Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bagging Shuksan

Mid-week, and with Pacific Northwest June gloom in full effect, it’s hard not to drift back to memories of the clear skies and open corn over the weekend. Ski season continues here in the Cascades, and the bigger peaks are first-served when the weather cooperates. Here’s a dispatch from brand director Charlie Lozner and engineer Eben Sargent on their assault on Cascade-classic Mt Shuksan.

(Warm snow, blue skies, and massive snowy expanses. Photos by Linden Klein.)

What defines the perfect tour? In late-May I choose to define the perfect tour as including long days, glaciers, mixed climbing, and lots of vertical in pursuit of the sublime alpine summits of the Pacific Northwest. This Saturday, I was able to get up to the North Cascades with Eben Sargent and his roommates. Our goal was to ski to the summit pyramid on Shuksan, climb the summit gullies, and Shuk some corn back to the car… all in one long day.

(The endless climb, always longer than it looks.)

On Friday night, we camped under the stars at an impassible section of blow down on the Forest Service road up to Shannon Creek. At 4am we rose to clear skies and cool temps and by 5am were moving quickly up the road, climbing over downed trees and plodding through patches of old pine-covered snow. We approached Shuksan from the south and got our first good look at the summit pyramid as we finally crested onto the Sulphide Glacier. The alpine glacier environment always gives you a warped sense of time and space. What looked so close was actually still very far away. We hit the base of the summit pyramid in time for an early lunch and soon set out to climb the final 600 feet of snow-filled gullies to the summit. The climbing was not technically difficult, but the exposure was enough to give you pause.

(Gearing up for the glacier, and getting a good look at the ascent of the summit pyramid.)

As one can expect in a 7000 feet descent, the snow conditions ran the gamut. Perfect corn under the pyramid degenerated to mushy shmoo by the middle. The bottom through towering pines was actually nice and consolidated, though covered with needles and branches. Twelve and a half hours later, we were back at the cars.

(Summer skiing in the Cascades hits its prime.)

In case you thought the winter was over, it is cold and rainy in Seattle, which means snowing in the mountains. We’ll see what mixed bag this weekend brings.


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