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Arc’Teryx Khamski 48 Backpack

January 31, 2014
Backcountry Essentials

The Arc'teryx Khamski48 is a backpack specifically designed for the skier. Whether you are a Mt. Baker Ski Patroller doing morning control work or a backcountry enthusiast on the Isolation traverse, this pack has what you need.

I recently used the Khamski48 on a 3 day trip into the Monte Cristo subrange and was very impressed with its versatility, comfort and functionality.  It’s a clean pack and has no unnecessary frills. With its super burly construction using AC2 urethane treated fabric on the top and front panel, you never have to worry about the wet outside environs creeping into the sacred dry zone that is your backpack. Accompanied with a 420 denier rip-stop nylon, this pack is made to withstand the test of time. The high-density 80 foam back panel allows for minimal moisture absorption while creating a good level of stability. Its ergonomic shape is well thought out and creates a comfortable next-to-body fit.  The aluminum M-bar stays enable the 48 liters to be fully utilized and carried comfortably.  They can also be easily removed along with the lid for those quick dawn patrol tours up Mt. Herman.  Skis or split boards can be carried securely in either A-frame or diagonal fashion and won’t interfere with your rope and ice tools. It has several smaller pockets to aid organization. The huge wet pocket is my favorite feature because it's spacious enough for shovel, probe, skins and crampons.

Bottom line, this would be a welcome addition to any skier’s gear closet.

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Monte Cristo 1/18/14-1/20-14

January 31, 2014
Backcountry Essentials

Saturday 18


Met my brother at the Marysville Park and Ride Saturday after work.  I hopped in with him for the remainder of the 40 or so miles out the Mountain Loop Hwy.  Once we arrived at the Barlow Pass Trailhead, we sorted gear while sharing a couple of pre-slumber beers.   


Sunday 19


Left the trailhead at 2400ft and arrived at the river crossing within the hour.  The first bridge is washed out and fortunately we found a large tree down that offered an easy solution.  It was still dark at this time so we wasted a little time making it across but ended up on the other side nonetheless.  The old mining town of Monte Cristo is located an easy 4 miles up the Old Monte Cristo Townsite Trail.  It is a great mountain bike approach in the spring because it is a large gravel road.  It currently has enough snow coverage on it to allow skinning from the car. If the weather continues on its current trend then the snow won’t be there for long. 



Reached the ghost town that is Monte Cristo, at around 2800ft.  We spent a while poking around and drinking coffee.  It's not safe to drink form any of the running water sources due to mine tailings. 



Heading up the Glacier Basin Trail (719) out of Monte Cristo we were forced to put the skis on the back due to low snow coverage.  It was only a quarter of a mile before it opened up, and we hit a sufficient snow base.  At approximately 2900ft, break southeast and climb to the obvious 4800ft saddle.  It will keep you from climbing directly up Granite Falls and out of Glacier Creek, which is choked with avy debris and carries large avalanche hazard from a shedding Cadet Peak.  Once you reach the saddle it dumps you right into Glacier Basin.  We followed the summer trail along the creek and it was a pain.



Stopped in Glacier Basin, 4600ft.  At this point we decided to climb to the north notch of Monte Cristo.  We opted for booting the entire face because of the hard conditions. It ended up being a pleasant climb.  While transitioning from skins to crampons we enjoyed a nice bag of lasagna.  Yum.



Made it to the north notch, 6800ft.  The wind was nil and we took our time watching the sun drop behind Wilmans Peaks.  At this point we decided to ski down and follow the Columbia crest, essentially traversing a hanging snowfield.  Our plan was to camp at the col between Columbia and Wilmans splitting Glacier Basin and the 76 Glacier.  We encountered some snow conditions we didn’t like.  There were wind loaded pockets along with some wind buffeted Styrofoam.  Upon further inspection we found a weak layer approximately 16” down.  We decided to change gears and camp in Glacier Basin. 


Monday 20


Spent the morning scoping lines and milling about.  Ended up deciding to head out due to poor ski conditions.  There was a ton of potential just nothing worth skiing at the time.  We exited via the 4800ft saddle I mentioned earlier.  We encountered a little bit of slide alder but still exponentially better than the summer trail route.  And after all, what’s a trip in the Cascades with out a bit of slide alder bush whacking?



Back at the car with a cold Rainier to celebrate success.


