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[TR] Kulshan - North Ridge 06/07/2018

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Trip: Kulshan - North Ridge

Trip Date: 06/07/2018

Trip Report:

Ever since I moved to Seattle three years ago it's been a dream of mine to climb the North Ridge of Kulshan. Last year I climbed the Coleman-Deming route and stared longingly at the north ridge on the way up. Finally this year I felt ready - physically, technically and mentally. Unfortunately all my usual partners have either already climbed it and were not interested in going back, or did not have the requisite skills, so I turned to cascade climbers to search for a partner. After some back and forth with a few people I was able to make plans with Casey - we were going to attempt the north ridge on Thursday and Friday June 7th and 8th. However the weather didn't cooperate with our plans - the forecast called for snow/rain starting on Thursday night. We decided that we would just attempt it car-to-car on Thursday instead.

As the day approached I started having more and more anxiety. I had yet to even meet Casey much less climb with him. I considered calling it off or changing our plans but instead suggested we meet up to discuss the climb. We met up in Seattle on Tuesday and discussed our goals, abilities, gear and strategy for the climb. With my anxiety [mostly] allayed we decided to leave Wednesday night, sleep at the trailhead and start heading up around 3am. I estimated that it would take us around 15 hours car-to-car, giving us 5 hours to approach the north ridge, 5 to climb it and 5 to descend. Casey more or less agreed estimating that we would take between 12 and 16 hours.

I picked up Casey after work on Wednesday and started driving north around 6pm. Somehow we managed to not hit any traffic and got to the trailhead around 8:45pm giving us plenty of time to eat dinner and get to sleep at a reasonable hour with a 2:30am wake up time.

After a quick breakfast we were on our way. While signing the register we noticed that there was at least one other party heading up the north ridge. After about 2 hours and a little bit of faffing (I had forgotten my avy beacon in the car and ran back to get it, fortunately that was after only 5-10 minutes of hiking) we got to the hogsback where we stopped to take some pictures of the mountain and get roped up for glacier travel.


Casey took the lead and we followed the bootpack across the Coleman glacier. The glacier was pretty mellow and there were minimal route finding issues so we pretty quickly found ourselves at the north ridge. We saw a party of two heading up the shortcut but it looked pretty steep to us and I don't think either of us were quite ready/awake enough for that level of commitment. We decided to continue around to the toe of the ridge and take the easier way up. Here I took the lead up the first steep section which consisted of soft but consolidated snow. It was pretty phsyical work as it was a bit too soft for easy front pointing and required a couple of kicks per step to get a solid stance. Maybe halfway up the toe we swapped leads so I could get a break. Eventually the angle eased off and we found ourselves on a relatively flat slope. Looking up we couldn't see any crevasses and decided it would be a good time to unrope.


From here it was mostly just a slog until the ice cliff appeared in our sights. We could see two parties of two at the base of the ice cliff - one on the left side variation and the other on the right. Access to the ice cliff was guarded by a couple of long crevasses that ended just before the right side variation. We discussed which variation we wanted to do - the right looked a bit easier and quicker to approach, but the left promised more ice. We decided we would get closer and make our final decision when we could get a better look. In the mean time we headed towards the right side variation as that provided the only path around the crevasses. As we got closer the angle gradual steepened. Casey ended up climbing up some crumbly rock while I ended up a bit to his left on some steep snow. We were both starting to get sketched out as the angle kept getting steeper with no respite in sight. Eventually I made it to the base of the right side variation where I was able to put in an ice screw and get the rope out. I tied in and tossed down the other end to Casey. The mountain had made a decision for us and that was to climb the right side variation.


After racking up I took the first lead. The right variation started with some thin ice climbing which quickly turned into traversing on crumbly rock with poor to non-existent tool placements. Fortunately the protection was good and I was able to get in three screws in the seracs we were climbing beneath. After the traverse was another short section of ice ending in a flat, sunny belay stance.


Casey took the following lead which was mostly steep neve with a little bit of ice. I think he managed to place one screw and one picket in a full 60m pitch, building the final anchor using two pickets. When I got to the belay we discussed how we wanted to proceed. I was feeling pretty tired and didn't want to switch to soloing just yet so we settled on simul-climbing the next portion. We left one picket at the belay and I took the lead. I placed two pickets and one very marginal screw before reaching the avalanche crown mentioned in a previous trip report. I found some steps cut into the crown and continued up a bit before building an anchor out of the remaining picket and my ice axe. At this point it became clear that we did not have the time to continue protecting the route so we switched to soloing. Casey took the lead, navigating the remaining crevasses and seracs until we reached the summit plateau.


Casey had never summited Kulshan before so we traversed the plateau to the true summit where we spent all of ten seconds enjoying the top. It was 3:30pm, we had spent over 12 hours ascending the north ridge and we were exhausted.


This is when we made our biggest mistake of the day. Casey started heading down and asked me where to go, as I was familiar with the descent route. I said "head across the plateau and go left." We followed the bootpack that trended left and began our descent. As we were descending I remember thinking to myself "the route sure is different this year, there must be more snow." After maybe 1500 feet of descent I looked over to Sherman peak and thought to myself "Wow, Colfax looks really different...". I took out my phone and looked at the map. "Casey - we royally fucked up. We are descending the wrong side of the mountain! We have three options - we can climb back up, we can descend and try to hitch a ride or we can try to traverse the Deming glacier to the col between Colfax and Grant peak." We decided to traverse. Fortunately we were able to more or less follow the 9200ft contour line across the Deming glacier, neither gaining nor losing much altitude, and arrive at a notch in the ridge between the Coleman and the Deming glaciers.

From here it was a pretty standard descent. We made our way down to the hogsback where we unroped, refilled our water and packed our bags. We made it back to the car a little before 9:30pm, for a total time of around 18 hours and 10 minutes. We had underestimated the route, but survived.

Gear Notes:
7 screws, 4 pickets

Approach Notes:
Standard approach from the heliotrope ridge TH.
  • Snaffled 2

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That was @pugetgold and myself climbing the "right" variation ahead of you.  The steps in the avy crown might be the ones I cut.  If you followed a boot track going to the right just below the summit cap, that was probably us.  What a fun route!

Here's a photo of the crumbly rock section:

Glad that you made it out OK.  As we descended the Coleman glacier we saw a couple parties still on the route and we worried about them.


Edited by sugiyama_ss

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Nice photo! I'm a bit bummed we did the right variation as overall the quality was lacking, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

When we were on the ice cliff we saw some people who looked like they were heading to the start of the north ridge. I was pretty surprised as that would be a very late start! We never saw them on the route however.

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