Sulphide Glacier South Face Gully
Mount Shuksan delivered all the highs and lows that come with mountaineering sending us home with more humility. This mountain certainly left an impression.
Although this route advertises itself as an easier route in the Cascades, no part of this journey was as easy as we thought it might be. Two years in making this particular team and trip endured more adaptability they anticipated. With COVID shutdown, their Pacific Northwest trip being put on pause for a year and having to navigate a historic heat wave — they had tons of curve balls.
After all other objectives fell through we narrowly scored a 2 day overnight permit for Sulphide glacier which wasn’t even our top chosen route on Shuksan. With record high temps and glaciers literally receding before our eyes that week having been there for two weeks we had limited safe options.
Spirits and stoke were starting to rise after we scored a last minute camp spot at Baker lake the night before our hike into camp on the glacier. We almost didn’t find a spot, nearly missed the permit and bear canister pickup window and dealt with a power outage of an entire town during our pre-trip shopping stop. What else could this trip throw at us? More than we would have liked.
Our luck returned with landing the only open camp spot next to the water after a group left early! All we had to do was convince the host. We quickly started our gear prep for the glacier while we ran up and down the road until the host returned with her sister from town.
Cindy and Janice, such lovely ladies, were enjoying the view by the water with some wine before their campground rounds. We buttered them up and proposed a deal regarding the open campsite. She even threw in a discount for the two vehicles. Rad ladies! We offered to refill their empty wine bottle with the boxed Cabernet we had at camp. They were stoked so we scampered off.
We filled the bottle and met them halfway up the road as they were heading down in the golf cart. They were appreciative of the refill and we were pumped about the camp spot.
The next morning we drove to the trailhead, donned our packs and set off on the trail to bushwack our way up to Sulphide Glacier. The trail had a ton of overgrowth and rainforest-like wet fog that day with the overcast weather. We all got wet on this approach.
Whiteout conditions engulfed us once on the snow but we traversed our way to camp stopping in a few spots to route find in low visibility and transition layers. There were a couple steep exposed slopes we traversed en route to camp that actually slid once we arrived. We heard the avalanche from camp and witnessed the debri on our descent. A reminder the heat wave had other intentions!
Just below the final slope to camp the team decided to rope up to practice before our real glacier walk. We made transitions and I guided them up the slope in a white out to camp. We met a guide and one of his party members at the top just below the privy on the ridge crest.
The privy, let me tell you, is one of the best man-made privy spots I’ve experienced with impeccable views while you do your business. The structure itself and the cleanliness were unbelievable.
From the ridge crest we descended and located a spot to establish camp away from other groups. We set up camp during a whiteout which was a new experience for some. We overheard a search avalanche and one of the runout paths across our approach that slid that evening. A few team members were pretty cold with the whiteout conditions and we didn’t have a great view of our objective the following day.
We were in bed early and up the next morning ready to make our summit bid. The romp across the glacier was pleasant and above camp we finally had some more visibility and view of our route. Baker hid behind the clouds all morning barely making an appearance.
Below the summit pinnacle the snow had melted out significantly exposing much of the rock and gully. Steep, the gully was full of loose rock and running water. The scramble up the gully was definitely sandbagged Beckey rating or at least felt that way for vertically challenged folks like myself.
The summit block is small and exposed but the views of Baker are fantastic. We signed the register, enjoyed some snacks and enjoyed the company before prepping for a long unplanned descent.
What should have been around 3 rappels quickly turned into an adventure in and of itself with about 7 rappels and a long slog back to camp ending in the dark. Unfortunately one of our team members was hit by rock fall mid rappel and we were forced into an evac situation. Being a WFR myself I was fortunate to have another WFR on our team to assist in our evacuation and SAR rescue.
Perhaps I’ll share more details about the full event in another post. Luckily everyone made it out of the field this trip and hopefully we all gained a little humility.