My name is Amber Pouley - I’m a SheJumps Community Ambassador in Bellingham, Washington, and have volunteered for the organization since 2018. Before signing up for the Mt. Baker SheJumps Fundraising Climb, I had never done any mountaineering or backpacking and hardly considered myself a hiker. This was even my first time using a WAG bag.
I joined the climb because I love the mission of SheJumps and wanted to increase awareness about this organization in my community and family circle. Beyond that, the climb was a great experience being on an all-woman team, including our guides Val and Katie. On the hike up and back down, we passed so many crews of all dudes except maybe one or two women. It would be hard to do something like this in a crew of mostly dudes. Who would you talk to about the finer points of pooping into a WAG bag?
I began uphill training immediately after I signed up (and I signed up the day the fundraising climb was announced back in December 2022). I started hiking with a light day pack and planned to load up and get heavier each time I went out.
Months later, we left Alpine Ascents headquarters in Seattle early in the morning on the day of our climb. As we drove by Baker Lake, I remembered my dad had taken us camping up there once when I was a kid. I found myself thinking about my dad a lot that weekend because I took some of his ashes with me to the summit to spread them up there.
At 8:30 a.m. we arrived at the trailhead, where we could see Mt. Baker looming over us in the parking lot. We unloaded the van and trailer, separated communal items, and set off.
The trail starts in a rocky creek bed with some trees and wooded switchbacks, then opens into a beautiful meadow toward the Railroad Grade. The Railroad Grade is a huge moraine formed by the glaciers that used to extend down into the valley, but have receded quite a bit with natural glacial melt, and more recently accelerated by our ever-warming planet.
After about 4 hours, we arrived at Sandy Camp at about 6000’ elevation. Once we settled into camp, we started snow school to learn the glacier travel skills. The first skill was how to use and walk in our crampons. Next was how to walk up and down on the glacier: kick step, rest step, etc. We also learned how to walk in a rope line: when to stay close, when to let the rope run out, how much tension is optimal. Lastly, we learned self-arrest techniques with our ice axes.
Snow school ran into dinner time. Over a BBQ dinner (pulled jackfruit for vegetarians like myself), we were told that the plan was to summit the following morning rather than Sunday. It meant a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call. Woof. We already had fewer than 8 hours until wake-up, and it was still daylight out—no sunset viewing for us tonight.
We talked a little bit about headspace and physical well-being, requesting that everyone be really honest with themselves about being able to do this.
Saturday at 3:30 a.m. came EARLY! I ate two packs of oatmeal with freeze-dried berries and some coffee. Then off we went. We took short breaks every hour, terrain-dependent. It was like clockwork: Puffy on! Snack. Water. Sunscreen. Maybe pee (if there was time). Then ba,ck to walking until the next break.
At the final break before the summit, we were at the crater. Once we got above it, you could smell the sulfur. Above the crater is the Roman Wall, which we traversed. There was nice snow for most of the Wall, but above it was this wet rocky slurry. I was going so slowly up here because I was so nervous about the heights and the downclimb. The guides were so helpful and guided me through the nerves.
We soon got in sight of the summit dome! All my fears were gone and I just wanted to make it to the top. I was so excited and was such a klutz that I tripped on my crampons on the summit. …..At the time of writing this, I still have a bruise on my knee from that. Forewarning, I tripped again when we got back to camp and we were just about to remove our crampons.
We spent about 45 minutes at the summit, then turned back. This is hands down one of the best and coolest things I have ever done. I live in Bellingham and see Baker nearly every day from town. Spreading my dad’s ashes up there also meant a lot, and I feel such a strong connection to my home mountain right in my backyard.
Written by Amber Pouley
Edited by Emma Renly