Andy: Shuksan is awesome. It’s obviously beautiful, very photogenic, and despite the proximity of the Mount Baker Ski Resort, it can feel pretty wild. After our climb of the Fisher Chimneys, I’d describe Shuksan as a small mountain with big mountain terrain. It’s about 8 miles from the TH to the 9,100’ summit with a deceiving amount of elevation gain, so this is not a diminishment of the climb (it requires a fair bit of effort) but the hanging glaciers and complex rock and ice terrain beget a feeling of the greater ranges.
For our late season climb, we approached entirely on dry trails, leaving the Lake Ann Trailhead a few minutes after 4:00am and reaching Lake Ann just as headlamps became unnecessary around 5:45am. There is a very distinct left-hand break where the trail splits east from Lake Ann towards the mountain. We were surprised at how distinct and well-traveled the trails were – it would be difficult to get lost. The Fisher Chimneys were pretty easy to find. Although the trail becomes less distinct in the scree and talus fields below the chimneys, several cairns mark the way and the path generally follows a gradual slope up and across the talus to the base of the 3rd/4th class bits (there are no sneaky switchbacks or unintuitive changes in direction).
At the very base of the correct chimney (there are multiple, less-desirable options), we crossed a small drainage gully with a remnant snow patch and moved distinctly onto the rock. Once we started scrambling up, it was very easy to stay on track. In most cases, several options exist and the terrain is mostly 3rd class with bits of 4th mixed in. We passed several rap stations that could be used to belay or lower past the most vertical spots. Also, as mentioned elsewhere on the web, both Forest Service and USGS maps mark “Fisher Chimney” “Winnies Slide” and “The Hourglass” in different locations from where most climbers now reference them. This picture helps limit the confusion.
The top of the chimney deposited us on the edge of the White Salmon Glacier, where we quickly turned right (West), crossed a patch of boulders, and ascended a steep (50*) snow slope. Crampons and at least one tool were required here. Once past the steep slope, we crossed another patch of boulders and moved onto the Upper Curtis Glacier.
Andy downclimbing the steepest section we encountered.
This northwest corner of the glacier had melted down to hard glacier ice, which was passable but slightly tenuous in aluminum crampons. We skirted around a few crevasses on the Upper Curt and then moved towards the Hell’s Highway feature. This feature was also fairly steep (max 45* near the top) but much more casual than some of the pictures I’ve seen. Once through this section, we crested onto the Sulphide Glacier, turned left (North) and walked up to the base of the SE Rib on the summit pyramid. The SE Rib was super fun, mostly 4th and low 5th class climbing on solid rock to a summit with spectacular views. This mountain has it all– definitely full-value climbing
Corie: Labor Day Weekend aka the weekend that people flock to far places and brace themselves for long approaches to the peaks they've had vying for the #1 spot on their list. Knowing that we would likely be contending with a lot of people on the route, we left the trailhead (which was packed with cars) prepared to wait in line at the base of the chimneys and/or the base of the summit pinnacle. We brought a few cams in case we needed to take a 'more interesting' variation to the summit.
The approach in the dark was deceiving. You really do lose a good chunk of elevation on your way to Lake Ann (which sits in a beautiful basin about 4 miles up the trail) but it wasn't that noticeable on our way in. We came across a giant, unopened bag of chips and a pipe and joked that someone's weekend was probably ruined now. I made a mental note of it's location (.8 miles from the trailhead) so we could pick it up on our way out if no one else had, and kept hiking down, and then up, to Lake Ann.
Our timing was perfect. We hit Lake Ann as it became just light enough to see the trails branching off from its flanks and were able to easily navigate our way toward Shuksan which was showing itself off in the morning light. It quickly became apparent why the mountain is so photographed–it's stunning! We'd see it a couple of months ago from the Baker Ski Area parking lot (before a quick ski tour the day after climbing the North Ridge on Baker) but were more impressed with it now that we were able to see its complexity up close!
Andy enjoying some casual hiking.
The Chimneys themselves were really fun. I know that's a vague descriptor but they were just plain fun. They reminded me a bit of climbing up the Bowling Alley on Oregon's North Sister (I realize that mountain gets a lot of bad press but I really enjoy climbing it so I'm drawing a parallel between the two!). The rock was definitely more solid on the whole but it was easy to climb in mountaineering boots and with poles shoved behind our backs. Reaching the first section of snow, we came across our first "other person" of the day and chatted briefly with him before continuing up. He mentioned that there were only two other people climbing ahead of us- JUST TWO!- and our psych was renewed. We might actually have this mountain to ourselves!
Making our way up the SE Rib.
Sure enough, we traversed the Upper Curtis, made our way up the Sulphide, and spied two small figures descending the summit pinnacle. We said hello to them in passing, making our way easily up to the base of the spire, and not feeling the need to rope up to avoid crevasses. The climbing on the SE Rib was great- straightforward and on good rock with amazing views of the glaciers below. I highly recommend this climb!
Enjoying views during the sweaty hike out.
Start: Lake Ann Trailhead- 4,700'
Elevation Gain: 7,313'
Time: 12:46 hours round trip, 7 hours to summit, 5:45 to descend
CalTopo GPS Track: https://caltopo.com/m/N9BM
(Download GPX and KML files here)
- 2 liters of water each
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 100' 8mm rope
- Harnesses & ATCs
- 1 picket (didn't use)
- 1/2 rack nuts
- 0.5, 0.75, 1 Camalots
- Gear for 2 anchors
- Extra layers- lightweight shell and puffy
- 1 Ice Axe each
- Trekking poles