Getting There

The Barlow Pass Trailhead is located 30 miles east of Granite Falls on the Mountain Loop Hwy.   The Old Monte Cristo Townsite Trail is located just across the road from the parking area for the Barlow Point Trail 709.

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Maestrale RS Boot Review

November 19, 2013
Backcountry Essentials

Scarpa Maestrale RS


Size Reviewed: 28.5
Skier: 6 ft 2 in, 180lbs
Skied with:
Moment Bibby Pro 191
Dynafit Radical FT


The time had come at last; I was no longer willing to hike uphill in a ski boot with minimal touring performance. I was very impressed with the new and improved touring boot from Scarpa, the Maestrale RS. After years of success with their classic Maestrale (bright orange!) boot, Scarpa decided to create a bigger stronger version for the more downhill focused skier. Although very similar to the older Maestrale, the RS has a few key upgrades that make for a far superior downhill focused boot, which sacrifices nothing on the uphill. With an easy to adjust and easy to fix ski/walk mechanism, this boot cruises uphill with ease, its huge range of motion (37 degrees) in tour mode can accommodate strides of many different lengths. The phenomenal walk mode of the RS is only complimented by the intuition liners that Scarpa includes. Touted as the most heat mold able liner on the market, the intuitions offer a huge range of adjustment that can keep feet of all shapes and sizes comfortable, both on the uphill, and on the down. In addition to being comfy, intuition liners are the warmest on the market, keeping feet warm even on the coldest of days. Weighing in at just over 1500 grams, this is on the lighter end of the boot spectrum, allowing you to save weight and go father on long ski tours.

I was nervous for my first day on these boots, having never before skied a boot so light. I was happily surprised, the Maestrale RS performs well in a variety of conditions, even happily charging through breakable crust with no second thoughts. The only place I found the RS to be lacking was during groomer turns in the ski area. Being a tall skier, when I really opened the throttle I would feel as if I were coming over the top of the slightly shorter touring cuff. A new somewhat loud paint scheme is the only other negative, and a negative that I can certainly live with.

Overall I am very happy with the Scarpa Maestrale RS. The boot handles a range of conditions, cruising uphill with ease and providing a stable platform to charge downhill with. The RS has become my boot of choice, both inbounds and out. Give it a try, it will not disappoint!

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White Chuck Mountain

September 23, 2013
by Karl Wiggins


Sept 19th & 21st

6989 ft

The Mountain:

            White Chuck is viewed from highway 530 leading into Darrington. Standing just north of Mt.Pugh. The round trip mileage is a mere 4 miles but don’t think it’s an easy walk up. From trail head to summit you gain 2000 ft, most done in the last mile of travel. The road leading up brings you high into the alpine bypassing the old growth forest that normally a long approach includes. I was getting off work that morning so a 4 mile hike and a late start was a perfect combination for me. The mountain begins with a beautiful walk through meadows and trees as you progress along the ridge eventually popping out into the open with summit in view, progress vertically through a series of ledges, including a mix of heather and rock. Be aware this climb is hazardous if done wet, the ledges and rock scrambling although fairly safe dry does have exposure especially on your descent could be hazardous if slick. Progressing onward minor rock scrambling and spectacular views will eventually lead you to an amazing summit. Sweeping vistas of Three Fingers, White Horse, Pugh, Sloan Glacier peak, Del Campo, El Dorado, Forbidden, are all included. Be cautious on your descent there is plenty of lose scree. White Chuck is a great climb I enjoyed it so much I did it twice that week

Getting There:

            Getting out to White Chuck Mountain is a little bit of a chore, but you will be thankful that the road system gets you so high up minimizing your approach through the tree line. Have in hand a map of the FS road systems and a quick drop into the ranger station in Darrington will help you in your quest to the trail head. State Route 530 leads into the center of Darrington. Take 530 towards Darrington when the road ends in a T take a left then a right on Sauk Prairie Road. Travel 1.5 miles till you reach Dan Creek FSR #24. Follow for 8.3 miles and you will see a road shoot off up-hill and to the left. There isn’t a sign,but the road is #2435 follow for 5 miles. You should end up on a ridge with fantastic views of the surrounding country side and the mountain itself, at the next fork stick to the right which leads you to 4800 feet and the trail head.

