Mt Shuksan via Sulphide Glacier (IO, W2, ~30mi)

Posted by Andrew L. on

The pictures posted to the event tell much of the story. If they don't inspire you to want to climb a mountain, then you might as well stop reading now. This report tries to deal with some thoughts in case others want to go down the same route.

Mt Shuksan was recommended to me by Mike from MAHG. It turned out to be an awesome recommendation. It takes some time to hike into it, but it's really pretty up there. And apparently Sulfide Glacier is a good place to train for the basics of glacier travel. The downside is that the minimum trip length for an IMG custom trip is 3 days. And if you want to get in a full day of training, you're looking at 4 days.

I booked this privately and filtered out those who would be unprepared. Filtering out unprepared people is how DC UL enables running the more aggressive events, so it's a solid tactic. I didn't get many inquiries into the trip though, so maybe I advertised it correctly. One could also try emailing the PATC-MS mailing list, but then one needs to do a lot of filtering so that you don't get folks who aren't going to be happy with a four day backpacking trip.

In talking with the guide, most of the parties that he deals with are both lacking some equipment and aren't in as good shape physically. He gave me a recent example where the guide nearly had to put his foot down to abort the climb after a woman who spent two days in cold rain without proper rain gear. Based on the time to get to camp, some of the other groups move at 1/2 to 1/3 of the speed we were moving at. And I'm not even above average for the DC UL veteran member crowd. So if you decide to fly all of the way out there to learn the mountaineering skills, I highly recommend booking either privately or with people you already know and have vetted.

Guided mountaineering isn't cheap. As for budgeting, between the guiding fee, the tip for the guide, the airfare, renting a car for a week, additional gear that I bought, etc, I figure that the trip ended up costing $4k. It would be substantially cheaper once I have enough friends who know what they are doing so that I don't have to hire a guide, as that was about half of the cost. But if you're pushing into territory beyond where your existing skills are, that's a domain to seek out expertise. And Seattle is not a cheap place to rent a car.

As for the skills aspect, it helps a lot to have prior experience climbing on rock. I think I was helped a lot that I could already build top rope anchors and knew the common knots. Otherwise, I think it would be too much info. As is, while we went over a complete crevasse fall to building the haul system, I think that that's something that can be practised and learned from a book once you've seen it once. Doing the self-arrest and cramponing practice on the snowfield is inherently hands-on though, so is a better use of the time up there. As one can read about, a rope team of 3 is much safer than of 2, but the crevasses on the coastal range glaciers are much safer than on the glaciers up in Alaska.

Probably the biggest aspect of doing something like this is just being physically prepared for it. I was glad that I had trained with carrying up-to 50 lbs. While we lucked out that we were able to gear swap with another team from the same guiding company going down, we still had to carry a full load for an hour or so. And the guide had the rope and trad rack, so I figure he had even more weight. Since we're normally carrying light loads in DC UL, we tend to go up hills so fast we don't need the rest step, but when the weight gets heavy, it's a helpful way to move. With the weight noted, just doing a lot of VMO trips creates the bulk of the endurance base, so I would continue to focus on that instead of the weight specific training for most of it. And the VMO trips can be a blast.

For the most part, I lucked out with the weather. It was sunny, so I ended up sweating quite a bit despite wearing just my climbing pants and base layer on top. The solar gain on the glacier was substantial. And the snowfield we were camped on was melting down by around 2-3" a day.

For the full day sunshine on a glacier, one wants really dark sunglasses and goggles. While mine fit well, they weren't dark enough and I ended up with a minor case of snow-blindness. Looking at the equipment specs when I got home, it looks like the lenses on my googles only blocked 25% of visible, which is fine for the East coast during winter, but nowhere near what one probably wants up there. (You probably want both optical class 2 and 4 lenses up there). I ended up missing out on some training after summitting as my eyes would tear up and it hurt to look at anything that wasn't dark. So it goes.

For other misc things when in Washington state, I found the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area to be very pretty, but popular with both day hikers and backpackers. Rural Washington state apparently leads the nation in property theft rates, so lock things out of sight, as I wasn't amused to see a meth head try my car doors at 2am. Feathered Friends has a brick and mortar store in Seattle selling lots of high end gear down the street from the flagship REI if you have a bit of time to burn.

John Callahan posted on

Hey, Andrew - great write up (as usual). Thanks for all the detailed information. Ironically, I was in the Feathered Friends store in Seattle today! Great store - was getting information on mountaineering gear and some better cold weather clothes for the ADKs and White Mountains for this coming season.