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Trip Report    

Basic Glacier Climb - Mount Shuksan/Sulphide Glacier

Low overnight temperatures and clear skies made for perfect crampon snow from high camp (6400') up to the pyramid but also made for mixed rock and hard snow/ice conditions on the pyramid itself.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Trail had patchy snow from 4000' and then continuous snow from before the National Park boundary at 4800'.  No visible crevasses along the climber's left edge of the glacier or along a more direct path back to camp.  Discovered one hidden crevasse while kicking steps up to the pyramid.

    Pyramid was a mixture of variable but mostly very hard snow and exposed rock with large icicles visible in places.  SE rib looked mostly snow-free and should be good in the near future.

We acquired a permit on Saturday at 8:00AM from the Sedro-Woolley service center and then gathered as a group at the trailhead at 9:45AM.  The road had a good number of avoidable and some unavoidable potholes and some ruts but should be passable by most cars and any SUV.

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The weather on the hike in was a mixture of mist, rain, and occasional snow with minimal visibility.  The trail was spotty snow from around 4000' and continuous snow from before the national park boundary at 4800'.  The snow was soft enough to kick good steps and usually firm enough to hold steps while side-hilling, and the party ascended without putting on crampons.

We camped at roughly 6400', dug out tent platforms, and built up some walls to break the wind coming up over the ridge.  There was no running water at the campsite.  The group enjoyed an early dinner with some peek-a-boo views of Shuksan and then retired to the tents after setting a 1:30AM wake-up to check the weather for a summit bid.

The group awoke at 1:30AM to clear skies, set up ropes, and  got moving.  The previous day's soft snow had frozen overnight to perfect crampon consistency. 

 We followed a track that traced the climber's left on the glacier.  There were no visible crevasses, but the group did encounter one hidden crevasse.  The leader on the first rope team punched one leg through a crust over unconsolidated snow while kicking steps but was able to self-extricate; the rest of the group proceeded carefully past without incident.  The group was the first to arrive at the pyramid (there were two large groups of BOEALPS and some ski mountaineering parties also on the route) and was treated to amazing views of Baker and the North Cascades on the approach.

The pyramid itself was a mixture of exposed rock and snow with some large icicles visible in places.  The snow lower on the pyramid was highly variable with everything from fresh powder to wind-scoured to some BB-sized aerated pellets, but as the pyramid steepened, the snow was rock hard to the point where the party was on their front-points and had difficulty plunging shafts for self-belay or getting good penetration in high-dagger with generic mountaineering axes.  We made the call to back-off the pyramid at that point.  Unroped falls would have been consequential given the feasibility of self-arrest on the hard snow and the presence of exposed rock in the fall line, and only two pickets per rope team would have made it difficult to safely pitch-out the ascent.  For future reference (and not as part of a Basic climb...), the pyramid may be an enjoyable and spicy mixed climbing objective early season when there is a similar hard freeze.

We returned to camp on a more direct path that gave views of the Sulphide and Crystal Glaciers, broke down camp, and headed for the cars.  We left crampons on for a portion of the descent, as the snow remained rock-hard in areas that didn't get direct sun.

 Strava tracks:

 

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