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Shuksanian4 001

Stormy Enjoyment on climb of Mount Shuksan

The real­i­ty of alpine weath­er con­di­tions is that not every sum­mit climb will present you with per­fect blue-bird con­di­tions. How­ev­er, some­times this is part of the excit­ing expe­ri­ence of being in the moun­tains and push­ing through the chal­lenges that nature brings to you. We had a such an expe­ri­ence on Mount Shuskan this sum­mer, but with a lit­tle per­se­v­er­ence, we were great­ly reward­ed in the end!

The sum­mer is back in full glo­ry now, mean­ing an extend­ed sea­son here in the Cas­cades for alpine climbs for cus­tom or sched­uled trips; check out options here. Oth­er­wise, read on for tales on high on Shuksan.

The stun­ning Mount Shuk­san. Ian Nichol­son photo

After meet­ing our group at Sec­ond Ascent in the morn­ing, doing intro­duc­tions and a gear check our team was head­ed north toward Mt. Shuk­san, arguably the most pho­tographed peak in North America. 

The group at the trail­head. Ian Nichol­son photo

Mt. Shuk­san is a clas­sic moun­tain in North Cas­cade Nation­al Park fea­tur­ing hang­ing glac­i­ers and a strik­ing sum­mit rock pyra­mid that jets out of the Sul­phide Glac­i­er. Despite the poor weath­er fore­cast, we began hik­ing under low clouds but rarely felt more than a drop. Thun­der show­ers were fore­cast­ed for the fol­low­ing few days so we decid­ed to camp low at the Col Camp” because it is pro­tect­ed from the wind and hope­ful­ly from the fore­cast­ed thun­der show­ers. We cooked din­ner and went to bed ear­ly with the alarms set for 3am. Unfor­tu­nate­ly Tino and I awoke around 1 am with the sound of rain and some thun­der in the dis­tance. When are alarms final­ly went off at 3 am it was rain­ing hard, so we told the group to hang tight and try to go back to bed and Tino and I set our alarm to go off every half hour to unzip the tent door and reassess the weath­er. By around 7am we got out of the tent to make break­fast, the clouds were still quite threat­en­ing but it was only light­ly spit­ting rain. At around 7:30am we went on a gut feel­ing to go for it, and the group was hik­ing by 8am in the clouds with 5 feet of visibility. 

All in good spir­its despite the stormy weath­er. Ian Nichol­son photo

About an hour into the hike, the clouds opened up with heavy rain, hail and thun­der but we decid­ed to just hike a lit­tle far­ther hop­ing that any­thing that came on that fast would leave just as quick. And quick it was! Not 10 min­utes lat­er, it not only stopped rain­ing but the clouds also start­ed to lift. By 11 am we were approach­ing the sum­mit pyra­mid and it was down right hot on the glac­i­er, every­one stripped down to base lay­ers, and we couldn’t believe our fortune! 

Rest­ing above the marine lay­er. Ian Nichol­son photo

How­ev­er Tino and I kept reassess­ing the weath­er. Nev­er had we been so hap­py to see a marine lay­er, we could see the marine lay­er push out the thun­der clouds, which we could see were about 25 miles to our east. We could hear them too. 

Tak­ing the last steps to the top. Ian Nichol­son photo

The marine lay­er had ful­ly socked us in, but we couldn’t have been more hap­py, at least it wasn’t rain­ing and the thun­der cloud sys­tems was being kept far away. The group worked our way up the sum­mit climb­ing steep snow, fol­lowed by mixed climb­ing, ascend­ing steep rock and snow with cram­pons on. Near the sum­mit though the rock was snow-free enough to remove cram­pons and the group rel­ished the whole experience.

Dan with his daugh­ters Abbie and Hay­ley on the sum­mit! Ian Nichol­son photo

Once on top, the clouds briefly part­ed and we could even see Mt. Bak­er. While a fair­ly late sum­mit of 4pm, we had still made it despite the weath­er. We worked our way back down the sum­mit pyra­mid and hus­tled down the glac­i­er mak­ing from the base of the pyra­mid to camp in only and hour and a half. The group was elat­ed! We nev­er knew if we were going to make it or not, with the poor weath­er ear­ly in the morn­ing and the threat of thun­der show­ers. How­ev­er this chal­lenge only added to the expe­ri­ence. Once back in camp, we ate some din­ner and looked to our south to see light­ning on the hori­zon. What a beau­ti­ful sight to behold. 

The next morn­ing we cel­e­brat­ed with a break­fast of French toast and descend­ed hap­pi­ly back to the cars to re-enter civ­i­liza­tion! Con­grat­u­la­tions to our team for push­ing through the tough con­di­tions and mak­ing it happen!

~ MM Guide Ian Nicholson