Mt. Shuksan is one of the most beautiful mountains I have ever laid eyes on. Like most mountains, Shuksan has an easy way up and a myriad of less easy ways up. The Sulphide Glacier is the standard route of the mountain. I cannot attest to the quality of that slog but I imagine it can’t be that bad. Years ago I would have gone up the Sulphide Glacier no questions asked. Back then the summit was more important than the quality of the climb. I wanted a tick next to Shuksan and the easiest way to do that was up the simplest route. But as I have grown as a climber I have found that experiencing the character of a mountain is more important than summiting her.
I have had my eye on the Fisher Chimneys for a while now. In 2008 I was shut down by slopping snow conditions. Things were in that in between state of not being melted out or covered in snow. It was the right decision to back off but it stung because I had flown out from North Carolina to climb and damn it, I wanted to climb.
Now that I have moved to Seattle the North Cascades are actually accessible. The problem was that I had nobody to climb with. It took a while but I eventually met Charlotte on Rainier who graciously took me under her wing. We are both in grad school and have extremely busy schedules so when we found a day that we could escape to the North Cascades it wasn’t a question of do you want to but rather what shall we climb.
The Fisher Chimneys are not typically thought of as a round trip car to car day trip. Since that is all the time we had we were going to make it into one. We figured that this late in the season, October, the approach and Chimneys would be melted out and we could move pretty quickly by following the well trodden climbers trail.
The day before we were scheduled to leave a co-worker of Charlotte’s asked to come along. Wes is an ultramarthoner, a rock climber and from his few modest comments a pretty good ice climber. Almost needless to say he was invited along.
We left the car at 3:30AM. We wanted to get to Lake Anne by 5:30 and start heading up the Fisher Chimneys around first light. Even with the gate closed, which added maybe ¾ of a mile of street hiking, we made it to Lake Ann in two hours. From Lake Ann we followed some cairns and a climbers trail up to a talus field. I’ll skip ahead and tell you that we did what so many parties do and we accidentally dropped on to the Lower Curtis Glacier. This is exactly what you don’t want to do. Towards the end of this TR there are tons of pictures of the correct way to go but pretty much the entrance to the Fisher Chimneys is a lot higher and a lot further left than you think.
We dropped on to the Lower Curtis but didn’t really think much of it at the time. Fred Becky’s drawing didn’t look like anything we were seeing but there were plenty of third class chimneys to climb so we headed up one that we thought would be tame. I’d call this a mistake in retrospect but at the time it was really the only thing we could do.
Well, third class slowly turned into fourth class and then fourth class turned into short sections of low fifth class. The problem was that it was not hard enough to rope up but not easy enough to effortlessly scramble. Of the three of us Wes was the strongest rock climber. He led the way with route finding. Charlotte’s experience with rock climbing was rather limited and required a bit of coaching. That said, she kicked ass, especially considering this was exposed, high consequence climbing in boots. (BTW, I was wearing Trango Alps and they kicked ass)
As we made our way up the chimney it became pretty apparent that we were not on summit pace. I’ll admit that this sucked a bit but it was also a bit of a relief. We could now relax, enjoy our climb and not have to worry about climbing at a breakneck pace. After a few hours of scrambling (yes I said hours) we made it to the top of the Fisher Chimneys.
At the top Wes and I decided to go take a quick peek at Winnie’s Slide while Charlotte stayed behind and enjoyed the Sun and the view from the top of the Chimneys. After a brief snow hike, Wes and I got a good look at Winnies Slide. Since it was October things had melted out pretty intensely. I wish I would have taken pictures but alas I did not. Winnies Slide had melted out to a thin layer of crunchy sugar covering beautiful alpine ice. It was probably 45 degree ice and would have been front points the entire way up. After a few minutes of admiring Shuksan we rejoined Charlotte and headed down.
I’ll end this trip report with a series of pictures on how to get to the Fisher Chimneys entrance. The pictures were taken on my way out so they are correct. Note: The pictures are the last 10 pictures and conveniently labeled 1-10.