The Coleman-Deming route is one of the most popular routes on Mount Baker and generally presents a degree of difficulty suitable for a wide range of skill levels. It offers beautiful views to the north and west, pristine campsites, clean water, and all the challenges and rewards of a climb up a major glaciated volcano in the North Cascades. The purpose of this page is to provide an overview of some of the common hazards on this route, as well as other information visitors should know before their trip. For specific information about current route conditions, please check out our Instagram or Facebook pages, or contact the USFS visitor centers in Glacier or Sedro Woolley.
Legal Disclaimer: Mountain climbing is inherently dangerous and can result in serious injury or death. Learning the proper skills and techniques required for mountaineering can help mitigate risks but not eliminate them entirely. Individuals and organizations reading this website are responsible for their own safety. Each visitor assumes all risk and accepts full and complete responsibility for any damages or injury that may result from the use or misuse of the information presented on this blog. Do not depend on this information for personal safety or for determining whether to attempt a climb, route or activity. This website is not a substitute for good judgment, experience, and skill. Ultimately, the responsibility rests with you and your partners while on Mount Baker.
From Highway 542 eastbound, turn right onto Glacier Creek Road (FSR 39) and follow it for approximately 8 miles to Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead. The road is narrow in places and has large potholes and blind corners. Unexpected hazards such as downed trees, running water, falling rocks or landslides are also common on this road. Drive slow and turn on your headlights. Use turnouts to let other cars pass. Be courteous to other drivers.
In winter, this road is covered in snow and not plowed. Snowmobiles are allowed to operate in certain areas during the winter months. More information about snowmobile access can be found here.
In spring, the snowpack typically blocks the road several miles below Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead. The road usually doesn't melt out completely until about the middle of June, but might be clear earlier depending on the depth of the snowpack and spring weather patterns.
If the trailhead parking lot isn't accessible, please park courteously along one side of the road, leaving plenty of room for cars and trucks to get through. Never park in the middle of the road, even if the snowpack or something else is blocking it. Emergency vehicles are sometimes able to travel on snow better than normal vehicles and they might need to access the trailhead in the case of a rescue.
A Northwest Forest Pass or day pass is required if parking at Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead and most trailheads on Mount Baker.
Heliotrope Ridge Trail begins with a peaceful walk through an enchanting forest, gradually climbing up to tree line and the foot of the Coleman Glacier. The trail gains around 2000 vertical feet of elevation over the course of about 2.5 miles from the trailhead to Hogsback Camp.
Creek crossings are the most significant hazard on the approach. Other than the bridge over Grouse Creek at the very beginning of the trail, none of the creeks have bridges. Depending on water levels, time of year and time of day, the creeks might be very easy to cross or quite challenging.
In winter and spring, the snowpack typically covers the creeks, bridging them with compacted snow. While this makes it easier to cross, it also creates a serious hazard. The snowpack often melts out from below and might be much thinner than it appears. Accidents have occurred when visitors break through the snowpack, falling into hollow areas or rushing water. When traveling on snow, use extreme caution around creeks, ditches, logs, and other obstacles. Consider using snowshoes, skis or another form of flotation. Test the snowpack with a trekking pole before placing your entire weight on it.
In summer, water levels can rise to surprising levels, especially on hot afternoons. Be aware that the creeks you crossed on your way up may be much harder to cross on your way down. Trekking poles are helpful for balancing on rocks. Lightweight sandals or water shoes can be useful for wading across without soaking your boots.
On a resource protection note, please remember not to cut switchbacks. We always have issues with people cutting switchbacks on this trail. This leads to severe erosion and will quickly destroy the trail. Most people who cut switchbacks are simply unaware of the damage they're causing. If you see someone cut a switchback, please educate them.
Hogsback Camp, Harrison Camp (Mirkwood), Gargoyle Rock, Castle Rock, Black Buttes and the football field are all common places to camp on this route. Backcountry campsites are first come, first served. There is no reservation or permit system for non-guided visitors.
If you're camping below the glacier, please use established tent sites only. Do not construct rock walls, remove vegetation, dig ditches or otherwise alter campsites or the surrounding area in any way. Stick to established trails, keep a clean camp, secure your items well and be courteous to other campers.
