Summiting Washington's Mount Shuksan
Topping out on one of America's most classic peaks, inside North Cascades National Park
Kodak Portra 160, Ilford Delta 400
Located 11 or so miles south of the Canadian border just inside North Cascades National Park, Mount Shuksan sits and waits. Though not nearly the tallest in Washington, Shuksan is one of the more iconic peaks—a celebrated classic in the world of mountaineering.
Over the course of a recent long weekend, a group of friends and I paid her a visit, with sights set on climbing the famed Fisher Chimneys route. So this is how it went.
Left Portland way too late. Got to the trailhead at 3 AM. Dirt bagged it in the parking lot. Or, at least my buddies did. I slept in the back of my truck :)
Slept in a bit, sipped some coffee, packed up, and hiked in. We met up with our fourth, Cody, who was kind enough to get out there earlier in the week to lock down climbing permits. Super solid. Avoiding the sun and hydrating kept us busy until an early bedtime. Sleep that night was bad though, though. Like, non-existent bad. I was nervous.
Alarms sounded at 1 AM. But I was already awake, waiting. We were on our way by 2 AM. It was a warm still night with a good amount of moonlight. Starting up our route lead by headlamps felt great. The sunrise that morning was something special.
Ascending took a long time. A record snow fall year meant a lot of way finding and more protecting than usual. There are so many varying aspects to this climb that involve gear adjustments and intense focus—not much margin for error on this route. The summit pyramid alone took us over five hours going up and down. We topped out at about 12:30pm. Put our names in the registry and all.
Descending the Fisher Chimneys was fun, challenging, and tedious. I think we counted 13 total rappels. But we finally walked into camp at about 9:30 PM. It was fully dark by then. What we had thought would be a 15-hour day turned into 19+. We were worked, but so happy.
Packed up, hiked out, and drove home, bellies full.
What I took away was that the people you climb with make the trip. Everything about the climb was great… but the best part was the people. Our team was loud, funny, positive, and encouraging. Seeing all the collective mountaineering knowledge between the guys being put to the test was really inspiring. For as tough as they are, they are equally as humble and willing to help. That’s the magic combo.
Looking back it was nothing but fun. Type II fun, definitely, but that’s basically the only kind of fun I chase anymore. Not sure I can fully enjoy myself unless I’m suffering a little in the name of a pointless objective.
I’ll be back.