Local Tourists: Perspective Gained on Mt. Ann
By Colin Wiseman
It’s easy to be complacent, especially at home. When you travel regularly, coming home means familiarity—from my house in Bellingham, Washington, that same drive up Highway 542 through moss-clad maple and thick evergreens to early morning reunions in the Mt Baker Ski Area lift line. Maybe a hike out the Arm if the sun shows.
But what of those peaks in the distance? Those ones you always think about riding but don’t always touch, because it’s just so much easier to enjoy what you already know? What of a season with more time at home than away, for once?
Last year, we slowed down. With borders closed, it gave me time to appreciate what I had at home—to ride consistently at Baker, to finally get enough reps on those go-to lines that I was enticed to look just a little bit further. I rode with Austen Sweetin and Sean Lucey a lot as they filmed for what would become known as “Wind Slab,” with reliable snow and cold temps carrying us through a winter of local exploration. Local tourists we ironically called ourselves, diving into familiar zones that, even after fifteen years, I hadn’t ridden much, if at all.
By late March, a deep and stable snowpack called for a few longer walks. Austen, Robin Van Gyn and I had been to Lake Ann in December (a day of a foiled marriage proposal, but that’s another story), out behind the Arm. From there, Mount Ann, which had always sat one basin back from my leisurely local pursuits, drew our attention
Ann’s no secret—tracks are visible out there during most high-pressure windows, but it feels worlds away from the well-worn bootpacks above Baker’s Chair 8. Some folks probably scoff at the fact that I’d never been there—I’m sure there are plenty of locals who have ridden Ann a dozen times in a season. There’s a chute, and gullies, and tree lines, maybe a few pillows down low. But it sees relatively little traffic because, well, it takes a bit more sweat equity to access than the known entities within an hour’s walk of the parking lot. Call it a relationship of convenience, but sometimes you just don’t bother taking that longer tour when it’s so easy to stick to what you know, and when what you know regularly provides.
Yet finally, on a clear and pleasant March morning, we assembled pre-dawn in the upper lot—me, Austen, Lucey and Zoe Vernon. A four-pack of local tourists looking to tap into something new. We crested Austin Pass before sunrise, dropping into Swift Creek and headed for morning’s alpenglow, headlamps still shining on knee deep, stable spring powder. An hour of skinning led towards Ann with Baker proper catching morning light to our right, then a few minor route-finding calls before a steep push up and past a cornice and onto the ridgeline, entering a light duty form of navigation and exploration that comes with new territory. Even when ascending a mountain you’ve studied dozens of times, the minutiae of terrain features never fully reveal themselves until they are at your feet.
Around a rock, across a plateau, new views stretched out to the east—a potential camp spot here, a windlip to slash there, so many new opportunities just a ridge away. What if we brought a tent and sleeping bags and just kept going? That’d be another little adventure in our own backyard.
A steep final push to the top revealed Baker’s volcanic dome now fully illuminated to the west, Shuksan’s Curtis glaciers rolling up to its summit pyramid to the North, more lines that we never knew to exist in those same mountains we’d visited so many times. And hey, we can see Baker Lake from here.
Strapped in and dropping, a massive, crusty backhand wave led us to fast turns down bulging lobes, and down into the trees, to gullies, a creek, and eventually the skintrack.
Was it better than the Arm or any of the other quick backcountry jaunts from the ski area? Maybe not. But it was different. And different is good. You remember different. It can lead to more exploration, expansion of complacency, a new perception of place. A few more hours and we’d be back at that same old parking lot, this time with a fresh perspective on what home has to offer.
Just one ridge back, we found local tourism at its finest.