Mount Shuksan – North Face 2002


Thanks for the photos Jon

Ascent of Mt. Shuksan – North Face – jul2002
Team: Gary Hehn, Jon Jumnoodoo, Dave Stephens, Ben Witzenman

This was a very interesting climb for us. Although, Jon’s camera ran out of battery on us so, he was unable to get pictures for the whole trip. We were too late for a good snow approach into the valley so, we followed the stand of large trees furthest up the valley down to White Salmon Creek. Barring a good snow cover, this seems the best approach. When given a choice, choose old growth! We made our first camp at the base of the North Face.

The warm temperature made us a bit concerned about what the condition of the snow on the North Face would be in the early morning. Would it be cold enough to be stable? In the morning we determined conditions to be good enough to make the climb. Unbeknownst to us, it was Jon’s birthday and he had packed his own cake. After a breakfast of chocolate birthday cake we set off for the north face. We felt we had it easy as a large group had climbed the face the previous day and left a near perfect track for us to follow. Along the way I noticed some thin black strings about an inch long in the snow and initially assumed them to be pieces of moss blown in from below. But, I then discovered that they were moving! Could this be an altitude induced illusion? We weren’t that high! I mentioned them to the others in the group but, they hadn’t noticed anything. Hmm-mm wonder if I should be in the lead – better watch me.

From the top of the North Face, we continued around the east flank of the summit pyramid. We were treated to a great mixed rock and snow ascent to the summit. By the time we descended from the summit it was late afternoon. We decided that since we were now on the south side of the peak in the warm sunshine and were about to travel to the north side, probably to the bivy site in the shadows just below Winnie’s Slide that this would be a better place to have our dinner. So, we basked in the sun on a rock bench at the base of the summit pyramid, taking full advantage of the pleasant conditions.

With renewed energy we gathered our gear and continued down towards Hell’s Highway and Winnie’s Slide. After traveling only a short distance, I again noticed those black creatures in the snow. This time there was no mistaking it and I yelled to my companions. Sure enough they were seeing them also. At times they were so thick that the snow had a grey tint to it and this continued from above Hell’s Highway down to Winnie’s Slide and the area at the top of the Fisher Chimneys. Turns out that these fascinating creatures were snow worms, related to the earth worm and found only in the Cascades. None of us had ever seen them before, including Dave who had a great amount of experience climbing in the Cascades, having summited ninety four of Washington’s one hundred highest peaks! This one, by the way, was number ninety four.

We bivied at the top of the Fisher Chimneys on the White Salmon Glacier. I picked a spot near the rocks which turned out to be not the greatest choice. Sometime in the night I became aware of a rustling sound playing with the sound of the breeze behind me. I lay waiting for an opportune time to make a quick swiveling motion and to peer out from my bivy sack. Sure enough a large rodent like visitor, I’m guessing the “Fisher Chimney” pack rat was perusing my pack. So up I got and moved out farther away from the rocks, beyond my companions – let them deal with the pest, right? It worked and the others reported in the morning that they weren’t bothered.

In the morning we began our descent of the White Salmon Glacier. The night must have been even warmer than the previous one. There was a thick layer of mushy snow about six inches to a foot deep that would sluff off. We were afraid that one of us would get caught in a sluff and pull the rest of us along generating our own sluffs. The snow would build up under us and it would be very difficult to arrest. About this time a guide with a client showed up and told us that the conditions below were not good and that they wouldn’t want to descend in those conditions. They also told us that the day before a large group, probably the one that left the tracks on the North Face for us, had stalled for over an hour in one spot trying to determine how to proceed. Soon after hearing this and reassessing the conditions we decided to work our way back up the glacier to our bivy site and to descend via the Fisher Chimney route. The Fisher Chimney route offered us some moderate snow and rock down climbing. This was surely the longer way out but, we felt it made for a much safer day.

belay off! gary