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nattybumppo

[TR] Mt. Shuksan- Sulphide Glacier 6/5/2004

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Climb: Mt. Shuksan Sufferfest-Sulphide Glacier

 

Date of Climb: 6/5/2004

 

Trip Report:

On Friday noon, four of us headed up to Mt. Shuksan to climb the Sulphide Glacier on Saturday morning. We knew that the weather was due to change at some point, but hoped that with an early start we might make the climb before it got too nasty. The approach was lovely: sunny, no particular hurry, and a great view from the ridge to Mt. Baker. An AAI group was coming down while we were heading up. We met them at the snowline at roughly 4000'. Fatefully, we didn't think to wand the trail from where the snow started.

 

We had a nice camp at the notch, Baker to the left, the Pickets to the right, a well-dug kitchen, all was good. Two older guys were camped there also. They had climbed to the pyramid that day but turned back. They were beat, so they decided to stay the extra night before heading down.

 

I woke at 3:30 a.m. to rain squalls, fog, and wind. After an hour and a half of debating whether to be Scottish hard men or to turn tail, we chose the latter. We dozed a little, figuring that shite weather at 6 was no better shite weather at 8. So at 8, we broke camp and headed down. The two old guys were still in their tent.

 

Then we discovered the errors of our ways.

 

The warm weather on Friday and the rain overnight had wiped out any trace of our tracks from the day before. No problem, we thought, the ridge is fairly narrow at the top, SURELY we can find the trail below the snowline. Just stay in the timber, keep to the ridge crest, and down we go. Well, two hours later, after criss-crossing the slope we decided to climb back UP to the basin below the notch, get our bearings, and start over.

 

Given the number of higher degrees between us, a map, a compass, and an altimeter, one might imagine that we could FIND THE F*!#KING TRAIL. The ridge isn't even that wide! But no, like good scouts, we wound up in the same spot as before. So, for those familiar with the area, we then decided to closely parallel the creek on our left to intersect the trail where the Green Trails map indicates it veers over. That didn't work. And since it cost us roughly 1000' of elevation, we decided our only recourse was to the time-honored North Cascades method, the Brutal Bushwhack.

 

For the next six hours, we hacked, shoved, stumbled, cursed, and fell through the alder, devil's club, huckleberry bushes, and across stream gullies until I literally tumbled out of a shrub and on to the trail. At one point, Amy (Officially the Toughest Mountain Woman I Know) said, "This is the worst." Of course it promptly began to rain, and those exquisite downhill alder branches are SO much better when REALLY wet. After a group hug, we followed the most beautiful trail we had ever seen back to our car. Despite the rain, the mood was exhausted euphoria.

 

Driving out, a ranger stopped us to ask whether we had seen the two older guys. We gave him our report and contact information. We were all uneasy, as they had spoken of the difficulty they had finding the way up through the trees. If they followed our tracks down... Well, this morning I've been on the phone with Whatcom County S&R, and this late afternoon with another ranger communicating directly with a helicopter in the air about our route and when we saw them and what they were wearing, did they seem experienced, etc. I've searched the news sites but find no mention, so hopefully they're out by now. Though, at 6 this evening, they weren't.

 

The bushwhack was just awful. I really thought someone would twist an ankle, break a leg, blow a knee, something. We just got lucky. I can't imagine if we had, what would be happening right now. If those two are still up there, with the weather like it is, they're probably soaked through, exhausted, and not sure where they are. I really hope they're okay. So, while it may seem a little Wednesday Night Youth Group, a little prayer might be in order for those guys. God, get them home safe.

 

That's it.

 

Gear Notes:

Should have used wands

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I had the same thing happen to me on Shuksan. In the same spot! very similar circumstances we followed little twisties in the trees thinking they would go to the trail WRONG! We did the same thing headed back to the top and started over after 6hrs of bushwacking we found the trail right where we left it. Promtly bought a GPS after that experience I never have gotten lost since. I still bring compas and map incase GPS goes down. I am a little wiser after that outing we were in white out in May,compas and map are of little use when you can't see. Sounds like that group of guys should be OK. What happend to us was line of drift pulled us to our left as we headed down. confused.gifconfused.gif

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Ha. I did the same thing in another area this weekend. I felt like a champ. We were three seperate groups and they all followed the one who'd been there most. Oh, man - classic.

 

Once, I ended up nearly spending the night the first time I went up the sulfide that way. It snowed 3ft on us. Man that fun...

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It's very tempting to get suckered too far left in the woods, and in fact can feel like you're on the ridge until suddenly it seems steeper below you than you remember... I've had this happen twice, the first time a quick compass check to see which way our slope was pointing proved we needed to traverse right. The second time I just trusted experience and traversed right. In both cases, we got to the trail on the ridge quite quickly. However, I can easily imagine turning left sooner than I did and getting WAY off course into the creek drainage...

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I heard on the radio a pair got helo'd out today, sounded like good condition, said they were lost up there.

TTT

*haven't heard a confirmation...

Edited by To_The_Top

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Identical thing happened to me last year at the same time too. The "trail" is impossible to find when the snow is there without any tracks. Picture what you did only with skis on your back and bushwhacking with rando boots. I actually am probably a bit of a freak to say this...but I actually enjoyed the bushwhack out. It felt good to dish out some pain to the alder/devil's club with the big old rando boots after having suffered on the way up (which was also a bushwhack...did not do a very good job of finding the trail that trip)

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