 What to Bring:

                  I brought a small day pack big enough for my camera gear plenty of water and a big lunch as well as my 10 essentials. A helmet isn’t a bad idea either especially with the scree and if there other climbers on the mountain that day. The views are amazing so a camera is a must also bringing a map to identify surround peaks is a joy from the summit and since it’s only a 4 mile round trip, a big lunch and taking it slow is recommended to enjoy this climb. During the week you won’t have to deal with folks but it’s possible on weekends to find a party or two. Enjoy!

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Black Diamond Speed 30

September 8, 2013
Backcountry Essentials

Click here to buy this item.

This spring I started looking for the perfect climbing pack. I was looking for something that would climb well for single day trips in the alpine, but would also work for some light overnight trips where I would need to carry sleeping and cooking stuff as well as snow and rock gear. Some prerequisites for this pack werethat it needed to have a removable lid, a sturdy ice ax and crampon carrying system, and minimal zippers and pockets.

I was drawn to the Black Diamond Speed 30 for a number of reasons. The most attractive feature of this pack to me is the fact that it has a dry bag style roll top that can also be clipped down when the lid is removed. While climbing with a pack I quickly become agitated when I try to look up and the back of my head is hitting the top of my pack. With the lid safely stored inside of the pack this becomes a non issue. The roll top keeps everything from coming out and even though it is a very rare occurrence this is a possibility with a simple drawstring closure system.

The Speed 30 has two sets of metal D rings on the back that fit a Voile style ski strap perfectly, I have used this system to carry my crampons several times this summer and it has performed flawlessly. There is a double layer of fabric on the back face of the pack to keep crampons from tearing up the outside of the bag. The ice ax carry has a bit of a learning to curve to get your ax securely attached. This is the only downfall of the pack, in my eyes it would benefit from a pick pocket style attachment system similar to that of a Cilo bag or the Black Diamond Epic series of packs.

Black Diamond has a unique suspension system for the Speed series that allows the shoulder straps to articulate independently of each other that makes climbing and scrambling with the a full load a breeze. The bag stays balanced even when your shoulders are moving up and down with arm motions. This combined with the compression straps and roll top make climbing with the bag an (almost) enjoyable experience.

Although this bag is great, it’s not quite perfect, the material is strong but not quite bulletproof, my pack has two small holes on either side. A little tape and seam grip and she’s good to go, but something to be aware of. The back panel breathes well but not exceptionally. Both of these shortcomings are due to the pack being designed as a minimalist climbing pack and I’ll accept both of them for the light weight that comes as a result. Overall the Speed 30 is a phenomenal mid sized climbing pack that I would recommend to everyone.


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A Trip Up Mount Rainier

September 8, 2013
by Karl Wiggins


Mt Rainier

Via Disappointment Cleaver, July 26-28


Travel & Day 1

The plan this summer was to once again get to the top of Mt Rainier, I had previously done the Cleaver route and knew it was well traveled on weekends but still fairly open during the week. I had two friends who hadn’t done much climbing before interested in going so we shot for a middle of the week departure.  Leaving Bellingham the night of the 26th we drove down and simply car camped in the Paradise parking lot. Departing the next morning we grabbed our permits for climbing above 10,000 ft and filled all proper paperwork out with the rangers. Leaving around 9 a.m. we began climbing through the lower wilderness up towards Camp Muir. Once we reached the Muir snowfield we began glacier travel and rescue system training. The long ascent of the Muir snowfield began shortly after lunch. Wandering into Muir around 5:00 p.m. we lucked out in snagging a lodge for the night and prepared for tomorrows ascent.


