Mt Shuksan, North Face on the rocks

ski sickness logo

3-4 November 2003

waterfall There was an interesting frozen waterfall connecting the upper and lower glaciated North Face sections.

approach Jeff Manor approaches the North Face of Mt Shuksan

gully Sky climbs the connection between the upper and lower North Face.

crevasses Jeff navigates crevasses on the lower North Face.

ICE Sky climbs the upper North Face. Look at all that gorgeous blue ice!

Jeff Manor and I climbed the North Face of Mt Shuksan with cold, clear weather and solid ice. We began approaching from the lower Mt Baker Ski Area parking lot at 9:30 pm, quickly finding ourselves in choice terrain. An awkard route, an easy river crossing, and a steep bushwhack up more agreeable old-growth led to a bivy around 4,700' shortly after 3am.

We were up and moving early to witness a very cold dawn. The North Face did not appear promising from the bivy, but we agreed to give it a look regardless. It was an easy hike along the ridge to the base of the face, where really hard, low angle ice perched above a large cliff gave us access to the lower glacier. The lower glacier was heavily crevassed, and required much weaving. We used running single-screw placements at the more interesting spots.

A possible way to the upper glacier was not immediately obvious. The upper glacier had an impressive ice cliff perched above a rock cliff, towering over the lower glacier. There was a tempting frozen waterfall covering one section of the cliff from top to bottom. In the end we agreed on a moderate couloir that started somewhat steep and icy, then became more mellow and snowy. It was definitely the easiest way.

The upper glacier featured really hard ice that would barely take two inches of screw with much cranking. We found ourselves sitting in sunshine at 7,500' just after two in the afternoon. The sunshine was very pleasant after a cold, shadowy climb. The upper Hanging Glacier was not much higher, but there was a bit of unpleasant fresh snow over rocks to get to it.

We regrouped to cross the glacier and look for Fisher Chimneys to descend, circa three thirty. Jeff was bonking hard and I was concerned about navigating the descent to Lake Ann with waning light. There was nothing to do but wait when Jeff started puking. I headed across the glacier to get a look down from where some old boot tracks reached rock and I thought that we needed to go further along the Upper Curtis Glacier to get to Winnie's Slide and Fisher Chimneys, or the White Salmon Glacier. We tried to do this near the rocks, but crevasses straddling verglass-coated rocks and no snow kept us from pursuing the course. We crossed the glacier again to try navigating from closer to Hell's Highway. Darkness descended and Jeff puked again.

With the best inspection we could muster, the Upper Curtis looked impassible, at least on sight, at night, in our current state. With some debate, I persuaded Jeff that we should climb up Hell's Highway and descend the Sulphide Glacier. We would be far from the car, but bivying high on a glacier was not an option I wanted to consider for the night. There was a large bergshrund at the bottom of Hell's Highway, but near the rocks at its north edge it could be surmounted with one move up an overhanging bulge. It looked easy enough, but I began by chipping away at the overgang and making a step with my adze just to make it easier and get warm. There were no other obstacles and soon we were on the Sulphide Glacier. The moon was shining brilliantly and it was easy to see without a headlamp. The glacial beauty seemed more majestic under muted moonlight. Maybe it seems more beautiful and pleasant that way just because it's possible to enjoy the views without squinting.

One more projectile session for Jeff, then we stopped to try to arrange a ride around 7,500'. Failing a few other options, we managed to reach Ben Manfredi. It was eight; he said he might show at the Shannon Ridge Trailhead around eleven.It was 9:20 by the time we were off the glacier and I could pack my glacier gear to hike. I jogged most of the way. Laying on a foam pad at the parking area without too much hope, Justin arrived ten minutes later and saved us from the prospect of walking to Baker Lake Road and hitchiking without any food the next day.

Jeff and I had agreed that if Ben showed he could just take me since Jeff would take much longer, then I would return for Jeff. Justin thought we should wait for him, which seemed all right to me. After an hour we agreed to go and find him. We hiked up the trail, stopping every few minutes to pause, shout, and listen; we were almost all the way to the glacier before we knew it. Justin and I descended, a bit baffled.

Returning to the parking area we found Jeff, crashed in his bivy. He had lost the trail at the ridge and regained it only a few hundred yards from the end of the trail, merely an hour before we returned from our search. The extra hike put a punctuation on my legs that feels sure to last for a few days. All is well that ends well; I think I'm happy with the experience of the climb. Thanks again, Justin and Ben!

ski sickness logo

If only we could trade April and May to get two Marches and two Junes....