Mt. Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier

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Baker and part of the ridge above the clouds

 The forecast called for Mostly Sunny. Every forecast showed sunshine. You know how that goes, usually it turns out to be mostly sunny. Psych! Not this trip. A last minute plan for Shuksan as a day trip came to fruition when I realized it was Angie’s last weekend in the PNW and we had to do something. We had not yet gone on a glaciated climb since she always had to be back in Seattle by a reasonable hour on Sundays to drive back to Ashford. We had always been limited to shorter trips. Here was our chance, and with Haley and Angie I knew we’d have a kick ass girls team. And with a forecast of mostly sunny, what could go wrong? I was in the mood for some incredible sweeping views of the North Cascades. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Shuksan. Sulphide is huge bang for your buck, Fisher Chimneys is the most enjoyable route I’ve climbed up anything out here (small sample size, to be fair), Price Glacier and North Face will hopefully happen sometime in the next year. So many routes, such great views, very alpine feel. But Shuksan’s a tease, and doesn’t return my unrequited love. Just strings me along with false promises and narrow weather windows and glimpses of mind blowing views.
  • Distance: 14.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 6500ft gain (9127ft highest point)
  • Weather: Foggy and 40’s, sunny and 60’s
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30 without traffic
  • Did I Trip: A majestic, foot-caught-on-branch-land-face-down-in-mud-and-skid-a-few-feet beauty. So you could say yes.
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A well camouflaged toad on the trail

We camped at the trailhead, where Angie and Haley ended up sleeping in my car while I bivvied on the ground. Three people in the car is a lot of people, and I could not be bothered to share. “Does not play well with others,” I snarkily announced as my head hit the pillow I had made from rolled-up extra sleeping bag. At one point it started drizzling and I laughed and rolled my eyes. The proud owner of the car had been relegated to the gravel parking lot, while the plebs slept inside it. Luckily the rain didn’t last, and my bivvy was wonderfully cozy.

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Foxglove!

I woke up to my alarm at 3am. Usually I’m up before it, but I was completely unconscious. The best night (okay, the best two hours) of sleep I’ve ever had. But I dragged myself out of my bivvy and packed. No stars in the sky, just thick fog everywhere. Whatever, mostly sunny forecast, it’ll burn off when the sun rises. I was excited to see how my camelback bladder did in my pack. I always just carried water bottles, but I was experimenting. I reached for the bladder I had filled up at home and – wait a sec, where the fuck is the water? The bag was empty. My trunk was dry. The bag was dry. I definitely filled it up, Angie had watched me. It was a total mystery. Ghost water. I though of Kacie, who I teased relentlessly when she forgot her water on Baring. Now I understand. She had the ghost water. Well, I refilled it with the water I had in my trunk and we started out.

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The bright green crampons look great with my blue & pink runners

I was wearing my brand new trail runners, finally getting the update to my trusty old Saucony Peregrines, which (I am almost ashamed to admit) are nearly 3 years old with well over a thousand miles on them through the Cascades, through Wisconsin, through Montana, through Moab, and I’m sure some extra epic trails I’m forgetting. There were toads everywhere, and huge flowers (foxglove?) and salmonberries!! So many salmonberries. But we figured we’d get them on the way down. We hit the ridge and broke out of the trees. Baker was completely obscured, but clouds seemed to be clearing up since there were patches of blue sky. Snow started at the notch (around 5200ft), and Angie and Haley switched to boots. I went to take a drink from my water hose for the first time and – wait, where the fuck is the water?? AGAIN?! It had disappeared. My pack wasn’t wet. My back wasn’t wet. If it had all leaked out of the hose (which was resting against my leg) my side would be soaked. This shit made no sense. Sneaky ass ghost water, dehydrating unsuspecting climbers all across America.

We came up upon the first campsite we had seen all morning, which we thought was IMG. Angie works for IMG, and we were going to say hi until we realized duh, everyone’s asleep, it’s 6:30am. We carried on our merry way, and stopped to refill water (or in my case, see if I could fight the magical disappearing qualities of my bladder). I made Angie and Haley top theirs off too since there was a chance I’d need some if my bladder kept emptying its damn ghost water.

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“Mostly Sunny” my ass

We found low camp next, which housed a Mountain Madness team and I believe a group with the Mountaineers. Again, we didn’t chat much, as everyone was asleep besides two people having coffee. And we had work to do. I took a sip of my water. Which was still there.

At this point, visibility was around 30ft, and with a mellow, mostly featureless glacier (very few open crevasses), navigation is like 30% difficult and 70% boring. We aimed for high camp, only to find… nothing. There’s a toilet up there somewhere, but we didn’t exactly miss out on the views from that lovely throne with all of the fog. Remind me to mark a waypoint there next time. We roped up and stayed left near the ridge since that was the route we were familiar with from last year, and ridges make for easy navigation. It meant a few unnecessary steep slopes, but they were short. Kicking steps in trail runners turned out to be difficult, but I was anchoring the rope, so I had Angie and Haley both kicking steps in front of me. Staircases, woohoo!

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Holy shit! Mostly sunny!

