This was my fourth attempt on Mt. Shuksan (my wife’s 3rd), and my 2nd try via the Sulphide, so I thought I’d try something different. I’d heard that this was a good car-to-car route so I figured we’d give it a shot.
We left the car at 1 a.m. It took us 15 minutes to reach the trailhead, the road had melted out quite a bit between there and the car. The old logging road/trail was considerably snow free for the first ¾ mile but then snow became constant. The trail was faint through the woods but really obvious once on Shannon ridge. We hit the col before daylight and spotted only one tent. We cramponed up here for the traverse below the slabs, the snow to that point had been mostly firm and was getting more so. The traverse to the glacier was uneventful and we packed up our headlamps at about 4 a.m. when we reached 6400’. We ascended the west side of the Sulphide and had perfect cramponing conditions, as well as excellent views of Mt. Baker. We didn’t see one open slot all the way to the base of the pyramid, which we reached at 6:30. After a break we traversed up below the S ridge of the pyramid and then climbed out into the central gully leading up the face.
Although the face had seemed intimidating from a distance, from the based it seemed less so. All that changed when we were about 150’ up. The snow was extremely hard and mixed with quite a bit of firn. We ended up frontpointing a lot of it and we would not have refused a second tool, or a belay. Without either, we hit the summit at 7:15 with excellent views and just a slight wind.
There had been some high overcast most of the morning and that had kept the snow firm for our ascent as well as our descent. Once we descended the pyramid, again a lot of front pointing, the overcast was lifting and the snow was softening. By 9 a.m. I was sinking up to my calves and was glad to be moving off the glacier. We passed only two other parties of two going up the glacier. The snow on the ridge had gotten really soft and once in the woods we stopped for breakfast. As we packed up, a party of 2 passed us going up and mentioned the hoard coming up from below. We passed 43 people coming up (YES, FORTY THREE) including 2 parties of Mountaineers totaling 23 (helmets on and axes in hand for the treacherous ascent through the forest!), a party of 10 Boealps, and 10 other assorted climbers. Having answered 20 questions about the route (and ignored another 40) we found the trail through the woods had been wanded, lest we miss the 43 bootprints in the snow.
We hit the car at 12:20 and were super glad to not have been on the mountain with the hoards that night and even more glad not to have had to witness the craziness that was sure to take place on the pyramid Sun. morning.
This turned out to be an excellent car-to-car climb and I even tried to buy the skis off of one of the climbers we met on the glacier. I would not have gotten on the pyramid with more than a couple of other climbers on it, even then only if I knew their skills. This is not the place to have to deal with crowds or beginners. Having had the summit to ourselves, we didn’t have to deal with either.