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John Guilford's Hikes

Mt. Shuksan (Sulphide Glacier Route) on 1992-06-27/28

Date: 1992-06-27/28

Location: Mt. Shuksan (Sulphide Glacier Route)

People: (including myself): Louie, Jay Miazga, Chris, Jeff, Mel, Brad

			My Alt.	Real Alt.
Start:		5:45 A	2820	2820
Camp:		11:30	6000	6100
Leave:		4:10 A
Out:		7:00
We started off at 7pm on Friday night with the intent to spend the night at a campground near the trailhead.  Jeff and Mel (short for Melanie) have a mongo sized van that fit all of us and our gear, so we had a convenient way to get all of us up there.  To get to the trailhead, you drive up to the north end of Baker Lake and then take a couple of dirt roads 'til the end.  We stopped at the ranger station at Baker Lake to sign in.  There we discovered that we were supposed to get a back country permit for camping and that we were supposed to get it back at the National Park place in Sedro Wooley (or from any ranger, but there weren't any rangers around).  The campground was full, so we decided to camp out at the trailhead.  We got there and parked.  Brad had a bivy sack for the climb, but had brought a 3 man tent for the evening.  Brad, Louie, and I slept in that.  Jeff, Mel, and Chris slept in the van, and Jay set up his bivy sack.  Louie had said that he wanted to start up the trail at 4am, which seemed awfully early to me.  We ended up getting up at 4:30 and hitting the trail at 5:45.  Most people had bivy sack, but both Chris and I had brought tents.  Since her's was lighter than mine, we decided to use her's, so I got rid of my tent, but picked up a rope so the weight was about the same.  My pack only weighed a bit more than 40 lbs this time (Snow II had closer to 50 lbs) and I was wondering what I had forgotten.  I didn't bring a stove (I was going to use Jay's), but I did bring some extra fuel since I envisioned melting lots of water. 

For breakfast I had a couple donuts and a bagel and 1-1/2 quarts of water (I wanted to start off the day really hydrated).  I ended up going to the bathroom 4 times in the first hour, though. 

The beginning of the climb was pretty inauspicious.  The first mile or so is on an old road bed, so it is nice and even and smooth (though consistently climbing in an easy grade) but it is somewhat overgrown.  We started off and started climbing a stream bed with lots of rocks and fallen trees to climb over.  We did this a bit until Louie decided we were going the wrong way (actually we had seen an orange tag where we were supposed to turn and ignored it) so we climbed back down and took the correct route which was *much* better hiking.  A ways down that, Mel remembered that she left her water bottles back at the van.  We debated for a while whether to go on with what we had, or to go back and get them.  Since we had all day, Mel dropped her pack and went back for the bottles. 

The roadbed goes on for about a mile.  The bushes grow tall on either side and hang into the path way, so that you have to push your way through them.  They were still quite damp from the dew, and we got damp going through them.  It was warm though (about 60-65) so that wasn't a problem.  At the end of the roadbed, the trail turns left and switchbacks up the side of the ridge.  Here, the going got slower as the grade was significantly higher.  You are still going through brush at this point.  Towards the top of the ridge you leave the brush and enter into forest.  Here we got into some mosquitos.  Jay decided his feet were rubbing in his boots and stopped to put on some moleskin.  The bugs were bothering me, so I put on some insect repellent (which, in hind sight, I didn't need) and also put on some mole skin since I could feel my heels rubbing to. 

The trail follows the top of the ridge for a while and then ends and a boot track continues.  This led across some small snow patches until it grinds up about 100 feet to a pass that sets you onto a more major snow field.  I was one of the slower people going up here since my legs were feeling fatigued (I haven't done that much back packing, and I'm not used to carrying that much weight).  Chris was having difficulties since she had some real good sized blisters on her heels (she has been going on climbs every week or two lately, and her blisters don't heal before the next climb so they kept getting worse - she finally decided to take a few weeks off).  At the pass we stopped for a break and got out our ice axes.  On a cliff side off to our right we saw a small avalanche (nothing too exciting, just some snow sliding down the side).  The route crosses the snow field staying high (below some cliffs that were above) and crosses some rock fields along the way.  I had been sweating coming up so far and had been doing a good job of drinking my water.  I started off with two quarts and was part way into my second one by now.  It would have been hotter and thirstier later in the day, so I can see some usefulness in starting as early as we did.  On the way up I made the following notes to myself: "hot! long! steep!". 

