Skiing the Northeast Chute of Mt Shuksan

May 2004

I made two trips to Mt Shuksan to ski the Northeast Chute during May of 2004. Ben Kaufman and I had a great trip, but near the top he essentially said, "I need to get to work." I think we were both intimidated by the traverse under a large cornice that looked necessary to reach the top of the route. Ross and I dropped it off the top exactly one week later, cornice be damned.

Price Glacier Sunrise Sunrise on the Price Glacier

13 May 2004: Looking for a Better Price

tired, squinting Ben

Ben Kaufman has missed some great backcountry skiing lately. He's been busy trying to establish an eco-friendly real estate business with his father, among myriad other interests. While I've missed having him as a great friend and ski partner, I can respect what he's been doing. Furthermore, Ben knows a good line when he sees it, and he still has the stamina and motivation to make the kind of one-day push I like. So it's no surprise that he agreed to forego a night's sleep and accompany me on a one-day attempt to ski the NE Chute on Mt Shuksan, with access from the Price Glacier.


couloir Ben climbs the NE Chute of Mt Shuksan.

Ben Ben nears our high point.

Ben Kaufman and I reminisced about Ben Manfredi. We talked about the line Ben Manfredi and I had skied the previous year. Ben Manfredi had suggested the chute, but I didn't want to traverse that much. I thought another line above us looked easy enough. He didn't take the route I intended, but Ben zoomed ahead and intrepidly found a way through the cornice. Then I left it to his guidance and we skied the crazy fluted chute. Ben Kaufman had wanted to ski with Ben Manfredi, but it never came to pass. We talked about how today could have been that day.

I would probably never have taken to skiing the Price Glacier without Ben Manfredi's craftiness. He had the route-finding skills and knew the approach. I feel really lucky to have followed him. Now I can't help myself but ski the Price. I'm able to lead the way there, but I'll never forget following Ben the first two times.

Thanks for sharing, Ben Manfredi. Thanks for showing me the way.

20 May 2004: Prick Check

It had been too long since Ross and I skied together. Ben Kaufman and I had a wonderful descent of the Northeast Chute the previous week. We skied from where the north side of the chute meets the ridge to the summit of the North Shoulder. I felt that a descent of this route from the summit of the North Shoulder, along with a descent of the summit pyramid, would punctuate things nicely. Ross thought it looked like a good trip, so he was happy to join me.

The plan was to both climb and ski the route in a day. Naturally that day should be a weekday. On average, five out of seven days with good weather are weekdays. I have a particular affection for Thursdays. That's just an idiosynracy, but the weekday tactic is recommended for all. To do it in a day would require an early start. Ross had to work Wednesday night, but we would leave town as quickly as we could after I picked him up from his shift selling the socially accepted stimulant that we love so famously in Seattle.

I made record time to the Nooksack Cirque Trail in my chariot of fire and we got started only half an hour behind the time Ben Kaufman and I departed. We deposited our PBR cans in an eddy and waded the creek. It was noticeably higher than the week before, but at least I managed to do it correctly on my first try. We marched at a brisk pace and we hit the Nooksack River crossing without any extra scouting. I had my shoes in one hand and my poles in the other; the farther I waded into the water, I wished I had one pole in each hand. The water raged past my hips. Balance was tricky. Somehow I got across and quickly recommended to Ross that he tie his shoes on his pack. He had already begun doing it.

The trail to Price Lake eluded us but somehow we managed to bushwhack in the right direction. With a relatively low overall amount of discomfort, we located the trail without wasting too much time. It seemed that I had almost learned my lesson about getting too high too early. Almost, but not quite. Quicker, more efficient correction of mistakes is always a helpful goal, too. We were out of the trees and well on our way up the moraine above Price Lake by 3:30 am, a mere three hours from the car. I felt like we had done really well.

Following the ridge around to the Price Glacier was as time consuming as ever. We were happy to stop at a waterfall breaking through the snow to refill our bottles and drink until content. Based on what we saw, we considered taking a more direct route up the Price, like the one drawn in the Beckey guide. I was happy to take this route, but two close calls with shallow crevasses on the way to the notch below Nooksack Tower made me want a rope for safety.

I led a sprint across the first slopes below the huge ice cliff at about half past seven. We were happy to get away from below that possibly pernicious point, but not quite as elated when the snow became a miserable wallow. We belayed one bridge, through which I had both knees plunge while in a crawl. Ross steered a little wider and walked across it uneventfully. The chute was a little sloppier than the previous week, and a bonus bergschrund had opened above the first. We climbed the chute hugging the rocks to climber's left. We were slightly anxious about the cornice and climbed the section exposed to it quickly.

The slopes above the cornice were steeper than I had expected. We reached the top of the shoulder with no cornice, a small jumble of rocks the only thing above us. The pyramid looked interesting and somewhat unfamiliar from the new angle. I went around the north shoulder on climber's right when I climbed the North Face and that perspective didn't strike me as much.

runnel Ross climbs a runnel on the Price Glacier

Shuksan summit pyramid The Summit Pyramid from a slightly different perspective

We had made the top of the North Shoulder in only eleven hours. We had enough time to make the summit and back. But the weather wasn't looking as great as expected. High clouds were the rule, Baker had a cap, and there were rain clouds to the north that looked to be heading our way. We decided to ski from where we were for the sake of expediency. I wanted good skiing photos, too. I was disappointed by some of my foggy photos the last week.

skiing Shuksan's Northeast Chute Ross skis the upper NE Chute of Mt Shuksan.

skiing view Ross skis the Northeast Chute with the Price Glacier below.

The skiing was spectacular besides the spooky sluffs. The snow was sliding a few inches at a time with any turn. I employed the land-turn-on-only-uphill-ski-and-let-sluff-go technique. Ross had a sluff carry-and-recovery demonstration that left me gaping behind my camera, too stunned to take a photo. We skied the best overall Price Glacier descent yet. The light wasn't good for photos of tracks when we got off the glacier; we even felt a few sprinkles.

skiing by seracs Ross skis below an impressive icefall on the Price Glacier

With mixed emotions, we saw the weather improve on the hike to the car. It was nice to see blue skies; it was also nice to get home at a reasonable time. But the summit pyramid remained elusive. The highest current I've seen yet on the Nooksack helped me decide to cross the log. I didn't put my poles on my back until I was already on the log. In makeshift fashion, I hung the poles by the wrist straps off my skis. To my chagrin, one pole detached from its ski as I bounced across the log on my butt. Oh well, quit caring by the time I left the log. Laugh now, Hummels, but I'm taking you with me next time.

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