A Week of Adventures on Mt. Shuksan
Even since it stopped snowing around here (and pretty much everywhere else in the country too), there has been no end to the e-complaining about the snow conditions on the various ski forums. “It’s too icy”, “its too crusty” …. we’ll the silver lining to rock-hard snow is that it’s easy to move through the mountains very quickly, avalanche danger is minimal, and visibility is generally good, all of which come together to make some big days possible.
Last spring, when it seemed like it was never going to stop raining, Allen and I got shut down on Shuksan many times, so this high pressure has offered us a chance to redeem all those failed trips and we’ve been trying to make as much use of it as we can. Our first adventure this week, a climb of the Northwest couloir with a descent of the White Salmon, went well but didn’t fully quench our thirst.
Our line of ascent for the North Face
On Friday afternoon, Allen, who’d had the day off, came into the store where I work and informed me that he’d just soloed and skied the North Face of Shuksan. He’d only intended on climbing it, but when the snow seemed just soft enough to ski he went for it. The North face of Shuksan is a descent that he and I had been after for the last year, so when I learned that it was “in” in early December I decided I’d I’d try for it the very next day, lest I miss the chance. Skiing the North Face twice in two days can take a lot out of a guy, but I managed to convince Allen that it was a good idea to try. Our Saturday attempt would have a few constraints however; much like our North Twin adventure last spring, I had to be back to work in Bellingham by 4pm, leaving us at most 6 hours of daylight to get it done.
We got off to a slow start when we discovered that Allen had left his ski boots at his apartment. Doubling back added at least half an hour to our drive to the mountain, but once underway however everything went about as smoothly as possible. Allen had the ascent route through the avalanche debris in the valley figured out from the day before. In no time, we were switching over to crampons and staring up at the “L” shaped chute that is a shortcut to the North Face.
Sam, beginning the steeper portion of the day
Just as we began climbing, the wind picked up a bit and we began to see the first wisps of clouds spilling over the Shuksan Arm. We began to worry that we’d be able to get up and down the route before clouds made it too unsafe too ski, so we put our heads down and climbed as fast as we could. As we crossed onto the North Face proper, we saw clouds coming around the mountain from both sides like water around a rock in a stream. The North Face was still clear, but we could tell it wouldn’t stay that way for long.
These clouds were the cause of some concern
Finally at the top of the face, clouds were spilling into the valley and beginning to cover the bottom of the line
Despite all the worries the clouds were causing us, skiing a steep line above a sea of white was an awesome experience
When we finally reached the top, the bottom of the line was being swallowed up by cloud so we switched over as fast as possible, took a few photos and eased our way onto the steep upper pitch. The snow was quite firm, but after a few awkward jump-turns to get our feet back under us, we started to make quick progress down the face. The middle section was the best, we’d gotten used to the exposure and got to enjoy about a thousand feet of great turns above a sea of clouds.
Read about the author: Sam