Climb: Mount Shuksan-Sulphide Glacier
Date of Climb: 6/4/2005
Two weeks after completing the Boealps basic course, I found myself committing to Shuksan-in-a-day with a couple of my more experienced friends, Robert (fenderfour) and Sarah (lylabob). I was a little apprehensive about my fitness level, and had visions of being the reason we had to turn around before the summit, but they told me I could do it and I was eager to try my “skills” on something tough.
We set out from the Shannon Creek trailhead at 5:30 AM. The weather was cool and overcast. The sign at the trailhead included a warning that the trail had not yet received maintenance this year. Robert remarked "Funny, I think that's what it said last year too." The trail wasn't too bad, a little shrubby and uneven at the beginning.
After the first half hour I was dying. We came to a short rest and found out that we had ascended 1000 feet in that time. We reviewed our personal goals:
Robert: To beat the Beckey time to summit
Sarah: To be capable of walking in the coming week
Eric: To not have my heart explode
It seemed like we might have slowed down a little bit after that.
Around 5000 feet we broke out of the trees and onto the ridge, and into unexpected sunlight. There was Mount Baker wreathed in clouds, it was the best view I had gotten yet this year (all my previous climbs were in crappy weather). All around us were clouds, but where we were was open blue sky (which would turn out to hold for most of the day) I snapped a few pictures and we continued up to the notch that would take us to the glacier, hitting snow around 5000 feet.
Kicking up to the notch, we found the snow to be somewhat icy, so once in the saddle we strapped on our crampons. It turned out to be ill-advised, as the snow on the east side had already been softened up by the sun, so we took them off before too long. We proceeded up to the campsite at 6500 feet and found a bit of a mystery there, there were tons of fresh tracks and signs that someone had camped there within the last day or two, but no trail actually leading up the glacier. We also saw a trail leading out to the southeast for a few hundred feet, then doubling back, and a big X stomped in the snow across it. We didn’t come up with a likely scenario to explain it.
We roped up and began the glacier slog with Sarah leading. With the full sun beating down on us, and no wind to speak of, it was rough going. The snow was pretty hard, I could walk on top of it most steps without actually breaking the crust but every fourth or fifth I’d sink in 4-5 inches. The glacier itself was in good shape, we saw one crevasse and signs of a couple more, all down close to the camp.
We made it to the base of the summit pyramid around 11:30, feeling pretty wiped out, about 6 hours after we started. We dropped our packs, ate some food, drank some water, and took a nap. The nap was critical, I higly recommend it. After about 45 minutes we all felt much better and ready to tackle the pyramid. There was a bit of debate on how to go up- we didn’t think the route suggested by Beckey looked so great, due to some sketchy-looking hanging glacier type stuff on the west edge. Sarah thought the rock edge on the southeast side looked appealing, and Robert preferred the idea of just kicking up the snow to the gulley in the middle of the south face.
Since I started leading and couldn’t make up my mind, we ended up taking a hybrid approach (aka “the hard way”) of alternating between rock and snow the whole way up. The snow itself was medium crappy, four or five inches of soft snow followed by a hard icy layer that was difficult to kick through.
We reached the summit 9:15 after we left the trailhead, including nap, so Robert got his wish (Beckey states 10-11 hours). The weather was great, bright and clear, though the wind had begun to pick up. Getting down proved to be much more annoying than getting up, as the icy layer made kicking steps difficult. Robert had brought his crampons and they proved very helpful, as he kicked some bomber steps most of the way down for us.
The descent was predictable and without drama. Clouds rolled in as we reached our packs, and Robert got to test out his new GPS in medium whiteout. We didn’t bother to rope up for the glacier, figuring that we had seen the terrain and we’d be fine if we stayed on our tracks.
We encountered a group of Mountaineers and a couple of other climbers back at the camp, and shared our beta with them. Then back through the notch, onto solid ground, and back out to the trailhead. We reached the car 15 hours after leaving and headed home.
- Apply sunscreen early and often
- Naps rule
- Bringing one set of crampons “just in case” is a good idea
- GPS is good
- At the trailhead, even Budweiser tastes good
- Chugging a liter of diet coke in the car = roll windows down
Ice axe, crampons (very useful on the pyramid)
Road clear to trailhead. Trail clear of snow to near the notch in west Shuksan ridge at 5000 feet. Glacier relatively crevasse-free.