Soon enough we were on a ridge that I remembered from Labor Day weekend last year, when we had to descend Sulphide in similar conditions. We took a quick break there for snacks, and as we stood up, the clouds started to clear. I couldn’t form words. “GO! GO go KEEP GOING” I was waving my arms until Haley and Angie turned around and realized what was happening. We caught glimpses of the summit pyramid and Baker, and as we got higher and higher it got clearer and clearer until we were officially above the clouds surrounded by sunshine and blue skies. Blue skies are nice. Partly cloudy is better. Above the clouds is second best. And best, is being above the cotton candy clouds, but below those high, wispy cirrus clouds. Well after all that fog, I’ll settle for second best. Now if only a few other peaks would poke up above the sea of clouds.

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Baker and part of the ridge above the clouds

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Clouds playing along the arm

We were quick getting to the summit pyramid, despite my fifteen micro stops. “Guys wait I need sunscreen.” “Guys wait can I borrow someone’s chapstick with SPF?” “Guys wait my shoe is untied.” “Guys hold up a sec I need to delayer.” “GUYSIDROPPEDMYGLOVESSORRYWAIT” “Hahaha… guys… sorry but one more stop I dropped a coil.” I’m usually more organized, I swear. At least I still had my water, which was a record for the day. It hadn’t disappeared yet.

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Angie coming up the scramble

We unroped at the patch of rocks at the base of the scramble. We kept crampons and ice axes for the next 50 or so vertical feet until we were officially on rock only, and stashed them at the base of the central gully. We followed the gully fairly well (a few hesitations, a few sketchy off route moves while scouting) until the top, where we went too far to the right. A big part of scrambling and rock climbing in general is trusting your feet, and I did not trust my feet in those trail runners. Which isn’t the shoes’ fault, I just had to get used to them. I mean shit I watched my friend climb a pillar at Ruby Beach in flip flops. You can’t always blame footwear, sometimes it’s just in your head.

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Angie on the ridge

Anyway, we ended up on the SE ridge for the last maybe 50 vertical feet, but at that point there are no technical moves left (the rest of the ridge is 5.6ish). One slabby move sketched me out until Angie pointed out that it’s way easier than downclimbing, and she was totally right. As soon as I realized my shoes would in fact stick to the rock it was quick moving, and before I knew it, we were standing on the summit.

 

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Summit quilt!

We snapped pictures, destroyed Haley’s like 5lbs of M&Ms (she did most of the work), I took 50 pictures of my trail runners (should have left the crampons on) and eventually we started down as the clouds were rising. Downclimbing the gully was a painstaking affair. We took a slightly different route down, which was easier than our route up but downclimbing 4th class is a bitch. Summitpost claims it’s 3rd class, I don’t think that’s true. Unless we missed a blatant gully that would have been way easier.

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Haley on the downclimb

I can see why everyone prefers to rappel. Step by step, we inched down. The cap came off my sunscreen, spattering the rocks with lotion. I tried to carry it down balancing it in my hand but eventually had to give up, my hands were too necessary on some of those moves. I basically needed handholds any time I had to face inward to downclimb, which again is really more mental than anything. Those trail runners did fine. Sure it was tough edging on footholds whereas the Nepal Evos can edge on anything, but they still stuck to all of the slabby moves, and I didn’t actually lose footing once (which could have been because I was being ultra conservative with every single move).

We grabbed our axes and crampons, roped up, and descended back into the clouds. So much for “mostly sunny.” We saw another party coming up just below the summit pyramid. I yelled to Haley and Angie, “Don’t trip now!” We pass the group, say our hellos and good lucks, and Haley immediately wiped out. Day = made.

Back at low camp we unroped, didn’t recognize anyone, and carried on to what we assumed was the IMG camp (the Eureka tents are kind of a giveaway). Angie said hi to her coworker, we told everyone it was sunny and glorious above 7200ft, and made our way back to the notch.

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Back into the fog

We took a more extended break along the ridge, and pounded downhill where we each had a muddy wipeout (or in my case, two). We devoured salmonberries left and right, leaving none for the parties behind us or the parties coming up or the local bear population. Suckers. I always thought the yellow salmonberries were unripe, but it turns out they’re just a different species! They’re edible too, and taste even better than the red ones.

We were back at the car by 6pm, where my feet were thrilled to be relieved of trail runner duty and assigned to flip flops. I forgot that glacier travel means snow, which will make your feet cold and wet, and that means blisters and pruning and general discomfort (and stink). Yuck. And the crampons had rubbed my ankles raw, which was less than pleasing. Though interestingly, the aches and pains and blisters and wounds on my ankles and feet were no different from what mountaineering boots give them. So maybe my feet are the problem, not the footwear. And my water was still in my pack. No more ghosts.

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Baker again

We piled back into the car. Angie fell asleep right away, snoring like a train. I was jealous, but not too tired just yet. Too busy daydreaming about mac n cheese and the chicken bacon ranch sandwich I had in the car. Delicious. We dropped Haley off, and Angie and I headed back to Seattle, where she somehow dragged herself off the couch at 3am AGAIN to get back to Ashford. I did not leave my bed. But in case you’re curious, yes, the water in my camelback had disappeared again when I woke up. 2L of water in plastic doesn’t just evaporate. Bastards, those H2O molecules.

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Fresh new kicks. Should have left the crampons on for the picture.

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