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Gary_Yngve

[TR] Mt. Shuksan- North Face 5/29/2005

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Climb: Mt. Shuksan-North Face

 

Date of Climb: 5/29/2005

 

Trip Report:

AaronZ, JoshL, and I climbed the NF of Shuksan this past weekend. We got an "early" start on Saturday, leaving Seattle at 6:30 AM, planning to lounge around all afternoon and beat the heat on the approach. We did lounge around all afternoon, but it was sweltering, even at 10 AM!

 

For the approach, we went straight downhill through the old-growth just before the clearcut. It wasn't bad at all, and we found a convenient spot to ford the creek barefoot. There was a little bit of brush on the other side until we got a little ways above the creek. Then more steep timber led us up the ridge, opening into a few patches of huckleberry before cresting. The ridge walk to the base of the North Face was pleasant, with bluebird skies overhead, and thunderheads building to the east. We set up camp on a small outcrop that was snow-free; there was a boulder about fifty feet downhill where a gushing stream flowed. The mountain rumbled in the late efternoon and evening, and we went to bed hoping the snow would harden overnight.

 

By 4AM, we had packed up camp and tied in. Though we weren't postholing as bad as the evening before, the top few inches of snow were still soft. C'est la vie. Aaron led westward, traversing under a series of waterfalls, and then climbed partway up the lower face before passing off the lead to me. He had done a lot of work breaking trail, and we hoped for harder snow higher.

 

I took over the lead, and soon I encountered neve and even glacial ice (it may have been possible to avoid it by swinging left, but straight up was faster and more fun!). The ice was quite refreshing, with sweet sticks and bomber screws. Up higher, I crossed a crevasse on a not-too-inspiring snow bridge and then broke more trail to the exit gully and a shoulder at the bottom of the upper face.

 

We took a short break, enjoying the amazing views -- the exposure down to Price Lake, and the early-morning light. After refueling ourselves, we talked about how everyone was feeling, and everyone accepted my offer to continue breaking trail. I went pretty much straight up, aiming for a bergshrund between rock on the left and right. Even though we were higher on the face, I found it tiring to break trail through the soft snow. The bergshrund had only partially opened, and a short section of steep snow soon mellowed back to the average 40-degree slop of the face. We slogged several hundred feet higher to the bottom of the Hanging Glacier before we found a convenient spot to rest and re-rack. I was happy to rest, exhausted from breaking trail for the full upper face in a continuous push.

 

Aaron took over breaking trail, and we were soon at the 8400' col. The views to the SE were amazing; an inversion had filled the valleys with clouds. Transitioning from the north side to the south, we became aware of how hot it was, with no wind to mitigate the heat. Aaron traversed high across the Crystal, crossing numerous wet-slide paths, and we were soon at the base of the summit pyramid. We dropped our packs and refueled, while watching a party of 4 on the bottom part of the south face.

 

A party of Mazamas provided quite the comic relief. They were inching up the slope, and then they stopped. The leader complained, "These pickets are just psychological!" "I think we should bail!" "I don't want to disappoint you guys with missing the summit, but my feet are standing on nothing right now!" And they just stood there even longer. Some folks lower down on the rope started downclimbing, and the leader may have muttered something about wanting to rap.

 

We didn't want to be anywhere near them, so we opted for the SE ridge, along with another party of 3 who just barely beat us to it. They moved quickly, though we were often sharing belays. I think the SE ridge is a little sandbagged at 4th class; though much of the route was at a moderate angle, there were several 15-foot-high vertical steps that felt nontrivial given boots, axe/crampons dangling from harness, and friability of the rock. Given the low angle of the ridge, we downclimbed it, with Aaron doing a marvelous job of placing pro for me. Throughout the entire time we had been on the ridge, there were regular sluffs down the central gully, as well as the occasional rockfall.

 

About 2/3 the way down the ridge, we rapped to the snow and plunged back to our packs. As we were rappeling, we chatted with some folks heading up the south face to the summit; the Mazamas were long gone. The folks had climbed Fisher Chimneys, and we looked forward to following their tracks. During the time we were at the summit pyramid, almost as long as it took us to North Face, we counted over twenty people, and only our two parties went up something other than the Sulphide Route.

 

Following their tracks down the Sulphide, Upper Curtis, and White Salmon was straight-forward. Hells Highway and Winnie's Slide were completely unbroken, and plunge-stepping down them was quite enjoyable -- until we realized we'd have to gain the elevation back on the Upper Curtis. We made good time down to the Fisher Chimneys entrance, and we started down the gully with a little trepidation -- Nelson warns that one should not attempt going down it without having gone up it first. We read the terrain and looked for signs of traffic; our routefinding was right on until a traverse above a sheer drop.

 

The path thinned, and broken slopy ledges led down to flatter spots that looked like they may continue onward. We scouted around there, freaking ourselves out a little from climbing amidst the exposure, before we came to our senses. There must be an easier way. We finally found a higher traverse that led to a steep heather slope with much less pucker factor. We followed trail, mostly snow-free, the rest of the way, passing several waterfalls. We gratefully refilled our near-empty water bottles and marched onward. We were soon contouring the snow slopes toward Lake Ann.

