Drive Highway 20 east from Interstate-5 to milepost 82. Turn left on the Baker Lake Road and drive north for 24 miles to Forest Service Road 1152. Take a left here and continue for 3 miles to the 014 bypass (the only way you can go now on the road because the FS has placed boulders to prevent you from continuing on the 1152) and drive for another 1.4 miles to the Shannon Ridge TH. The trail follows an old logging road for the first 1.8 miles and then begins to steeply climb a brushy trail for the next 1.7 miles up to Shannon Ridge proper. You'll be hiking up and over numerous downed trees along the way and snow persists on Shannon Ridge and the upper stretches of the trail late into summer. From Shannon Ridge, you'll cross into the North Cascades National Park boundary. From this point on, a backcountry permit is required to stay overnight and can be picked up from either the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount or the National Park & Forest Headquarters in Sedro-Woolley.
The trail climbs up to a small col commonly called "The Notch" at 5,500 feet and then makes a long final traverse along the ridge to a good and popular camping site at 6,200 feet (lower bivy site). You can push a little further to the upper bivy site at 6,400 feet, although snow persists for much longer at the higher elevation. On July 19th, 2013 there were numerous snow-free tent sites and running water at the lower bivy site, but none at the upper. Both camping areas have mountain toilets available when melted out, otherwise blue bags are required for human waste. Pack it in, pack it out!
Heading to the lower bivy site on July 19th
My climbing partner and I arrived at the Shannon Ridge TH at about 1 pm and were on the trail shortly after. This was my first time climbing Shuksan and first time on the Shannon Ridge trail itself and man, hiking the old logging road while climbing up and over large downed trees killed my quads and glutes! By the time we reached Shannon Ridge, I was having some muscle cramping issues with just about every step I took, so we stopped for a half-hour or so while I used snowballs to do a quick ice massage of my quadriceps, down some electrolyte gels, and hoped it would tie me over until we reached camp later that night. Pushing up to The Notch felt great, but I was getting a little nervous for summit day the next morning when my quads started cramping again on the final traverse to the lower bivy site, but it wasn't going to stop me now.
Every single snow-free tent site was already taken we arrived, so we were forced to drop down about 100' below the privy and dig a flat-ish ten pad from the snow. I didn't want to carry a full single-person tent up the climb, which was probably a good idea in hindsight considering my cramping issues, so the bivy sack is mine. With my sleeping bag and a brand new Thermarest Z-lite pad I wasn't ever cold at night. After downing a hearty serving of Mountain House freeze dried pad thai, a hot cup of Tang (guilty pleasure of mine for cold nights in the backcountry), and taking some pictures we headed to bed.
Crevasses on the lower Sulphide Glacier
Summit pyramid in the background
We decided not to do an alpine start for the climb, so after a beautiful morning with a low marine layer over all the valleys, we started climbing around 7 am. We decided to rope up straight from camp but held off on the crampons until the steep wall around 6,400 feet. It was warm enough that I could have climbed in shorts and a t-shirt until we reached the intersection of Hell's Highway with the common Sulphide route where the hinds were howling up through the gully. We stopped here for a snack break prior to heading up toward the summit pyramid. The view of Lake Ann partially frozen over was phenomenal! The route so far here was completely free of crevasses if you stayed toward the recommended climbers left on the glacier. From the intersection with Hell's Highway up to the summit pyramid there were a couple small crevasses along the route, but they were very easy to navigate around and we only had to walk 10 feet or so out of our way. From the stop near Hell's Highway we had a fantastic view of Mt. Baker as well, which I loved because Mt. Baker was my first glaciated climb ever!
View of Mt. Baker
There is a small rock outcrop to climbers right about 100 feet in elevation below the start of the pyramid where there were a couple tent pads that had been created. We took one final break here, dropped off some gear and hiking poles that we wouldn't need and headed up the pyramid!
Some climbers on the Southeast Rib
Rock in the central gully scramble
Climbing on the Sulphide
Sorry these pictures are little out of order...
We started in the central gully route but after a rope's length of scrambling a big guided group began rappelling down (VERY slowly) right along our route, so we decided to traverse over toward the Southeast Rib route. Unfortunately, as soon as we made it to the ridge we ran into a major traffic jam with another guided group at 8,800 feet. We sat on the ridge for about a half-hour and the group hadn't moved an inch. There were a number of other parties who had started the climb on the ridge below us and were rapidly approaching. After another 10 minutes or so and the traffic jam not improving, we decided to call it a day and head back toward camp. We down-climbed the couple pitches back to the glacier, took a short nap where we had left our gear (after putting on lots of sunscreen!), and descended back to camp.
Sulphide Glacier from the central gully
Pretty good spot for a nap on the glacier!
Both pictures here show the Sulphide Glacier and the route as seen from approx. 8,800 feet. In the picture on the right you can see the couple small crevasses that are across the route but are very easy to walk around.
We arrived back to camp around 3:30 pm and spent the remainder of the day reading a new book and taking in the scenery. My boots have lost all water-proofing capability so I immediately stripped them off and tried to get my socks and boots to dry in the intense glacier sun. It felt pretty good to be hanging out on some rock, barefoot, enjoying yet another hot cup of Tang and my gourmet meal of freeze dried Jamaican Jerk Rice & Chicken. Absolutely delicious, minus having over 1,500 mg of sodium! One more night on the glacier and then it was back to the car. Even though I was tired, I woke up in the middle of the night and peeked out of my bivy sack to completely clear skies and a near full moon that was so bright it was almost as if the sun was rising (even though this was 2 am!). I couldn't help but stay awake for at least 30 minutes to try and take in the beautiful night-time views and moon-lit glows of glaciers and the jagged peaks of the southern Pickets at night.
Even though we didn't summit, I had a blast for my first time on Mt. Shuksan and you can bet I'll be back next year to bag that peak!
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