As it was still before noon, I took my time crossing the snow field and climbing up the far side and consequently fell back a ways from some of the leaders.  Our goal was the snow field just below the toe of the glacier.  After crossing under the cliffs, the route climbs up the side to the top of the ridge that connects with the glacier.  By this time I was fatigued and a little light headed.  I realized that my blood sugar was low and got out some gorp to eat, which helped.  I should have eaten more earlier (though I had some back at the pass and some other places already).  It was convenient being behind the leaders as they decided a better place to camp was right above a little rock outcropping down on the side of the ridge.  Thus Jay, Chris, and I could do a descending traverse from where we were instead of climbing all the way to the ridge top and then descending back down.  It was a nice campsite for several reasons.  We got to sleep on the snow, which is a lot nicer than sleeping on rocks.  We had nice dry rocks to sit on, put gear on, cook on, etc. while staying nice and dry.  Primarily the reason for siting there was that we had running water! Off to the side of the rocks was a stream where the melt water left the snow field.  We could just walk over there and fill up water bottles real quick instead of having to use a lot of fuel and time melting snow.  It turns out that I didn't need the extra fuel I brought after all. 

It was still before noon (11:30) and we had all afternoon to kill.  The weather was bright and sunny and warm (getting up to 75ish).  I had some lunch (canned chicken and bagels - which worked out real good), helped cut a level spot in the snow for our tent.  Off to the north, the Sulphide and Crystal glaciers began an dropped off into a spectacular descent to Sulphide lake.  This was heavily crevassed and looked really neat.  During the afternoon we could hear quite a few avalanches, some of which sounded pretty big, but we never saw them.  We figured that they might be below our line of sight and that maybe we were hearing the echoes of them. 

I pulled out my radio and found that I got a real strong signal from NOAA weather in Seattle, and also got a pretty good signal from our repeater, though the HP repeater couldn't hear me.  I really had doubts that I would be able to get out from Shuksan and I had planned not to expend a lot of effort climbing up to try and do so (since I figured it would probably be a waste of time).  I was feeling tired (fatigued) and was a bit concerned as to how I would do tomorrow on the summit bid and descent.  We camped at 6100 feet and the summit was 3000 feet higher, so we still had quite a bit more to go.  Additionally, my stomach was a bit strange, due to the funny sleep schedules, etc.  However, I had nothing else to do, so around 2:30 I decided to climb up to the ridge top and see if I could get out.  I took my time climbing up there, and then found that there was a slightly higher ridge further on.  I went up there (and found that the top of the ridge was pretty flat and would also make a good campsite - which another group did use) and went south towards the end of the ridge and I could get my best clear shot out towards the repeater.  To my surprise, the repeater heard me okay and I got a chance to finally give Pam that call I had been promising her. 

After that I went back down to camp and took my boots off and put on my sneakers that I carried up.  I didn't like going on the snow with them, but they were great for on the rocks.  Mel had lost a hat, that she really liked, on the way up and thought that it might have been at the pass.  I certainly didn't have the motivation to climb all the way back down there and back up to here for a hat, but she did.  Unfortunately, she didn't find it.  We were in the North Cascades proper and Louie had been somewhat concerned about our lack of the back country permit since if a ranger came upon us without it, they could kick us out and make us leave.  There was some talk about camping at the park boundary below the pass, but we decided that we were better off continuing on to where we were, and that if a ranger showed up, we'd be able to explain and be allowed to stay.  It turns out that we didn't meet any rangers, so there wasn't any problem. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent killing time and trying not to sun burn.  A number of people stretched out there thermorests on the snow and took little naps.  I laid on mine, but didn't really do any snoozing.  It was pretty hot in the sun, particularly since I had on my dark blue long underwear.  I had the longs sleeves down to keep my arms from burning (I didn't know if I wanted to trust the sunscreen) and I was warm.  I had debated bringing up my holey cool hiking shirt but didn't and now I wished that I had.  I killed some more time until about 4 when I thought the sun might have moved enough that I could find a little shade behind a rock.  I looked and did find one spot that gave about a foot of shade, and climbed in there.  It was kind of a pleasant spot and I watched this small fuzzy mammal.  I don't know what it was, it reminded me of a marmot, but it was too small - only about 8 inches).  I watched it for a while and then Jay came by and tried taking its picture for a bit. 

It was beginning to cool off so I went back to the main camp area.  A cool breeze had developed off the snow field/glacier and I had to put on my grey fuzzy (polypropylene coat).  Around 5 people started getting out their stoves and making dinner.  Unfortunately, Jay wasn't around.  I waited a bit and then discovered him quite a ways down the rock taking pictures.  I waited a bit longer, then got impatient and went down and asked him about his stove, at which point, he came up and started it for dinner.  He had been taking pictures of flowers and stuff.  He boiled some water for dinner (he had a freeze dried meal) and I cooked up my rice gunk.  This time I had tomato paste that I stuck in a tube along with italian herbs and garlic powder.  I mixed this in with minute-rice and added the other half of the can of chicken I had for lunch.  The chicken worked real good with the meal.  I started with about a cup of dry rice, which was about the right amount for my meal.  In hind sight, I think I would have preferred a bit less rice and maybe a bagel or something for more variety. 

