Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Route Profile: Mount Shuksan, Sulphide Glacier

Mount Shuksan from the Northwest.
Photo by Coley Gentzel

If I had to pick one peak that would most completely and accurately represent alpine climbing in the Cascades, Mount Shuksan would be the one. Shuksan takes a striking form from any angle and every route on the peak can be considered a classic.

The most popular route on the peak is the Sulphide Glacier. The Fisher Chimneys and the North Face are also both popular routes that are among the best of their type in the range.

The Price Glacier route is listed in the 50 Classic Climbs book (Steck and Roper), but has fallen out of favor in recent years due to a dramatic change in the nature of the glaciers on the route. Once a classic ice face, the Price is now a jumbled mess with little aesthetic value to the climbing.

Shuksan's Price Glacier from the air.
Photo by Dunham Gooding

Mountaineering routes on Shuksan are unique in that all require a variety of skills to complete. Every route requires glacier travel, snow climbing, ice climbing and rock climbing to reach the top. All routes end at the dramatic summit pyramid, which by its easiest route requires primarily fourth class with a few 5th class moves.

The view from the summit of Shuksan is one of the best in the range. Sitting at the heart of the North Cascades, views of Mount Baker, the Pickett Range, and north to the Canadian Border peaks are completely unobstructed.

Mount Shuksan's Sulphide Glacier and summit pyramid.

The Sulphide glacier route starts at the Shannon Creek trailhead and follows an overgrown road bed for a few miles before winding through old growth forest eventually climbing into the craggy alpine forest and then finally talus fields.

Although the route is doable in one very long day for experienced and fit parties, most opt to go for a 2-3 day climb so that they might enjoy the setting on the way to and from the climb. There are great camping spots at the toe of the Sulphide glacier and at several spots along the route to the summit pyramid. The Sulphide is a gentle glacier, but not without crevasses. There have been numerous solo climber crevasse falls in the area.

An AAI team reaching the summit of Shuksan.
Photo by Alasdair Turner


The crux of the route is ascending and descending the summit pyramid which, by the standard route, involves about 500 feet of scrambling up a gully. Depending on the time of year, the gully can be nearly all snow, mixed, or completely rock. An alternate route to the summit and a good choice if the main gully is busy, is the southeast ridge of the summit pyramid which requires a bit more mid-fifth class climbing. There is some loose rock on both routes so you must choose your holds carefully!

It is said that Mount Shuksan is the most photographed mountain in the United States, and that is not hard to believe. The Mount Baker ski area provides a perfect view of and easy access to the north side of Shuksan. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see a line of tripods pointed at the peak on clear days. Whether you are looking for an easier ramble in a spectacular setting, or a challenging long rock or ice route, Shuksan has something to offer for every mountaineer.

Shuksan's Summit Pyramid above the Sulphide Glacier

AAI climb's Mount Shuksan as part of their Classic Guided Climbs in the Pacific Northwest Program on Part 1 of their Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership series and on group courses throughout the summer season.

--Coley Gentzel, Former AAI Program Coordinator and Guide

2 comments:

Myron Allen, Laramie, WY said...

My wife, a buddy, and I climbed the Sulphide Glacier - southeast ridge route in late July 2009. Coley's right: it's a fine, relatively easy route. After descending the summit pyramid via the standard route, I concluded that the southeast ridge is far preferable. Being a cautious soul, I'd want a rope and some protection on either route, and the southeast ridge has more expansive scenery with much less rockfall potential. It's possible to do it in 4 rock pitches with no moves harder than 5.4.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your assessment of the Price Glacier. I found the route to be very high quality and challenging. Certainly the finest summer alpine ice route I have done in the Cascades.