Home > Trip Reports > July 2, 2011, Mt Shuksan via Mt Baker

July 2, 2011, Mt Shuksan via Mt Baker

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by ryanl on 7/7/11 5:31pm


Last Friday Gregg and I skied Baker and Shuksan in a single 26 hour push. On Wednesday I fell asleep waiting for a light to turn green on Aurora.

The before shot (and yes, Gregg's that tall and I'm that short):

Before Shot

The trip actually began three weeks ago when a group of us started up the Squak at midnight. (http://www.turns-all-year.com/skiing_snowboarding/trip_reports/index.php?topic=21367.0) This time, despite our efforts to entice others, Gregg and I found ourselves alone at the Heliotrope trailhead with a purified plan. Leave at 3 pm, climb the C-D, ski the Park, sleep an hour or two at Lasiocarpa ridge, climb the Fisher Chimneys, ski the Sulphide. We opted not to shuttle vehicles, partly out of laziness, partly out respect for the improbability of us actually getting to where we intended.

As always, the skin up Baker took my breath away on more than one occasion. The late afternoon sky blanketed my nerves in calm. Sun shone and clouds drifted as Gregg and I skinned upwards. We took breaks when we needed, talked when we wanted, and zoned out in our respective appreciation for the joy of skinning.


photo by Gregg

We skinned to the summit (with ski crampons) in 5 1/2 hours.  We weren't trying to go fast but I think we each were a bit nervous about skiing the Park at sundown. By the time we ripped our skins the wind had picked up and a light cloud had enveloped us. I'd been hoping for a few inches of fresh after the previous day's snowfall, but conditions were flat out firm. We skied the ridge climbers left of the Park Headwall and dropped into the Park when our sphincters relaxed enough to allow us to do so.

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photo by Gregg

The slopes above the massive bergschrund got our attention but below that the Park skied great. For me. Poor Gregg had Dynafit Guides and couldn't stay on top of the crust. My K2 Backsides were money. I felt bad watching him tack downwards. If anybody wants to skin up the Park there's a nice track in place.

As we descended into darkness I let my eyes wander to Shuksan in the distance,


before settling into beautiful starlit skinning


With the route fresh in our minds we made it to Lasiocarpa ridge by 11.  It was a nice place to melt water, cook food and take a breather. We managed about an hour sleep before setting off again.

photo by Gregg

The stretch from Lasiocarpa to the base of the Fisher Chimneys proved challenging. Frozen suncups, steep sidehilling, sopping wet useless skins, and massive avy debris had me out of rythym, Plus, I realized below Lake Anne that I woefully underpacked on food. Whoops. Luckily Gregg brought enough extra to carry me. Including a container of margarine. Yum.

For the rest of the trip I couldn't stop looking back at from where we came. It never ceases to amaze me how much ground one can cover on skis, and how absorbing such travel can be. In a way, time stands still. Or simply doesn't matter.  I remember reading Lowell's "Flight of the Ptarmigan" many years ago, and his expressing that skiing across a landscape can affect one's perception of it.  The further we traveled the more absorbed I became in my immediate surroundings all the while my sense of what was immediate continued to grow.

Seeing Baker at sunrise brought new energy for the climb ahead

photo by Gregg

Neither Gregg nor I had ever climbed the Fisher Chimneys before, and in retrospect it might have been more efficient to ascend the White Salmon. But what fun would that have been? We'd have missed out on some more steep side hilling, fun scrambling, and steep snow.






Cresting onto the White Salmon at hour 19 was spectacular:


Gregg catching a Z in the minutes it took me to catch him:


The skin up Winnies slide and Hell's Highway offered enjoyable mindless continuity compared to the thought provoking scramble up the Chimneys. We each found our groove again and were excited to finally see the summit pyramid within reach:


At first glance I thought I'd ski from the summit. But by the time we got to the pyramid's base an AAI group of 8 had entrenched themselves on the face. Conditions were extremely soft by this time and neither Gregg nor I felt like cutting wet slides onto a group of aspiring climbers. They seemed to have their hands full as it was. I'd be lying if I said a part of me regrets not having skied from the summit. I'd also be lying if I said I gave a damn at the time. As it was, Gregg and I ditched our packs and made quick work of our last climb.