After dinner I cleaned up and got things arranged for tomorrow.  The weather said a front was moving through and that there was a 20-30% chance of thunderstorms in the mountains.  We were hoping that it would either miss us or be delayed long enough to get the climb in.  So far the sky remained clear above us, though we saw a lot of clouds to the west and south, they all stayed down there.  Louie laid out the ropes and we all tied in for practice and then I went to bed about 7:30.  I had forgotten to bring a garbage back to put my pack in, and it didn't fit in the tent.  I was a bit concerned about that, but there wasn't anything I could do about it then. 

It was cool enough that I could sleep in my bag without overheating too much.  To my surprise, I slept pretty good.  My alarm watch went off at 2:05 and I got up.  I heard Jay and Louie talking outside the tent and got the impression that Louie was thinking of canceling the climb.  After getting dressed I went outside.  It was clear where we were, but you could see lightning off to the south and west (and some flashes off to the east - but that view was mostly blocked by the ridge).  We made breakfast (with headlamps - which worked out quite well).  I made up 3 packets of oatmeal.  By the end I really didn't feel like eating anymore but a) didn't want to have to deal with doing something with the left over oatmeal, and b) knew that I'd need the energy if I was going to the summit.  Initially Louie's plans were to rope up and start up and see what happens.  We saw one party moving up to the glacier while we were eating.  It became apparent that the lightning was getting closer and Louie finally decided to bag the summit and head down as soon as it got light.  We recoiled the ropes and broke camp.  We had plenty of time to do this since we couldn't leave until 3:30-4:00 when it got light (which was a bit later due to the thunderstorms east of us).  By now we could start hearing thunder in addition to seeing the lightning.  That, coupled with an occasional avalanche, prompted someone to say, "I think the mountain is telling us something - its time to leave." Strangely enough, we heard what we thought was a ptarmigan out on the snow, though we couldn't spot it with the headlamps.  While we were getting ready we'd get these occasional breezes of really warm air blowing by. 

I had an easy pack to carry down since, as I carried the rope up, someone else carried it down, and I didn't have a tent to carry.  Just before we started down we noticed that Baker lake got completely closed in with fog/clouds.  You could almost watch it rising up from the lake.  We had just started and were part way across the snow field when the cloud came over the pass and enveloped us.  There was so much water droplets in the air that I had to take my glasses off, as I could see better that way.  Visibility dropped to about 20 feet which made route finding hard.  In our case, we were fortunate that we could follow footsteps back down.  We also knew the terrain and could always get back (though not optimally) by traversing to the cliff band and then following them down.  We made a strict point about keeping together with frequent body counts.  It was actually rather neat as it gave me more of an appreciation for some of the stories that I've read about climbers being in a white out and for what it would be like except that in our case it was mostly an inconvenience, while in their case, if they didn't find a camp they could die.  We descended down the snow field and towards the bottom the band of clouds raise up a bit and we could again see where we were going.  During this time the whole cloud would occasionally light up from lightning strikes.  I definitely wouldn't have liked being up on the ridge or the glacier, especially holding a nice metal ice axe.  We crossed to the pass and dropped down the other side. 

I had to stop and take off some clothing.  I had my Gore-Tex coat on and my short sleeve and long sleeve underwear underneath.  I was sweating by now (and had been for a while) and took off the long sleeve underwear.  I had the long johns on my legs, but didn't bother getting out my nylon overpants and just let them get wet as it wasn't cold. 

The trip down was rather uneventful.  We hit the same band of mosquitos in the trees that we met on the way up.  At one point Mel somehow got off the trail and had to call out to find us and get back to the trail.  Mel also talked to another group of climbers who had seen her hat (the one she lost) on their way up and had put it on a tree limb (it was real near the beginning of the climb when we first hit trees).  Unfortunately, it wasn't there when we came down.  We figured a different group probably took it. 

The trip down was pretty uneventful.  After the initial rain, the rain mostly slacked off, and by the time we were down you could see some blue sky.  If we were more familiar with the route (none of us had been on it before) we might have been able to wait out the storm and then gone up, but it looked like clouds and storms would be crossing the mountain all day.  I think it was the correct decision to bag the summit and just go down. 

We got down to the van, changed clothes and got home a real decent hour (9:30) which would be the time that I normally would get started moving on a Sunday.  I guess it has to do with getting up at 2am. 

The only casualty that I incurred was that I bruised my big toe nail on the way down.  I had the boots laced up at tight as I could, but they were rental boots and didn't fit me real well, and there was enough movement that the nail hit the front of the boot during the descent.  It was quite sore by the time I got down.  Coming down the snow wasn't bad since I could land flat footed (plunge stepping).  Coming down the trail, on the other hand, was typically sloped.  On the steeper portions I tried side stepping the terrain to make it easier on my foot.  I'll have to see if I end up losing the nail or not. 

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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015