if a dragon was asleep, puffs of steam rising from the crater which led to the summit which was etched out white against a too blue sky. “Holy shit, it’s powerful here” I said, already wishing we had brought camping gear to stay for the night.

Once on the snow though, we were almost pulled up in a trance, the dream-like state of skinning in t-shirt weather, warm and easy with just a breath of gracious wind. It felt so relaxed that when we took a break way up on the rock sand ridge, it felt like we could take a nap and wake up some other day to ski this thing. Or maybe it was because we got to the trail head at midnight, lost on the winding roads, and had only slept a few hours before starting out that morning.

Jason Hummel

We were taking it real easy, until suddenly we realized that the sun would leave the face, and we would be skiing, without its graceful presence, off the top. “Fuck, how could we be so slow?!” Obviously I had no idea from the beginning where I was, or how long it would take.

We picked up the pace aggressively. The steps were brutal and deep in the unsupportive snow-cone like snow. Obviously the mountain had received some snow earlier in the week, and with the sun and a little wind, it had settled into a less than desirable sluggish state.

Jason was the man, powering up in his tele boots, just kicking on with a grin, and talking about all kinds of crazy mountain excursions, like wanting to ski all the glaciers in Washington, which he is well on his way to doing.

Late! It was 4:00 in the afternoon when we reached the top, we’d already been walking for 12 hours, and weren’t the least tired. Was it my shape or just the power of the view? Lake Baker looked like a fjord in Norway, and the rivers and sharper peaks of the North Cascades stood proudly in the distance.

Michael Bird Shaffer

But we were high! Higher than anything, and the worries and wonder of what it would be like or what we should be doing drifted away. For a moment the two of us took it in, 360 of so much green. The ocean extended to the west, and away down south you could make out Glacier Peak.

Washington man, it was easy to give thanks. I took Jason’s arm and we did a little summit dance, laughing like the kids, the way I, myself, always wish to remain.

But the sun was going down. If we were to ski west, damn there would only be 6 more hours of light. And I could only imagine the sun setting on the sound out there. What a sight it must be. Maybe next year? But this evening we were dropping onto the east face, the rarely skied Boulder-Park Cleaver.

We strapped in and I said a little prayer to the mountain, not out of fear mind you, because we were totally relaxed, but giving thanks for the opportunity to ski with Jason, and also to be able bodied and, again, one with our universe.

Jason Hummel

Gliding again, sliding down, the setting sun gave just enough to light up the dance of the falling snow. You had to be light, especially with a 172, 91 underfoot. But the orb free bird was snappy and stable, and I was enlightened making old school mini turns, enjoying the transfer of one turn to the next, looking all the way down 6,000 feet, 2000 meters to where our turns would end.

We negotiated the crevasses with a little jump, feeling brave and hooting wild, trading off following each other’s lead for so many good turns, it was hard to believe. When we got to the dirt, rocks and trees, we gave each other the celebratory hug and looked back to the mountains giving thanks. Looking up we were actually captured by the last of the sun shining the alpenglow upon us as it fixed itself between the crater and the summit.

There was a little time and a few moments of thought before I realized the sun was going down and with that mosquitos were on their way out. They love my blood, and we had at least three hours of jungle walking.

Reaching the car just after dark, we had been on the ever so tranquil move for nearly 18 hours, and I thought – why would I not do more days like this? How many hours had my pesky mind been relaxed and my body happy too?

Wild smoked salmon and cheese was my thank-you treat to Mr. Hummel, the man with the plan, and it didn’t take long before we were both fast asleep.

Now as I finish writing this little piece, I’m happy to reflect and to have taken the time to go on a mid-summer ski trip, scoring good turns in a power zone, and forged a new found friendship. Looking forward to what we will do next season and happily Jason already has some trips lined out, gratefully he can document them and we will be able to share them all with you.

Love, Bird



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