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Author Topic: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit  (Read 8394 times)
Eckels
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April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« on: 04/18/12, 12:29 PM »

Note: this trip report is really more of a photo intensive story, but its a story worth telling so sit back grab a snack and enjoy.

The weather was looking perfect for adventure over the weekend. A strong band of high pressure was forecasted and stable powder had been reported on high north aspects. I toyed with many options but it didn’t take long to settle on Shuksan. Unfortunately most of my main touring partners were out of commission. Jacob who I have ridden with since fifth grade was out with an injury for the first time that I can recall. Ben had recently broken the riser on his barons, and Cory had Passover dinner in Issaquah Friday night. Only Pat and I could get out of town on Friday, but Cory was gunning to sleep in the parking lot and catch us Saturday morning. I had some reservations about tackling a big line with Pat. He started snowboarding seriously only last year and his eyes are twice as big as his skill. When riding inbounds I can count on seeing him tomahawk when trying to ride out of a straight-line, backfliping off something sketchy, or sending a cliff. However all his hucking has made Pat a pretty solid snowboarder when he calms down and I knew he could handle the steeps in good condition. I made it very clear that any line off Shuksan was serious and we would ski it very carefully. The plan was to get on top of the White Salmon Friday, ski a line off the north side Saturday, then summit on Sunday and ski out. We were stoked as hell to get after it.



We arrived at the White Salmon parking lot shortly after 1 after visiting many friends houses to borrow gear. Just about all the surrounding mountains were shrouded in clouds except for Shuksan, and I was able to snap some reference shots of the North Face and the NW Couloir, our potential goals for the next day.

Pat was giving me shit for taking pictures and not getting ready quick enough, but I still managed to get out first. Several paces away I turned around to see Pat still at the car fiddling with his car key which has been slightly bent for some time. I watched impatiently. Snap! “Pat you’re such a dumbass!” “Shit! well I have a spare somewhere in my room and we should have service at camp.” I had seen Pat’s room before leaving and had my doubts, but it would be a problem for another day.

After receiving many looks from people on the patio as we loaded chair 7 with overnight and climbing gear we soon descended away from the crowds through heavy mank to the bottom of the valley. Excellent challenge skiing.
 
We made slow and steady progress up the valley floor adjusting to skinning with so much weight on our backs. Pat mentioned that he heard what sounded like an avalanche as we ascended the knolls before the White Salmon glacier. I hadn’t heard anything and the forecasted danger was primarily afternoon sun affects, which was now well behind thick clouds. I was skeptical. When we reached the flats at the bottom of the White Salmon Pat was proven right. KABOOM! We looked up to see a massive powder cloud tumbling down the snow and rock face beneath the hanging glacier coming straight at us. HOLY SHIT! I turned around and started darting downhill, “Don’t go that way that’s its path!” I looked up to see if Pat was right. The avalanche was now reaching the steep snow slopes, which were covered in debris that ended as soon as the slope flattened a long ways in front of us. “Ok its gonna stop there, we’re gonna be fine” I didn’t fully believe what I said until the slide came to a halt. Alright Shuksan, you made you’re point, you’re the one that has power here, we will tread carefully.


Pat after the incident with debris out of frame to the left

We followed the skin track until we could see that it went right next to the debris pile. We set a new skin track away from the slide path. We regained the set skin track shortly before climbing into the clouds. On the other side of the clouds we found camp and views of the summit, it was as if we had entered a new world of big mountains, and we had it all to ourselves.



We awoke to blue bird skies, and to our minds what seemed like a train of people coming up the White Salmon and passing our camp. We both ski in the ski area as much a lot and couldn’t help but assume that every person in front of us was after the same line we were. We were bound to camp until we melted enough snow (with our ultra light and ultra slow backpacking stove), and Cory met up with us. Cory drove to Baker the night before and climbed to camp with overnight gear on a couple hours sleep in about four hours. We were impressed.









Sadly Passover dinner had not treated him well. He expressed that he felt kind of weird and tired as we sat and made breakfast. One bite of oatmeal was all it took. Bleeehhhh!!! that’s not good. “I only puke when I’m either really drunk or really sick.” Pat was concerned that Cory could be developing a bad flu and said we should get him off the mountain as soon as possible. Pat’s a better friend than I am. I was not ready to give up on our plans like that, and asked Cory how he felt overall and if he could make it out on his own. Cory clearly did not want to end our trip, but was reluctant to make a decision. As we were deliberating over what to do, to our surprise, Cory’s roommates came up over the ridge. One of them had been breaking trail on snowshoes with Hellbents on his back, and was ready to turn around there. Wow! What luck! Pat and I scrambled to get our gear together and began chasing the other parties on the mountain.