Day 2

We woke up at 12:30 a.m. in the hopes of leaving shortly after the RMI guided group. Getting out of camp we began crossing the Cowlitz towards Cathedral Gap. Take note of the scree fields and rock fall that crosses this part of the route, also the crevasse danger is minor but there are a few located on this part of the glacier you will have to cross. Once you have crossed the Cowlitz you will run into the loose rock and scree switchbacks of Cathedral Gap. Shortening up the rope and limiting the distance between climbers will help you navigate this section. Once you climb to the top of the gap you will drop onto the Ingraham Glacier. This section is relatively flat and is also used as a higher camp for some. Once you pass the tents you will face a number of crevasses that are easily navigated and one large crevasse with a good 6 foot gap that crosses your path. But no need to search for a crossing the local guide companies have set up a hand line and ladder system used to cross. Once across you make your way towards Disappointment Cleaver and begin navigating the rocky spine. Take note while on the cleaver the dust and grit kicks up quite a bit from the wind, a set of clear safety glasses might be helpful while climbing this part of the route. The route also can be hard to navigate at night try to follow the wands climbers have fallen attempting shortcuts and serious injury has occurred. Also once again shortening your rope and staying close together will aid in your ascent. Once at the top of the cleaver we reset our ropes again took a breather and hydrated. Climbing again we hit another hiccup in the route. At around 12,500 feet a nasty bottleneck appeared in the route. A 45 minute wait occurred waiting for teams to go up and come down through the chokepoint that involved a near horizontal crevasse to climb over, than a small landing at the top where you could prepare one person at a time to cross a 7 foot wide crevasse using a ladder system and rope hand line. Once through the bottleneck the route detours around the crevasses and seracs nearly onto the Emmons Glacier. From here on out we faced a fairly straight forward glacier slog, crossing smaller crevasses when needed and slowly heading up. Our pace and having route issues caused us to have a slow progress up the mountain. Meeting with white out conditions and exhaustion we finally reached the summit at 9:00 a.m. Spending some time on the summit, but facing worse weather as the day progressed we began the trip down. Normally an uninteresting straight forward trip down we faced a number of close calls and hazards. The first being a heart racing ice axe arrest preventing the mid man on the rope team from plummeting down the mountain , another jammed up session at the bottleneck above Disappointment Cleaver. As we neared camp Muir the treacherous rock fall, and scree fields of the Cowlitz dropped a few boulders as we made the final crossing to Muir. Finally after packing our gear up and beginning the final descent Rainier said her last goodbye, throwing a final fierce thunder storm complete with hail as we descended the Muir Snowfield. Finally after 21 miles and 16 hours of travel we arrived back at the vehicle mostly intact making our way home. 


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Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hoodie

September 8, 2013
by Chris Gerston


Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell

Black Diamond’s mantra over the years, from carabiners to Avalung packs, has been: Use. Design. Engineer. Build. Repeat.  This same approach has inspired their new clothing line.  While not all the line would work in the great “North wet,” as backcountry skiers we loved the idea of the Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell’s combination of Schoeller’s Nanosphere in the body and C-change waterproof/breathable material over the shoulders for weather protection.  My initial forays in the jacket demonstrated a huge leap in breathability due to the softshell panels around the torso.  Perfect for touring and mountaineering where moving the moisture out is a primary concern.  Beware, though, you will likely need to rethink your layering system underneath; I’d recommend adding at least a wind vest for touring or maybe a down sweater for skiing inbounds.  With colors chosen to last beyond trends, this jacket should be a favorite for years to come.


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Scarpa Vapor V

August 25, 2013
Backcountry Essentials

Scarpa Vapor V

Everything I read about this shoe said to go a half size down so that’s what I did. it took about a week to break them in. I spent about fifteen minutes a day just wearing them before I even climbed in them. I climbed in them for the first time at Vital Climbing gym and was very impressed by how well the shoes edged and held on smaller toe holds and heel hooks. The next day I took them sport climbing. The route I was on was pretty slabby with a lot of smearing. Due to the down turned toe my foot placements felt insecure. I decided to switch to a flat less aggressive shoe and was much happier with the climb.

The Scarpa Vapor V has a suede upper that forms nicely to the contours of your foot. And with the active randing around the heal and a lorica toe box the shoe will have a snug performance fit every time you put it on. The sole is Vibram’s XS grip rubber which provides the edging and grip you need to stick to small delicate foot holds. My overall impression is that this is not a shoe for the first timer, but if you are looking to take your climbing to the next level this is a great shoe for making that next step.

This is a great shoe for bouldering, gym climbing and harder more technical sport routes.

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Pugh Mountain

August 25, 2013
by Karl Wiggins


-How to Get There

Take exit 208 towards Arlington.  From there take 530 East out towards Darrington for 32 miles. Follow the highway through Darrington to the intersection directing you to the Mountain Loop Highway, take a right and head 12.6 miles the road will change into a gravel road, look for a sign saying Mt. Pugh trailhead, take a left and head for a 1.5 miles the trail is on your right and easily is missed, there are a few large turnoffs to park your vehicle. Currently all the roads leading to the trail head are in fantastic shape as long as you don’t mind a dusty car.

