A Cascades Adventure

A Cascades Adventure

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On October 4, 2019
  • Comments

The Front doesn’t just have members who crush, but our employees do, too! At the beginning of August, our Adult Programming Manager David Farkas traveled with our Accounting Assistant Sandy Moore to Cascades National Park to summit Mt. Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier and Southeast Ridge. Along the way, they experienced perfect weather, beautiful summit views and a full-value adventurous experience. We sat down with David to learn about their trip!

Why did you pick this mountain and route for your expedition?

In terms of mountaineering, the Pacific Northwest has a little bit of everything to offer – significant elevation gain, long approaches and glacier and crevasse travel which requires roping up, and a specific knowledge set.

We climbed this route in particular because, in the past, Sandy has climbed Mt. Rainier and I’ve guided on Shuksan and Baker. We wanted to do a smaller peak than Rainier or Baker, but just as beautiful. And we still wanted glacier travel, which requires roping up and being proficient in crevasse navigation and rescue techniques.

We chose the Sulphide Glacier because it’s Shuksan’s easiest route – neither one of us have been backpacking in the last seven years or so, and I’ve had ankle reconstruction surgery. Plus, I’m 46 and Sandy is 53, so we wanted a challenge but nothing that would be too difficult. Since we’re avid climbers, we wanted to do the technical Southeast Ridge to the summit, rather than the central gully scramble that gets quite loose in the later season.

Also, we wanted to climb something pretty, something that stands out in the larger landscape … Shuksan is one of the most photographed.

How did you prep for your Mt. Shuksan adventure?

Because we hadn’t been hiking with much weight in so long, we started training hikes along the Wasatch with increasing amounts of weight, distances and elevation gains that somewhat mimicked Shuksan. For example, Grandeur Peak is half of Shuksan’s elevation gain. Recommended weekly weight addition is 10% increase per week, so it took weeks to build up to our target carrying weight.

This physical prep helped us mentally prepare by developing the patience and perseverance required to lug heavier packs in the mountains. A typical training weekend was one day of rock climbing, followed by a day-long distance hike with weight. We had a tough, final training hike up to the snowfields on Timpanogos, packs fully loaded, wearing heavy mountaineering boots. People kept asking us if we were spending the night, as they skipped by us in sneakers.

We also prepped by researching and planning the route well, had solid navigation skills and prepared alternative routes with the right maps. The mental stress on the trip was decreased because we planned significantly ahead of time.

What food did you bring?

We kept it simple by simply focusing on the number of calories needed in the form of easy-to-prepare dehydrated backpacking food. Sandy did a great job figuring that we would need 19,000 calories for three days between the two of us. That worked great and we ended up with one extra meal that we had taken in case weather forced another night on the mountain.

We had oatmeal for breakfast, mixed with collagen powder and Laird’s superfood coffee creamer to help get enough protein and fat. We ate Epic Bars, Pro Bars, and Blox snack bars while moving, and Backpacker’s Pantry meals for dinner.

Abundant streams flowed from the glaciers, providing water during the hike. Once on the glacier, we dug into cleaner-looking glacier snow, melted it, and used Aqua Mira to purify it.

Describe the trip for us!

On the first day, we left the Shannon Ridge Trailhead (2,800’) and hiked to basecamp at 6,200’. After walking through dense, lush vegetation to gain the height of Shannon Ridge, we caught breathtaking views of Shuksan cliffs and nearby Mt. Baker. We then hiked through a rocky saddle at tree line to camp on the deserted glacier. Just us, some mountain goats, and the occasional crashing and booming from the melting glaciers.

Conditions in the Cascades this time of year were about a month ahead of where it usually is, so the approach was free of snow until we hit the glacier, which made traveling easier.

On the second day, we traded sleeping in for nighttime navigation on the way down. You normally want to start early to ensure firm snow conditions and stronger snow bridges over crevasses, but we were able to get away with a later start due to the conditions.

While traversing the glacier toward the summit pyramid, we peered into the blue depths of a handful of crevasses. They were so cool and lovely in contrast to the cloudless sky with bake-oven sun, but terrifying when we imagined falling into one. Finally, we reached the summit pyramid rock, removed the crampons, and stowed the ice axes and trekking poles. The Southeast Ridge route climbs excellent rock up the right-hand skyline of the summit pyramid, through fourth- and easy-fifth-class terrain. The likelihood of falling was low, but because the exposure was high and the route was remote, we pitched out the route. The ridge is probably similar to the South Ridge on Superior.

Topping out at sunset, we took time to sign the summit register and soak up the spectacular view of Mt Baker, Mt Rainier, Puget Sound and the surrounding peaks. Then, we got out our headlamps and descended via various thirty-meter rappels and some third- and fourth-class scrambling down the central gully. On most mountaineering routes, you definitely need to be prepared to assess rock quality and sling conditions at rappel stations, as well as have the knowledge and gear to create your own if what you find is suspect. It’s a bad idea to fully trust any random rope tied around a rock. We were fortunate that most of our trail across the glacier was visible by headlamp, so it was easy to avoid most crevasses in the dark.

On the third day, we took our time hiking out. It was hard to leave the solitude and wild beauty of the glacier and rock. Even though we heard the previous weekend was busy, we only saw one party descending the route on summit day and didn’t encounter anyone else while we ascended. And we had perfect weather!

Would you go back?

Definitely! The trip was adequately challenging, and we spent the rest of the week recovering. The climb was amazing and was everything we wanted. It made us want to put everything else in life on pause and immediately go on the next adventure. We enjoyed each other’s company while tackling the long, physical days in gorgeous surroundings.

What did you learn from this trip?

The main takeaway was that we needed to train a little more and take less weight, especially if we want to do bigger objectives. We want to continue to practice our glacier travel and crevasse rescue skills, too. I probably would’ve brought more compressible clothing, a 9.2-diameter rope instead of a 9.5, aluminum ice screws over steel, and maybe a lighter tent. But, it’s nice to have a heavier, sturdier tent in case a storm rolls through.

We liked navigating using the CalTopo maps loaded into the Avenza app on a cell phone in airplane mode (also had a map and compass). We also learned that we are a good mountaineering team.

Where do you want your next adventure to be?

We would return to Shuksan via different routes, as well as to various routes on Mt. Baker and other peaks such as Eldorado or Glacier Peak. And we’d love to do some long alpine rock routes.

The Cascades are largely considered to be the best training for great ranges in the world, like Alaska, Andes and Himalaya, because they have glacial terrain. In Colorado and Utah, you have high elevations, but you don’t start as low.

And the landscape feels complete in the Cascades: You go from the ocean and farmland through lush forests, then into alpine tundra, glaciers and rocky summits. The Cascades have a bit of everything.

If you or someone you know recently returned from a cool expedition and want to be featured on The Front’s blog, contact tim.behuniak@thefrontclimbingclub.com with your story idea!