Mt. Shuksan/ Mt Rainier Trip Report

We’re back from the heights. We had an awesome trip out west packed with some great climbing! On the 23rd of July we flew out to Seattle with a layover in Denver. We arrived in the mid-afternoon and picked up our rental car which the guy was nice enough to upgrade us to an SUV for free. Good thing because it became our home for a few nights. We drove to Mt. Shuksan’s trailhead that night and slept in our car for an early morning start. We woke up to fog and damp conditions but the sun would end up breaking through to make a scorcher of a day. The hike into the Fisher Chimneys was really beautiful last time we did it two years ago. Everything was green and the wildflowers were in full bloom. This time was a different story. It was mostly snow scattered with rock fall debris and avalanche debris from the winter. It looked like we were the first ones to hike in for quite some time and we created our own route to camp. Mt. Shuksan is beautiful no matter what the conditions but I found myself wishing for the lush lowlands of two years ago. We crossed the river on some sketchy snow bridges and after a romp through the forest, we found the slope leading to Lake Ann. After Lake Ann, the climbing gets interesting. We traversed to the first major obstacle, a 30ft high scramble, that was guarded by a deep moat (where the snow melts away from the rock). Needless to say the moat got my attention and I wished I had put on my crampons to get across it. We climbed the rock scramble up to narrow paths which led to our amazing camp site. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the sun while perched on our small ridge with an unforgettable view of Shuksan and the valley below. We planned to wake up at 3AM the next morning and be climbing by 4AM so we would reach the chimneys by 4:30 (sunrise). No surprise to us, we woke up at 3AM, turned off the alarm and then continued to sleep until 5AM. We hit the trail by 5:45AM or so. We traversed the 30-40 degree slope leading to the chimneys and the bulk of the climbing. We were relieved to find that the chimneys were much less steep than they appeared from our camp. We simul-climbed the first pitch. The second section is the steepest and requires the most skill to overcome, but it is short. I led the short pitch while Brett belayed me. I then brought him up and we crossed “Fat Man’s Misery”, a narrow ledge traverse with a wall on the left that pushes you out over the abyss. The rest of the chimneys required about 5-6 more pitches of 4th and 5th class scrambling over some fairly crumbly and loose rock. The climbing was simple but the exposure was wild. We topped out on the chimneys around 11AM, climbing slowly and cautiously. We then headed up easier ground on the White Salmon Glacier which holds Winnie’s Slide, a 45-50 degree slope which must be climbed to continue towards the summit. We then crossed a rock band and climbed some very low angle ice next to the ice fall to more easy snow slopes above. At this point it was about 12:30PM and we calculated that it would take about 2.5-3 hours of climbing to traverse over to and climb Hells Highway, then climb the Sulfide Glacier and then finally the summit pyramid (the crux of the climb). It would then take us another 2 hours to descend, which would put us back at our highpoint around 5:30PM. This would leave us with only a few hours to descend to camp before nightfall. Down climbing the chimneys at night sounded like a less than desirable plan. We bailed. We down climbed and rappelled the chimneys and reached camp around 5:30PM, happy with our decision and happy that we climbed the chimneys safely. The next day we hiked out. Due to the snow, the route was fairly obscure and we ended up off trail, bushwhacking for an hour before we stumbled back upon the actual trail. We enjoyed a beer with some guys we met at camp and who were on the same climbing schedule as us. Finally we began our drive south towards our next objective.. Mt Rainier. Of course we stopped in Tacoma for some grade A mini golf and spent the night in a fleabag motel in which the lights and TV were not working, the AC sounded like a train, and the cigarette burn mark in the sheet matched up nicely with the burn mark in the mattress. We are no detectives but that’s pretty solid proof the sheets hadn’t been changed in quite some time. We curled up in our sleeping bags on top of the bed.
The next day was dubbed our rest day. We drove to Ashford and picked up some last minute gear and hit the grocery store. We also had to visit the Climbing Ranger Hut to register with the park service and pay our climbing fees. After another night in the car, we woke up and began our ascent to Camp Muir at just over 10,000ft. The Muir Snowfield was just as tedious as expected and left us fairly wiped out when we reached our camp spot. We dug a platform and set up our one man tent (for 2 people to save weight) next to the masses of people who were there for the very same reason. The following day we only climbed for an hour to reach Ingraham Flatts, 11,000 ft, on the Ingraham Glacier. We arrived around 11AM and took over an existing tent site, but made improvements to the tent platform, “kitchen” and to the “bathroom”. We fashioned a cabana out of our sleeping pads and spent the afternoon dozing off in the warm sun with a view to die for. We went to bed around 5:30PM for a 10:30PM start on the climb. The easy day of climbing and the bright glacier made it hard to fall asleep. We ended up laying in our sleeping bags for 5 hours staring at the ceiling of the tent, unable to sleep. I got out of the tent around 10PM and melted snow for water. Once the water was made, I got back into the tent and attempted to get 45 minutes of sleep, but it never came. At 11:45PM we decided to hit the trail. After some pop tarts and almonds, we began ascending the Ingraham Glacier. There were only 3 people ahead of us and thankfully all guided parties were behind us. We climbed up Disappointment Cleaver in an hour and twenty minutes where we spent our first break. It was now about 1:30AM. We spent 10 minutes choking down some Oreos and water and continued on. The terrain was easy and never exceeded 35-40 degrees. We made one big crevasse crossing, but the route was in great shape overall. Since we didn’t plan on climbing Mt. Rainier, we were fairly under prepared as far as clothing goes and the 30mph winds dropped the temperature to below zero and it bit right through our lightweight boots and pants. We were cold to say the least but as long as we kept moving, we were alright. Neither one of us could feel our left big toe for a few hours. We opted to skip the traditional second break at 13,800ft. and we continued to the summit crater. The lack of sleep kicked our butts and we were tired when we stepped into the crater. We then spent another 15 minutes ascending the crater to Columbia Crest, the real summit of Mt. Rainier, although the crater is widely accepted as the summit. Unfortunately we started climbing too early, or we climbed too fast because it was still dark out when we hit the summit. No views this time. The wind made it uncomfortable to linger and we began our descent after 30 minutes on top. On the way down we ran into all of the guided parties and a traffic jam soon developed. We were able to pass most of them by descending straight down the slope instead of following the switchbacks. The sun rose as we arrived at the top of Disappointment Cleaver. We have footage on our Facebook page. The rest of the descent was fairly uneventful (a good thing) and we strolled into a deserted camp on the Ingraham Glacier. We packed our camp and headed for Muir, which we reached in 30 minutes. Typically from here on out, the descent is boring, monotonous, and hot. We found a way to make it interesting. We glissaded (sliding on your butt) down the Muir Snowfield on our foam sleeping pads, hitting some impressive speeds and taking a good amount of wipeouts. We were off the snowfield in an hour and somehow without blisters. After another route finding error in the fog, we made it back to Paradise and our car. Double stack burgers awaited at the Copper Creek Restaurant. We drove back to Seattle and got a hotel room before our flight home. While walking from the rental car return to the hotel Brett witnessed a man being put into a body bag after being hit on his motorcycle by a car. I grim reminder that life can change in an instant and you better live it while you can!

Check out our facebook page for some photos and videos.. We forgot our digital cameras so we bought disposable cameras for the climbs. We’ll see if anything turns out from those…. Stay tuned