Before we had begun climbing the pyramid we ran into a party of two who had just finished and were heading down. Gregg immediately asked where they were from. Bellingham. Dayum. Too easy. Whatever thoughts Gregg and I might have had about skiing the White Salmon quickly evaporated in the presence of such low hanging fruit. We made fast work of the Sulphide so as not to keep our ride waiting. With a slight "detour" (read, overshooting of the trail followed by 40 minutes of schwacking to find said trail) we made it to the car at 5 pm. Thanks Annie and Steve for the ride! (And Mike for the ride back to my truck!)

The after shots:



If folks aren't opposed, Gregg and I would like to call this extension of the Watson Traverse "The Monika Traverse", in honor of a woman we each loved in our own ways. As Gregg said in an email,

"Great skiing, spectacular scenery, rock climbing, steep snow climbing and two of the iconic summit peaks of the North Cascades.  Perfect way to honor her."

R.I.P Beautiful- you would have loved this one......

Baker Summit

Hell's Highway

After the vid, I pulled out the tub of golden vegetable fat along with my plastic spork. I carved a mouthful and savored it. I imagined a slow burning buttery fuel for my tired muscles. It had the consistency of ice cream. And wax. I took a second and third sporkful. Warm, butter flavored waxy ice cream. It was delicious.

Wow, nice work!  Sounds like a great (but burly) trip!

You whack jobs rule.  Monika is grinning ear to ear.

holy cow guys... thats amazing.  congrats!

Killer work guys, great TR.  That first picture looks like American Gothic.

This is an example of superb cardiovascular stamina!  Congrats!!

Gregg and Ryan, congratulations. Seriously amazing accomplishment. Not many trip reports make a person misty eyed, but this one did it to me...

The Monika Traverse!!

WOW! speechless ... tremendous effort ..

wow! fantastic! Congratulations to you both. Very inspiring.

great write up too.  love that line -

author=ryanl link=topic=21413.msg91613#msg91613 date=1310113862]
my sense of what was immediate continued to grow.

Great TR and images.  My old body is tired reading the long adventure.  The before and after photos are wonderful.  Your comment about falling asleep at a traffic light brings back memories of past adventures.   ;)

Awesome trip, guys.
Think I'll go take a nap now  ::)


Your a classy guy Ryan. Thanks for the great write up!


Falling asleep at a stoplight - better than on the highway! Sort of reminds me of my own experience of being honked at while waiting for a four way stop sign to turn green the morning after a much more mundane tour (Snowking) some years back.

Right on Ryan. Cool trip for sure.

Well done fellas, an awesome if somewhat grueling trip!

I'd have to say this is one of the more praise worthy trip reports I've seen!  Awe-inspiring!! I don't think my old crepid body during its prime could have pulled off such a feat! 

You guys ROCK!  So psyched you pulled it off!  I like the implication in the title -  isn’t Baker the standard approach for Shuksan?

wish i had gone with you.  love it.

Beautiful trip, and well told, Ryan! Thanks for the report.

Wow you guys are monsters.

Are we sure Greg Hill didn't clone himself twice and have two really good costumes?

well done and downright honorific, Gregg and Ryan.  and as always, well-written Ryan.  stoked for the new traverse, and for you guys.

What a beautiful way to honor Monika, and what a herculean effort!

Superb and magnificent! All heart.
Perfect Ryan! :)

Beautiful trip, trip report, and attitudes. Great stamina. I've never been as tired in my life as after a Shuksan climb via Fisher Chimneys and that was without Baker. Fred Becky calls that "an interesting and tortuous route". Thanks for sharing some true BC touring.

Very cool trip, I enjoyed the read.

BTW, nice to meet you at Silver on Wednesday....thanks again for grabbing my hat.


Nice trip report ryan. Seems like you guys got redemption!

Wow! Congratulations on a successful traverse.  8) 8)

I'm just posting again to say wow and what the fuck and god damn and so on. And I keep laughing at your thread title. Damn, boys. Soon time will come for variations on a theme.

James Blench climbing through the ice cliff on the North Face of Mt. Temple, Canadian Rockies, 1982.

Thanks for all the very positive comments about our traverse.  It is quite the thrill to have an idea, have it lay in fallow and then to actually came back many years later and pull it off.  Thank you Drew for rekindling the idea anew.  I wish that you could have been with us.

After our first attempt on the 12th of June, I seriously doubted that doing both peaks in one day/push was possible for me.  Sitting on my pack at Artist's point in the muggy heat, looking at all the black debris flows at the terminuous of the Curtis and feeling bone tired, my energy was drained away.  Plus, at fifty-one, I thought that my best days were behind me.  Shuksan was just a peak too far at this stage of the game.

