Team Slack fueling up on sugary snacks at the trailhead :)
The Bellingham IHOP had a line up of cellulite and blocked arteries out the door so we had to move to Plan B. After a sick size late breakfast of bacon with a side of eggs and pancakes at Denny’s, grocery shopping for outrageous snakes at Haggen’s and a bit of gear whoring at REI, Team Slack (Mike, Chris and yours truly) finally rolled into the Lake Anne parking lot around 3:30pm on Sunday afternoon. After consuming aforementioned outrageous snacks, we were out of ways to procrastinate so there was nothing to do but start hiking in to camp.
Shuksan from Lake Ann
We made it to camp just past the lake with stellar views of our route in under 2 hours. The rest of the afternoon/early evening was spent studying (me anyway), eating, filtering water and generally slacking although there were a few minutes of excitement when Mike spotted a huge black bear nearby. There was a woman camped next to us who told us she’d been coming here for many years and had never seen a bear. Just then a couple of guys came hiking along. They took one look at the bear and hightailed it back the way they’d come. We packed up our summit packs before hitting the sack around 10:00.
I couldn’t sleep and I don’t think Chris or Mike was having any more luck than I was. We’d left the fly off the tent so we could watch the Perseids but after midnight the moon came up and made it too bright to see much.
We got up just after 3:00. I don’t know how it took us an hour and a half to get going but it did so it was 4:30 before we hit the trail.
Julia & Chris in the Chimneys
The first part of the trail is very straightforward (of course that didn’t stop me from getting off it) and we were making pretty good time until we hit the gully. We lost the trial here (it was dark) and started to ascend. Bad idea. The gully was heinous and I managed to almost get myself stuck. I couldn’t go down and I couldn’t go up. I managed to go sideways by hacking out holds with a small rock. Yuck. That was scary. Chris and Mike took a slightly less stupid route up but still had to contend with crappy holds. It was light out by the time we escaped the gully so we could easily see that we were up much too high and quickly descended a slippery slope to regain the trail and proceed on to the chimneys.
Mike in the Chimneys
Things were going well for a while but in keeping with tradition, it was time to get off route. We took a right instead of a left and things got harder and harder. Pretty soon we were on low 5th with major exposure and I went on strike. “No way… not without a rope.” Three was an old piton in the rock so we knew this was ‘a’ route but not the one we wanted to be on. Just then a solo climber appeared on the scree slope far below us moving at super bionic pace. We decided that he probably knew where he was going so Mike scrambled back down the route as fast as he could to try to intercept him.
The guy was incredible. Mike almost missed him but fortunately he did manage to point us in the right direction before zooming off again. All Chris and I heard from our lofty perch was the sonic boom.
Once back on the right route the climbing was fun and easy. The holds are bomber and it’s all Class 3 with one or two Class 4 moves thrown in for good measure. There was a little bit of everything… snow... scree… trail… rock and beautiful views of the sun rising on Mount Baker.
Sunrise on Mount Baker
As we topped out at the end of the chimneys we were greeted by Tomyhoi, the Border Peaks, Larabee & Slesse. We paused for a much needed break at the base of Winnie’s Slide, just as the sun popped out over the top to bathe us in its warm rays. Winnie’s Slide is a fairly short but steep snow slope that takes you to the toe of the Upper Curtis glacier. We used our 4 pickets to protect this section and made it up fairly quickly without any excitement. Baker was looking beautiful from the top. The mangled, gnarled crevasse ridden toe of the Lower Curtis was looking a bit daunting and didn’t get any better looking as we came closer and realized that this was our next obstacle.
Mike and Chris Ascending Winnie's Slide
Upper Curtis Glacier & Hell's Hwy
Julia & Mike on crappy ice section
The crevasse that went "CREEEAK!"
