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Trip Report    

Mount Shuksan/Fisher Chimneys

An amazing outing on a blazing weekend.

  • Sat, Jul 25, 2020 — Sun, Jul 26, 2020
  • Mount Shuksan/Fisher Chimneys
  • Climbing
  • Successful
  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Road to Artist Point still closed. Parked at Chain Lakes TH, 0.7 mile walk to Lake Ann trail. 

    Snow along trail to Chimneys, Lake Ann still frozen. Chimneys mostly dry.

    All glaciers in great condition. Some snow still in summit pyramid.

0730: Roll into the parking lot.
0830: Start hiking from the Austin Pass/Lake Ann trail.
1030: Reach Lake Ann
1145: First chimney System
1300: Second chimney System
1415: Reach White Salmon glacier
1500: Reach bivy at top of Winnie's Slide
1600: Onto Upper Curtis Glacier
1700: Top of Hell's Highway
1820: Base of Summit Pyramid
2000: Summit
2330: Finish rapping down pyramid

0100: Back to Camp, wake up the rest of the parties
0800: Try to get out of bed
1000: Leave camp
1300: Bottom of Second Chimney system
1530: Back to Lake Ann
1800: Back to cars

Terminology: I've heard conflicting reports of what the steep snow ramps are called and where they are, so I'll define them below for this TR:
Winnie's Slide: 1 pitch 45 degrees steep snow from White Salmon to Upper Curtis Glacier
Hell's Highway: 1 pitch 45 degrees steep snow from South end of Upper Curtis to Sulphide Glacier
Hourglass: Snow finger from Upper Curtis Glacier to SW end of summit pyramid. (Was out when we were there)

To get back in the swing of things we decided to do a more 'casual' climb this weekend. The Fisher Chimneys is supposedly Mt Shuksan's most beautiful route, part of the AAI classic 50, and Beckey's Favourites. We teamed up with Mary and Amy, who had attempted this route the weekend before.

At first we were worried about getting an overnight permit and having to camp at Lake Ann. This would have made our second day really long. But Amy pulled a miracle and secured one. We were going to take this trip nice and easy in all aspects.

For this trip I decided to try going lightweight again. Because the weekend was so warm we opted to skip the tent and bivy instead. I opted for a 30 degree bag and foam pad. I also brought only hiking boots with aluminum crampons. With the rope my pack was 25 pounds to begin with (still too heavy for ultralight though).

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We strolled out of the lower parking lot to the Chain Lakes trailhead, which felt like another 100ft of gain. Already 25 pounds was too heavy. The downhill was nice for a bit, but we all knew it would suck going back. The four miles to Lake Ann passed quickly. There was still snow on the trail but it was melting fast. We refilled our water at the stream after Lake Ann and stopped to take in the views.


Trail at the valley

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Frozen Lake Ann

While the view of Mt Baker was really cool, from the Park Glacier side it was a big white cone. Mt Shuksan had the Shuksan Arm, summmit pyramid, one Curtis Glacier hanging off the side of rocks and falling to another. I wonder if it was still possible to climb from Lower Curtis Glacier directly to the summit.


The White Cone

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The Shuksan Arm and Curtis Glaciers. The lower one doesn't look like it will last the next decade.

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We followed a rappel station on a tree through the first scramble.

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Onto rock

The second system was much longer and sustained and had an interesting dihedral that didn't look downclimbable. It was quite short, but it looked like if you fell you would hit the ledge and then tumble down to the abyss. I'm not sure if that makes it low-fifth instead of fourth class. I've heard of some parties pitching this part out.

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Looking at the second chimney system

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The crux dihedral

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Red flowers

After that the rest of the scrambling was cruiser. We passed a party going down warning us of crowds on the summit. Here we began to joke about summiting tonight and sleeping in. Sleeping in sounded tempting.

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Purple flowers

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Looking back

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Touching White Salmon Glacier

We mozied up Winnie's slide to a rocky bivy spot when we saw a bunch of parties descending Hell's Highway. Not wanted to get stuck waiting for other on the summit block we made the decision to push for the summit that night. We ate, refilled, dropped overnight gear, and headed out.

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45 degree snow

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Potential seracing at Upper Curtis

We cruised up the Upper Curtis and Hell's Highway. The snow was steep but soft and the steps were huge. We encountered many parties not needing crampons at that point. When we got to the Sulphide there was a single pair of splitboarders heading down. We had the whole route to ourselves now. Walking over the rock in crampons ate alot of time, so we had to hurry the scrambling a bit since we wanted to be off the pyramid when it was dark.

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Better view of Baker

With the sun out of view the rock was slicker and colder and we had to be more careful in our movements. Amy and I got off route and had to make a sketchy traverse near the summit to get back to the main gully.


Finally on the summit

We reached the summit at 8pm, took our quick photos, and immediately set up a rappel, not wanting to downclimb in darkening conditions. With one 60m rope between us 4 it took a bit of time. Our last rappel took place entirely in the dark, and we had to make a sketchy downstep after.

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Start rapping

FS_sunset.jpgEven better view of Baker

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Getting off the rock in the dark

As we walked down the Sulphide we saw the light of Bellingham show us the way. The snow was getting firmer but still soft enough to plunge step if need be. Carefully we downclimbed Hell's Highway. Here hiking boots were at a disadvantage since they were not fully waterproof and my feet were getting colder. I wondered how long it would take for me to get trench foot.

We rolled into camp at 1am, probably waking up everyone about to head up in a few hours (Sorry Mike). We wolfed down some food, chugged what we had left, and slid into our cocoons. The stars were out in force and the wind was soft. A clear-sky bivy is always a night to remember. Most of us slept like rocks. I woke up time to time to see the other teams head out.

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I sort of woke up at 8 am and fumbled around until I got hungry. We made last night's dinner (Seafood ramen with italian meatballs, fresh spinach and hardboiled eggs) this morning and ate as much as we could to shave the weight. Real meals really are the key to climbing. As two teams passed us on the descent, we realized we needed to move if we were ever going to get home. Here I was wishing we could have shuttled from Sulphide. In a year without Covid Amy would have called her parents to pick us up, but this was not the year.

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Alpine start

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We started the long descent at 10 am, downclimbed what we could, and rapped what we couldn't (The dihedral and the step at the very first chimneys were the only section all four of us rapped at). We took our time to refill water and dry our shoes and gaze upon the views once more, wondering when the glaciers here would be gone for good.

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Natural AC

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There was two feet of snow here the day before. The snow is melting real fast.

We trudged our way back to the cars by 6pm. The mosquitos were bad, and the uphill worse, but the company and conditions made everything almost Type 1.

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All in all, an amazing weekend. Thank you Julia, Amy and Mary!

Photo Credits: Julia Syi, Mary Simpson