After summiting Mt. Rainier, Jeramy and I set out to northern Washington for an attempt at Mt. Shuksan, via the Fisher Chimneys route. Mt. Shuksan sits next to Mt. Baker in the Northern Cascades National Park at 9131 ft. There is no other sample in the American West of a peak with great icefall glaciers derived from a high plateau, and in the Pacific Northwest it is the only non-volcanic peak whose summit exceeds timberline by more than 3000 feet....Shuksan is one of the finest mountaineering objectives in the North Cascades and its reputation is certainly deserved; a wide variety of challenges can be encountered on this quite complex mountain. -Excerpted from "Cascade Alpine Guide". We took a rest day in Bellingham, got our back-country permit, resupplied at the local REI, and set off to climb Thursday morning. The Gear List is as follows:
Team Gear- This gear we split up the weight.
Four season tent (Nemo)
9.5mm climbing rope
Maps of The chimney Route(Laminated)
20 degree sleeping bag
Thermarest foam pad
Camera (extra batteries for these)
First Aid kit including pain killers
Ear plugs and blindfold for sleeping
4 Locking biners
2 Quick draws
Belay/rappel device (ATC)
Black Diamond mountaineering axe
Petzl Technical Ice tool
MSR Snow picket
2 Black Diamond ice screw
Black Diamond snow crampons
Petzl Meteor climbing helmet
2 Petzl rescue pulley
3 Extra alpine slings
Set of BD stopper nuts
RAB down sweater
2 pairs of Smartwool socks
1 techwicking t shirt
1 set of techwicking long johns
2 Pairs of gloves
Scarpa double plastic mountaineering boots
3 Mountain House meals ( the better choice for meals)
1 Backpackers Pantry dessert (the better choice for desserts)
2 Shot Blocks
2 GU packets
1 MSR Mountain towelette
Climbing Mt. ShuksanWe arrived at the Lake Ann trailhead at a not so alpine 11:00 am and we were taken back at the sight of the mountain. All the mountains in this range are incredible, especially Mt. Baker, being encrusted with snow year round. We double checked equipment, put on those dreaded double plastics again, and began the approach. The approach in was one of the best ever, as it is practically all downhill into a large valley. Along the way we stashed a couple beers in the snow and flagged them for the way out.(I git this idea from another trip report on Shuksan, thanks for the beta brah) About three hours later we reached Lake Ann, and were tempted by its Ultramarine color. We resisted and began to traverse the large bowl to the left, heading towards the chimneys. We soon realized we were off trail when we traversed multiple snow and sketchy talus fields. This took approximately an hour, and we found the entrance to the chimneys.
There was a large moat guarding the entrance and we had to jump across it to get to the rock section. With our eagerness to climb, we soon had climbed up the wrong side of the first chimney. With the heavy pack and mountaineering boots on, i preceded to climb what would be the scariest climb of my entire life. I couldn't really feel the footholds through the boots, the pack was pulling me away from the face, and all the holds were breaking off, all this feeling like a 5.7 climb over a large, deep moat. I finally got to safe ground, and hauled Jeramy's pack up to make the climbing easier. This took longer than expected, as we wanted a high camp on top of the chimneys.Once atop the first chimney, we came along some good campsites and a couple on their way down, camping for the night. We exchanged stories and found out this dude used to work for RMI, and had summitted Everest multiple times. Awesome. He informed us of the conditions of the route and said that it takes longer than people think. It was getting late and we decided to camp in the already cleared tent site. One chimney down, one to go. Once camp was set up, we cooked dinner and enjoyed massive icefalls off the Upper Curtis glacier. The noise was equivalent to the sound of an oncoming train. The view of Mt. Baker from this spot is incredible. See photo.We awoke around 5:30 am, roped up and began the five minute approach to the second chimney. At the base was another large moat, this one bigger than the last. We chipped away the weak snow from the edges and jumped across. This trail is relatively easy to follow with all the rap stations. With mixed climbing and hiking we began the climb up the chimney. We topped out of the chimneys in an hour and a half onto Winnie's Slide.
Winnie's slide was steeper than expected, and required two snow pickets and an ice screw with a running belay. Dual ice axes helped a lot here. Once atop the immense Curtis Glacier, we rested up and ate. We took some epic photos with some huge crevasses! AT this point you have to descend appx. 600 feet traversing to the entrance to Hell's Highway, negotiating a few crevasses. Hell's Highway is extremely steep and required multiple snow pickets. We had to cut in steps and wield dual axes, making it one of my favorite parts of the route! Hell's Highway brings you onto the Sulphide Glacier, getting your first glimpse of the mountain's shy summit pyramid. There is some great spots for pictures here, with the summit in the background. A two hour slog will get you to the base of the summit pyramid, while passing only a couple crevasses. We scoped out the weather, ate some lunch, and decided to ascend the south east rib, avoiding the standard route.
