Climbing Mt. Shuksan

August 15, 2015 and I get another text message from my buddy Zach "Shuskan on the 19th?" I stare for a couple of seconds, confused because I have no idea what that initially means. 30 seconds later and I have a couple of trip reports pulled up on my phone. I read a couple, view the most common routes, and can feel the excitement immediately in my body. I am down. 

Fast forward and it is Wednesday. I am in Bellingham, reunited with my van, taking care of a few errands. Zach Keskinen and I planned to drive to the Lake Ann Trailhead on Wednesday night, the 19th, and make a one day summit run on the 20th. We planned to meet up near Bellingham and go from there. The little patience I have for running errands left pretty quickly and I frantically jumped from coffee shop to coffee shop, anxiously awaiting Zach Keskinen's arrival so that we could skip town and head to the Lake Ann Trailhead. 

After what seems like forever, Zach has gotten out of the traffic and is close to Bellingham. We meet in Deming, exchange hugs, hop in our independent vans, and go. 

We plan to climb via the classic Fischer Chimneys route up the West side of Shuksan. We set our alarms for 3 AM and pass out. 

At one moment I am dreaming, the next I am wolfing down a chicken and cheddar sandwich, shoving things in my pack, trying to stop my mind from continuing my dreams. We set on the trail at 3:30 AM and begin to cruise.  

Two hours later the sun is rising and we are ascending switchbacks just below the lower Curtis Glacier. With each turn to the west we get a magnificent view of Baker lighting up with the morning.

 Zach and I looking up at the clouds rolling over Shuksan just before sunrise. 

Zach and I looking up at the clouds rolling over Shuksan just before sunrise. 

An hour later, its 6:30 AM at this point, and we are at the feet of some chimneys trying to decide which one is the right one. We check our map and decide we may be a little bit off trail. We correct, or try to at least, and begin ascending a chimney.

45 minutes go by and I am climbing the most exposed thing I have ever been on in my life with a backpack with an obnoxious frame, in my bulky hiking boots, and wearing my ski helmet that looks like a kayaking helmet. It is safe to say that I am beginning to freak out. I stay calm, remember to trust my feet, and continue up the chossy 5.4 chimney.

We top out the chimney and immediately realize that we had actually left trail, having corrected in error. We shrug our shoulders and pick up our pace to catch up on lost time. We reach Winnie's Slide at about 8:30 AM, a 50 degree snowfield about 100m tall. Having never been on anything this steep aside from skiing, I am a little freaked out. However, before I can even become conscious of my fear, I notice Zach booking it up the slope and beginning to set gear. He motions me forward and I begin to climb, kicking my crampons into the ice and hammering my axe into the ice. I keep going up, knowing that I could freak out if I really let myself think about what I am doing. One thing that is awesome about climbing with Zach is that the pace is always just faster than your thoughts so that you have no time to begin second guessing your actions. 

Its 10:00 AM and we are crossing the upper Curtis Glacier, enjoying some shade as the rock above us blocks the sun. 

 Love the patterns that form in these glaciers. 

Love the patterns that form in these glaciers. 

 Looking back on some huge crevasses on the Upper Curtis and a huge waterfall coming down on the right. 

Looking back on some huge crevasses on the Upper Curtis and a huge waterfall coming down on the right. 

We take a quick break and go full steam ahead, charging up a steep section of snow before I can think about it again.

By 11:30 we are standing just below the summit pyramid looking up at four different groups of guided clients descending in zoo like fashion.

Zach and I cruise on by, not without a solid glance or two at Mt. Baker. 

 Mount Baker in all her glory

Mount Baker in all her glory

By 12:30 we summit and Zach lets out this beastly face.

We enjoy the summit and begin in what we know will be a lengthy descent. It takes us about 6.5 hours to get down, a bit shorter than the 9 it took us to get up. At one point Zach and I get into a lengthy debate about drug policy and the definitions of addiction. The conversation, just barely faster than our walking pace, is the only thing keeping us from stopping. We both want to get back and the conversation helps us forget we are walking. 

This being my second big mountain experience, it was interesting to begin to learn a little bit of what to expect when certain parts of my body fatigue. Zach is a pro at these things, fatigue doesn't even seem to show on this guy. 

We get back to the vans, enjoy a victory beer and set sails for Bellingham where we have visions of a pizza (it never happens).

Wow, what a day. 15.5 hours, 22 miles and nearly 8,000 feet of vert. 

I now understand what Fred Becky means when he called Mount Shuksan the "crown jewel of the Northern Cascades."