(elev 9,127 ft)
July 27-28, 2002
Deb and I headed out toward Shuksan Friday evening, and after solving the puzzle of the climber registration at the Burlington ranger station, we ate dinner and headed up to the trailhead.
On the way up the forest service roads we came across a solitary omen of peace and balance: a 32 ounce bottle of V8 sitting in the middle of the road. We tried not to let it distract our sharp mental state, but it was too much. The questions it begged were so profound and thought provoking, we had to ponder them. Why would someone leave 32 oz of V8 in the middle of a road? More importantly, who the hell buys 32 oz of V8? I suppose the latter question implicitly answers the former, but still, it's bewildering to think that in these harsh economic times someone would dwindle away precious dollars on such filthy swill. I've tried to drink V8 at key developmental stages of my life, only to find that I'm naseously disgusted after the first 3 or 4 oz. But even I have the sense to only buy one of those puney 8 oz cans knowing that the odds are good my reaction will be the same dizzying, mindnumbing, cataract generating, webbed-foot growing, putrid experience as the last time. This begs another mind-boggling question: who is the marketing genius that decided trying to sell V8 in 32 oz. bottles was a good idea? I mean, they have to know that people are going to figure it out within the first 8-10 oz. if not sooner. Well, I guess that makes sense then. Anyway, V8's officers must be sitting in their heavily leveraged offices watching the clock tick down to the time when the entire population figures out that V8 is a disgusting, vile substance and should be banished to the top shelf in the grocery store where even the most unsuspecting victims will god-willing not see the crack-pot health drink and somehow be brought into temptation to purchase it by the attractive label and copious amounts of food coloring. The only good use I can conceive of for the goop is to let it cure and petrify into a salt lick for the local dairy industry. Perhaps this is what the mysterious leaver of the V8 bottle was thinking. In any case, to prevent contamination of the local fauna, we reluctantly picked up the toxic sludge and carried it with us in Deb's 4Runner.
Mental state down the tubes, we were in no condition to offer any help to our next distraction: a couple of guys who apparently tried to drive their jacked up pikup truk off the road a little and done got themselves stuk. Without chains for towing, we were stuk for a way to get them out of their current predicament, and after ensuring they had enough clothes and blankets (and 40 oz'ers) to spend the night, should it come to that, we headed up the last of the road.
We arrived up at the trailhead at 2500 feet, and after tip-toeing around and whispering, trying not to wake up the other climbers that weren't there, we went to sleep in the back of the 4Runner, and graciously donated our warm, thick blood to the local mosquito reproduction effort.
We got up not-so-early Saturday and began the long hike up to base camp. It was an uneventful hike through the overgrown trail in the late morning cloudy gloom. We encountered a few people on their way down, who commented on their summit despite the poor conditions. We were unphased by this because the last weather report we got from NOAA indicated the weather would make a turn for the better late Saturday.
After a few hours we reached the notch where you hit constant snow and begin a long traverse over to the ridge on the west flank of the Sulphide Glacier. We stopped for lunch and within a few minutes a group of Mountaineers showed up. Then a group of Mazamas. We decided to speed out of there in case the camping options weren't abundant.
At 5400 feet, we found the first camp site in a rock outcropping on the ledge. We stopped to marvel at the neatly flattened out tent sites and the compost toilet, then noted that the clouds weren't clearing up. Indeed, as would become a familiar theme througout the trip, visibility was about 100 feet. We decided to continue up to the next camp site at 6500 feet. We followed a bearing based on where we thought the site would be on the map for about another hour, and after gaining the top of a steep slope, we realized we had overshot the camp site and were now at 7,000 feet and at the top of the ridge. Our remorse at wasting 500 feet of energy lasted about half a second. The clouds parted for us and we were immediately and fully drawn into the stunning views of Baker directly ahead and our target just over the rise to the north.
We enjoyed a hearty meal of pasta noodles with the chef's special Alfredo/Parmeson sauce mixture -- we enjoyed it that is until it cooled off and congeled into a jello-like slop that triggered an involuntary gagging reflex milliseconds after entering the mouth. The contentment at having a mostly full stomach was relatively bittersweet. Nonetheless we marveled at the terrific sunset and the amazing way the clouds blew vertically up the west side of the ridge and up and over our heads.
Going to bed we were completely naive to the fact that that was the last time we would see the sun until Monday.
