Mt. Shuksan, Fisher Chimneys Aug 18-20, 2006

From our leader Steve Doughtery:

We took our time searching for the best course through the chimneys being careful not to dislodge rocks onto party members below us and moved steadily up the gully system topping out on the White Salmon Glacier at 6:55 a.m. I marked the rocks with baby powder so that the entry location at the top of the chimneys would be obvious on our descent.

We put on our climbing harnesses and crampons. We roped up into two three-person rope teams and set out hugging the right edge of the low angle White Salmon glacier for a short ways and then found ourselves scrambling through 50-100 yards of talus. In hindsight we should have held off on the crampons until we were past the talus given the softness of the snow.

Once across the talus we negotiated the steeply sloped Winnies Slide moving up and left placing three pickets along the way. We topped Winnies Slide at 7:25 a.m. The slope is flat for a short distance beyond Winnies Slide. Then a narrow rock band separates the White Salmon Glacier from the lower reach of the Upper Curtis glacier. We chose to climb the moderately broken low angle ice rather than remove our crampons and do the detour scramble on the rock to the left. Pickets were of no use here due to the hardness of the ice, so ice screws were used to direct the route. We were past the steep section by 8:00 a.m. and were at the bottom of Hell’s Highway by 9:00 a.m.

We unfortunately got separated from our second rope team who followed the crampon tracks and wands of another rope team instead of cutting the corner as the first rope team had done. By 9:30 a.m. we were regrouped at the base of Hells Highway. On Hells Highway we first negotiated a lengthy pitch of moderately steep snow and then a short very steep slope to gain the Sulphide Glacier.

We arrived at the bottom of the central gully at about 11 a.m. and Mike Niemeyer readied himself to set two fixed lines, which I calculated would reach nearly to the summit. In the end, this miscalculation would cost our team a lot of time. Mike scrambled up the low angle gully and he found himself gravitating to the better rock and rappel slings observed to his right. As we would recognize later, he had moved out of the rock fall prone gully and onto the more technical SE ridge. Here he worked hard and long to protect the route as best he could. It would be 2 p.m. before we could snap a summit picture and 5 p.m. before we were heading back down the Sulphide Glacier.

The strategy employed by others that I had talked to before the climb was to simul-climb the gully and rappel any tricky spots on the descent. This is the fastest method and I would argue the best strategy for negotiating the central gully. It was now a race against the clock, to get back to the chimneys and down before dark.

We moved steadily down the Sulphide Glacier and burned up valuable time trying to belay climbers down the two steep sections of Hell’s Highway. We cut the corner on the Upper Sulphide Glacier and chose to do the rock detour rather than down climb the low angle broken section of ice at the start of the Upper Curtis. It was 7:30 p.m. and we still had to get down Winnies Slide before we could get to the chimneys. We tied both rope teams together and did a running belay on a diagonal down Winnies Slide.

Once on the talus we put the ropes away and removed our crampons and traveled the short distance over talus and snow to the top of the Chimneys. It was 8:15 p.m. by the time we reached the top of the Chimneys and we were going to run out of light. Down climbing the chimneys was challenging for our party and as the light slipped away we slowed further. I feared that I would not be able to keep the party on route in the dark.

We followed closely, a group of about six younger climbers across the long traverse and down through the trees to the snow patch. When we arrived at the snow patch this group was perplexed as to how to negotiate the obstacle and asked us how we had crossed it in the morning. From this side it was easy to peer under this patch of snow and we were all amazed that the snow patch was really an arching roof of snow seemingly supported on the far side and above. I believe the snow would have held us for a return trip, but it would not take much additional effort to detour below the snow patch.

I marched under the dripping cavernous snow arch and emerged on the rock below and contoured back 50 yards to regain the trail through the talus. Members of our team followed and the team of younger climbers seemed nearly panicked as they rushed to follow our lead. As both groups contoured the talus some large rocks were displaced and some climbers narrowly escaped injury since they were climbing in the fall line of other climbers through the short band of loose rock. We moved slowly down the trail back to Lake Ann, wor n out from the long day’s effort arriving at our tents at 1:15 a.m. a full 21 and one-half hours after starting that morning. Had it not been for the excellent weather, this climb would have satisfied the requirements of an epic.

Mt Shuksan Fishers Chimneys GPS map and Waypoints