Coleman Headwall FAIL

By:  Sam
June 23, 2010

The other day I got a phone call:

“Hey Sam, it’s Drew Tabke, a friend and I are thinking of doing something on Baker tomorrow, you interested?”

“Sure, keep me posted”

A few hours later, I received a follow up phone call. Drew and his friend Reed, were going to drive up from Seattle that night and crash at my house, the following morning, we’d get rolling. At that point I had no real idea of what they’d planned on skiing, I kind of assumed they were talking about touring around the Mt. Baker ski area.

Soon after they arrived, around 11pm, they casually mentioned that we should probably get up around 3am so we’d have time to hike. I quickly concluded that we were going to do something a bit more ambitious the next day. I was able to get a fitful two hours of sleep before my alarm woke us at 3am.

A long breakfast, followed by a bit of screwing around at the trailhead, and we were hiking by 5am. By 7am we’d reached snow-line and stared skinning. At 7:30 we encountered a problem: the thick cloud ceiling above us did not appear to be lifting or thinning as it was forecasted to. Ever since my last outing on Baker, I’ve been phobic of white out on glaciers.

We really needed the clouds to lift, lest we get lost on the Coleman Glacier (pictured).

I was also told we’d want to get a good view of our line before heading up. My curiosity piqued, I finally asked: “Drew, what exactly are you planning to ski?”

“The Coleman Headwall”, Drew replied.

With only the vaguest notion of what skiing the Coleman Headwall entailed, I shrugged and waited for the clouds to lift. From 7:30 until 9:30, we sat on a little spit of gravel passing time. Under dressed for hanging out in the wind with no sun, we traded places crouching in the entrance to a marmot hole to get out of the wind. When that finally proved boring, we played “hit the rock” for about an hour while telling stories. Finally, at 9:30, enough light was getting through that the upward movement seemed sane.

Drew approaches our hang out spot.

Drew, leading up to the thinning clouds. The shiny thing in the background is Baker’s North Ridge.

The clouds blew in and out, but the rocks visible in the background here indicated that the cloud layer was a thin one.

Continue Reading: 1 2 3 4 5 Next »

Read about the author:   Sam
Enjoy this TR? Read another: TR: Wandering in Wildflowers to Wolverine


  1. christian
    wrote on June 23rd, 2010 at 8:10 pm  

    wow sam, glad to see you’re not wasting any time out there. i really like the 3rd to last shot of reed making schuss by the wobbly seracs, yikes. fedora as helmet…how debonair.

    • Sam
      wrote on June 23rd, 2010 at 8:43 pm  

      Time is a non-renewable resource, it’s not to be wasted.

  2. Greg
    wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 12:17 am  

    so did Reed poo those little red dots on the mountain in the last shot to leave a record of your descent? I’m confused. ;)

    JK man (and other men appearing in this TR). SOLID work. Almost too big for 17mm it seems… hard to get it all in. Keep it churnin out there. We’re eager to keep the flame burning back here.

    PS Reed skis like Zach from this tr

    PPS Question for Drew: What’s with that ice tool carry? Is there some reason behind that that I’m missing? From the comfort of my sofa in 80 degree VT it looks like a kidney-kabob maker…

    • Sam
      wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 12:28 am  

      Re: your question for Drew. He didn’t have a whippet. He was keeping the axe handy in case he wanted to ski with his axe out and ready to arrest (which he did for a brief while).

  3. Chris
    wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 9:41 am  

    That’s a pretty sweet looking fail.. Nice write up Sam and killer pics.

  4. Jay
    wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 10:03 am  

    Great TR!!

    I’m liking the Washington branch of FIS already…

  5. Harvey44
    wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 10:59 am  

    Sam … I got scared just reading it. Beautiful photos and a compelling story. While I haven’t attempted an bc ski of that scope, I can totally relate to the feeling of exhilaration that you get enjoying the hero snow at the end of an adventure, when the significant risk is all behind you.

  6. Adrian
    wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 11:05 am  

    Wow, this is very impressive even though you didn’t hit your target line.

    Also, it’s nice to see that there’s still cold somewhere on this continent. Dealing with 90°+ days for the past week (ugh!), it’s a refreshing reminder.

  7. Drew
    wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 12:14 pm  

    I had my axe-as-sidearm up top for sideslipping down 45°+ fall-you-die rime ice. I kept it available as I headed over snow bridges down into the serac ramp in case I needed it there for any reason. And then skiing the ramp proper, another very steep slope, we started to note glacial ice under the corn and if I found myself on something blue I wanted to be ready.

    But thanks for your concern for my kidneys, they appreciate it.

    • Greg
      wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 4:32 pm  

      thanks for the input. always like to hear the thinking behind mtn travel choices are…

      and make no mistake, I wasn’t critiquing in any way… hence the joke about me quarterbacking from my armchair. awesome to have you featured in a TR Drew. Here’s to many more!!

  8. Hannah
    wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 2:24 pm  

    I <3 Drew Tabke

    Also like photo #3 on page 4: all indications point to this being a serious ski line, but actually buckle one's boots? Nahhh.

  9. robrox
    wrote on June 24th, 2010 at 4:19 pm  

    Adrenal line choice! The crashing ice and numerous slide paths all!

    Great pix!

  10. Harvey44
    wrote on June 26th, 2010 at 10:18 am  

    Good catch Hannah! Eagle eye.

  11. powhounddd
    wrote on June 28th, 2010 at 9:16 pm  

    holey moley, June turns FTW!

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