Mount Shuksan - 9131' - Sulphide Glacier Ski
Who: Josh and Mike Lewis, Don, Myself
What: Mount Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier and Ski Descent
When: April 9-10, 2016
Length: Something like 7,000 feet Vertical and 15 miles RT?
How Much Fun?: Boatloads!
For a much needed break from the inner city life in Los Angeles, I flew back to Seattle to meet up with the Lewis brothers and Don to climb Mount Shuksan. I arrived at Seatac airport around 8 in the morning on Saturday and borrowed my parents car, went to pick up Josh and Mike at their house and stuffed it full of gear. Amazingly, in addition to the 4 people, we fit 4 pairs of skis/boots, and 4 large packs in the trunk of a mid size car!!
By 11:30 am we were off and driving north through the Everett traffic. After copious amounts of cursing and being pissed to once again run into even MORE traffic (LA has more than enough), we made it to Sedro Wooley where we stopped for food. We finally made it to the Shannon Creek Trailhead around 2:30. The drive through the forest was a nice way to escape humanity.
We started up the trail all carrying our skis and boots. I just had my sandals on since we only had a mile or so of bare trail before hitting snow. Once we hit fairly continuous snow we switched into our boots and put the skins on our skis. We then made quick work getting to treeline on the ridge. Once there it was great skinning up to the saddle, and beyond towards the flat camp spot at the base of the Sulphide Glacier icefall around 6,450 feet. The sunset as we neared camp was incredible, and I shot many photos. We even saw a small avalanche come off a small tower to the south of the saddle.
I was the first one to reach camp just as it got dark, but the other 3 guys made it shortly after. There was a solo guy and a group of 5 from Canada also there, but there was still plenty of room to set up camp.
We woke the next morning at 4am and after a quick breakfast started skinning up the left edge of the sulphide glacier. We were all forced to take skis off to get up the initial hill since it was too steep and icy to skin up. I didn't bring crampons to save weight and was hoping the whole time I wouldn't need them on the summit pyramid. Josh quickly decided to turn back due to his knee hurting but Mike, Don and I continued. As dawn approached the terrain became very mellow and I put the skis back on and skinned the remainder of the way to the base of the summit pyramid. The solo climber was ahead of us and we watched as he started up the pyramid as we approached the base.
The first rays of sunlight hit Baker right as we reached the base and we ditched gear and began climbing the 45-50 degree snow. I was able to kick steps fairly well without the crampons, but Don and Mike were happy to have theirs. We then followed a set of very nice bucket steps on the right edge of the central gully, however crossing over to the left to get into the main gully included some 60 degree mixed climbing on ice and rock which was quite difficult without my crampons and only one ice tool. I felt comfortable on it though, and made it across. Mike also made it nicely behind me. Don then continued ahead since he had the most gear and reached the ridge, which required a climb of a small steep mushroom feature to reach. Don reached the summit about 10 minutes before me and started down just as I reached the top. He downclimbed with the solo climber who passed us as we ascended.
Mike then reached the top and we enjoyed the views for a good half hour before starting down. The views were absolutely breathtaking with Baker to the west, Nooksack tower and the Pickets dominating the eastern skyline. To the south we could see Buckner, Boston and most of the North Cascades peaks while to the north we saw the border peaks and all the way into the high coast ranges of BC. Also, the low clouds blanketing the puget lowlands as we stood thousands of feet above them was so cool!
Before we even started descending Don had already reached the base of the pyramid. Mike and I started down and it took us a solid hour at least for us to get down. I was forced to very carefully kick steps into the hard alpine ice every step which made my toes numb. I ended up skipping the mixed section and didn't cross over the rock rib. I instead continued straight down the main gully staying in the sun hoping it would soften it up. Unfortunately it wasn't any softer and I just ended up sweating more.
I traversed back to the right and finally reached the set of bucket steps I used on the ascent and made it down. Mike then made it back shortly thereafter and proceeded to mention something along the lines of it being the scariest thing he's ever done!
While Mike and I descended, Don chatted with the canadian group who skinned up from camp and reached the base as we descended. They were an interesting bunch...I'll spare everyone the gory details of their actions though and just say they were a seriously messed up group lol. After seeing the fun Mike and I were having on the summit pyramid they decided against doing it and quickly skid back down the mountain.
Mike Don and I started skiing down just before noon, after a long break, however Mike was still too exhausted to ski so he was forced to walk back to camp. Luckily the snow was still fairly firm and he was able to walk down without incident. I was happy with myself that I skid down without too much trouble. Upon arriving back at camp, we saw Josh practicing on his skis on the small hill next to the tents. We all took a long break and I took my ski boots off to let me feet recover from the kick stepping!
By 2pm we were packed up and started descending. We had waited too long though and the snow really began to soften up to the point where I was sinking in 4 inches or more. Don was really concerned with avalanches at this point. Josh and Mike were forced to posthole down as their skis were too short and narrow to provide any support. I was able to ski down in long straight lines but couldn't turn in the deep slushy snow. I had to waddle around to change directions.
At one point too, Don set off a large avalanches that dropped off a cliff below us. Thankfully no one was in it! Slowly, we all made it back to treeline and I tried my luck skiing through the trees. Where the trees weren't too thick I was able to do it with only a few falls but as we neared snowline I carried them the rest of the way.
For the final descent back to the car on the trail, I continued straight down steep slopes to meet the trail closer to the car as I had to get my boots off. My feet were in serious pain since my ski boots are a little too small. Don, Josh and Mike continued back to pick up approach shoes that we stashed at the snowline. We all made it to the car before dark and went straight to a Mexican restaurant for dinner!