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.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Zermatt Alpine Climbing Trip Report, August 6 - 12, 2012

Atop the Weismies, 4017m (13,179 ft), with Monta Rosa beyond.
Mason and Scott came over to the Alps with an open itinerary to climb for 7 days in the Zermatt area. They already had a foundation in glacier mountaineering and rock climbing so we aimed for climbs that combined the best of both and then some; glacier approaches to alpine rock climbing with snowy slopes and ridges leading back down to comfortable huts.
The bulk of our trip was spent on what is known as the Spaghetti Traverse, a route that links several 4000 meter peaks along the Swiss-Italian border over several days and culminates in crossing Monte Rosa, Switzerland's highest peak.

Day 1.
Checking in with the locals on the way to the Almageller hut.
Dark clouds covered the mountains so our chances of doing any climbing were slim. We decided to use the day to approach a hut that would let us summit the Weissmeis, 4017m (13,179 ft) the next day. From Zermatt we used a train and bus to access the Saas valley. We spent the morning hiking 4000 ft. up the beautiful Almagellalp arriving at the hut just as heavy rain started.
Clouds lift over the Almageller hut, 2894m (9495 ft).

Originally we had planned to climb a few pitches at the hut's near-by crag, the Dri Hornli. But, today, it was not so dry. Instead we relaxed inside, caught up on sleep and sampled the hut's homemade pie. Before dinner the clouds broke and everyone was outside to take in the views of the surrounding mountains.

Day 2.
Mason and Scott below the SE Ridge of the Weissmies.

We woke to a clear morning. Breakfast time of 4am and out the door at 5am. This would be our schedule for the week. The whole hut (60 people on this day) gets up and gets going together so the mornings are a bit of controlled chaos. Once on the trail things settle out and groups separate so it doesn't feel to crowded. Our plan was to climb the SE Ridge of the Weissmies, then descend the Thrift glacier on the NW side thus making a traverse of the mountain and allowing us to descend to the valley via gondola.
From the hut a trail leads up to the low point of the ridge,  Zwischbergen Pass 3268m (10722 ft). The route drops off the ridge to avoid some small towers, crosses some snow then regains the ridge as it steepens towards the summit.
Scrambling on the Weissmies SE Ridge.
Once back on the ridge we had 1500 ft. of terrific, exposed but not very difficult scrambling on great rock. Around 3900m (12,800 ft) the ridge changes to snow so we donned crampons and followed a sinewy snow ridge to the summit.
Near the summit of the Weissmeis.
Soon we were on the summit and could enjoy views of Monte Rosa, the Mischabell group, the Berner Oberland and beyond.
Atop the Weismies, 4017m (13,179 ft), with Monta Rosa beyond.
We could also see our descent route leading back to the NW, down the Thrift glacier and over to the Hosaas gondola that would take us down to the valley far below.
Descending the West Ridge of the Weissmies.
The glacier was in good shape with and nice track to follow.
Continuing down the Weissmies. The Hosaas gondola station can be seen between Mason and Scott.
One of the last sections had some hanging seracs above, but moving quickly we were through this section in good time.
Boarding the Hosaas gondola for the 1540m (5050 ft) ride back down to the Saas valley. The Thrift glacier and the Weissmies behind.
We arrived at the gondola station early enough to stop in at the nearby restaurant's sunny terrace for a roesti and beer. These were consumed with a view of steep NW face of the Weissmies. Once down the gondola we took the bus and train back around to Zermatt. The weather ahead was looking splitter so we got ready for spending the next 5 days going hut to hut on the Spaghetti Traverse.

