July 26, 2011

Corn Harvest: Shuking on Shuksan

After giving ourselves a day of rest following the arduous rafting trip, Ava and I decided ski season wasn't over and pointed the car north towards Mt. Shuksan.  We hoped to find remnants of epic spring (summer?) corn snow, and that's exactly what we found.

We approached to about 4,600 feet on the Sulfide Glacier route on Saturday evening, which put us at the lower extent of the good skiing.  We had just enough time to cook dinner and make water before going to bed at 8pm.

We got a 0330 start on Sunday morning and made good time skinning up the route.  We stopped for a hearty breakfast of cheese sandwich at the site of our camp three weeks earlier.

0430 breakfast at the site of our camp on our previous attempt
 Shortly after breakfast, as we continued on our way, we were fortunate to watch a shuking awesome sunrise that seemed to last for an hour.  For once, it seemed that Earl, the God of Weather, would smile upon us.

Sulfide Glacier and the Summit Pyramid at Sunrise
 We roped up upon reaching the glacier, which hardly seemed necessary given the complete lack of visible crevasses along the west edge of the glacier.  The route, as anticipated, was very mellow allowing us to ski all the way from camp to the base of the summit pyramid.

Ava skinning up the Sulfide
The upper 400ish feet, known as the summit pyramid, is a steep block of rock and snow.  The easiest way up is via a 45 degree couloir on the south side.  By any other route on Shuksan, the summit pyramid is the last obstacle to reaching the summit.  Via the Sulfide Glacier route, it is the only one.  Staring at this couloir for a few hours while skiing toward it filled me with anticipation.

Two groups started before us, both of which camped higher on the mountain.  We passed the last of them as we reached the summit pyramid, so we were fortunate to be the first to the top that day and not have people kicking rocks and snow down on top of us as we ascended.  We were somewhat less fortunate on the way down.

Looking down, partway up the pyramid (Ava's down there somewhere below my boot and looks a little rockish)
 The final 50 feet required that we get on a rocky ridge as the snow had melted out.  This was exciting in ski boots with a complete lack of rock pro, but the several rappel anchors that we passed and a clever use of an ice axe jammed in a crack was sufficient.  We reached the 9,131 foot summit at 0830 and had it to ourselves for a few minutes.

Mt. Baker from the summit of Mt. Shuksan (the views were spectacular all the way up, but those from the top were hard to beat)
Hooray for summit shots! (not inspired by Craig W.)
We spent some time at the top and took our time down climbing the pyramid.  By the time we reached our skis at the base of it the snow had softened perfectly.  Turns out 1030 at 8,700 feet on Mt. Shuksan was equivalent to Corn O'Clock that day.

Oh, hey.  It's wild corn.
The first 1,500 vertical feet of skiing was perfect, smooth corn snow.  After that, the ride got a little bumpier as sun cups developed and the snow got softer and stickier.  Even so, the skiing was super fun!  I felt sorry for most everyone else on the mountain that day, as they did not have skis and would have to slog down several miles of perfectly good corn snow.

We made it back to the tent around 1300 and spent some time there eating and drinking before packing up and hiking the last few miles down to the car.

The Sulfide Glacier route has a reputation for a being a boring slog.  Without skis, I suppose this is mostly deserved.  However, the way we did it made for a fantastic ski mountaineering adventure involving a pleasant ski approach to the summit pyramid, glacier travel, 400 feet of fun and moderately technical terrain at the top, 4,000+ vertical feet of skiing, and beautiful weather all day long.  Shukcess!

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