Matt and Joanne’s Page

July 18, 2007

Mt Shuksan – Fisher Chimneys

Filed under: Climbing — Matt Stamplis @ 4:23 pm

The day after climbing Mt Baker in a day, we headed right back into the mountains for some more fun. Sunday afternoon we hiked into camp at Lake Anne and camped in an amazing location, with out-of-this-world views of Baker and Shuksan. The clouds had moved in, though, so we only got a few fleeting glimpses of our route that evening.

This photo, taken from the summit of Mt Baker the day before shows the Fisher Chimneys route on Shuksan. The green line starts at Lake Anne and a few points of interest are labeled: The blue dot is the base of the Chimneys, the yellow dot is Winnie’s Slide, and the purple dot is Hell’s Highway. That small red dot that is off route? Read this whole entry to find out what that is!

We left camp around 4:00AM on Monday morning and started up the approach trail. It crosses a few snow fields and has a small section of scrambling before you arrive at the base of the actual “Fisher Chimney”. There was lots of spots along here to fill up water bottles and even a few decent bivy spots. We arrived at the base of the chimneys at 6:30AM.

The start of the Fisher Chimneys. Whoo-hoo! I had a lot of fun here, scrambling up the “chimneys”. It’s easy climbing but quite exposed and very few places you would want to fall.

After finishing up the chimneys we took a little rest and then traversed over to Winnie’s slide, a steep snow slope that gives access to the Upper Curtis Glacier. This was the steepest snow I had ever climbed and I got a chance to swing my second tool here: fun stuff! Monty lead this section, placing a few pickets for pro.

Monty (in front) is about to start climbing the steepest part of Winnie‘s slide. Anyone know how it got this name? I certainly wouldn’t want to glissade or slide down this thing!

Joanne smiling for the camera at the top of Whinney’s Slide. That’s Mt. Baker in the background. Right now it’s about 8:20AM – making good time! By now, the weather was clearing up and we started to get great views of our route.

Now it was time for some glacier travel! The Upper Curtis Glacier is nice and broken up here so Monty weaved a path up through the crevasses to gain the upper reaches of the glacier.

Stepping onto the Upper Curtis Glacier. Just to the left of where Monty is, there was a small section of exposed glacier ice that got my attention.

Traversing the Upper Curtis Glacier towards Hell’s Highway. Note the penalty slack given on the rope teams 🙂

I thought Hell’s Highway was about as steep as Winnie’s Slide: so…pretty steep! But we made short work of this and gained the Sulphide Glacier. Here we met up with a large team that was climbing that route. We didn’t really want to get stuck behind them on the final scramble so it was time to jockey for position!

Holy rope-teams, Batman! When the two groups merged, there were 22 climbers marching up the glacier. The team of two that passed us on the way down probably thought it looked like an army was headed up the mountain.

Our team of stud climbers surged towards the summit pyramid and we were already climbing rock before the other team made it there. They ended up turning around and bailing from the route. This probably was a good idea otherwise there probably would have been twice as much rockfall flying down the gully and twice as many heads waiting to be cracked open.

I lead this rock scramble, fixing a few ropes as we ascended. The climbing here seemed technically more challenging than the actual Chimneys, but what do I know? Finally, we reached a snow ramp that lead towards the summit. Jed kicked steps like a madman here, leading us through some funky mixed snow/rock terrain until we reached the final scramble to the summit!

Nearing the top of the final snow ramp.

By now it was 1PM (9 hours from camp): everyone had gathered on the summit and we enjoyed the views, grabbed some food/water, and contemplated the descent.

The descent proved to be even more complex and torturous as the ascent was. I guess we should have seen that one coming 🙂 It took a couple hours just to get everyone down from the summit pyramid, which included some close calls with loose rock that went flying down the gully. This might have gone faster if we had rigged the rappels differently or had used longer ropes (25-meter ropes will only get you so far). If you can downclimb this entire section (exposed 4th class with some loose rock), you can get down in about 15 minutes.

Anyway, we then managed to get lost on the Upper Curtis Glacier. We traversed a little too far and ended up above an icefall. I could have sworn we had to traverse all the way across the glacier! It took awhile before someone (Jay? David? Jed? Big thanks to whoever it was :)) found we had to backtrack before dropping down to get to Whinney’s Slide. At home, I noticed a description of this in Selected Climbs in the Cascades Volume II: “Any descent of the Curtis Glacier route can be complex and problematic in low visibility…”. Guess I should have read that more carefully at home!

We finished rappelling the Chimneys and got to the base just as the sun was setting. We figured: Hooray! The technical part is over, now we just walk back to camp. If only we could remember what the approach was like! We ended up wandering over steep heather slopes and snowfields looking for our trail as it got darker and darker. Finally, around 1AM we decided we were more likely to walk off a cliff or get hurt if we kept stumbling around in the dark and decided to wait until sunrise to continue heading down.

If you look back at the first picture of this post, of the route, the little red dot is where we ended up sleeping, curled up into little balls on the trail. Instead of traversing left we found a trail that took us the wrong way (to the right).

Fortunately it was a warm cloudy night, with only light winds. I ended up shoving my wet boots into my backpack for a little warmth and snuggled up with Joanne to wait out the dark. I got cold and I started thinking that if I fell asleep, I would die! I ended up dozing off a few times and had some weird dreams/visions where I imagined myself slipping on a steep snow field. Then I thought I saw a mouth on Mt Baker that was trying to eat me. Weird stuff 🙂 Mom- if you’re reading this: I was nice and warm – this climbing business is safe!