 

The march back to civilization was quite grueling. We were pretty wrecked, and we knew we had to gain a thousand vert as well. We ate the last of our food and trudged up the snow, which had now been enveloped in a whiteout. We were glad to be following tracks. When we reached the pass above Lake Ann, we lost the tracks, so we pulled out the map and compass. Just then, the folks who had climbed Fisher Chimneys walked up; they had come through here twelve hours earlier. We hiked out with them, creek-hopping through the valley, switchbacking uphill to Austin Pass, and finally stumbling down the gated road.

 

They graciously offered to shuttle one of us to our car. We remembered to sign out at the ranger station, and we took turns driving back and keeping each other awake, sometimes the most dangerous part of a climbing trip. The North Face was a grand place to be, and it was rare pleasure to traverse so many glaciers. We could have done without the subalpine approach/deproach and the cluster on the summit pyramid, but overall, it was a great trip and one of the coolest places I've been.

 

I'll post some pics later.

 

Gear Notes:

four pickets, two screws; small rock rack for summit pyramid

 

Approach Notes:

We parked at a pullout just before the gate to the lower lodge, and the DOT(?) had drawn orange Xs on our front and rear windows?

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Nelson warns that one should not attempt going down it without having gone up it first. We read the terrain and looked for signs of traffic; our routefinding was right on until a traverse above a sheer drop.

I got confused descending Fisher Chimneys even after ascending them earlier on the same day. On the ascent we neglected to notice a small wand marking the place to turn left toward Winnie's Slide, instead taking a fairly steep chimney (the left of two) to its top. When I looked back down the steeper chimney on descent, I thought to myself "There is no way we came up this thing"-- which was true, though the less steep chimney was not much better, basically 4th class without sustained exposure but lots of chances for mishap. We only figured out the easier way after the fact.

I've got to get to the N face one of these days! tongue.gif

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Nelson warns that one should not attempt going down it without having gone up it first. We read the terrain and looked for signs of traffic; our routefinding was right on until a traverse above a sheer drop.

I remember that traverse! I solo'd FC a few years ago, and misnavigated the descent, and came to that traverse. In my leather boots, tired and strung out, I remember thinking "Okay, here's where I die. I wonder when they'll find my body."

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Gary,

congrats on your north face summit and safe descent down fishers.

the south gully that day was 6-12" of wet slush on slippery shuksan granite. It was unprotectable. The runout was down into several large rock outcrops. The south gully is a 40 to 50 degree slope. Now maybe this sounds safe to you but it doesn't sound safe to me. Turning around was the right thing to do if you want to be an old climber. And that's my goal. I wish you good luck in your climbing and be safe. thumbs_up.gif

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We went up and down the SE Ridge instead of the South Gully.

 

Re: the Mazamas party on the South Gully:

 

They were roped up. Why be roped up with no pro?

 

I remember over the course of 15 minutes their ropeteam didn't move at all. Go up or go down. Standing there doing nothing just increases your chance of getting beamed by rocks and not becoming an old climber.

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you're right !

and if I'd written "wet slippery greenschist(which is what shuksan is made of)- a metamorphic igneous rock largely composed of chlorites instead of quartz (which is how it differs from granite)" would you have had a clue what that was? Just trying to keep it simple for you folks.

That rock is slippery when wet - and that was the point.

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You could have used "rock" instead of "granite", and saved yourself three whole letters, AND BEEN ACCURATE TOO! the_finger.gif

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you know the purpose of this message board is to exchange information not insults.

but since you started this flaming string not me let me say that the reports of the south gully we'd gotten the day before was that the south gully was well covered in snow and protectable so we made the decision to leave the rock pro in the car and take the snow pro. However when we got onto the gully it was quickly apparent that was not the case. Either the reports were wrong or there was a huge melt out over the previous 24 hrs. The plan had been to do a running belay but when it became apparent that there was going to be no possibility to set snow anchors so we turned around. So yes that is why we were roped with "no pro". And that is why we turned around. However I'm sure that since you are such a bold climber with so many years of climbing experience and with your vast grad student body of knowledge of all wordly endeavors that you have the wisdom to post your foolish criticism here. Were you on the south gully that day? No, you weren't. And good thing you weren't because the conditions turned out to be terrible. But obviously we didn't know that until we were on it and then wisely got off. And yes there is risk taking the time to plan a safe descent. And yes that exposes one to the risk of rock fall. And yes we decided that was much smarter then rushing down and risking a fall onto the rocks below. It's a judgement call and you were not on the gully.

By the way, that was brilliant planning descending fishers not having ascended by that route and of course misjudging your food and water as you did was brilliant also. Your trip report would have been just fine without the ill informed rude inconsiderate comments you made about another party. One day when you're doing one of your bold climbs you or a member of your party might fall or get injured in some other way. I certainly hope that never happens - however remember that we are all part of the climbing brotherhood/sisterhood and one day it might be a party of mazamas or mountaineers that rescues you (or maybe someday you'd be the one to rescue us). I hope you will post your future trip reports without criticizing others because it doesn't enhance your reports - it only needlessly antagonizes other climbers.

