I have wanted to climb the North Face of Mt. Shuksan for a long while. Finally, on the weekend before final exams, the magic combination of good weather+good conditions+weekend+partners lined up. Study or climb Shuksan, hmm.....well, how about both? The weekend is 2 days, right?
The following page gives a detailed trip report of a blitzkrieg 14-hour climb of the North Face of Shuksan, with Dan Aylward and Chad Kellogg. What a great day!
AERIAL PHOTOS TAKEN 3 DAYS BEFORE CLIMB
On June 6 (three days before our climb), I joined pilot/aerial photographer John Scurlock to do some aerial photography of a recent landslide at the toe of the Deming Glacier on Mount Baker. Before heading back down to the ground, we did a loop around Mt. Shuksan. I took some close-up photos of the North Face route, shown below. The route looked to be in great shape, boding well for our plans to climb it a few days later.
[The North Face of Mt. Shuksan] is a serious snow-and-ice route of moderate steepness on one of the most beautiful mountains in the Cascades. No route on Mount Shuksan is more dramatic than the seldom-done North Face, which ascends the snow- and glacier-clad shoulder dividing the White Salmon cirque from the Price Glacier cirque. The North Face route offers the classic Mount Shuksan challenges: approach difficulties through a valley choked with slide alder, problems with routefinding on the complex peak, and the physical demands resulting from the sheer size of the mountain. But it is a rewarding and direct route to the summit with a satisfying feeling of openness and exposure, a sublime setting, and a view down to Price Lake, milky with glacier slit. The climbing is 40- to 50- degree snow and ice. As with all such routes, snow conditios can be a major variable. Good snow (cold and hard) makes for a pleasant and enjoyable climb, while soft snow can make for a terrifying and possibly dangerous experience. Any climb of Mount Shuksan can be considered strenuous.
Here are some route overlays on the aerial photos I'd taken 3 days before the climb. I've also included a couple of (links to) images which show route overlays for the North Face and other nearby routes on Shuksan's NW and N sides.
MAP OF OUR ROUTE
Below is a map showing our route. The route lines are generated from a GPS recorder which was logging a point every 10 seconds throughout the entire day. According to the GPS track, we traveled 13 miles and accumulated about 10,000 vertical feet of elevation gain and loss.
|Now even climbers wander around in the mountains glued to their iPhones. Since we were doing the approach in the dark, Dan had loaded an estimated route line into his phone, and we were able to use a GPS signal to figure out where we were in relation to that line. But that didn't mean we were able to avoid the notorious brush of the White Salmon Valley approach. "Siri, how do I get out of this slide alder...?"|
|Just as it was getting bright enough to turn off our headlights, we emerged from the timber and brush and reached the head of the White Salmon Valley. From here, we headed toward the 5,500 ft saddle to the left of the profile of the NF in the photo. The photo also shows a dirty avalanche track generated by snow and ice falling off the Hanging Glacier.|
|Chad and Dan traversing left across the base of the North Face. Let the fun begin!|
|Heading up the North Face. We were surprised to find the entire face lit in the morning sun (we had expected it to be in the shade due to its northern aspect), but since it was still early in the day the snow was firm, and the runnels made for great ascent lines. We progressed up unroped, and never did find ourselves in need of the rope.|
|We skirted these opening cracks on the right side.|
|Looking down the lower North Face. Softened by the rays of the early morning sun, the snow had become ideal for kick stepping.|
|Dan on the North Face. The face is somewhat steep, 40-50°. But the snow was good enough to allow a comfortable unroped ascent. In a couple of more hours it would transition from ideal to dangerous, so we were glad for the early start and encouraged to move quickly. It took us just over two hours to ascend the face from its base to the North Shoulder.|
|Here we are at the broad North Shoulder. The summit pyramid is enveloped in clouds. We wrapped around the summit pyramid on the left (east).|
|A glimpse of the Crystal Glacier as we wrapped around the east side of the summit pyramid.|
|Aesthetic terrain on the upper reaches of Shuksan.|
|Heading towards the summit pyramid.|
|Looking up the central ascent gully on the south side of the summit pyramid. This is part of the popular Sulphide Glacier route (I think we spotted 20-30 people on this route!) so there was a staircase of boot prints up the gully.|
|On the summit: Steph, Chad, Dan. It took us 8 hours from the car.|
|Billy and the edible summit register.|
|Descending the upper Sulphide Glacier. Our plan was to wrap around and descend the White Salmon Glacier back into White Salmon Valley.|
|Traversing across the head of the Upper Curtis Glacier.|
|Descending Winnies Slide toward the head of the White Salmon Glacier. The popular Fisher Chimney's route continues to the left.|
|Chad looking down the White Salmon Glacier, which was pretty much a plunge-stepping snow highway (being careful to scope for cracks of course). Chad and Dan were probably bemoaning the fact they had done this climb with a non-skier such as myself. We had brought snowshoes and used them on the White Salmon Valley deapproach a bit, but we could have easily done the approach/deapproach without them. Skis, though, could have taken our 14 hour rt time down to 10 hours.|
|For the way back to the car, we decided to try heading up some snow ramps and traversing high on snowfields before making the final descent to the White Salmon Lodge. This ended up being a great way to avoid brush and we were back at the car in a couple of hours from the head of the White Salmon Valley. This is a great early season alternative to the valley schwack when there is enough snow on the slopes.|
|Back at the car, just under 14 hours since we started! We were pretty tired by now, having all been awake for nearly 40 hours. The most dangerous part of the whole trip was definitely the drive home. You know it's been a great climb when the drivers are on 30-minute-drive-30-minute-nap rotations all the way home.|