Sunday, August 26, 2018

Route Profile: Northwest Rib, Mt. Shuksan (5.7, III)

Mt. Shuksan is one of the most photographed mountains in the world. The peak is draped in hanging glaciers and beautiful rock buttresses. But most people stick to one of three routes, the Sulphide Glacier, the Fisher Chimneys or the North Face. But the reality is that there are several more interesting lines and variations on the peak. The Northwest Rib is one such feature.

Fisher Chimneys and Sulphide Routes on Mt. Shuksan.
(Click to Enlarge)

Fred Beckey doesn't give much information about this route. He notes the following:

This is the narrow rock spur that separates the White Salmon and Hanging Glaciers; the route crosses the 1939 ascent line. First ascent by Pat Cruver and Dave Davis in July, 1974. Use the White Salmon approach (see the Fisher Chimneys route). The original party kept mostly on the rib's crest, but many variations are possible. The climb joined the Northwest Face route at the summit pyramid and was completed by the 1939 finish. Grade III; class 5.7 (one pitch); the climb is mostly class-4, easy class 5 on firm rock.

It should be noted that the concept of "firm rock" is a bit in the eye of the beholder. There are definitely sections of this line that are very loose. That said, if you are interested in some adventure climbing and can handle some areas of looseness, the rest of the route is well-worth the time.

 The NW Rib from the bottom of White Salmon Glacier.
(Click to Enlarge)

The NW Rib essentially links the White Salmon Glacier with the Upper Curtis. The line climbs up just to the right of the Hanging Glacier. Indeed, it also provides access to the upper Hanging Glacier above the seracs, if that is a line that you're interested in.

The NW Rib from the top of the Fisher Chimneys.
(Click to Enlarge)

The route can be broken into several sections.

Section 1: Approach

The standard approach is via the Fisher Chimneys. At the top of the Chimneys and below Winnie's Slide there are a few areas to bivy. Above Winnie's Slide there are a few more. After the beginning of July, there is often running water near camp where you access the upper Curtis Glacier. Sometimes this is available earlier.

The route could be done from Lake Ann and back in a day, but that would be a very big day and would likely not include a summit. Indeed, the best way to do this line and include a summit would be to climb the Fisher Chimneys on Day 1. Climb the route and the summit on Day 2, and then descend the Fisher Chimneys and go out on Day 3. If you elect to do this as a two day adventure, it's unlikely you'll have time to summit and go out on the same day...but it is possible to complete the route, and then descend the Fisher Chimneys on a two day itinerary as the top of the route is only thirty or forty minutes away from the bivys between the Curtis Glacier and Fisher Chimneys.

Most parties require anywhere from five to eight hours to get from the car to the top of the Chimneys. It takes four to six hours to get back to the car from the top of the Chimneys.

Approximate line of ascent.
(Click to Enlarge)

Section 2: Descend the White Salmon Glacier

Drop down skier's left on the White Salmon Glacier to avoid crevasses. Traverse to the base of the route at approximately 5500-feet (this is lower than the maps seem to indicate and could have been due to a faulty altimeter.). The route starts at a prominent loose gully with a large chalkstone in it. (Approximately 1 hour to the base of the route from the bivys.)

Section 3: Transition and Ascend the Choss Gully and Heather

Transition out of glacier travel mode and into climbing mode and then make your way up. We climbed up left of the chalkstone on loose rock to heather climbing, left of a steep heather chimney.

Chimney Start - This looks somewhat intimidating from the glacier, but it is 
not as steep as it looks. It is one of the crux loose sections of the route though.
(Click to Enlarge)

Go out left, avoiding the heather chimney and then work back right to better climbing. This will be two to four pitches or simul-climbing, depending on what you do. Things will stepen at the end of the heather for the next section.

Section 4: Climbing!

Continue up a slightly loose mid-fifth class section toward a beautiful handcrack that cuts through a roof. Once below the handcrack, you have three options:
  1. Go straight up through the handcrack to the top of a tower. (5.7-5.8, appx. 100 feet from base.)
  2. Climb out left to a -- hidden around the left corner -- more consistent handcrack. (5.7, appx 100 feet from base.)
  3. Or continue up the gully to the right on third, fourth and low fifth class terrain. If you choose to do this, aim for the crest when you can to get out of the loose.
Regardless of which way you go, continue on the ridge or just left it. There will be a few hundred feet of climbing with many variations, until you are forced to traverse to the left above the bottom of the Hanging Glacier.

Section 5: Better Climbing!

You will make your traverse below a series of cool slabs. Work up these fourth and low-fifth class slabs, avoiding loose rock. You may want to place pro to keep the rope away from looseness. Your goal is to work up toward the obvious notch.

As you get closer to the notch, the climbing gets better. The notch brings you back onto the ridge. Some easy climbing will eventually get you to the base of a nice handcrack. Climb the 5.6 crack. Above the handcrack pitch, there's another nice crack, but it can be avoided on the right with easier climbing.

Section 6: The Choss Apron

As you work through good climbing, a finger will appear above you on the ridge. Aim for that. Eventually you will get out of the good climbing and find yourself on the "Choss Apron." This is really the last challenge. Work up and right on the apron. Eventually you'll find a giant cave behind a tower. Go right at that wall and work up through easy terrain to the top of the route.

Top of the Route:

You made it. Now you're looking at the Upper Curtis Glacier! Negotiate the moat and then decide if you're going to climb the rest of the mountain via the upper Fisher Chimneys Route, or via the NE Ridge of the Summit Pyramid (5.7).

Final Thoughts:

How many pitches is this? Who knows. It depends on how you do it. The route is approximately 1300-feet long. There are definitely sections where you could simul-climb. There are also definitely sections where pro is scarce and simul-climbing could be very dangerous. Additionally, there are loose area throughout the route, so maybe silmuling isn't such a good idea. You have to decide for yourself.

There are variations everywhere on this route. As such, I gave some big brushstrokes in this description. It's okay to take them for a grain of salt. 

All that said, it took my party five hours from the base to the top of the route. It took eleven hours to descend to the climb, climb the route, descend to camp and then descend back down to the car. We did not go to the summit, but we had a grand adventure on an obscure Shuksan route...

--Jason D. Martin


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