Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mt. Shuksan Fisher Chimneys - Route Beta

Shuksan from Lake Ann
The Fisher Chimneys is a fun way to climb the imposing north side of Mt. Shuksan, and is one of our more popular guided Mt. Shuksan climbs at the Northwest Mountain School.  While a step up in route-finding and technical difficulties from the standard south side Sulphide route, the Chimneys are very doable for strong hikers.  It’s important to note that the USGS topo has several errors:  The Fisher Chimneys are misplaced, Winnie’s Slide is misplaced (it’s closer to the U in Upper Curtis Glacier), and Hell’s Highway is mislabeled as The Hourglass.

The first stop on a trip on the north side of Shuksan is the ranger station in Glacier, WA for backcountry permits and recent route condition information.  From there keep heading up the road, past the ski area to the Ann Lake trailhead.  On good trail make the trek to Anne Lake, about 5 miles.  Heartbreakingly, you will lose about 800 feet of elevation from the trailhead to a stream before heading up to the lake.  Since you will retrace your steps on the way back, it’s uphill to the car.

From Ann Lake, contour to the left on good trail, then go up switchbacks, ending heading towards the Lower Curtis Glacier.  This is a common place to get lost and head onto the Lower Curtis.  Instead, look for a vague trail heading through rock slabs on the above you, at the first reasonable break in the cliffband.  Follow this class 3 ledge system up to another good trail, which will lead you to a talus field. 

The trail heads up the cleft above this snow patch.  Don't get suckered on to the Lower Curtis Glacier
Go straight across this talus slope, resisting the temptation to gain or lose elevation.  There are several faint trails and occasional cairns scattered across this slope.  At the far end of the slope, keep an eye out for spraypainted arrows on a rock buttress pointing the way.  Yes, follow the arrows, they’ll take you where you want to go.

The talus slope.  The Fisher Chimneys start near the snow patch in the center of the photo.
Continue up trail interspersed with short sections of climbing, ranging from 4th class to easy 5th, heading mostly up and to climber’s right.  Keep an eye out for the “stairway” pitches, easily recognized as white troughs with stair step sized holds.  When in doubt, look for crampon scratches in the rock to point the way.  

Start of the Fisher Chimneys
Above the stair way pitches, follow trail to snow, then head up again to the lower camp, below the 40 degree snow slope that is Winnie’s Slide.  This camp has many bivy/tent spots, and occasionally running or still water in a pool slightly below camp.  Another option is to ascend Winnie’s Slide to the higher camp, which generally has running water and several tent spots.

Winnie's Slide
From the higher camp, climb either steep snow, or in late season, hard ice up to a bench.  It’s prudent to go into glacier mode here, as you head straight up, winding your way around crevasses, then to the south, climbers right, under features like the Labor Day route (5.9 dihedral) and the Hourglass (ice dribble) towards Hell’s Highway, the obvious steep and crevassed passage to the Sulphide Glacier above.  Be careful after climbing the short steep snow slope of Hell’s Highway, the western edge of the Sulphide is often hollow and crevasses may be covered by snow. 

Shuksan's Hell's Highway is the sunlit slope.
After attaining the Sulphide, the route is identical to the standard route, with two main options:  The SE Ridge and the Gulley.

The Shuksan summit pyramid..  The SE Ridge is the sun/shade line, the gulley is just left of it.
The ridge is aesthetic and solid, with difficulties of about 5.4 and a sold horn to belay off after every 30 meters of fifth class.  These sections are interspersed with short walking sections.
The gulley is relatively solid, but looser than the ridge, and is mostly 3rd and 4th class.  In early season it can be a snow climb.  Rappel/belay stations are often abundant in the gulley.

A view down most of the SE ridge of Shuksan
From the summit, rappel and/or downclimb the gulley (or ridge, although this is not recommended), then reverse your route back to the trailhead.  Beware the sting in the tail, the final uphill hike to the car.    For more information feel free to call the Northwest Mountain School at 509-548-5823 or drop us an e-mail.

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