-What You Need

First of all a Northwest trail pass is required, I forgot to set mine out on the dash, but thoroughly lucked out not getting a ticket. Doing this climb earlier in the season will require an ice axe and a pair of crampons as there are some exposed parts of the trail and combined with snow and ice would provide a small challenge where some extra gear would give comfort and set you up for success. For the hot summer months such as July through October Pugh turns into a long slightly challenging day hike, pack accordingly; plenty of water, hiking boots, some trekking poles and a camera, because the views are amazing.

-The Trail

Pugh is a combined 10.4 miles round trip with 5300 ft of elevation gain to a summit of 7201 ft.  Beginning your climb you will ascend through the tree line on a number of never ending switch backs.  After 2 miles you will reach the base of Stujack Pass. Follow the trail up to the top of Stujack Pass, this is where the views begin. To the west you can view Three fingers Mountain, and White Horse Mountain. To the south the rest of the Mountain Loop highway with numerous peaks including Sloan, Dickerman, Vesper, Monte Christo, Del Campo, Big Four and numerous others. Upon reaching the top of of Stujack pass (5700 ft) sweeping views to the north including Baker, El Dorado and White Chuck come into sight. Continue your ascent onto the ridge which still has snow patches in areas. Once on the ridge beware of the exposed drop off via the east and west sides. Continue on and view your goal, the summit of Pugh Mountain. The last 1000 feet is a mixed class 3 scramble with switch backs mixed in. Days the rock is dry allow for an easy ascent in this section, but on a wet day could prove a slight challenge.  Once at the top enjoy the views or 3 of Washington’s volcanoes with Glacier Peak, Mt Baker and Mt Rainier in the distance. Be sure and take a picture on Pugh Rock enjoy the views and be safe going down!

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MBMG Reviews the Marmot Scree Softshell Pants

July 9, 2013
Backcountry Essentials


Mt. Baker Mountain Guides Choice Pick

Marmot Scree Softshell pants


Often when I’m sorting gear and prepping for a climb, I’m thinking critically about what equipment I’ll absolutely need, and what I can leave behind. Throughout all these gear sorts over all these years I have never really thought much about my pants. However, in hindsight (no pun intended) I realized that I have never climbed a mountain without pants. I’ve also never climbed a mountain without a Ziplock bag, but that’s another matter altogether.

As a guide service owner I am tasked with choosing a clothing manufacture that meets my needs. I’m not into cheap, throw away equipment, and I expect my gear to last for at least a couple seasons.  I’ve used a lot of different outdoor clothing over the years, and I’ve chosen Marmot for Mt. Baker Mountain Guides because I believe that they make really great stuff at reasonable prices.

Mt. Baker Mountain Guides is rocking a number of Marmot items this season, but one piece I have been super excited about are my Scree Shoftshell Pants. I know, how excited could one be about pants, but the Screes have proven to be exceptional. The Scree pants are made from Marmot’s proprietary M3 Softshell. I have absolutely no idea what that means, but it is fairly lightweight material. It breaths really well while still providing decent protection from the Cascadian elements. I’m not a fan of heavier weight softshell fabric for summer use simply because it doesn’t get that cold in the Cascades.

The Scree Pants have a fairly athletic cut and articulated knees that give me plenty of range of motion for both mountaineering and rock climbing. The cuffs fit great over single mountaineering boots, and have a small zipper that allows them to expand over bulkier double boots. They are darn tight around most ski boots, but seem to work ok with my Dynafit TLT 5’s. If you’re going to be doing a lot of skiing, buy ski pants…

Belt loops (and a belt) help hold your pants up when your pack is pushing them down. 4 pockets is nice as well. The Scree Pants sport two on the hips, one cargo, and one back pocket. A lot of manufacturers forego the back pocket, which bugs me. That’s where my wallet lives to and from the trailhead. All pockets are zippered as well, which keeps your Chapstick and loose change from flying out when you take that whipper. One thing about Marmot that I really like is their zippers. It seems like zippers are the crux for many clothing manufacturers, and getting it right is more voodoo than real science. This holds true for the Scree pants as well. Never had a zipper issue and not expecting one.

There you have it! The Marmot Scree Softshell Pant is an MBMG choice pick. The Screes cover your butt and keep it super simple. Put some of these pants on and get outside. We’ll see you out there.

John Minier

Owner, Mt. Baker Mountain Guides

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