Climbing and skiing Baker and Shuksan in one go is an interesting puzzle.  You have to hit both peaks in the right conditions and have the fitness and energy intake to match the demands of being on the go for an extended period of time.

The solution came to me a few weeks later while mulling over our failed attempt and wondering if there was a way that we could actually do it  given the above constraints.  I remembered a climb I did while working at Yamnuska Mountain School  one summer while in College.  James Blench and I wanted to do the Elzinga Route on the North Face of Temple above Lake Louise.  The problem was getting up the Dolphin (the long snow and ice patch that ascends 3k feet into the heart of the headwall) while avoiding the notorious rockfall and still have light to see our way up the ten pitches of mixed climbing leading to the north ridge.   

Our idea, which worked perfectly, was to ascend the dolphin in the late evening, sit for a few hours in our duvats for the dawn, and start climbing at first light.  We were on top of Temple by 11 am, having caught perfect conditions on all sections of the mountain.

That is where the 3 pm start came from.  We ascended Baker in an overcast evening, skied through some disheartening mush in the middle of the night but found perfect conditions in the chimneys and the upper part of Shuksan.  The ski down from the base of Shuksan's summit pyramid actually held good corn for the first 1,500 ft.  The two hour break on Lasiocarpa allowed us to rehydrate, enjoy a cooked dinner, and nap for an hour before pushing off in the dark towards Artist Point.

It was a monster day (twenty miles of travel as the crow flies and 16,000ft. of climbing) but I never felt exhausted.  A long day, and night and day of moving through a beautiful setting with a good friend.  It was all about flow and keeping it going.....

The Monika Traverse.

May you all have similar experiences in your own mountain outings.



A beautiful trip Ryan and Greg. Congrats you guys!

Beautiful!!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!!

Has the bar been raised? Yes.... And you guys finished with smiles on your faces!

Great trip!

To me, this sort of trip represents the future of ski mountaineering. In Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America the authors asked the contributors, "How do you see the sport evolving?" My answer (before they edited it down) was:

In the mountains of North America, or at least in the Lower-48 States, it won’t be long before most of the classic lines that can be skied will be skied. For skiers seeking new challenges, the future of the sport will be in linkups­--skiing both steep and far. Ski mountaineers will merge the techniques developed for rando-racing with those developed for steep skiing. The emphasis probably won’t be on the steepest descents, but instead on the most elegant routes that link multiple descents on multiple peaks. These routes will revive the joy of using skis to go places, and combine it with the fun of challenging ski descents. For example, a project being pursued by Oregon skiers is the one-day ski enchainment of the Three Sisters. In the North Cascades, the possibilities are endless. Taken one at a time, our mountains are only so big, but when you start linking mountains together, the canvas becomes limitless.

What a fantastic TR, great pictures, and a fantastic story, so well written, and a great tribute. thanks

Amazing and very, very inspiring!  This is a very beautiful traverse...

Epic link-up.Let's try it do it in under 24 hours next year.

I first met Monika in 2006 doing the Watson together with Oyvind, Tim and Joe.
I was whupped bringing up the rear coming out at the parking lot, it was only when we were loading up in our 2nd car at the ski area that I realized Monika was hanging out to climb Shuksan the next morning with some other friends, I couldn't believe it!
Congratulations on this latest traverse and thanks for the great description of what it felt like to be in it.

what an incredible effort, you guys are my heros.

Raising the bar:  http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/08/21/2148673/kirkland-man-pedals-103-miles.html

Mark, I agree that this man has done something quite impressive but, for me, I'm not sure he "raised the bar" compared to the skiing exploits documented here.

I admire the style used by Greg and Ryan much more.  They didn't even have a car shuttle in place; they were committed to the unknown.  This guy had people carry food and gear for him to the Baker base and hired Volken's company.

But the professional mountain guides he hired through Pro Guiding Service to keep him safe found a way for him to pass the bergschrund, he said.

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with that.  I'd just like to offer a belated bravo to the dudes for putting it all out there on their ski traverse!

(Plus Ryan and Greg were skiing and why would anyone climb a volcano without skiing it!?)

Absolutely, Sky.  This guy was doing something very different, using different skills and presumably for different reasons.  If I had seriously thought his accomplishment detracted from what Greg and Ryan accomplished I'd have politely (and uncharacteristically) kept quiet.  Sorry if it appears to anyone that way to anyone.


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2011-07-08 00:31:02