Mt. Shuksan (9150')
Fisher Chimneys - July 16-17 '99
Mt. Shuksan (not yet)
Party: Me, Tracy, Neil Fried, Michelle Engelhart, Della Quimby, Rich
Campbell and Richard Chamberlain.
Weather: Despite threats of serious thunder and lightning for the weekend,
copiously conveyed to all party members by climb bailer Tom, we had pretty
much awesome weather. The hike in on Saturday was warm and sunny. Saturday
evening we did have some light showers and heard the occasional clap-o-thunder.
Sunday was back to great weather, a mix of low cloud and sun.
We hiked in to lake Anne and then proceeded a little further, camping below
a clump of trees just after crossing a broad bowl. We had snow from the
Ski-area parking lot.
Neil and I prepare to leave on our Recon trip
On Saturday night, Neil and I went for a recon trip
to see if we could make heads or tails of the approach and route through
the chimneys. It was definitely a worthwhile endeavor. The entrance to
the lower chimney involved a moat negotiation and some tricky scrambling
on wet rock followed by a steep exposed snow climb. We got as far as the
long traverse to view the upper chimney area. It was unclear to us at the
time which was the correct way. We had hunches about the correct entrance
point, and in general, it looked a little scary, figuring we would have
to ascent the predominant steep snow couloir for a few hundred feet.
The route up the chimneys (pc: GS)
It turns out that our suspicions were correct. Looking beyond the chimneys,
the hell's highway area is easy to see and we were pleased to see that the
path looked remarkably clear of crevasse action.
Sometime Sunday morning, everyone but Tracy and I were awoken by a thunderous
nearby avalanche. Neil says that it sounded and felt like the avalanche
was going to come right through our tents. Apparently there were some raised
heart-rates. Tracy and I slept through the whole thing!
This event had everyone concerned about the conditions the next morning,
but looking around there was no evidence of avalanche activity. The snow
was solid. There was no debrie anywhere.
The climb was awesome: It challenged me to limits I had not tested. Ascending
the chimneys was really a steep snow lead. The upper gulley was at least
45-55 degrees in some sections. I took all the pickets from our two rope
teams and lead up the slope, with Tracy and Neil Simul-climbing behind
me. I placed one picket per half rope length for three full rope lengths.
Neil left the pickets behind for the other team to clip through on their
way up. The snow was perfect.... perfect for kicking solid steps, yet solid
enough to trust the pickets would hold a substantial fall. At the top of
the chimney, I stood on a knife edge of snow. 15 feet below me, I could
see the scramble trail coming out of the snow wall.
Neil on the Knife edge at top of Snow Chimney (pc: GS)
We could not get down
to the normal trail, so we continued up a rock gulley. Neil lead this,
again more like simul-climbing to the top of the chimneys. We rested and
waited a while for the other 4 to catch up with us.
Neil waits at top of Chimneys - Baker in Background (pc: GS)
From the top of the chimneys, the climb was in great condition, making
for an easy glacier slog. Winnies slide was well covered in snow. The entrance
onto the upper glacier was steep and icy, but fun.
Neil and Tracy head up the Curtis Glacier (pc: GS)
The traverse over to
Hell's gate and Hell's gate itself were in great shape with virtually no
crevasses open. And finally, the walk up to the base of the summit pyramid
was also no more than a low angle snow slog. At the base of the summit
we stopped for another short break and watched the hordes of climbers moving
up and down various aspects of the pyramid. more like sprawled all over
the place. There was still plenty of snow everywhere, so it was unclear
as to which is the standard central gulley. We headed up to what is probably
the central gulley and ran into a log jam of people, a couple other parties,
deciding whether to go that way or not. Moments earlier some nasty rock
fall was sent down the gulley right where we were planning on ascending.
At this point, less than 200 feet from the top, there were both people
climbing down and people waiting to head up. We decided that it was unsafe
to climb the gulley in these crowded, snow-covered conditions and backed
off. In the interest of time as well, we knew the crux of the entire climb
would be getting back down.
Sulphide Glacier looking South from our highpoint on the summit pyramid (pc: GS)
We had come up some pretty steep slopes, and as everyone knows, getting
down steep slopes is often more difficult, technical and time consuming
than the coming up. Of course that claim is entirely dependent on the confidence
of an individual's snow climbing skills. It became clear that my team lacked
appropriate snow descent techniques and confidence. This isn't really a
big deal, it just means things take more time to get the job done safely.
People with extreme snow confidence would ski or glissade quite steep slopes,
from there on down the confidence line, one would quickly plunge step prepared
for self arrest, then plunge step with self-belay every step, then perhaps
down climb facing in with stake-position self belay, and then, at the bottom
of the confidence level or physics of steepness one uses anchors, belays
and rappels. (Belays may of course be used in any of the methods depending
on the consequences of the run-out).
The steep, icy section above Winnies slide, we belayed a Neil down
who placed pickets for followers protection. This section would have
been much easier if we had left our crampons on, since there were some
exposed icy sections, or worse, ice below thin layers of snow. On Winnies
slide, I set up an anchor permitting each person a belayed glissade down
the slope. This whole process was quite slow, as I had to recover
the belay rope after each person and lower each person one at a time. I
followed plunge stepping and clipping out of pickets that Richard Cambell
placed for me.
The crux of the descent came at the top of the chimneys. When we got
there we joined two other parties, one of 4 and one of 2.... thats 13 people
at the top of a 45 degree snow slope thinking about getting everyone down
safely. Somehow, we agreed to set up rappels sharing ropes all the way
down. The first team used our ropes and rappeled down the pitch. Deciding
that they couldn't set up an anchor there, they abandonned the rappelling
plan and down climbed un-roped (facing in with self-belay). Happy to have
had our time wasted with other people using our ropes, I bit my tongue
and proceeded as I would have in a normal situation. I rapped down the
ropes, set up an anchor (with no problem) and tossed a fixed line
down the slope. As each person from my team finished the rap, they down
climbed with a prussic on the fixed rope. Another anchor was set up at
the end of that line and the process repeated. Being left at the top of
each pitch, I had the last person leave a line of pickets and clip my rope
through them. Neil belayed me down as I plunge-stepped and removed the
protection. I was impressed at my own increasing confidence, but was certain
that as the slope reached its steepest point toward the bottom, I would
have to face in.... in the end, I remained facing out the entire way...
still impressed today, and definitely more confident for future climbs.
We probably spent at least 2-3 hours getting down the Chimney!
The rest of the descent was less difficult, though people were getting
tired and longing to be finished. We got back to camp around 7PM, after
16 hours above. The team decided that they wanted to head out that night,
as some had to work the next day. We packed up camp for an hour and then
made our way back to the parking lot in 3 hours. A 21 hour day was enough
for me, so Tracy and I crashed in the back of my truck, Neil in his. Amazingly,
Della chose to drive everyone else home to Seattle, another 3 hours, to
record a 24 hour mini-epic day. That 3 hour drive was still probably the
most dangerous event of the weekend.
Tracy and I woke up around 5AM, ate breakfast in Bellingham, and
I was at work a little after 9.
I have a lot more to say about this climb.... one of the reasons it
has taken me so long to get the report done. It was a great experience.
The climbing (down) was challenging, the weather was great, I love mini
epics, I improved my skills and gained confidence, I hope and expect everyone
else made similar progress. No we did not summit, though I still
consider it a great success. Yes, I will have to go back to summit, but
most definitely with a smaller team, and probably on an even more exciting
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Last updated: Oct 6, 1999 & Feb 17, 2000
Copyright © 1999 Gordon Schryer.