Day 3.
Morning traffic in Zermatt.
After a stop at the bakery, we headed for the lifts. One gondola ride would take us from Zermatt at 1620m (5,250 ft) up to Trockner Steg at 2939m (9640 ft).
On the gondola to Trockner Steg, with excellent views.
Our next bump is by aerial tram to the Kleine Matterhorn at 3800m (12470 ft). We walk out the door and we're on the Breithorn glacier plateau headed for the East Ridge of the Breithorn's central summit.
Taking a break on the Breithorn with Monte Rosa behind.
The ridge is a stellar alpine rock climb often done as a day trip because the lift access is so close. It's exposed positions make for great photo ops. On this day there was a little snow from the previous storm, but not so much we couldn't climb it crampon free.
Climbing on the east ridge of Breithorn's central summit.
Along the length of the ridge the views and exposure are impressive. We had a front row seat looking at all the peaks of the Zermatt area, south into Italy and north into Switzerland. To each side the ridge drops away to the glaciers below. After several hours of climbing we reached the top, the central summit of the Breithorn, 4159m (13,645 ft). The celebration of our second 4000m peak was short; the afternoon was getting on and it was decided we needed to make tracks if we were going to catch dinner at the hut.
On the way to the Ayas hut. The route we climbed runs right to left on the rocky ridge on the far skyline, then down the snowy face to the left.
This would be our latest day out and we could really feel the heat while crossing the glacier. Although a little uncomfortable we trudged on. Missing dinner is not an option.
Relaxing on the terrace at the Ayas hut.
After negotiating some interesting route finding down the glacier, we made it to the hut with time to spare. The Ayas hut, at 3425m (11,240 ft), would be our lodging tonight. The very welcoming staff put us in the second wave of dinner. We hung out on the terrace and ate one of the several cans of Pringles that Mason was packing for just such an occasion.

Day 4.
Climbing on Pollux with installed fixed ropes.
We hit the glacier at 5am and headed back up the glacier. The choice before us today was to either climb 2700 feet up and over Castor and head to the Quintino Sella hut early, or tack on the 1100 foot climb of Pollux first, then climb over Castor and then down to the hut. The guys were game for both, and everyone agreed it was well worth the extra effort. The SE Ridge of Pollux starts with easy scrambling then attacks a couple pitches of steep rock. The difficult section is "improved" with thick gym-style ropes that make the climbing very accessible.
Mason and Mary on Pollux.
After the steep rock, the climb takes a snow arete to the summit. We had climbed all the rock with our crampons on so all we had to do was grab our ice axes and head up.
On the summit of Pollux, 4092m (13,425 ft).
The climb of Pollux got high marks. It was our 3rd 4000m of the trip. We descended our climbing route crossed a bit of glacier and started up Castor, a climb we had to make to reach our next hut.
Descending the East Ridge of Castor.
A good track led us 1200 feet up to the summit of Castor, 4223m (13,864 ft), 4000m peak number 4 (our 2nd for the day.) The real treat of Castor is descending the narrow East Ridge as it snakes its way up and down, dropping steeply to each side.
Rifugio Quintino Sella with Lyskamm behind on the right.
From the top of Castor it was only a couple hours down to the Quintino Sella hut where would stay for the night at 3585m (11760 ft). Arriving early in the afternoon we had plenty of time lay boots and gloves in the sun to dry, have a sandwich and a beer, and turn in for good nap.

Arguing rules.
With some time before dinner, Mason found an old Italian version of Monopoli. Between the three of us, an iPod Italian dictionary and some creativity we think we figured it out pretty good. Unfortunately, dinner was served before I was able to crush them both.