The ice was total crap so we didn’t bother with screws. Pickets were out of the question and staring it down didn’t seem to be having any effect at all so it was time to nut up and just get it over with. I climbed on to the ice praying that my aluminum crampons would take enough of a bite out of the crappy ice and front pointed my way up. The angle eased off and I was about to start breathing again when I suddenly got a nice view of what I’d been traversing under. A massive, deep & hungry looking crevasse. “Oh my god!” I gasped as I tried to focus all my energy on becoming weightless as I tried to find a way out of the trouble. Mike soon made it up to where I was and he got out of there fast. Since his way hadn’t swallowed him up, I prepared to follow him. Just as I took my first step the glacier below my feet let out a deep, ominous sounding “CREEEAK” that vibrated through my crampons and through my whole body. Definitely time to relocate! Chris was next and we urged him to move quickly and carefully over to where Mike and I were standing.
We picked our way carefully through the cavernous (but hopefully not carnivorous) crevasses up to the relative safety to be found higher up on the glacier. We met the solo climber about half way to Hell’s Highway on his way DOWN! We were still another 3-4 hours from the summit at this point. He had passed us on the chimneys and was on his way down. I asked him where he was hiding the nitrous and he explained that he was on a bit of a mountain bender, just coming off 3 weeks of climbing in the Rockies. Still, the guy was moving at a speed I’ve never seen before (and I know some bionics!) and we were very impressed.
Losing elevation on the way up is always heartbreaking but there’s no avoiding it as you descend about 600ft to the base of Hell’s Highway. The views were outstanding and took a bit of the sting out of the loss. Hell’s Highway consists of two steep snow slopes with a relatively flat bench between them. The first slope isn’t as steep as the second and the runout is relatively benign if you can just forget about the enormous crevasses on your left. It’s more of a psychological problem than a technical one. The second part is quite a bit steeper and you REALLY don’t want to fall to your left. Unfortunately the left hand side is the least steep.
Mike Ascending Hell's Highway
Sulphide Glacier & Mr. Grumpy Pants
Julia & Summit Pyramid from Sulphide Slog
By the time we reached the Sulphide Glacier we were ready for lunch. We enjoyed the views over to Rainier and the Olympics under the watchful eye of the summit pyramid which looked so close but in reality was still a long slog away.
Mike, Chris & Mount Baker from Sulphide Slog
After lunch we slogged up the Sulphide basking in the unrelenting solar radiation that you can only experience high above sea level while traversing a surface with an albedo of 80. As we plodded along, we were serenaded by the sonorous tones of a raving lunatic on the summit pyramid. Eventually two dots on the rock come into view and as the voice got louder the dots got bigger. The dots didn’t move as we approached and eventually they materialized into a man and a woman. They appeared to have climbed themselves into trouble and my guess would be that he was scared and like the big man that he was, was dealing with his fear by yelling at her. My personal favorite was "NO! Stop right there! You are not ALLOWED to go that way!" We listen to this guy barking and snarling for about an hour as we approach.
We reached them just as we were ascending the last bit of the snow slope to the summit pyramid. By this point they had managed to get down and were ready to get on to the snow. He seemed quite annoyed that we were in his way. "We want to come down and we want to come down right where you are!" he tells me. He seemed oblivious to my observation that the snow slope was huge and big enough for all of us so rather than starting a fight we got out of their way. He told us that they had not made it up and had found the climbing very difficult. He seemed to be suggesting that we shouldn't continue.
Mike: "Well, we have a rope."
Him: "A rope is irrelevant on rock climbing like this."
Chris, Mike, Me: *blank stare*
Just as we're pulling away from them, he turns and says:
"I free climb too you know."
What the hell? What exactly does that mean in this context? Bizzare. We continued on up but could hear him yelling at her for some time as they made their way very slowly down the Sulphide glacier.
