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Best time for north cascades

Original Post
Gregory Stryjewski · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 0

This summer I'm taking the 12 day Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Course with the American Alpine Institute - They have dates ranging from May to September. Which month is the best time? I would think late season so as to have more ice than just deep snow.

Dan Cooksey · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 365

A safe bet for good all around conditions should be July.


Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 321

June, July, August. July is my favorite month for Baker, where you will probably be spending a good amount of time. The glacier gets pretty crevassie in August, and the weather will be a bit less stable in June. I believe the September course spends more time on Shuksan, which is awesome as well.

The guide for the course makes a big difference. I've done a few climbs with Will Gordon from AAI. He is a great instructor and all around guy - I'd highly recommend his course specifically.

WhiskeyDan · · Lakewood, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 65

Any of those months are going to be great. If I had to pick one it would be July.

If you need a good place to stay for a few nights and clean up. Check out the North Cascades Mountain Hostel.


Nat D · · Seattle, WA · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 765

I did the early may iteration of that course. I thought it was great because the conditions were often less than ideal, which provides better learning points. You mention ice vs snow as a reason to go late, but I'll say that even if there are perfect serac conditions for ice climbing, that will account for a couple hours out of the entire 12 days. Its just a little 'look at this' moment for a couple cool-guy pictures. You wont really spend a ton of time technical ice climbing regardless of the season. It just isn't a major point of the program of instruction.

Examples of why you want to go early:

Its colder and wetter.

In June-July you may have nice easy snow conditions all the way to the summit, and never actually know what the difference is in feel between soft snow, hard snow, and when you feel comfortable with and without crampons at what slope angles etc... In early may, you will probably get to climb both soft snow and hard ice/snow at all angles.

In June-July you will have hard-ground campsites everywhere, so you wont get to practice digging out a spot for your tent.

In June-July you can still get white-out conditions, but in May you are more likely too. It is valuable experience these conditions with the guides, so they can help you figure out when a white out is TOO white out, when to hold squat, when to still move on etc. Observing their judgement is a good learning tool.

Cold and wet

In June-July you will probably be comfortable wearing your climbing shoes for all the multi-pitch climbs. Go in may, and you will have to decide between rock climbing with freezing toes in climbing shoes, or warm toes in mountaineering boots (or approach shoes at best). It is a worthwhile experience to know where your comfort level tips in favor of climb-ability versus temperature management.

The earlier you go the less likely you will find running water on Baker, so you learn better fuel management with all the snow melting.

You'll be more likely to test your clothing and gear systems against cold and wet weather during an early class.

In early may you will learn whether or not you actually enjoy the suffering of mountaineering when there are no views or rewards except seeing the inside of a cloud for multiple days on end.

You will get to have a longer approach to Mt. Baker the earlier you go due to the limit you can drive up the road before it is snowed in.

Cold and Wet.

I'm sure there are even more benefits to going as early as possible but this should be more than enough to convince anyone!

Gregory Stryjewski · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 0

thanks for the responses. that is a pretty good pitch for the early season. mid summer, that is late June-August is out for me because I promised my wife I will take her somewhere and I cant get any more time off in peak summer. so its either may-june or late aug-september for me.

will there still be exposed crevasses in early season for crevass rescue training?

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 321
Gregory Stryjewski wrote:will there still be exposed crevasses in early season for crevass rescue training?
oh yeah!

Took this photo very early June on the lower glacier:
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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