Day 5.
Heading towards Lyskamm. Il Naso is the bump on the right, summit on the left.
With another early start we set off towards the hulking mass of Lyskamm, at 4527m (14,852 ft) it is the 8th highest peak in the Alps.
Our route would take us up the icy bump called Il Naso and then down to a small saddle. From there it would be 1000 ft of moderate rock, with a bit of snow, up to the summit ridge. In the pic above, we would climb all the visible skyline from right to left.
Many climbers on the Ludwigshoehe (l) and the Corno Nero (r).
Moving up Il Naso included a few pitches of 50˚ ice to gain easier snow above. Walking the crest we could look out across the eastern Lys glacier where dozens of climbers could be seen crossing glaciers and bagging peaks. This area has relatively easy lift and hut access. On Lyskamm, meanwhile, we had the route to ourselves.
On the South Ridge of Lyskamm.
We switched back into rock mode and made our way up the ridge linking easy scrambling and exposed steeper moves. Once again we climbed up with crampons on, making it easy to continue through snow patches.
On summit of Lyskamm with the Dufourspitze behind.
Coming over the top of the ridge we could see down over 2000 ft down the North Face to the Grenz glacier. We had our fifth 4000m peak of the week. After some pictures and a snack we took a hard right and began our descent of the East Ridge.
Descending the East Ridge of Lyskamm
This exposed and airy fin of snow requires careful footing and lots of concentration. A good track and some secure belays brought us off the ridge and onto the Lys glacier.
Rifugio Città di Mantova, at 3498m (11,476 ft).
We linked up the to the busy routes across the glacier and headed down to the Mantova hut for the night. On arrival at any of the Italian huts we were given the choice of soup or pasta for our starter course. Somewhere around 7pm dinner would be served...
Pasta course (or soup...)
Meat and vegetable or potato course.
Dessert course.
Hence the name... "Spaghetti Traverse".

Day 6.
Signalkuppe (l) and Parrotspitze (r). The Margherita hut is the small black square top left.
After 5 days of continuous climbing we decided on an easy-ish day. All we would need to do is climb 3500 ft up the glacier to the top of Signalkuppe, 4559m (14,957 ft). This be our 6th 4000m peak. At the top is the Margherita hut, the highest hut in the Alps and our lodging for the night.

Day 7.
Capanna Regina Margherita, 4559m (14,957 ft) at dawn.
Our final day would be a long one. From the hut we would climb almost 1000 ft up and over the Dufourspitze, the highest of Monte Rosa's summits, the highest point in Switzerland and the second highest summit in the Alps. Then we would then make the 7000 ft descent down to the Gorner glacier. After crossing the glacier a final 1000 ft hike up would bring us to the stop where we could catch a train back down into Zermatt.
Climbing up the Zumsteinspitze on a cold morning. The Margherita hut on the peak behind.

From the hut we descended a bit then climbed up over the small peak of the Zumsteinspitze. It was the coldest morning of the trip and we had all of our layers on, including puffies under shell jackets. After descending the ridge to the saddle, we climbed the SE Ridge of the Dufourspitze. This was yet another spectacular rock ridge of moderate difficulty and great views. Unfortunately this was where my camera malfunctioned and would not recover before the trip was over. Undaunted, we carried on to the summit of the Dufourspitze, 4634m (15203 ft). 
We claimed our 7th 4000 meter summit of the trip and started our descent. We retraced our route on the summit ridge to where fixed ropes descend the north side of the Dufourspitze. Belaying down these we were soon on the Monte Rosa glacier. A few hours of walking down the glacier and over the talus and slabs brought us to the Monte Rosa hut at 2795m (9170 ft). 
After a quick soda on the terrace we continued down the trail which brought us to the icy expanse of the Gorner glacier. Free of the winter snows the glacier was bare ice but we were able to easily cross its mile wide breadth. A couple ladders up a cliff brought us to the trail which would slowly gain the ridge and put us at the train stop. 
The final view walking out was across the Gorner glacier and most of the peaks we had enchained on the Spaghetti Traverse: the Breithorn, Pollux, Castor, Lyskamm and the Dufourspitze. We had a couple miles to soak in the views before a final jog up the hill got us onto the train back to town. Soon we were in Zermatt and headed for hot showers and a big dinner.
This trip worked out in part because we scored great weather and climbing conditions but largely because Mason and Scott showed up with solid climbing fundamentals, a excellent level of fitness and an open mind to chose the climbs that felt appropriate to the climbers and the conditions. The Zermatt area has many alpine climbing options to chose from; something for everyone really.
If you would like beta for the Spaghetti Traverse, climbing in Zermatt, or climbing Monte Rosa, feel free to call our office at 509-548-5823. For more details on this trip visit our Zermatt Climbing Guides page.