Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mt. Shuksan via Fisher Chimneys, July 25 - 26, 2009

Photos here

Sid and I had been talking about climbing the Fisher Chimneys since early this summer. Last weekend, after a little Saturday morning discussion about whether it might be a better use of the weather to just lounge in the sun and sip mai tais, we geared up and headed out to the North Cascades.

We started hiking the Lake Ann trail mid-afternoon. About three miles in storm clouds had gathered, and Sid, always the mountain goat in our party, took off ahead to set up camp before the rain set in. By the time I arrived at Lake Ann he’d already set up the tent. We talked with a family camped out in the area, relocated our tent to a better site, and jumped into the tent as the rain started to pour, stepping outside during a lull to cook dinner, and getting chewed up by hordes of mosquitos. (This would be a theme throughout the weekend – I now have SEVERAL DOZEN mosquito bites.) We also saw a couple of climbers returning to camp, and hit them up for some beta.

Sunday morning we got up a little past 3 AM and got going just before 4. I think we got to the start of the chimneys around 5:30, having traversed scree on Shuksan Arm too high and dealing with an annoying moat crossing as a result. The chimneys were a lot of fun – I’d say third to fourth class with a couple of 5.0 moves. We took the alternative upper chimney (right hand gully) Kearney mentions in his book, not realizing until we exited that it had completely bypassed Winnie’s Slide. From there we had an exposed snow traverse and a little easy ridge scrambling to gain the Upper Curtis Glacier, which we did around 8:30 or 9. We took about half an hour here to relax, eat a snack, and gear up for the glacier. A family of four – parents and two kids, maybe 12ish years of age – had caught up to us by this point and handily moved ahead, leaving us in the dust and impressing us with their pace.

We took a little blue ice up the initial bit of glacier and then were on nicely consolidated snow. Hell’s Highway was cleaved at the top by a large crevasse, so we skirted around it on our way to the Sulphide Glacier. It was uneventful walking the glacier to the summit pyramid, though my feet and legs were definitely feeling a bit heavy and were slowing me down. We hit the summit pyramid a little before noon, ate lunch, and then headed up the summit gully. The gully felt harder than the Chimneys on the way up – there were several strings of fourth-class moves and it definitely kept our attention. The summit was beautiful, and the views fantastic, though in the interest of time (it was nearly 1 PM) we only stopped for a few minutes.

Downclimbing the summit pyramid felt much easier than climbing up, and we made decent time back down to base of the Upper Curtis Glacier. Here we opted for rock rather than the blue ice we’d climbed on the way up. There was a party camped out right here on the ridge, and we chatted with them about possibly doing Winnie’s Slide on the descent. It turned out one of them was a very experienced guide from Colorado, and he was kind enough to lower us down Winnie’s Slide since we weren’t comfortable rapping down on our 30m floss. This, as he’d mentioned, probably saved us almost an hour on the descent.

From here the descent was mostly uneventful. I slowed down a lot downclimbing the chimneys and was probably suffering heat exhaustion hiking from the base of the Chimneys back to camp. Sid was doing far better and making good time, though he’d have to stop frequently and wait for me to catch up. By the time we got back to camp it was 8 PM. We hydrated, ate a bit, and then packed up camp and headed out. At one point Sid thought we’d taken a wrong turn, and we lost half an hour or so exploring and ensuring that we were indeed on the right trail in the dark.

We reached the car at midnight, totally exhausted but happy about a successful trip. We each drove maybe twenty miles, then pulled over and slept for awhile. Then Sid drove the rest of the way to Bellingham, where we downed coffee and some food before finally heading back down I-5 to Seattle, where we arrived, ready to pass out, at 5 AM.

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