Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fisher Chimneys route Mt. Shuksan, Day 1

Oh my poor, neglected little blog. What can I say? Sometimes you're just too busy doing it to write about it. :-) Right now, we seem to be in between seasons, so I have a little extra time to write.

Let's see, when last I left off, I was spewing about my Live Your Dream Grant from the AAC to climb the Fisher Chimneys route on Mt. Shuksan. If you prefer the Reader's Digest version (SPOILER ALERT) we did it!
Betty & partner on the summit of Shuksan
If you prefer the whole story, well, grab a blankie or some down booties and your favorite adult beverage and sit back….

It was a bit of an auspicious beginning when we arrived in Seattle late at night and had a bit of trouble securing a rental car, but by the morning we were ready to spend a day gathering supplies and making our way to North Cascades National Park. We planned to hit REI for fuel then head to Sedro-Wooley to get our permits for the climb. We would spend a night there, then launch the next day. Unfortunately, when we got to the ranger station in Sedro-Wooley, we were informed that we could only get permits for Shuksan at the Glacier ranger station, an hour's drive away. They called ahead for us and from the sounds of it, if we waited until the following day to get our permit as we drove into the park, there was a better chance then not that we would miss out on getting a permit for the days we planned to be on route. Fortunately, it was still early in the afternoon, so we had the time to drive two hours round trip just to get the permits.

We did meet with a lovely park ranger at the Glacier station who seemed pretty... impressed? pleased?… to see a team of two women and no dudes getting a permit to do a route like this. I won't lie, that did feel kind of cool. I definitely felt like a pretty badass chica in that moment. However, it also made me sad. Where all the ladies at? Why is alpine climbing such a male dominated sect of the sport? Are the gals afraid, uninterested or unskilled? Or all of the above? Sure, I see females out when I'm in the mountains; its not like we are an endangered species out there, but on Rainier and Shuksan, the few women I did see were almost 'token' members of a male team. On both mountains, I was fortunate enough to be part of an all women's team. I'd like to think that maybe that was an inspiration to those 'token' females in the other groups- 'you can do this, you can be the leader, you can be self-sufficient in the mountains'- or maybe that was just a pipe dream of mine.

After a great Mexican meal that evening, we packed our stuff and got ready for the climb ahead. In the morning we drove north into the park on 542. There is a small little crossroads of sorts right at the border of the park. This is the last place to get gas for quite awhile. Unfortunately, we had driven about 45 minutes into the park before we realized this. Since we were kind of low on fuel as it was, we opted to turn around and fill up rather then getting stranded somewhere. This turned into a not-so-funny comedy routine when we drove into the park a second time, only to realize that we had forgotten to buy lighters while we were at the gas station- facepalm! Luckily we had only driven about 10 minutes in the park this time. When we finally reached the trailhead, it was 1:30PM instead of the 12 PM start we had planned on. Once we finally got started, we had a scenic and thankfully, uneventful, hike into Lake Ann.

After arriving at Lake Ann, the real fun begins. You start to gain some pretty significant elevation rather quickly in a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. Then there is your 'test run' for the Fisher Chimneys where you have to cross the lip of snowfield on to slimy, mossy covered rock, then gingerly scramble up a Class 3-ish chute. There is a rappel anchor at the top of this section if that gives you any idea. Passing this obstacle leads you to a part of the trail that is quite steep with loose sand and rocks for a trail. Careful attention to your feet is necessary to avoid sliding backwards two feet for every one forward. From this section, we gained the top of a shoulder of the Shuksan mastiff and entered a cirque that is at the bottom of the awesome hanging, Lower Curtis Glacier. (For the record, I am no geologist, so geologists and cartographers of the world, please forgive me if I am using terms like 'mastiff' and 'cirque' incorrectly. But they sound cool and after all, blogging is all about sounding cool, right?)
The Fisher Chimneys go right throughout that center couloir.

The Chimneys still lay head, but at this point we had been hiking for hours. It was nearly 6:30 pm and while we probably had 2 solid hours of light left, the shadows were getting longer. It also didn't help that we could see a party trying to descend the Chimneys and looking lost. My partner seemed to want to press on, climbing through the Chimneys, then setting up camp at the top of them, making for a shorter summit day. This would increase our chances of summitting. I argued that we should make camp in the cirque, go to sleep early and then we would be able to climb through the Chimneys unencumbered. It would a bit longer, but we could make up for it by moving faster. So we set up camp, cooked a nice meal of dehydrated something or other and watched the sunset over Mount Baker.
The view of Mt. Baker from out campsite. Those are my green Scarpa boots in the pic.

As twilight deepened, we could see the headlamps of the climbers still in the Chimneys. They still appeared lost. At one point we couldn't tell if one of them was trying to signal us or if the flashes of light were just the glint of sun reflecting off of a snow picket at just the right angle. After some deliberating and a few phone calls (yes, there was cell service here!) for some respected advice, we decided not to go after the lost party. They were all still moving, no one appeared injured, and with us being unclear if they even wanted assistance, we determined that it was best not to put ourselves at risk by entering the fray especially in the waning light. When we went to sleep, they still hadn't made it down. The last we saw of them, it appeared that they decided to backtrack through to entire chimney in order find where they had left the proper trail. We heard them come through and were awoken by their headlamps about midnight. I thought about how long the day had been for them if they had gotten an alpine start. I hoped we would not meet that same fate.

Still a smiles after Day 1
And that seems like a good place to leave this story for now. Come back and read the next blog post where I'll tell you all about summit day. I promise not to make you wait 6 months!!!!

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