We were quickly lost and turned around to climb the central gully. I had only brought a set of stopper nuts, so we placed gear where we could and had a running belay. Looking back on it we really didn't need to be roped up, but we rarely get the chance so we did. Now I maybe just used to climbing in climbing shoes, but this climbed was beginning to get difficult in the double plastics. I really think a light pair of climbing shoes would have been worth the weight. The climbing was chossy and the route was hard to read. Another duo (Rishard and Danny) was getting just as lost as us and we were contemplating turning around, when Rishard found the route up.
An hour later Jeramy, Rishard, Danny, and myself were sitting atop one of the most technical peaks we had ever done! We all hung out up there for awhile, talking about the east coast and our previous trips. We took photos, chewed some skoal and we set off to descend Mt. Shuksan. It takes 6 raps to get down the summit pyramid. This takes along time fumbling with the ropes, but its well worth it. It would definitely be a sketchy down climb, especially with climbers below you. At the base of the summit pyramid we said goodbye to Danny and Rishad, and plunge stepped down the sulphide.We glissaded down Hell's Highway's two pitches, and got down it no time. This had to be the steepest glissade i've done! As we walked away from the slope, i thought i had seen something in the snow where we had glissaded down. My tired legs convinced me it was nothing and we continued on. The hike back up the Curtis Glacier seemed to take forever, like way more than 600 feet. We hiked for a couple hours as deep fog rolled in. We cursed ourselves for not placing wands. We continued on in the fog and soon we had passed the entrance to Winnie's Slide. At this point it was late, we were low on water, tired, nervous, and had no bivy gear. All and all we were set back a couple of hours, and eventually found where we needed to go. At the bottom of Winnie's Slide we drank as much water as we could, filled up, and descended to the Salmon Glacier. Down climbing a steep snow slope i took a fall and began sliding down the slope. With textbook form, i tried to self arrest without prevail. Soon after i felt the rope go tight and realized that Jeremy was now falling with me. The fall seemed to last forever, with the ice axe just cutting through the soft snow. The fog was still very thick, and i thought for sure we were going into a crevasse, as i remember seeing a couple on the way up. It probably lasted 7-8 seconds, but it falling blindly into fog and snow in your face seems like forever. We finally slid to a stop and caught our breaths. What a close call!At the entrance to the chimneys i quickly realized I was missing my ATC. I had dropped it on Hell's Highway. My experience climbing cell towers was about to pay off, as i knew all about the munter hitch. This works well, but the rope curls up like a pig tail at the bottom. This is quite annoying when all you want to do is get down. With night closing in, we realized we had done exactly what we were trying to avoid; descending down the wrong chimney. OUr nerves were shot, and it made the sketchy down climbing even more scary, with a 600 foot drop beneath us. Night was inevitable, and we dawned headlamps. After three rappels and sacking a bunch of gear we were pulling the rope and Jeramy told me the rope was stuck. I asked if he had taken the knot out before pulling it and he said he hadn't. I was mortified. Climbing back up the scary face wasn't an option. We quickly inventoried the amount of rope we had and determined the rope couldn't be at the draw. Thankfully, it was just stuck in between two rocks. It was pitch black and weather had rolled in. We decided we would be spending the night on the cliff. We found a small spot on the cliff next to a small scrub pine, and decided that was our best option. It barely fit us both and our packs. We put on all our clothes and tried to go to sleep. About three hours later awoke to terrible shivering, i was freezing. I was scared that it might be hypothermia, as i couldn't stop shaking. I cut a bunch of pine branches down and laid them down to insulate myself from the ground. Once on the ground i piled every branch and twig i could find on top of myself to insulate myself. This would turn out to be the scariest six hours of my life. I'll save the emotional details out of it.
When daylight broke, we awoke and quickly found our way out, sacking more gear. At this point we were both ready to give the mountain every piece of gear we had in exchange for safe passage off the cliff. We arrived back at our camp and cooked breakfast. We quickly passed out took a much needed power nap. We slpet until 9:30 am and packed up camp. We were on our way out by 11:00 am. The hike out was brutal, due to the long slog to Lake Ann. After Lake Ann, that nice, easy approach trail in was the complete opposite. Brutal. Jeramy was ahead of me, and he had passed the beers. I stopped and drank mine, and carried the other two out for him. I caught up to him and he greatly appreciated the beer, and we toasted to getting off the mountain alive. After what seemed to be the hardest part of the hike out, i have never been so happy to see the car, practically skipping to it. We changed clothes, hydrated up, and began the long drive back to Seattle to catch our 11:30 pm red eye flight back to Boston.
All being said, Mt. Shuksan was the most technical, majestic peak i've climbed. Mt. Shuksan was both a physical and a mental challenge, pushing Jeramy and I to our climbing limits. This mountain alone has changed my perspective on mountaineering and i will always cherish this particular peak.