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I'm not criticizing the turn-around choice at all -- I think you made the right choice. From the third-person point-of-view, the conversation happening above us was hilarious. That dialogue was what I was writing about. Sorry if it offended you. Face it, if you want to be a member of a large teaching-beginners organization, you will be a source of comedy to bystanders.

 

My only suggestions would be: make a decision, do something, not just stand there, and don't climb up what you can't go down. Maybe time was frozen for whomever was leading about a third the way up the pyramid. But for us down below, waiting seemed like an eternity. I'd eat half of a sandwich, look up, no one moved. Eat more food, look up, maybe moved five feet. Adjust clothing, take a pee, yall still haven't moved much.

 

Here's a pic of you guys:

 

zIMG_0651.jpg

 

btw - there were four older folks (40s?) who did Fisher Chimneys in a day and ascended/descended the South Face without incident about an hour or two after you guys bailed.

 

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Gary, thank you for the apology. I appreciate that. thumbs_up.gif

And here's an account of that day written by a friend of mine that I've posted for him:

Gary:

I happened to be part of the "Comic Relief" you referred to on your Shuksan climb account in Cascade Climbers. Interesting story, we arrived at the Pyramid a few minutes ahead of two young women who we let pass. My buddy was bringing up the rear when a party of three, unroped, passed us as we were retreating and started up the central gulley. This must have been the group that came up Fisher Chimneys because your account, and Aaron's, is of the SE Ridge. Yes we bailed because we couldn't set a second picket properly which our leader referred to as "psych pro" as in psychological pro. This was a good decision. We didn't have any rock pro and no one wanted to free climb the SE ridge, like a few of the skiers we saw do. After our retreat, as we stood next to the climbing rangers, we watched the women descend the central gulley. As they inched downward, using only ice axes in self arrest, they set loose a large rock nearby the group of three that were ascending. We heard some very strong words. Poor women, they must have been at the top of the gulley for a half an hour before they started down again. Then we headed back to our base camp, turning every now and then, watching in agonizing length as these women, followed by the party of three, down climbed for the next 2 + hours. No, as it turned out, we weren't an accident waiting to happen. The accidents waiting to happen were the two parties that down climbed the gulley without protection.

 

I'm surprised by your comment that you felt that you didn't want to be anywhere near us. Despite our apparent ineptitude, we really posed no problem to anyone and did have the right of way to be where we were. I have been on many club climbs and have never felt unsafe. On the contrary, due to our litigious environment, if the club errs, it's on the side of safety.

 

I've climbed and taken classes from some very capable people in the club, including two that summited Ama Dablam last year. I have the utmost respect for the time and effort the leaders in this organization put into climbing safety and education. The Club takes very seriously reports of close calls and staffs two separate safety related committees.

Regards

J.

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Thanks Rime_Ice, sounds like we're all cool. I'm sorry that we branded you as "we didn't want to be around you." That was our interpretation at the time of what we saw above us, and I should be more considerate in the future about stating our impressions in a public forum. I think we equated slow with dangerous, and sometimes slow is safe and fast is dangerous. Words on the Internet certainly get blown out of proportion. I'm actually a member of the Mountaineers, though lately I've been doing most of my climbing privately.

 

Anyway, just to clarify a few things regarding our choices:

 

When we found the running water, we were happy because it meant we didn't have to melt snow with our stove.

 

When we ate the last of our food by Lake Ann, it was all of us eating the last of my food. Going for that last burst of energy to get us out. I think my partners would have, in hindsight, carried more food. I think I was right on. Though on a trip a few days ago I underestimated the amount of food I should carry. Always hard to figure out the right amount of food so you have a little extra but not too much.

 

Throughout the climb, we kept our descent options open. We chose to descend FC instead of WSG because:

1) We felt there was lesser obj hazard given the time of day

2) We met a party who went up FC, so we could follow their tracks.

Aside from a small section where we spent about 10 minutes scouting, route-finding was relatively straight-forward.

 

Our poorest decision on the mountain was underestimating the time it would take to do the summit pyramid. Had we known it would have taken four hours, we would have skipped it, conserving food, water, and time.

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Gary,

I appreciate your last comments and I thank you. Be safe and I look forward to reading about your future adventures in this forum and enjoying the climbing pictures you'll post. Climb on. thumbs_up.gif

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Gary

thumbs_up.gif to politeness and respect for strangers

-- I'm sure one or two such postings won't morph this site into minnesotaclimbing.com. We can rely on the stalwart efforts of many pillars of the cc.com community to keep us off that slippery slope.

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... btw - there were four older folks (40s?) who did Fisher Chimneys in a day and ascended/descended the South Face without incident about an hour or two after you guys bailed.

 

Gary,

 

Are you trying to insult everyone on this site? As one of the tetragenerians (older folks) out on Shuksan that day, I'd like to remind you, you young whippersnapper, that 40 is not that old! There are plenty folks older than that (John Sharp, for one). Nice job on the NF.

 

Mughjie

Edited by mughjie

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My first conversion is complete! I present to you: Gary The Nice. rockband.gif MN in the house.

 

Good to see everyone sharing the mountain like this.

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