I was going to take a picture of all of us lined up on the trail, in assortment of bivy sacks/sleeping positions but the light was too dim to get a good picture. But it was still a goofy sight to see. As soon as it got bright enough to move around, we shook off the cold and started looking around for descent options. Within a few minutes we met some climbers headed up and figured out what we had done wrong. D’oh!

Here’s the picture of us bivying for the night, thanks to Jay for taking the pic.

We arrived back in camp 27 hours after leaving it: what an adventure! This route is really fantastic, with a real mix of snow/rock and a dash of complex route-finding. It was by-far the most challenging alpine route that we’ve completed. Thanks to everyone on the team for making it memorable, despite the unintended bivy!

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10 Comments »

  1. Matt and I didn’t sleep well that night on the mountain. I kept woking up, hoping that it will be light but all I can see is the shadow of Mt Baker. One time I got up to pee and when I got back to my sleeping site, it felt so cold and both Matt and I was shivering. Fortunately once we cuddled together, the warmth of both our bodies kept us toasty.

    Around 3am, we saw some headlamps shining near Lake Ann so I know there are people moving around but we weren’t sure if they are climbers or not. Later that morning when we finally see light and met with the climbers who were attempting to summit, they told us that they were thinking of us all night long. I guess they must have seen our headlamp from the campground too and wondering what the heck is so many people doing up the mountain at 1am and if anybody was injured. What a crazy trip!

    Comment by joannestamplis — July 18, 2007 @ 7:35 pm

  2. i will die if i go there 😀

    Comment by jerry — July 18, 2007 @ 10:50 pm

  3. Congrats on an outstanding twofer of Baker & Shuksan. I’m leaving tomorrow to attemt Shuksan and then Baker in a couple of days, myself. Opting for the Sulphide Glacier route on Shuksan though since it appears to be a bit shorter and more straightforward. Your trip report brought back memories of a 24 hour summit day and getting lost in the darkness of night on the way back to camp on Gannett Peak in Wyoming. After reading this, I’m glad we’re going for Sulphide & Easton for our twofer.

    Comment by Mark — July 24, 2007 @ 7:49 am

  4. Good luck! Sulphide Glacier should be much more direct and faster since you won’t have to descent the Fisher Chimney. Definite make sure you do Easton early in the day when is still cold so you won’t have to worry about crossing the Bergsrund when everything is melting and soft.

    Comment by joannestamplis — July 24, 2007 @ 8:54 am

  5. I’m planning on trying this route in August. Can you tell me what you brought for gear (number of pickets, rock gear, screws, etc)?

    Also, did you find any fixed rap anchors or did you need to leave lots of slings/gear?

    Comment by Paul Zuchowski — March 17, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

  6. Hi Paul, Sorry to get back to you kind of late on this but I figure you won’t be climbing for a few months anyway 🙂

    So…conditions on the Fisher Chimneys route will probably be a bit different in August than when we climbed (mid-July) but I can make a few recommendations. For the chimneys and all the rock climbing on the route, it’s mostly 3rd class so you probably won’t be using a rope very often. A very light rock rack will do (a set of stoppers + shoulder slings, maybe some big hexes or a hand-sized cam or two).

    The snow/glacier section of the climb seemed like the trickiest part to me. When you first emerge onto the upper glacier (after Winnie’s Slide), there’s a good chance that it will be completely melted out/crevassed and icy in August. 1 or 2 ice screws could be handy here (we didn’t need them in July but a friend who did the route 2 weeks later said it was much icier). Look for a route around the left side of the glacier. This section is very confusing on the descent and it would be a good idea to either wand the route or use lots of GPS tracking points.

    4 pickets or so would probably be a good idea for Winnie’s slide and Hell’s Highway.
    For the descent, I ended up downclimbing the summit pyramid and the chimneys but some members in our party didn’t feel comfortable doing this and rappelled down. There were some fixed anchors down the summit block but don’t count on finding them – if you or anyone in your party is at all uncomfortable with down-soloing 3rd and 4th class rock definitely bring some extra webbing and slings to leave behind.

    Good luck – I’d love to hear how your trip goes in August!

    Comment by Matt Stamplis — March 31, 2008 @ 11:35 am

  7. Ha! You are not first party to bivy at the base of the chimneys. Harvey Manning, the great Northwest outdoor writer, wrote of the “Great Shuksan Fiasco” where they were stuck descending the chimneys. That was 50 years ago and his trip was very much the same as yours.

    Comment by Tony Mendoza — June 21, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

  8. Wow…thanks for the info. I never heard of the book before but I think I should look for it now that I did.

    Comment by joannestamplis — June 22, 2008 @ 5:42 am

  9. Heyo,

    This is a great trip report! I esp like when you post a photo with a line drawn where the route goes.
    This is so easy to do, and so helpful to people who need beta, but so few people take the time to do it.

    I hope to climb this next year, thanks!
    johnGo

    Comment by john godino — November 25, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

  10. Nice climb! A nice article too!!
    Love to climb Mt.Shuksan 🙂

    Comment by Sree — March 14, 2010 @ 7:33 am


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