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North America, United States, Washington—Cascades, Mount Baker, Roman Nose

Mount Baker, Roman Nose. Looking up, we could understand why the Roman Nose, the last major unclimbed route on Mount Baker had not been attempted. The glacier on both sides of the 2000-foot snake-like arête were brown with fallen rock. We had come early in the season hoping that more snow would make it safer. (This ridge forms the southern edge of the Coleman Glacier headwall and is a prominent landmark just north of the Roman Wall, an ice cliff bordering the frequently traveled normal route.—Editor.) Early on June 27 Gordon Thompson, Mike Swayne, Don Ihlenfeldt and I gained the crest of the ridge some 200 feet up by a snow finger that led to it from the west. The first lead was a knife-edged ridge of crumbly mud-lava. Halfway across, this literally disintegrated under Gordon and he suddenly found himself 15 feet lower. We very nearly decided to turn back. Gordon led up a 20-foot vertical step (+IV) which was better rock. Things improved as we found that we could traverse on the 45° to 60° snow slopes just below and east of the ridge-crest. After a thousand feet we came to the first vertical step, some 150 feet high. We hopefully followed the only possibility, chopping steps in the black ice along a tilted ledge, that went out of sight to the right. I led up rotten rock (IV) to a belay ledge. It was impossible to fix pitons because they only forced the rock apart. Gordon led off on a short traverse to the right, clearing the ledge of hundreds of pounds of loose rock before continuing up. Again it proved impossible to fix pitons on this pitch (—V). We were soon 300 feet higher at the base of the second vertical step. Again we followed a ledge to the right to bypass this 200-foot step, first passing under a cascade of water saturated with sun-loosened pebbles. Deep wet snow overlying black ice made the going slow and hazardous, but a few pitons on this traverse gave us the illusion of safety. In 200 feet we were able to climb back to the crest via a short awkward rock pitch inundated with melt water (IV). From here the rock ridge gradually merged into a snow ridge, which soon led to the summit ice cap.

Edward Cooper