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TarHeelEMT

Shuksan/Baker/Ed Dorado Conditions for Late May

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What are conditions typically like on those mountains in late May? I'm going to be in NCNP for the last week of May and would like to attempt them. I'm making a move from trad climbing to alpine and have a handful of alpine trips under my belt, but all of it is with later season climbs in July and August.

 

How much snow is there going to be, and will it present any particular challenges that wouldn't be discussed in most of the guidebooks?

 

Also, I'm not a skier. Is movement with just boots and crampons going to be feasible that early in the season?

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Generally conditions in late May are good - good being well consolidated snow, and not much ice. However all that is weather dependent. So far this year Spring has been a bit on the cool side, but that could change. Late May can be a bit dicey if we have continued cool weather and then a big warm up - i.e.: wet slides especially on south facing slopes. Be prepared for cold winter like weather though; winter can come any day in the Cascades above 5000'. Can be hot too, so bring sun protection. Crevasses are often still hidden/covered in May, so be prepared with crevasses rescue techniques. All in all late May is usually a good time climb and should be close to guidebook descriptions. You won't need skis.

 

Good luck!

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Excellent, that's what I was hoping to hear.

 

I'm told by a guide friend that snow cover will make my rock protection pretty much useless on those climbs. Can ya'll (guess where I'm from?) confirm that for me? My partner and I are bringing six pickets between us to protect the snow-covered areas. Should that be enough?

 

Is it worth bringing more than a couple ice screws? I've got a 22cm for v-threads and a 16cm "just in case."

 

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Excellent, that's what I was hoping to hear.

 

I'm told by a guide friend that snow cover will make my rock protection pretty much useless on those climbs. Can ya'll (guess where I'm from?) confirm that for me? My partner and I are bringing six pickets between us to protect the snow-covered areas. Should that be enough?

 

Is it worth bringing more than a couple ice screws? I've got a 22cm for v-threads and a 16cm "just in case."

 

If you are doing the standard routes on those peaks you can definitely get by with no rock pro, no screws and a couple of pickets.

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It probably depends which routes you are looking at. For the easiest routes on each of those peaks, only shuksan will have potential for rock pro. In my opinion 6 pickets is excessive for any route. For the easy routes, if I were trying to be very safe, I would bring one picket and one screw each (however in spring I'd likely forgo the screw). If you have steeper routes in mind, you might bring a bit more gear for comfort, especially if you plan to climb steepish ice.

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This is a lower than normal snow year, and there have been some crevasse breakthroughs already due to the unexpectedly thin snowpack...

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Cool. Thanks. We're definitely playing it conservatively. I've got a reasonable amount of experience and am confident in my movement, but my partner is still learning how to move in the mountains, so I am anticipating running a lot of protection.

Edited by TarHeelEMT

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Baker and eldo would not need any more pickets than crevasse rescue would require. (2 or 3 spread out amongst the team)

 

Shuksan could use a couple more as well as some rock pro (4 or 5 pieces, small nuts hexes and cams) The summit pyramid will hold some pretty steep snow and it can be pretty soft with much wallowing around unless you get into the slough troughs. But being in a tobogan run is kinda un-nerving so you will prolly want to jump out and place some gear in the rock walls. Normal glacier travel methods will not work on the pyramid as self arrest is unreliable at that angle and snow type. Simu climb or belay pitches or solo. I wouldn't put to much faith in pickets on the pryamid but maybe the snow will be firm by then.

 

I would bring snowshoes also. The higher elevations prolly will not need it but you will need on the lower half of the mountains. Sure you could get up them without slowshoes, but it will involve suffering. You could get lucky and not need them but odds are against that luck.

 

extra challenges? Getting lost on the glacier in a whiteout. Bring wands and use a gps and use the map/compass. These are big wide areas that may not have other traffic on it yet. Slight deviations on baker (south side) could get you into bad places real easy. Shuksan has a nice natural handrail to guide you back except for the forest parts. (I've gotten real confused in the old growth due to new snow covering our tracks) Eldo has good handrails except for the glacier plateau where we also almost got lost due to snow burying our wands. Where ever you go,always keep a good mental image of how to get out.

 

Usual late afternoon avi problems but that doesn't seem to be as much of a problem as navigation can be. Exception is the approach to eldo where you cross over a ridge. I've triggered a big slide by throwing rocks down it before going down.

 

Trust the forcast and plan alternatives.