As we approached the north summit we saw several of the parties that we had passed our camp in the morning. Of the ones we talked to all were heading towards the NW Couloir. We had scratched the idea of hitting the NW Couloir due to the fact that the exposed flat  traverse (as in losing very little elevation, not slope angle)  would be sketchy for Pat on a snowboard. Instead we wanted to hit the West variation of the North Face because I had a picture of it on the camera, and it appeared that nobody had dropped in on it yet.












The views east from the north summit are astounding. Mountains beyond mountains beyond mountains. As we transitioned the stoke to drop in swelled like an ocean wave, It was my second time on Shuksan and Pat’s first, and it looked like conditions were going to be perfect! I watched impatiently as Pat strapped in. Pat clumsily stepped on the ratchet receiver of his ankle strap, Snap! and broke it. AHHHHHHH YOU IDIOT!!! REALLY?! RIGHT NOW?! Heartbreak, frustration, Jacob wouldn’t have done this, disappointment. The wave of stoke came crashing down. I was not going to drop in on the north face with Pat if his binding like that. Pat took off his board to examine the damage and in the process the ratchet for his toe cap on the same binding fell off. Great the binding went from usable but sketchy to unusable. I was pissed. Pat wasn’t saying much. I pulled out the Swiss army knife I had fortunately borrowed, and began to drill a new hole in the broken piece, while pat looked for the screw to reattach his ratchet. To my surprise I made a clean hole without cracking the plastic, and pat somehow found the screw in all the loose snow. We reattached everything and Pat strapped in. He was still gunning to hit the North Face. My initial feeling of devastation passed after testing our fix and seeing that it was quite solid, but I didn’t like going against my initial gut reaction. “Pat, maybe all these near mishaps are a sign that we shouldn’t drop in.”  “I don’t believe in that bullshit, the conditions are right and the binding will be fine.” I couldn’t argue with that, my whole life I’ve thought superstition is ridiculous; that had just been the fear in me talking. The decision came down to whether or not the binding was safe, and we agreed that it was. We got ready to drop in but the stoke was no longer there, I was now getting some butterflies thinking about the line.



We skied to the mellow slopes to where one had to choose between dropping in on the NW Couloir or the North Face, I crept over the edge to discover that we had gone too far down the ridge and there were rocks and cliffs blocking our view of the line (my picture of the line showed that had we picked our way through the rocks we would have been right in our line but I wasn’t confident at the time) so I set a flat traverse above the rocks east. Pat attempted to follow me but my traverse was too flat for him and he ended up low. I watched nervously as he transitioned on a small bench above a rock and walked up to where I was. While I anxiously waited for Pat to strap back in I peered over the rollover only able to see Price Lake several thousand feet below. Gulp! Part of me wanted to just turn around right there, but I knew the nature of rollovers, all I had to do was traverse a short ways for the moment of truth.  “Dropping in.” Beneath me a wide open panel of steep powder revealed itself, I made my first turn feeling gravity pull me towards the bottom of the mountain as I crossed the fall line, then arching through soft powder I finished the turn. At first the visual effect of being surrounded by sluff sketched me out, but it only took a few turns to see that it barely pulled on my skis and I found my rhythm. The stoke re emerged. We worked our way down pitch by pitch gaining confidence and pleasure with every turn. I stopped just above our key landmark to check our picture and make sure we were going the right way, and confirmed that the option to our left was a dead end. Above the couloir that finished our line (the BYS I believe) the fall line went over a 15-foot rock step, but there were several other ways to go through the rocks skiers right. I skied in front all the way until we were in the couloir where I asked Pat to go by me so I could get a shot of him (on my foggy gopro, I now kick myself for not taking any pictures in the line). Quite fortunately he stopped above the next safe zone we had agreed to meet at and saw it was time to traverse above the cliffs that the line ends in. It was a downhill traverse and we had no trouble getting across it, into the bottom of the NW Couloir and then quickly across the run out of the Hanging Glacier. We were euphoric! The feeling one gets after being in the zone for so long, and executing, leaving the exposure behind is like no other, it spreads throughout the body and can last for hours even days, just thinking about the experience causes an uncontrollable smile. I speculated that since the line was first skied in 2010 Pat probably just bagged the first snowboard descent. We sat in the sun and reveled in our glory.


 Our Line from the bottom


Our line from the parking lot, we skied the sunny side of the North Face into the rightward diagonal couloir.


