Mt. Shuksan - NW ConnectionDate:
The temps were cool and air was calm under high clouds for the ascent up the White Salmon. Sometime soon after gaining the Curtis Glacier clouds quickly blew in, a crusty old skin track enabled me to find my way through the white out. I traversed the Curtis/Hanging Glacier until the tracks disappeared - there I waited for an hour or so for the clouds to blow over. Realizing that I had better advance or retreat, I followed my compass to the northwest.
Soon a slight outline of a ridge appeared through the fog, realizing that this was the ridge between the Price Glacier and the North Face, I stood there in hopes of a view - giving the probable cornice some berth. My hopes were answered and the clouds below broke momentarily in a moving window of tiny trees four and a half thousand feet of cliffy terrain below.
Now that I knew where I was, I skied the ridge down to the North Face -- the way remained immersed in foggy cloudiness, I kept enough distance from the edge for safety, but close enough to give me some bearing. visibility of rocks and other defining features intermittently varied from about 10 to 20 feet. Reaching the entrance to the North Face, I took shelter in the interesting rock/glacier alcove, protected from the wind - waiting for brighter skies.
It became apparent that the clouds were not going to blow over. A group had skied the North Face within the last few days, and what was left of their tracks gave some contrast and texture that made it easier to differentiate the snow from air. I dropped in and found excellent snow on the steep headwall, below the headwall recent winds had scoured the slopes exposing the raincrust layer, that in good judgment-necessitated survival skiing. The clouds broke momentarily, giving much appreciated opportunity to find the entrance of the hidden couloir.
The base of the cloud deck approximately met the elevation of the couloir entrance. It's walls scenically framed the Hanging Glacier's ice cliff, the serrated upper arm, and the visible lower flanks of Mount Baker. Snow in the couloir was highly variable, windboard, breakable wind crust, and fun powder for the lower portion.
The couloir ends in a cliff that I had planned on rappelling, and had come prepared for with a 36 meter 8 mil, a 36 meter tag line, and a healthy assortment of rock, snow and ice protection - none of which proved to be necessary because there was an option to easily exit via a 15 foot ice traverse (probably skiable with more snow). The crux of the traverse was a steep shelf with very little purchase for the tools, but solid enough for the pons. The NW Couloir had changed character since Sunday, it had morphed into a variety of less than ideal-for-skiing snow forms.