Blackbird teams reached the summit of Mt Shuksan on Monday after climbing the Fisher Chimneys and Southeast Ridge. Led by guides Zeb Blais and Brandon Seymore, the climb went smoothly with fit climbers, excellent weather and great route conditions. The final push up the summit pyramid by the Southeast Ridge added some excitement for our climbers!
Getting ready to start the hike into the Fisher Chimneys on Mount Shuksan from the Lake Ann Trailhead. Photo: Brandon Seymore.
We began our 3-day climb early to avoid the heat of the day. Our fit team made great time to Swift Creek, Lake Ann, up the Fisher Chimneys to Winnies Slide Camp where we were able to relax and enjoy the incredible views of the Upper Curtis Glacier, Hells Highway and the summit pyramid of Mount Shuksan. This also allowed us to take advantage of the hot sun and dry our boots and clothes.
Conditions have changed quickly in the last couple of weeks, and it was amazing to see how much snow had melted. Between Lake Ann and the Fisher Chimneys, there were only 4 snow patches remaining. The first was at the steep rock step well before the Chimneys just after the entrance to the North Cascades National Park. This thick blob of snow guarding the entrance to the steep rock and trail above is still 15+ feet thick and is dangerously undercut in areas - approach the edge with caution!
Brandon short roping the short 3rd/4th class step just above the first patch of snow. Above the snow, the trail steepens, leading to the talus field holding the next 3 snow patches and the entrance to the Fisher Chimneys. Photo: Zeb Blais.
The next 3 patches of snow are on the talus field just before the entrance to the Fisher Chimneys. Depending on timing and weather, it's pretty reasonable to cross these snow patches without crampons as they are short and low angle. Often, these patches can be hollow with the hot rocks melting out the snowpack from below, so use caution here as well.
Heading towards the entrance to the Fisher Chimneys on Mount Shuksan, with the last snow before Winnies Slide shown. Photo: Zeb Blais.
The Fisher Chimneys themselves are fully clear of snow and the step down onto the White Salmon Glacier is getting bigger by the day. It is still really easy to manage, with a 15' 3rd class downclimb to the snow, a small step across to the glacier and no overhanging snow to gain the ten feet back up to the glacier.
Camp at Winnies Slide on Mount Shuksan. Mount Baker is shown in the background. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Winnies Slide was still holding fairly soft snow with big bucket steps kicked into it. The snow here is beginning to consolidate, especially in the steepest part of the pitch, but there are probably a couple more weeks of soft snow before it starts to really settle to alpine ice.
Winnies Slide is still packed with plenty of soft snow and should stay that way for a couple more weeks at least. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Crevasses on the Upper Curtis glacier are starting to melt out, but travel is very direct and snow bridges still look very strong. Toward the Hells Highway side of the glacier, stick close to the rock cliffs to avoid developing crevasse hazard.
Hells Highway is in very similar shape to Winnies Slide: plenty of soft snow still. Snow at the top of the slide is firm enough to need a hammer to get a standard picket to full depth (or whack the heck out of it with a steel adze).
The Sulphide Glacier is starting to show some sags, indicating that snow bridges are beginning to weaken and creep. Given that it's nearly mid-August, it is in incredible shape and the route is very direct to the summit pyramid.
With the exception of 100' of snow in the middle of the pyramid it is still easy to avoid. On the descent a 30m rappel will get you to within 15-20' of the rock below, which allows you to avoid putting on crampons when the snow is soft.
With the exception of 100' of snow in the middle of the pyramid it is still easy to avoid. On the descent a 30m rappel will get you to within 15-20' of the rock below, which allows you to avoid putting on crampons when the snow is soft. Current conditions are still snowy in the middle of the gully, but the snow is easy enough to avoid on the ascent if you can climb the 4th class rock on the left side of the gully. This requires a few more moves than going up the center of the gully (where the snow is) but is still pretty reasonable climbing.
To avoid the snow completely, the other option is to ascend the Southeast Ridge. Adding a bit of difficulty, the Southeast Ridge is a fun option that is much more aesthetic than the gully. The hardest moves are difficult to protect, but in the 5.3 range.
If you're looking for an incredible adventure that includes easy rock, steep snow and glacier climbing, the Fisher Chimneys route can't be beat! Reach out to climb Mt Shuksan with us!