Backdated TR - Mount Shuksan
A backdated report of our summit and ski of Mount Shuksan from the end of March. Partly due to some image archive review in anticipation of this season!
It was one of the coldest nights of the year in the White Salmon parking area as we slept in our cars at twenty degrees. Waking at a quarter to 5 in the morning, we took till 5:30 to really get going with my watch start at 5:45am as we moved through the resort area. It was firm powder when we skied out of the resort area down into the valley, which lead to some early morning jump turns to warm the body up. After that initial drop to the valley floor, which was not perfectly straight forward due to all the trees, we began skinning up valley to the White Salmon. Dawn light rising, we had blue sky views on the glacier which looked glorious in its powdery wonder. But up and up we'd go, with Alex charging hard at the lead. We enjoyed a sun glistened break atop Winnie's Slide, looking at Hell's Highway and Mount Baker all in one panning view. Skinning up to Hell's Highway was deceptively safe when you remember the exposure below you, so a couple of our group opted to boot up to the flat traverse... I sort of think that'd be smart next time, hah. Hell's Highway is just immaculate as you glide alongside the upper features of Shuksan. Rounding the corner to the Sulphide glacier brought on the glaring sun as our energy waned taking a steep snow climb onto the glacier's approach to the summit pyramid. Once on the Suphide, it was swift skinning up the base of the summit pyramid. But, alas, terrible snow. We booted up the pyramid but it felt more like swimming as we blanaced our body weight in snow that wouldn't provide a firm enough base for the bootpack. Of course, it was variable the whole way up, so some sections felt more efficient than others till we reach the rime blocking snow blocking the last 30 or so feet up. Connor and I opted to top out while the rest of the group stayed in our snow platform at the top of the summit pyramid gully. Admittedly, it was a bold move given the rime snow and sugar breakdown as Connor and I climbed to the remaining ridge walk from the southeast, which additionally threw another body height step to climb in our way... a step with bad snow to leverage for support. At the top, on the summit: beautiful. We then opted to walk down the west ridge off the summit back into the summit pyramid gully: that felt safer, though the drop into the gully was not an obvious move out of the summit gully.
Skiing the snow in that gully was just has much work as climbing it: jump turning the whole way down to manage the snow on that face. Once off the pyramid though, it was gorgeous corn snow skiing along the Sulphide. It felt majestic, with Kulshan rising up behind our immediate landscape as we'd dip back down to 'round the corner on Hell's Highway where we had an easy glide across that traverse. Skiing back down to the top of Winnie's was just as fun with a little more steep than the Sulphide, while we then got to stare at the north facing White Salmon slopes again. Still in shadow. Still powdery. This was where the skiing became extremely fun. The full White Salmon down to the valley was powdery goodness with a bit of snow change at the bottom since it was slightly warmer at lower elevations. The forecasted warming was taking on. Unlike the night before, this night was supposed to be noticeably warmer, so we noticed the frosting pow once we were back in tree line: But, just ski it like a boat making wide turns and it's still fun! We navigated around some gullies and cliffs to get to the valley floor again, where we had some fun with more frosting carves. Of course, once we made it back to the final forested hill that leads back into the Baker Ski Area, we realized our day was far from over: more skinning. We moved up through the trees with a silence not yet heard amongst our group. A silence filled with thoughts of beer, chips, salsa and cheese. Occasionally, we looked back at each other to reveal a smile acknowledging we've entered the next level of fun only to ask "What beer are you thinking of right now?" Kulshan Lagers waited in my car. Delicious, refreshing beer. Ahhh. Then, I saw Connor cross a rope line. A rope line! I howled back to the others as I chased him down. We were back in the ski area, which could only mean one more thing: transition to downhill mode and race the ski trails back to the lot. Who's got the best hockey skate technique? (possibly a boy from upstate NY who learned on a pond.) Back at the lots, we fulfilled our tired dreams of refreshments while gazing back at the White Salmon thinking "Hell yea! That snow was perfect."