Mt. Shuksan, Sulphide Glacier Route, August 2009

Mt. Shuksan. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

James and I decided to give Mt. Shuksan a go and bag this classic peak.  It is 9,127 feet of pure, classic Cascades Alpine route – sporting both a glacier and a rock pinnacle. Shuksan is located in the North Cascades, near Mt. Baker. The mountain got it’s name, Shuksan, from a Skagit Native American work meaning “Rocky and Preciptious”.

The route we climbed on Mt. Shuksan was the Sulphide Glacier.  It involved a hike to base camp, at a little over 6,000 feet, setting up camp, roping up and then climbing to the base of the rock pinnacle at about 8,500 feet and finally scrambling the rock pinnacle.

The hike from the trailhead to base camp took about 4 hours, and I was dragging butt with a migraine.  It’s a well defined trail that is easy to follow.  The path crosses a scree field and then comes upon the lobes of the Sulphide glacier breaking up the rocky formations.  We headed up over the rise, welcomed to the camp spots by a breathtaking view of the summit pyramid straight ahead.  There are two or three little stone circles on dirt that are

Mt. Shuksan. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

large enough for a tent, otherwise it’s snow camping time. Trying to shave any weight we could, we opted out of bringing the tarp for pitching the tent on snow.  After a big smile to the guys on one of the only spots to pitch a tent on rock, they very friendly welcomed us to squeeze our tent in next to theirs.  They turned out to be an awesome group of three guys, luckily since we also shared a summit with us and the next morning turned out to be the only other team making a summit bid.

At this spot there is also a “toilet” that the ranger requesst you use.  Basically a bin that is rodent proof and a shovel. From our camp at 6,118 feet we could see the exposed rock leading from the glacier to the cliffs of the massive gorge, evidence of how

I told James I wanted a room with a view. This is what he got me. Not too shabby. 😉 Mt. Shuksan. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

heartbreakingly far the glacier had receded.  Large moving bodies of water flew from the edge of the glacier down the rock faces and  cascaded over the edge of the clifts.  We were so far away they looked looked like small lines moving over the rock cliffs and into the massive gorge.  James and I gathered beta from the few teams who were heading down.  There was a boot path that weaved through the Sulphide glacier up to the summit pinnacle; dodging crevasses, crossing snow bridges and eventually getting us to the 500 feet of rock we had to climb to bag our summit.

We watched the sun begin to set as we quickly made dinner and scarfed it down.  After prepping our gear for the alpine start (getting the rope laid out, ice axes ready, packs parred down to only the essential gear we needed), we tried to grab a few hours of shut eye.  Sadly our alarm did not go off at 2:30am like it was supposed to, but luckily our neighbors getting ready for climbing did wake us up (thank you awesome neighbors) and we were not too far off schedule.

At 4:30am we headed out into the darkness, two little headlamps amoungst

Sunrise over the Sulphide glacier on Mt. Shuksan. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

the vastness of the glacier.  It wasn’t long before the alpenglow became to color the horizon.  There was a low cloud cover below us; the view was one of a blue/red/pink/yellow sky  with dark peaks rising above a blanket of soft, rolling white pillow clouds.  Watching the sun rise from high up in the mountains or on a glacier is one of my favorite moments in life.  It’s beyond beautiful and reminds me every time why I put myself through sometimes quite miserable moments while mountain climbing, it’s for the camaraderie, the adventure and the moments when you know that you are experiencing one of life’s incredibly magic and rare moments.  Sunrises, sunsets or particularly breathtaking scenery high up in the mountains gives me those moments where I can say this is why I do this.

Sunrise on Mt. Shuksan. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Sunrise on Mt. Shuksan. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Sunrise on Mt. Shuksan, climbing the Sulphide Glacier. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Climbing the Sulphide Glacier. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Aiming for the snowy patch on the left side of the rock. If you look closely you can see the climbing party of three on the rock, on the left hand side of the snow penninsula. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

It took James and I about 2 hours to get from our 6,000 foot camp to the base of the rock pinnacle.  As we approached the pinnacle, we stayed a little to climbers right and aimed for a large patch of snow/inlet of snow on the right side of the rock summit pyramid.  From there we took off our glacier gear and lightened our packs, taking only what we needed for the rock scramble.  We then began to scramble toward the left looking for the rock gully that has slings/rap stations on either side.  If you find the wrong rock gulley it can be very difficult to impossible to get up the rock pyramid.  Some people scramble the rock pinnacle, some people treat it as a rock climb.  The difficulty level (if you are in the correct gully) is class 3/4 scramble, not very exposed, plenty of hand and feet holds, but the rock is pretty loose so you have to be careful kicking down debris.  James and I scrambled the route in mountaineering boots.

We scrambled the gully fairly quickly then were on the summit.

Passing a crevasse with Mt. Baker in the backgroun. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Shuksan’s summit is good for about 5 people, any more than that and people will start pushing each other off the top.  The party of three guys we shared the summit with were pretty cool, we swapped cookies, took pictures and generally ooohed and aaahhed over the amazing view together.  Mt. Baker is so close that you have an up-close-and-personal view of the Easton Glaicer and Roman Wall.  We spent a short while on the summit before beginning to down climb the summit block.  The downclimbing wasn’t too hard.  If you are at all worried there are lots of rappelling options, it’s just much slower going.  The other team of 3 were rappelling and before long we were backlogged behind them.  Being the super cools guys they were, they let us squeeze passed them.

Rock gully up the side of the summit pyramid.  Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Rock gully up the side of the summit pyramid. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Once back on the glacier, we repacked our packs, strapped on our crampons, tied back into the rope and headed down the Sulphide.  It only took us a little over an hour to get back down to camp.  We packed up all of our gear and headed out.

It was pretty incredible to have Mt. Shuksan all to ourselves on such a gorgeous 2 days of climbing. We counted ourselves very lucky since this is practically unheard of on a weekend.  I loved the variety of terrain that Mt. Shuksan offered – glacier travel and rock scrambling.  Mt. Shuksan is one of my favorite climbs in the Northwest.

Photo from summit of Mt. Shuksan. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Sulphide Glacier. Mt. Shuksan. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

James, Summit Shot. Mt. Shuksan. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway,

My Summit Shot. Mt. Shuksan. Photo belongs to Genevieve Hathaway.

~ by Genevieve Hathaway on March 26, 2010.

One Response to “Mt. Shuksan, Sulphide Glacier Route, August 2009”

  1. […] Mt. Shuksan, Sulphide Glacier Route, August 2009 March 2010 […]

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