Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jungle Shwacking on Mt Shuksan

The climbers of the Pacific NW are a hearty bunch. Huge vertical relief, dense underbrush, long approaches and crappy weather are the ingredients that toughen their skin to the Dirty Harry level.

While doing our homework prior to attempting the Price Glacier route on Mt Shuksan we read, "follow the trail that parallels the Price Creek leading to Price Lake." In Colorado, when the guide books use the word trail, that naturally implies a 4 foot wide space, clear of all vegetation, well signed at any conceivable intersection where one might be required to make a route finding decision. If there is ever a section of trail that the rise-over-run ratio is out of code with OSHA standards, college "interns" are quickly recruited to make rock steps that bring it back into compliance.

Not the case in the North Cascades. The "trail" we used to get to Price Lake was nothing more than an occasional piece of neon ribbon tied to various tree branches. Making matters even more fun was the fact that we thought it would be cool to take our skis. This made us about two feet taller and three feet wider. Allowing us to move through the nasty thick underbrush like a dog trying to navigate through a canine obstacle course they show on ESPN2 , only its a wearing one of those dont-chew-your-new-stitches radar cones. It was three hours of awfulness. I wouldnt wish that on anyone.

First views of the route will make your stomach drop. The Price Glacier sits half way up the mountain, with cliffs above and below it. Thankfully, all mountains look steeper when viewing them from below. After our wonderful bivy on the glacier, we headed up the legendary Price. That part of the outing was really fun. It took three hours to get across and up to the Col. The especially wet Spring this year filled in the crevasses really nicely so we only encountered a handful of dicy crossings.

Scrambling up the loose rock summit ridge was pretty spicy, the way down was worse. We opted to leave the rope on the snow because we are just that cool. Coolness doesnt help the rock stay in place though. We pulled through regardless and topped out in a cloud.

Now it was time to ski! Our jungle shwacking sorrows were far from our minds as we began to make turns down the West side of the mountain. At about 6000 feet we came to the ridge where you are suppose to drop down to the South side of the mountain. Two climbers that had just come up the White Salmon Glacier very exuberantly told us that we would have no problem going the way they came up and then traverse across on "perfect snow benches that drop you right into the White Salmon Ski Resort". I should have known better, especially after redefining what "trail" means. The "perfect snow benches" turned out to be a horrific series of cliffs and valleys with death-fall potential. It added a good number of hours to the day.

We arrived back to the road and thumbed our way back to Lulu, where she released her bounty of beverages, chips and salsa...our cares were no more. That night as I noticed my skin felt just a little tougher than before our little Shuksan adventure.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Liberty Bell on Independence Day

We thought it would be a great idea to climb Liberty Bell on Independence Day. July 4th dawned a cloudy day, but we went for the crack regardless, hoping it would clear. We climbed the first pitch and the clouds rose up from below us and the temperatures dropped. It was not the best day for a 1200 foot tower. So we rappelled down and went to Winthrop to catch the fireworks and thaw our frozen toes.

July 5th: Sunshine! Let’s try again. Three pitches up the sun disappeared, temps dropped, and I wished I had down booties. We fixed two 60 meter ropes to the wall so we could ascend them quickly the following day.

July 6th: The weather guys are calling for higher temps and sunny. We’re ready to get this climb done! Early morning we again hiked up the now familiar trail to the base of the climb, we jugged up the fixed ropes and starting rock climbing. It was warm, we were happy climbers. The white granite felt amazing as we ascended the eight beautiful pitches. After nine hours of climbing we were sitting on the summit in our tee-shirts admiring the beauty of the North Cascades. We rapped down the route we climbed. The top few pitches were a little unnerving to rappel off, for they were high angle traversing pitches that could very likely snag our ropes. Thankfully, ropes came down cleanly and we landed back on the ground just 12 hours later. We walked back down to the car with the satisfaction of the completed climb.