"Is anybody home?" A strange voice called out. A little confused at first, I wondered if he was talking to someone else, then I remembered we were the only ones camping up there. I poked my head out of the tent and outside there was a man traveling solo. It was 7:30am. We had awakened at 5 only to be completely discouraged by the heavy cloud cover. We began to talk with the guy and he expressed his disappointment and disbelief that he was the only one attempting the summit that morning. That meant he had no tracks to follow. We bid him best of luck, godspeed, break a leg, you know the usual formalities, then decided if this fellow could attempt it solo in these conditions, we ought to at least get our arses out of bed and try.
At 9:00, we saw the man coming back down toward our tent. Figuring he could not possibly have summited and returned in 1.5 hours, we were shocked when he began to recount his trip to the summit. Noting some odd inconsistencies between his tale and what we knew of the climb, we bid him farewell, adios, vaya con dios, etc, and he left with the words, "I can't believe I summited in this shit" lingering in the air.
Visibility was about 100 feet (okay, from now on assume visibility is always about 100 feet unless I say otherwise. And very windy). The soloist's tracks were quite clear and we followed them up the glacier. After about half an hour or 45 minutes or so, his tracks ended at a pile of rocks which fit his description of the summit pyramid to a "T." We laughed devilishly and bitterly as we realized the poor fellow hadn't even made it half way to the summit. He was only at about 7800 feet. The rocks were a manky pile of choss that only rose about 20 feet above the snow. We climbed to the top of them to get an exact elevation reading and pinpoint where we were on the map. We were correct in where we calculated we were, but with the poor visibility, the terrain didn't seem correct. We spent the next two hours roaming first to the east then to the west trying to assess the situation and make sense of the inconsistencies.
The big thing that threw us was a very steep slope down about a hundred feet next to the "false summit." We eventually discovered the slope shallowed out significantly about 100 feet to the east, but again, becuase of the viz we totally missed it until about noon.
Totally psyched that we were finally back on our way, we saw the summit pyramid off in the distance after a ways and made a bee line for it. We arrived at the base of it about 12:30. Dropped our packs, crampons and ice axes, and coiled up the rope for a possible rappel. We made a funky, committing step across a moat onto the rock and scrambled some hard grades for about 20 minutes and then reached the high point on the rock. But something was very amiss.
"What's our elevation?"
"Doh!" We had barely gained back the elevation we lost when we descended onto the glacier. We had scrambled up the wrong block of rock! We were barely better than the soloist! Completely annoyed with ourselves, we climbed back down.
It was now about 1:00 and we were reaching the point where if we continued we risked hiking out in the dark. We decided that despite scrambling up 2 "false summits," or perhaps because of it, we were going to continue.
We covered a lot of ground quickly and fell into the tracks of another party (they apparently came up the Fisher Chimneys route). We navigated around a couple large crevasses, jumped across a narrow point of another one, then made it up to the base of the TRUE summit pyramid about 2:00.
We dropped our gear except the rope again and began scrambling quickly up. We trended right, gaining the east ridge and enjoyed the view of a sweet steep drop down the other side, then trended left toward the central gulley, climbed up the gulley to the west ridge just a few meters short of the summit, then climbed the ridge to the summit, arriving at 3:00. Emotionally damaged from "false summit" number 2, we were elated when we saw the summit log. No one would possibly put a summit log on another false summit would they?
"What's our elevation?"
We truly had made it. Not an ounce of doubt in our minds this time. Although there were no views to speak of at all, we were absolutely thrilled to finally be at the top of Mt. Shuksan. One of only two parties that summited that day.
Now we just had to get back. We descended straight down the central gulley deciding that all the rap anchors we had passed on the way up wouldn't save us time with a 30 meter rope. Minutes after descending the central gulley, putting on our packs, roping up and heading off, a huge gust of wind hit us. It took our breath away momentarily it was so strong. And it blew a huge thick cloud in that cut our vis down to about 20 feet for a few seconds, igniting my panic fuse for the possibility that the proverbial shit was hitting the fan. Fortunately it eased off and vis returned to the default range.
The rest of the way back to camp went relatively smoothly. We recovered all our wands and managed to retrace our steps back despite them melting out quite a bit. We broke down camp and headed down at 6:00. It was misting when we reached the notch at 4500 feet and the rest of the way down the trail was soaking wet, as where we. The hike back drew on and on and on and on and on.
We made it back to the car just shy of 9:00, beating the darkness by just a few minutes, and avoiding having to classify the trip as a minor epic.
And yet despite all we went through, the V8 bottle had the indecency to stay where we left it forcing us to cart it back to town with us. I mean, who buys 32 ounces of V8, really?