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danhelmstadter

[TR] Mt. Shuksan - Danger on the North Face 5/3/2009

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Trip: Mt. Shuksan - Danger on the Noth Face

 

Date: 5/3/2009

 

Trip Report:

It was about 930 on Sunday morning, I was at the Mountain Man coffe shop in Maple falls drowing a hangover with coffe and eggs. I was a little surpised by the clearing skys - last time I checked, it was supposed to be raining? what - another clear spring day? Not an oppurtunity to be wasted... The seed of a plan was begging to sprout, and I quickly checked various forecasts, surprised by the mostly to partly sunny updates. The North Face of Shuksan! what a great idea, It had just rained over night, so there could be powder up there! Yes, the North Face sounds like a fine idea...

 

I left the White Salmon gate at a little past 11, yes - a little late of a start, but by no means too late for the North Face; I would have to be quick though. A quick walk of the dog and one of those nasty tasteing weird energy shots and I was off as quick as I could move.

 

Snow for ascent was perfect and I ran into a party going up the White Salmon with heavy overnight packs. I was a little worried that my skins would glop, and I had forgot to bring my wax, this worry proved however to be frivoulous...

 

Corn turned to powder at the col elevation, and I easily skinned through the ~foot of fresh snow up the lower North Face and onto the face. Clouds were thickening to the west and north, but I was confident that if worst came to worst, I could get back down, as I am familiar with the route.

 

I continued skinning up slightly more consolidated snow to a point where boot packing became more efficiant. I dug several pits and did several shear and compression tests, both showing that there was a bit of a slab there, but it was apparently well bonded to the underlying ice crust... I also observed no shooting cracks or whumphs from my ascent - so I felt content with stability so far... I was more concerned with hidden crevasses - the other day there were three large sagging cracks across the upper face, today there was barely a hint of one... I made my way higher - probeing for cracks with my ski pole as I went.

 

Clouds were contineuing to thicken, and most of the surrounding mountains were mostly enveloped in various cloud forms. I was almost there though, and I had a flashlight and a deep track to follow back. There was no major storm in the forecast, so I figured this incomeing weather was just a little brush from a passing syestem to the SE, and perhaps a little of convective action with the associated moist unstable air.

 

As I neared the 50 degree upper section, I climbed on exposed old ice crusts when I could rather than subject myself to the possible unstable snow. This took a little bit of weaving, but was easy enough. Topping out was a good feeling, as that steep upper section is always a clencher and today was no exception...

 

Unfortunatly the clouds did roll in and envelope the mountain in snow wind and very low visability. The sun was still high, so I decided to wait by the lee of a rock, and wait for an hour or so in hopes of a break in the weather. I waited, ate, grew a litte uneasy in this unexpected turn of weather, although I was still very confident in my ability to get down safely.

 

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The break in clouds I was waiting for came after about an hour of waiting, and glourious late afternoon filtered sun spilled across the North Face, Dark clouds heavily contrasted with the golden light illuminating the feilds of snow and cliff bands below me. Somewhere far far down beneath a wafting vail of black clouds Price Lake lay. My yellow shaded goggles enhanced this effect into a surreal alpine scene. There was no time for sightseeing however - it was time to rock and roll - but hopefully not so much rolling...

 

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The first few turns on the low angle snow before the sharp drop were very pleasant, I knew I had to cut the sharp roll, and take my time down this very steep extremely exposed section. I made the cut with an added hop for extra weight force -- CRAAACKSHEWWWKKKCHHHHHHHHHHHH The slab ripped out and rocketed off towrds the nearest cliff, the meatier upper part over took the lower part and the slab swept the upper slope with amazeing speed and force before it liquified on a rock outcropping and shot into the air with tremendous noise crashing down from a 40'flight off the first cliff, then it covered the next 1000 feet in a few seconds before it dissapeared off the huge cliffs below into the dark clouds...

 

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HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was terrrified, and quickly switched to crampons and downclimbed the icy bed surface. The crown was about a foot at it's thickest, and spaned 15 feet or so, The flanks were thin, but spaned about 30 feet. Upon reaching the base of the slab, I carefully downclimbed my ascent track step for step. I wanted to take no chances with disturbing more snow by skiing.

I clicked the skis back on upon reaching the top of lower face beacuse the snow was completely unconsolidated powder in this section. The turns were good, but I was still a little shook to enjoy them fully.

 

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The light was now fadeing, but I skiied mashpotatoes and some corn all the way down to the valley fairly quickly. Rain begain to fall as I packed my skis and climbed up out of the valley to the resort.

 

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stories where you don't die, but almost die = entertaining :)

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Holy crap! Peakpimp and I climbed the N Face on Friday with what slightly cooler temps, and earlier in the day than you were out. Definitely attention-getting.

 

All of the existing slide debris looked to be a bit old, and I speculated that it was from the last heavy storm cycle a few weeks back. This made me not too worried about slabs; I didn't even dig a pit to analyze.

 

This just shows to go ya; slab danger doesn't disappear in the spring.

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Holy crap! Peakpimp and I climbed the N Face on Friday with what slightly cooler temps, and earlier in the day than you were out. Definitely attention-getting.

 

All of the existing slide debris looked to be a bit old, and I speculated that it was from the last heavy storm cycle a few weeks back. This made me not too worried about slabs; I didn't even dig a pit to analyze.

 

This just shows to go ya; slab danger doesn't disappear in the spring.

 

I was up on the nf Friday too, but I droped the west faceing BYS couloir about halfway up the face, I think I saw you guys as I was skinning up towrds the col - thanks for the steps!

 

Sunday was a much differant day up there snowpackwise, the storm Saturday night left about 1 to 1.5 feet of fresh atop that nasty ice crust that was there Friday.

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Glad you were a spectator and not a participant in that slab releasing. How far away were you from the shear point? Was it at point of contact or was it a remote trigger?

 

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Wow. Glad you're ok.

 

Those more familiar with the mountain... are avalanche conditions likely to be significantly better by the end of the month?

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That explanation makes way more sense to me (tons of fresh sliding, rather than what was underneath). You're welcome for the steps. The slope looked virgin in Friday.

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Plexus - It broke out from under my downhill ski.

 

TarHeelEMT - No telling what the weather will be like; the last couple days we've got a lot of fresh snow up there, and it's likely very dangerous up there now, but it should be good to go during the right time of day after a week or so of melt freeze cycle, which often happens this time of year.

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Tough decision to make at times - do I make damn sure this thing goes while I can hopefully stay above it? Or do I eeeeaaasssee my way down with soft, smooth turns to try and avoid releasing the slab onto myself, or a party that may be below? Looks like a pretty small slide, and above the cliffs, so presumably the danger was greater to you than a party below. (and because you had a late start, I'm guessing you figured/hoped noone was ascending below you, and after waiting for your weather window knew noone was descending? and the cliffs were off route anyway?)

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