Julia Scrambling on the Summit Pyramid
It was nice to get out of the rope. It was tempting to leave it behind but we thought we might need it so I stuffed it into my pack and set off behind Mike. Chris followed behind me. I had begun to suspect Mike of suffering from the same route finding affliction I am cursed with earlier in the day and his route choice here confirmed it. We scrambled up what was mostly the South Ridge rather than taking the easier Class 3 gully. The rock was solid and the route was relatively easy but the exposure was tasty. I had read too many accident threads online in the days leading up to this trip and I was paying for it. If I were to do it again I’d take some rock pro and do it right. But by the time I realized I was in a bit of trouble it was too late to go back and up was the only way out. I cursed myself for not paying more attention to the route.
Mike & Chris Descending Hell's Highway
We reached the summit and spent a few minutes enjoying the moment. I tried to do a summit cartwheel but after several lame attempts Mike pulled the plug in favor of not having to retrieve my body on the other side. We were running very late so we couldn’t hang around too long. I expect that I’ll be savoring this one for some time. I’d wanted Shuksan for a few years so it feels good to have done it. I scrambled around for a summit rock then we headed down via the easier route. Rappelling seemed like more trouble than it was worth so we just down climbed.
Summit to Camp
Upper Curtis Glacier from Hell's Highway
Once off the summit pyramid we mused about how nice it would be to just descend down the Sulphide Glacier. We still had a hell of a lot of work ahead of us and we were all pretty tired. We enjoyed the easy slog across the Sulphide to the top of Hell’s Hwy which looked a hell of a lot steeper from the top than it had from the bottom. We belayed down the first and steepest section then unroped and self belayed down the longer but less steep part.
Crappy ice section we managed to avoid on the way down
That 600ft descent we’d done on the way up had seemed like a long, gentle slope on the way up but with tired legs on the way down it seemed to rear up before us. With the sun beating down on our backs it was a long, tiring slog. I lead us up too high so we had to descend to get back on route. Descending snow slopes on crappy snow that is balling up in your crampons through a crevasse field is not my idea of a good time. Going up was fine. You couldn’t see into the crevasses on the way up. But going down was a different story. The view before us was of the crevasse riddled glacier dropping off into nothingness. I found this to be a bit unnerving. It didn’t help that in the not so far away back of my mind I was worrying about the steep ice we’d come up on the toe of the glacier. I did NOT want to go down that and was praying that we’d be able to find a way on to the rock ridge in order to avoid it.
Sunset at the top of the Chimneys
Much to my relief, we were able to get up on to the rock and before long we were back at the top of Winnie’s Slide which, like Hell’s Highway had somehow steepened since we’d last met. I was about to try to get down face into the slope self belaying with my axe when Mike spotted a rap station. In hindsight we should have just left a picket up there and rapped off of it but our tired, numb minds were now fixated on the rap station. In order to reach said rap station we had to crawl into the moat between the snow and the rock and slip slide around to where about 6 slings and a couple of biners were promising an easier descent. This whole production turned out to be way more trouble than it was worth. It was the most horrible rap I’ve ever done with one foot on sheer ice and the other on jagged rock, rapping down this moat. It took forever and of COURSE the rope got stuck when we tried to pull it down so I ended up having to climb up to untangle it and then climb down the steep slope I’d been trying to avoid in the first place. It’s a good thing Mike didn’t have a knife because when he shouted down that the rope was stuck (Chris and I were already at the base of the slope at this point) I told him to cut the damn thing so we could just get the hell out of there. I’m glad I didn’t cut my new rope now but at the time I really couldn’t have cared less.
The sun was setting now and we hustled to get down the chimneys, or at least the first one before we lost all light. Just before we dropped down off the glacier we were treated to a spectacular sun set. We did manage to get down the worst of it in the fading light without having to use the rope at all. Once off the chimneys, it seemed to take forever to get back to camp. At one point we were absolutely horrified to find that a snow field we had crossed on the way in was actually so thin near the edge that it had melted right through during the day! We lost the trail in the gully again but were able to find it again after Mike consulted his GPS to find our tracks.
