Monday, September 20, 2010

Cascade Climbs Part 2: The Fisher Chimneys to the South East Ridge of Mt Shuksan

After returning from Mt Baker, Drew and I drove to the little town of Maple Falls to recharge our batteries, make some phone calls to loved ones and attempt to dry our rope and boots out. We spent the better part of the day in the parking lot of a cafe, leaching off their WiFi and drinking way too much coffee. By afternoon we were ready to for the next adventure, despite a forecast for showers. 

We made the approach in to Lake Ann that evening and got there just in time to catch a glimpse of the Curtis Glaciers and Mt Shuksan obscured by a few clouds.

It was Labor Day weekend, and there were several tents at the lake, but we managed to find a nice site and settled in for the night. At 4 am the alarm went off and we began brewing up in the predawn mist.

We were on the trail by 5, figuring that by the time we needed to find the Fisher Chimneys it would just be getting light enough to see. This worked well and we had no trouble finding the start of the chimneys. 

Although the weather was not splitter, the sun periodically filtered through and the light was dramatic. We cruised passed several tents at the base of Winnie's Slide and actually got heckled by a local guide for our quick but unconventional rope practices. Our thoughts were to climb the route and familiarize ourselves with the terrain, not to "mock guide" it. We shrugged of the comment and continued to make good time, following the tracks of those ahead of us.

Once we got to the summit pyramid of Shuksan, we had caught up to all the other parties that had camped on the glacier. Our friend Danny had suggested we climb the South East Ridge instead of the standard south gully. When asked what sort of rack to bring, he said that it we weren't "mock guiding" it we could just cruise up the ridge without pro, as it was easy fifth class. One thing we hadn't thought about was the fact that with all the precipitation, there was several inches of new snow on the route, and things might be a bit more interesting than if it was dry. With all the other parties bottlenecked at the base of the standard route, Drew and I blasted up the South East Ridge in crampons.

We summited at about 11 am, had some lunch on top and watched as two guided parties climbed the last couple pitches of the standard route. When they topped out, we recognized them as folks we'd met the previous morning and chatted about the conditions and best way to descend. Concerned about rockfall in the gully we chose to down climb the standard route instead of rappel and risk pulling rocks down on us or the other parties below. After descending the gully, we were surprised not to encounter any other climbers. Turns out they had retreated due to conditions.

We retraced our steps back to Lake Ann, packed up and hiked the 4.5 miles back to the car. Another great day in the Cascades with conditions starting to get a little wet. Interestingly enough, only guides and guided parties summitted Mt Shuksan that day!

A toast to Mt Shuksan!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

North Ridge of Mt. Baker POV

Cascade Climbs Part 1: The North Ridge of Mt Baker

With my AMGA Advanced Alpine Guides Course and Aspirant Exam coming up, I headed to the North Cascades with fellow SMG guide, Drew Daly, to familiarize myself with the terrain and get some glacier routes under my belt. Drew has had quite a summer full of alpine routes in our home mountains of south central Idaho, and was eager to continue his bender in the Cascades. 

First on our agenda was the North Ridge of Mt Baker. We met up with fellow Idahoan and local Cascade guide, Danny Uhlmann, in Bellingham and got some beta on the route. Danny suggested we start our climb with a slightly different approach then the typical Hogback Camp/Coleman Glacier route. Instead, we were to camp lower in the dense Cascade forrest, known as Murkwood, and hop on the toe of the glacier there. 

Treeline is basically at the toe of the glacier and the blue skies and wildflowers were spectacular in the evening light. Reluctantly we left the open air and beauty of treeline and headed down into the dark forrest of Murkwood.

We were up early the following morning and stepped on the glacier just as it was light enough to see.

After several hours of navigating low angled terrain through crevasses, we arrived at the toe of the North Ridge. There are basically two options here, the Low Route and the High Route. The High Route looked impassable due to a melted out bergshrund, so we opted for the Low Route. With a little time spent sussing out our best options, we settled on this approach. What you don't see in this photo is gaping abyss below me and the jumbled blocks we used to cross it... frightening indeed!

Drew taking the second pitch of steep snow and ice of the ridge up to lower angled terrain above.

Our early start meant that the snow was well set up and these 35*-40* slopes demanded focus.

Here's the crux of the route with some other guides just finishing the difficulties.

Pitch one of the ice ridge. Drew took the next lead to the top of the "steep" ice, then we did two more pitches of less steep but hard ice. Close to the summit there were a few more cracks to navigate, but the difficulties of the route were over...

On the summit: 6000' vertical and 7 hours later... and the guide book calls it a Grade III+!!!

Descending the Coleman/Deming Glacier route was a non technical slog. The afternoon sun had warmed up the snow and although tired, we had to be mindful of softening bridges over enormous crevasses. 

We returned to Murkwood, packed up our overnight kit and hiked out to cold beers stashed in the creek at the trailhead. 

Glaciers, crevasses, snow, ice, Murkwood... a perfect introduction to climbing in the North Cascades!
Look for Part 2: Mt Shuksan.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Middle Fork 2010

My first river trip. The Barron of Leisure a.k.a, 'Alpine Al', showed me how it's done...Alpine Style of course, with no raft support!