Hanging Glacier

Soon enough we shouldered packs and began the slog back up the white salmon to camp, following a group of four with overnight packs. The skin track had been erased by the wind that had recently begun to howl, and at several points the new skin track was covered in spindrift. The stoke kept my legs happy, but I began to fanaticize about devouring a burger at chair 9 on our way out the next day. We caught the group near the top of the White Salmon and took our turn at breaking trail. Once back at camp we immediately began to get the stove ready only to discover that our lighter was out of fuel. Luckily the nice folks we just met had matches. We spent the rest of the evening making water and food while watching an epic sunset with our new friends.


See the tent?






Our neighbors were our alarm for Sunday because we needed their matches to melt snow. We cursed the cold created by the shadow of Shuksan as we made water and breakfast. The neighbors, who were also planning to summit, got out first leaving us a track to follow yet again.





Hells Highway



At the base of the summit pyramid we ran into our friends as they finished transitioning and could see another group on their way up. The snow on the pyramid was breakable crust with loose snow lying beneath. We scratched our plans to ski it left all our gear at the bottom. As we began our friends from camp who were carrying full packs and skis turned around. They didn’t want to wait for the other group to down climb before summiting. We didn’t want to either but could see that the group was out of the gully and on the summit ridge going up. “C’mon Pat I bet we can make it to the safe zone before they get off the top.” He agreed and we sprinted up the boot pack making it to the safe zone just as the first guy in the other party was coming down the summit ridge. There were a few ways people had gained the summit ridge all involving very steep snow or ice climbing. Before the trip I had imagined that they would all be too gnarly to climb, and was delighted to see boot packs in place. The guy descending advised us that the way he was coming down was by far the easiest. It was a very steep traverse (the camera around my neck and my helmet kept bumping into the wall) then a couple steep steps to gain the ridge. We traded places and congratulations with the rest of the group on the summit ridge and within a few steps we could climb no higher.






After standing on top of the true summit we both quickly decided that sitting down and anchoring in would be more enjoyable. There was room for maybe one or two more people to sit on top. We agreed to wait for the other group to down climb the gully a long ways before descending. I took my helmet and goggles off for a photo opp. Mistake. When I tried to put it back on the buckle wouldn’t click. I blew and blew and spit and spit but whatever was stuck in there was stubborn. When the time came to descend I had gotten it half secured (only one of the two prongs clicked). Having low hopes of getting the buckle to work I rationalized that the gully was a no fall zone and this would only make me be more careful. Pat went first so nobody would be pushing spindrift onto me. Down climbing the crux was gripping but not technically difficult. The rest of the down climb was slow and tedious. I pondered glissading the rest of the gully once clear of any exposure, but thought better of it imagining the tomahawk that would result from accidently plunging a crampon.

   Once back at our gear we decided to stick to our plans and complete a circumnavigation of the summit pyramid. Although it was not completely sunny like the day before, the views were still jaw dropping, and the east side of the mountain felt very remote.  Once back at the north summit the sun was shining on us and we made big fast turns over corn snow while looking down on all the surrounding mountains except one which dominated the skyline.





   The White Salmon was somewhat sun affected but still a delight to ski even with heavy packs. Even better was the fact that the lower slopes were not the heavy mush we feared but fast soft snow that could be smeared smoothly. It was awesome to look at the top from the bottom of the valley and think wow I was standing there only hours ago. It seemed unfathomable from down there.

   I knew the final climb was going to suck. Before the first switchback I lost my balance and weighted my pole, it plunged all the way through the slush followed by my forearm. I braced myself for what I knew was going to be a frustrating climb. Just think of the burger, you’re almost there. I counted 32 switchbacks over the 800 vertical feet from the valley floor to chair 8. Fortunately there were far fewer slips and I made it out without breaking down in frustration. We got to the car ten minutes before the gate was supposed to close, and best of all, the texts Pat sent before his phone died went through and there was a car key under the tire!



Satisfaction! Against all odds and so many near mishaps we accomplished everything we set out to do; A truly magnificent trip. All that was left to finish it off was a good feast on something other than cous cous and trailmix. As Chair 9 came into view Pat wasn’t slowing down. “Pat, stop!” “Huh?” I realized I had never verbalized my fantasies about hamburgers and had just assumed that pat was on the same page. “No, I don’t have any money.” “I’ll buy!” I blurted at the last second, we pulled in and the trip was made complete. Live music was the cherry on the cake.

More pictures: http://s1099.photobucket.com/albums/g381/Andrew_Eckels/#!cpZZ2QQtppZZ20
« Last Edit: 04/19/12, 10:30 AM by Eckels » Logged
jacoblmandell
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #1 on: 04/18/12, 03:48 PM »

Great write up, with some spectacular pictures
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samthaman
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #2 on: 04/18/12, 10:42 PM »

as a general PSA, just because the skin track happens to go right under that huge angry ice cliff, doesn't mean that you have to. I don't mean to single you guys out at all, I've just seen photos in several recent shuksan TR's that seem to show people needlessly traveling uphill right under it and I felt like it was worth bringing up. I'm of the opinion that it's one thing to take calculated risks on a descent, or with a snowpack, and quite another to roll the dice on a huge objective hazard like the hanging glacier seracs... especially when you don't have to.

Looked like a really fun, if slightly sketchy/seat-of-the-pants, adventure. Glad everyone had fun!
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Pavel
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #3 on: 04/19/12, 09:41 PM »

Here are a few pictures from the other group =)
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mick_scott
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #4 on: 04/19/12, 11:04 PM »

Great pictures
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BUSHWACK AND....
CascadEagan
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #5 on: 04/20/12, 09:39 AM »

Holy! wow. Can anyone confirm if that's the first decent of the North Face, West Route by a snowboarder? Skoog's site lists the first decent by skiers only 2 years ago.
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agoodie
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #6 on: 04/20/12, 11:10 AM »

Great to meet you guys -- thanks again for sharing your shots, and nice work on those sick lines!
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Kyle Miller
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #7 on: 04/20/12, 12:10 PM »

I saw a random snowboard group do that exact descent around a month ago.

Sorry!
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In a perfect world, everybody would act with the correct etiquette and follow the rules. Human nature as it is= NOT GOING TO HAPPEN....no matter how many discussion on ski blogs/websites. Face reality............
Atraslin
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #8 on: 04/21/12, 08:16 PM »

Nice one, looks like you guys hit it.
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Jason_H.
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #9 on: 04/22/12, 04:19 PM »

Nice report. Thanks for the read.
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alecapone
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #10 on: 04/25/12, 10:00 AM »

Holy! wow. Can anyone confirm if that's the first decent of the North Face, West Route by a snowboarder? Skoog's site lists the first decent by skiers only 2 years ago.

First, impressive trip!

I would think for a snowboard first on Shuksan, you would have to take him down the NW xconnection, curtis ridge, or maybe do the nooksack traverse. I could be wrong though.
Still something few boarders or skiers do. I'm stoked for you guys.


Thanks for the great story and photos.
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scott
JoshK
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #11 on: 04/25/12, 10:42 AM »

Or if you are interested in firsts, find an old 80s monoski and you can tick "first monoski descent" on all sorts of stuff. :P
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joke
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #12 on: 04/25/12, 10:48 AM »

Aren't we beyond distinguishing between snowboarders and skiers?  It has been nearly 50 years at this point.  Although I guess if you were to do the nooksack traverse on a snowboard it would probably look quite different - especially during times when you might be doing the snowboard shuffle.   Smiley  Killer line for both of you.
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JoshK
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #13 on: 04/25/12, 06:16 PM »

Aren't we beyond distinguishing between snowboarders and skiers?  It has been nearly 50 years at this point.  Although I guess if you were to do the nooksack traverse on a snowboard it would probably look quite different - especially during times when you might be doing the snowboard shuffle.   Smiley  Killer line for both of you.

Well, since you bring it up, it's pouring rain outside and I'm waiting for some epoxy to dry, I'll bite. I find the distinguishing between modes of descent thing pretty silly, myself. Hence, my bad joke about descending on a monoski. I mean, seriously, if I took a monoski up something and descended down it, chances are I would be the first to do it. Should the official innarwebs records be changed to reflect that stunning "first"? I certainly don't think so, as it is inherently not that different. It is controlled descent down a snowy mountain on the particular tool I chose for the job. You can extend the same argument to tele vs. alpine turns, snowblades (those mini-skis) vs. regular length skis, and so on. I don't see how a snowboard is any different. If it's been descended in a controlled manner before, it ain't a first. If it was a meaningful accomplishment for you, that is the important thing.
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hedonaut
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #14 on: 04/26/12, 10:56 AM »

well put, Josh, particularly the concluding sentence.
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Eckels
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Re: April 7-9, 2012 Mt Shuksan North Face, and Summit
« Reply #15 on: 04/29/12, 11:14 PM »

Thanks for all the kind words! Jason your trip reports inspire me to write extensively about adventures in the mountains. As far as the whole first descent thing goes Pat is still just as pumped on having tagged the line, and has gotten Jacob back for always gloating about epic midweek days.

I Finally got around to making an edit from the trip http://vimeo.com/41258955
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