 

enjoy!

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Thanks genepires. There will be enough dry rock in May to use my rock pro on the summit pyramid? I had heard otherwise.

 

Small nuts and cams... I'm going to bring most of my nuts (probably the BD stoppers #1-12). If the cams are useful, probably the #1 and #2 ultralight TCUs and C4 camalots from 0.5 up to... what size cam at the top end? I've never been in the North Cascades before and don't know the best pro sizes to use.

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there will be cracks available on the side of the gulley, but you will be climbing on snow probably.

 

for the shuksan sulphide route with the easiest summit pyramid route, you won't need anything larger than the .5 camalot. The n cascades non granite tend to have small cracks or seams. I seem to remember a couple small tcu, a couple med nuts (maybe bring the even or odd number pieces) and a smallish hex (4 to 6?) for that top. maybe a slung horn or two.

 

Don't forget the wands for baker. 1 every rope length! (if the weather is so-so. If it is bad, go home)

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If it is just you and a buddy, then you should have about 65 feet of rope between you. 24 wands would last you 24*65 feet (about 1560 feet) for truly whiteout condition navigation. That wouldn't last too long for a route like baker and probably shouldn't or wouldn't want to be out anyway. You could space the wands out farther if the weather was better with the plan to hustle back if weather starts to move in.

 

FOr shuksan and eldo, 24 is fine.

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We're probably going to play it really conservatively when it comes to weather. I'm good with climbing skills and routefinding, but I've lived in the south my whole life and am still developing a feel for true mountain weather. I've navigated in a whiteout before in the East Alaska Range, but at this point in my learning curve it's something I'd much prefer to just avoid if retreat is an option.

 

For clothing, will I likely need more than a baselayer and a shell pant on my legs? I'd rather not lug an insulating layer if I don't have to.

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For me, a thermal bottom and shell pants are fine. I would bet that it would be fine for you too. Bring some good insulation for your top though in case things turn ugly. (wet) More than a thermal and shell jacket. Like maybe add a synthetic puffy or a fleece jacket and a thin windshirt. It is amazing what a thin windshirt will add to your comfort.

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I'd be curious to know as well.

 

Also, anybody know of a moderate rock route in the area that will be climbable in May? I was looking at Eldo needle, but my understanding is that it will have too much snow still on it to be safe.

 

Looking for something in the 5.4-5.5 range. My partner has never really rock climbed before, and I'd like to take him up something that's easy and fifth class.

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Its 5.8, not 5.5, but if you get a chance, Daryn's route - the Northwest Areyete on Shuksan, looks very worthwhile.

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sharkfin tower has a good moderate rock climb on it. something like 5.4 or thereabouts. It is in a different basin than eldo though. Same approach as forbidden which would also be in good shape that time of year. Actually out of boston basin you got forbiddens W ridge, sharkfin's route and a glacier route up sahale. That basin could keep you busy for a good 3 or 4 days. Or it could keep you tent bound if the weather was bad.

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Consider Washington Pass. The Beckey Route on Liberty Bell and the South Arete on South Early Winter Spire are both easy and excellent rock routes and, although a little east of your target area, they are more like traditional rock climbs than anything around Eldo and in an area that can be slightly drier. Nearby, Silver Star and Burgundy Spire offer two climbs for one approach, and a little more of an alpine feel.

 

Although it is out of the glaciated heart of the range, Washington Pass would be my recommendation especially if the weather forecast is unstable because you'd have the option of climbing up on the peaks if the weather is favorable or heading down to the drier Methow Valley for cragging if it is not.

 

Gene's suggestion of Boston Basin is a good one. That is a great little concentration of moderate climbs. However, I bet it is looking pretty snowy up there right now and the rock ridges may be all loaded up with cornices and such so that they are not really "moderate" climbs. Any place where you look on the map and see a cluster of glaciers you can bet it probably rains over 70 inches a year and if the weather is bad, it'll be wet there for sure.

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I was just up on Cascade Pass yesterday and today, trying to ski the Sahale Arm. There were continual avalanches coming off Jberg and the peaks along the ridge to the east. We got up to around 6k feet, right before the arm angle mellows out and triggered a large slab avalanche, about 1.5 feet thick and several hundred yards across. We were lucky to be unhurt and turned around.

 

Based on our experiences, any steep snow slopes, especially those getting a lot of sun, might have a very unstable slab layer, which was surprising. We were expecting only wet sloughs.

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