Friday, June 27, 2014

Slaying Mt. Shuksan

Last week, father and son duo, Dave and Nick venture north from their home state of Florida to Washington to climb Mt. Shuksan.  Mt. Shuksan is a glaciated massif in the North Cascades National Park, just 11 miles south of the canadian border.  It offers a wide variety of routes ranging from moderate glacial travel to extremely technical lines.  The majority of routes end at the base of the summit pyramid.  From the base of the pyramid at 8,600 ft, it is roughly 600 ft to summit.  And what a summit it is!  Shuksan's summit is not a massive crater or plateau like many other of the northwest peaks.  It is a small, summit that only several people at a time can squeeze on to.

Our route ascends the Sulphide Glacier (pictured) via mellow rollers before reaching the summit pyramid.  The final 600 feet ascends the steep snow chute in the middle of the pyramid.  It involves steep snow climbing and a little rock scrambling.  

Dave has spent many days and night on glaciers before.  However this was Nick's first time on a glacier.  Nick is a fit 20-year-old life guard from Florida, who had no problem adapting to the new terrain.

Day 1: We began at the AAI world headquarters in Bellingham, WA.  The gear check was short and sweet given Dave's experience in the mountains prior.  After the gear check we purchased our last coffees and the drive began.  It is roughly 78-miles to the Shuksan Trailhead and it takes about 1 hour 45 minutes.

The hike up to camp was mellow.  We took our time, taking breaks roughly once per hour.  Planning ahead for poor weather, we opted to do our snow school training on the way to camp, as opposed to on day 2.  We also chose to camp at the higher camp at 6,500 ft in order to shorten our summit day.  This proved to be a great camp complete with amazing views and running water.

Day 2:  Typically Day 2 is our snow school and crevasse training day.  However, due to weather, we rearranged the schedule slightly.

We woke early at 3:00 to clear skys and colder temps.  Exactly what we needed for a successful summit!  We made coffee (critical) and breakfast and left camp at around 4:45.  It is roughly 2,000 ft of mellow glacier walking to the base of the pyramid.  We took two breaks along the way for water and food before reaching the base of the pyramid.

We were above the clouds with only Mt. Baker and Shuksan visible.  Light winds kept the temps cool and perfect for kicking steps and ascending the final 600-feet to the top.  There are really no good resting points in the 600 feet of final climbing, so we went slow, took our time, and reached the top with no real food or water breaks.

After snapping a few pictures up top with Mt. Baker in the background (pictured below) We began the descent back to the Sulphide Glacier.  Dave and Nick got to enjoy several lowers down the steep snow utilizing ropes, before the terrain mellowed enough to just walk.  At the base of the pyramid we took a much needed food and water break prior to heading back to camp.

Nick (left) and Dave happy to be above the clouds.  Mt. Baker behind them.

Headed back into the clouds and down to camp after our summit.

Day 3:  We had made the right choice!  Rain pattering on our tents woke us on day three.  A summit would not have been possible.  We again made coffee (critical) and had breakfast.  The drizzle broke just long to pack tents and head back to the car.  After 2.5 hours, we were back in flip flops and on dirt.

An awesome trip!

The walk back to camp with the summit pyramid on the left.

The view from camp looking deep into the North Cascades. Mt. Baker is out there somewhere...

Climbing is awesome.  Cookies are awesome.  HUGE cookies after climbing an amazing mountain are down right incredible!  Dave is PYCHED

All in all, it was a great trip. Dave got an other peak and Nick experienced his first mountain climb on a glacier!  

-Josh Kling - AAI Guest Guide

No comments: