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Author Topic: May 1 North Face Mt Shuksan  (Read 6512 times)
ryanl
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May 1 North Face Mt Shuksan
« on: 05/01/05, 04:44 PM »

Sam, I should have listened.

I set out to ski the north face of Mt Shuksan today, but got shut down at the col just beneath the start of the face at approx 5400 feet. I got spanked hard.

Having worked until five on Saturday building a fence, and having devoted several hours after that to domestic responsibilities, I set out from Seattle for the White Salmon Lodge around 9:00 on Saturday evening. I was dog assed tired though and managed to hold off the Zzzzz’s only until Demming. The plan had been to sleep at the trail head and get started around day break.  I instead set my alarm for 3:00and quickly dozed off.

I wanted to wait for light because I’ve only ever been to the Baker Ski resort twice, several years ago, and on those occasions Mt Shuksan showed herself from behind the clouds for at most five minutes. But those brief glimpses have stayed with me, and I finally decided that enough was enough- I had to give her a go.  (I really wanted to participate in the Silver Skis re-enactment, but my heart would have been elsewhere)  I was a bit concerned that a 5:00 start wouldn’t give me enough time, but I know how I am with first-time approaches and opted for efficiency over eagerness.

The alarm sounded at 3:00, I was changed into my ski clothes and driving by 3:20, and hiking by 5:00. I parked at the gate leading to the White Salmon Lodge.

I’m not quite sure how to describe the next five and a half hours. A descending traverse across six inches of snow and continuous exposed slide-alder, with skis attached a-frame style, makes for a long morning. The valley sides are almost completely barren of snow, and what snow the valley does have is amassed in huge blocks of avalanche debris at its head. When I finally managed to touch foot on the upper valley floor beneath the hanging glacier, three hours had passed and 6 or so streams/canyons had been crossed.

It took two and a half more hours to reach the col at the base of the north face. The time was 10:30. Part of the time up from the valley floor was wasted on poor route finding. In an attempt to stick to snow and avoid the ever present alder, I veered too far to the climber’s right of where I needed to go and was forced to traverse across several gully systems. Had I been more prudent I probably could have shaved off 45 minutes. The avalanche debris at the valley head and leading up to the col was compacted and hard in places, soft and penetrable in others. Not horrible, but not great either. For climbing, that is. The whole time up I couldn’t shake the dread of having to ski the sucker on the way down.

At the col I met two climbers coming down from an aborted attempt. They said they had made it to 6500 feet, where the snow turned into 2 inches of unconsolidated sugar atop hard wind blown crust. That, my fatigue, and the thought of having to fight my way back across what I had just battled for so long all contributed to my decision to turn around. So I hung out for a bit, changed out of my hikers and into my Denali XT’s, and pondered whether there was a better way to return.

There was some decent sun baked corn to be had just down the ridge from the col, but that bottomed out in the avalanche debris several hundred feet below. Pretty much most of the upper valley is broken up avalanche debris. Three hundred feet of corn for what turned out to be a nearly 10 hour day! The climbers, who had the attempted the face twice before, had suggested that it might be easier to stick to the valley floor in order to bypass the gully systems that had given me so much grief on the way up. I liked the sound of that, even though it meant dropping to 2900 feet, but I figured climbing 600 feet straight up would be easier with skis on my pack than would a rising traverse across slide alder.

I don’t know if it’s safe to say that I was mistaken- all I can say is that the route I chose sucked. I cliffed out twice, and was forced into two delicate traverses across wet matted undergrowth. I eventually made it back to my car in 4 hours from the col. The time was 2:30.  

All I can say is, at least I got a good view of the face.  I’ll definitely be back. When the approach is covered, that is.
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philfort
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Re: May 1 North Face Mt Shuksan
« Reply #1 on: 05/01/05, 05:10 PM »

Nice report.... too bad it didn't work out :-)

I've heard the best way to get to the north face (when there isn't any snow cover in the valley), is to drop straight down to the valley from the end of the logging road that branches off from 542 just before the resort, then climb up the other side out of the valley, and then along the ridge to the col at the base of the face.  I've never tried it though.

I've only gone the way you went though (on the way in), and it was very quick in a good snow year...
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jt
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Re: May 1 North Face Mt Shuksan
« Reply #2 on: 05/02/05, 03:17 AM »

Quote
straight down to the valley from the end of the logging road that branches off from 542 just before the resort, then climb up the other side out of the valley, and then along the ridge to the col at the base of the face.


This is the way we went in last May when we climbed the North Face. Steep through the woods, but not very brushy and fairly quick to the col.

North Face is a fine line and definitely worth the effort to ski it in the right conditions.
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jt
curmudgeon
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Re: May 1 North Face Mt Shuksan
« Reply #3 on: 05/02/05, 03:21 AM »

Phil, that drop from the White Salmon Road through the jungles is not optimal for skiers.  You can wiggle through the alder with a climing pack, but not with skies attached.  (edited to add: unless, of course, you are a legend of self-abuse!)  Grin The best route is the one both of you took -- down from the ski area, but on a decent snow year.

Or, up the Sulphide, but that invloves a whole bunch of car shuttling. Maybe have a friend drop you off on the Shannon creek road and pick you up at ...??
« Last Edit: 05/02/05, 07:00 AM by tim_place » Logged
skykilo
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Re: May 1 North Face Mt Shuksan
« Reply #4 on: 05/02/05, 06:11 AM »

The immediate drop to the valley and direct ascent to the ridge has worked for me, both with and without skis.  I'd recommend it, even though I haven't tried to do the North Face via any other approach.

I'd encourage you to try again someday; this is one of the most aesthetic, exhilirating descents to be found.
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Sam Avaiusini
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Re: May 1 North Face Mt Shuksan
« Reply #5 on: 05/02/05, 08:44 AM »

Something to dream about until conditions improve or next season arrives...

This was taken from the summit of Ruth Mountain last season.

Sorry it didn't work out for you this time.  It could have just as easily been epic.  But until you stick your neck out, you'll never know!

Ditto what Sky said...
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Sam Avaiusini
cyril
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Re: May 1 North Face Mt Shuksan
« Reply #6 on: 05/06/05, 12:06 PM »

that lower road chokes off in the alder, but puts you on top of a rocky stream that takes you quickly to the river.  sky and I were blessed with perfect corn to carve the face that day.  the ridge walk from the north to the face is glorious.
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