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Trip Report    

Glacier Climb - Mount Shuksan/Sulphide Glacier

Turned around due to unstable snowpack leading to avalanche concerns and a summit block that is still covered in snow and ice. Made for a great weekend backpacking trip with fantastic views and a surprise thunderstorm instead.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • We hit continuous snow before gaining the initial ridge.

    At about noon on Saturday, we were ascending the final traverse toward the 6,400' camp, and a large piece of snow broke loose in front of us, leading us to spread out and traverse the area one by one.

    The regular camping area with solar toilet is completely covered in snow, with no rocks visible (or toilet). 

    The third class gully up the summit pyramid is still covered in snow and ice.

    Overall, I would say that this route is not "in" yet as a basic route, since it would require steep mixed climbing to gain the true summit.

A strong party of 9 departed the Shannon Creek TH at around 8:30 AM on Saturday. It was a very warm day; we took plenty of breaks for food and water and made it to our camp at around 1 PM without issue. The rock outcropping with the solar toilet is completely snow covered and it was windy, so we moved slightly beyond the typical camping area into the bowl, just before starting the steepest traverse of the climb up the Sulphide Glacier. There were no visible crevasses in the area.

This was also our first good view of the summit pyramid, which we immediately assessed to have a low likelihood of being able to climb the next day. The gully is completely snow covered, and would require extra protection such as rock pro and ice screws to protect, which we did not have. Nobody that we spoke to that was descending past us had summited; everyone turned around at the summit pyramid.

We chatted and decided to set our alarms for midnight and go to the base of the summit pyramid, to at least get the glacier students some experience, if nothing else. We saw some rain clouds in the distance and got into our tents early, at around 4:30 PM.

At around 7 PM we all awoke to loud thunder. It seemed to be moving through a valley next to us, never getting so close that it led us to do anything other than hunker down in our tents. The rain started coming down, lightly at first, and then a downpour. 

We got up at midnight and immediately saw the damage the rain had done on the snowpack. We were concerned that the changing snowpack combined with the sun would increase avalanche danger if we descended later in the day, after a summit attempt. We decided that we would forego walking to the base of the summit pyramid and instead descend back to our cars at first light. We went back to bed after admiring one of the clearest nights any of us had seen in ages. Multiple planets were out and the Milky Way was in full view.

We got back up at 3 AM and watched as a gorgeous twilight turn to dawn. As we packed, we saw a few climbers ascending the snow notch toward the summit. For a second, we were a little bummed that we weren't up there, but we thought that our team-based decision was a good one, and we all made it out safely and without incident. We enjoyed breakfast at Sedro-Wolley to celebrate our great time together and that we made it home safely. It can be challenging to make decisions to forego a summit based on perceived risks, but this entire team communicated very well and acted like leaders.