Tent stakes generally don't work well at alpine camps because the ground is usually too hard and rocky to accept them. Similarly, putting your gear inside your tent isn't enough to hold it down in strong mountain winds. Many a tent has been blown off the mountain with people's possessions inside. Instead, consider adding extra guy lines to your tent, allowing you to secure it to heavy rocks. If camping on snow, use snow anchors such as pickets or buried "deadman" anchors.
Running water typically melts out at non-glacier sites by about the middle of June. If you're camping on the glacier or visiting earlier in the season, remember to bring extra fuel to melt snow.
Ravens, mice, marmots, goats and other critters are active in camps throughout the season. Make sure to store food and garbage in animal-proof containers. Do not leave these items unattended or buried in the snow. Ravens have been known to unzip backpacks and will dig out even deeply buried food. Mice have eaten through tent walls. Please help us protect these animals by storing your food securely.
Pack out all garbage and human waste using blue bags or another system. Except for a pit toilet at Harrison Camp, there are no mountain toilets on this route and all visitors are required to pack out their poop. Burying poop in the snow is unacceptable. It will quickly melt out and contaminate water sources, not to mention nobody wants to see that mess in an otherwise pristine wilderness area. Blue bags are available for free from USFS visitor centers and dispensers at most trailheads. Biffy Bags and Wag Bags can be purchased at outdoor shops and provide an additional level of comfort/hygiene. Either way, pack it out. And that includes dog poop as well.
If camping on the glacier, be aware that crevasses do exist at many common sites, even Black Buttes and the football field. Do not assume a location is safe just because someone else has camped there. Whenever camping on a glacier, it's a good practice to use an avalanche probe to probe around a potential campsite for crevasses. Use wands to mark a safe perimeter around your camp. Do not leave the perimeter unless roped up. Also be aware that many overhead hazards exist on Mount Baker. Before deciding on a campsite, look up and make sure you aren't camping beneath loose rock or ice that could fall on you without warning.
Like all route on Mount Baker, the Coleman-Deming route changes a lot throughout the season. Depending on conditions, it can be anything from a moderate slog up a snowy glacier, suitable for entry-level climbers, to a more technically challenging ascent up hard glacial ice. Conditions are generally easier in spring and early summer when the winter snowpack still covers the glacier. Once the snowpack melts and the bare glacier is revealed, the ascent becomes much more challenging and hazardous.
The route then contours southeasterly beneath Black Buttes and gradually climbs toward Coleman Saddle. Many crevasses form in this section and the bootpack changes frequently to avoid weak snow bridges and other hazards. Remember that snow bridges aren't safe just because others have used them. All parties should assess snow bridges carefully before crossing.
objective hazard on this route is the hanging ice on Colfax Peak. Very large blocks of ice hang over a section of the climbing route, threatening to collapse and impact the route. Ice avalanches occur in this area on a daily basis. Most are small, but every summer a few large avalanches come down, some so big and destructive that entire rope teams could easily be buried if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some guide services have even decided to avoid the Coleman-Deming route at certain times of year due to the unpredictable nature of this hazard. In general, the bootpack travels beneath this hazard from roughly 8300 feet in elevation to about 8700 feet. The only ways to mitigate this hazard are to give it the widest berth you possibly can and move through this section with maximum speed and efficiency. Never stop or take a break anywhere near this area. Keep your eyes and ears open for any signs of collapse. Avoid being there during the worst heat of the day when melt rates are highest. Get an early start to your summit bid and get off the mountain before midday.
From Coleman Saddle, the route travels up Pumice Ridge and the Roman Wall. Snow usually covers these features until June, when rocks and sections of bare ice begin to melt out. At approximately 10,400 feet on the Roman Wall, there is a rock step, often with a layer of ice surrounding it. In recent years, this step has grown larger as the glacier recedes. Sometimes it is possible to traverse around it on either side, but by August, it can be almost 20 feet tall and require some scrambling skills to ascend.
We have one final reminder that glissading on Mount Baker can be extremely hazardous. Glissading accidents have led to several deaths and severe injuries. As a general rule, never glissade on a glacier, when roped up, or when wearing crampons. Always make sure you have a full view of your entire runout before glissading. Stay in control at all times.
If you have specific questions about this route or other routes on Mount Baker, please check out our Instagram or Facebook pages, or contact the USFS visitor centers in Glacier or Sedro Woolley. Happy climbing!