[img:218118:aligncenter:medium:Sunset at the top of the Chimneys]
Camp to Home
We stumbled into camp like a drunken trio around midnight. It was pretty hard to get motivated to pack and there was some talk of sleeping for a couple of hours but I had to get home to my dog who had been dropped off by the dog sitter earlier in the day because I’d expected to be home before midnight. So after a quick cup of tea we stuffed all our gear very unceremoniously into our packs. It was interesting…we all got suddenly cold. And it wasn’t very cold. We piled on clothes then piled on packs and began what would turn out to be the crux of the climb.
The trail out had quadrupled in length and elevation gain/loss overnight. It was like slipping into some kind of drug induced nightmare that wouldn’t end. The wet rope in my pack seemed to weigh 100lbs and I would have passed it off to Mike or Chris if either of them seemed to be doing any better than I was. We trudged on wordlessly as the trail took on an almost tangible malevolence. When we finally reached the switchbacks we thought we were almost out but no… the pain was just beginning. Those 6 long switchbacks went on forever. I was thinking that maybe we were all being a little bit wet but upon reading a bunch of trip reports from other people, I’ve learned that this is not an uncommon experience when dealing with the last half of the Lake Ann trail.
Being totally and utterly physically and mentally wasted, it seemed like a great time to drive down a mountain highway with lots of hairpin turns. Honestly, the drive home was probably the most dangerous thing we did all weekend. Nothing short of bitch slapping myself every 5 seconds could keep me awake. Mike tried valiantly to stay awake to keep me awake but it was a losing battle. Hands down the most horrible drive of my life. Never again.
I must admit that I underestimated this climb. It’s not so much the technical obstacles as I’ve done more technical climbs than this as the sustained attention, effort and energy required. It really keeps you on your toes. It’s an absolutely fantastic route with a little bit of everything which keeps it interesting and makes the time (at least on the way up) just fly by. Fun scrambling, steep snow, ice, beautiful, formidable crevasses, views that take your breath away and enough of a physical and mental challenge to make me feel like a real climber. I’m so in love with this mountain but she made me her bitch. Next time I think I’d take either White Salmon or the Sulphide route down. I’d like to give a shout out to my slacker homies Mike and Chris for being the absolute best rope team and keeping me laughing even when it may have seemed more prudent to cry. Bacon forever. And remember that ropes are irrelevant.
60m rope, harnesses, helmets, ice axes, crampons, CR gear, 4 pickets (used them all), 4 ice screws (didn't use). Wish we'd had some rock pro but only for that ridge on the summit pyramid. The standard route doesn't require it.
Yeah it was tough for me but very rewarding. This is the distance and vertical from camp to summit: http://www.summitpost.org/images/original/218173.jpg Looks like about 5km/3miles one way (my god it felt like a lot more than that!) and about 5000ft/1500m. That's not including the hike in/out to/from camp.
Good climb, this one is a lot of fun. It seems you took the "fun" way up onto the Upper Cutis glacier. When I was there the week before we considered doing what you did, but instead we stuck to the rock rib running up onto the left. Still, the ice looked like fun but I guess not so much after your little encounter, whew!
My theory with this mountain is that the later in the season it gets, the crazier this climb becomes. Great pictures, especially the summit "cartwheel" I guess you have to take what you can get, I would hate to read an article about a woman cart wheeling her way to death on Shuksan, although that does sound funny in a funereal way!
The ice could have been fun if we'd been able to protect it and didn't have to worry about falling through it. I guess that's sort of the nature of ice at the toe end of a glacier though. I agree.. would be easier earlier in the season but probably not as interesting. :)
Good thing you waited for the Chimney Sweep to show you the way. I have always noted on this route that a start in early light is fine, it can save time and energy. It is amazing how many people take the wrong chimney, and how many places people go the wrong way low on the route. Of course this just makes it easier for the next in line to wander off line. Next time get some glissading in on lower Hells Highway. Fine report as we expect from you.