Climbing Mt. Shuksan


The climb was great!  I nearly made it! On the first day it was gloriously sunny.  We hiked to our high camp, first through lush pine forest teeming with fern, wildflowers, blueberries and lingonberries. Near the end of the tree line, the terrain became much steeper with lots of tree roots and rocks to negotiate. Next we moved on to “talus” and “scree,” which is loose rock of various sizes: talus is the size of baby heads and scree is like gravel on steroids. This section is also steep and a bit tricky to negotiate as footing is quite unstable. Keep in mind we were carrying 40-pound packs!

Finally, we were on the Sulphide Glacier, which consisted of hard-packed, wet snow/ice intermingled with sections of talus. This terrain is also steep, and we traversed it rather than going straight up. After eight hours, we reached our camp area and set up tents. Of course, I have never done this before, but it’s not brain surgery!

During the hike up, I developed the world’s most disgusting, enormous blisters on both heels, losing many, many layers of skin. It was a bloody mess, literally.  This happened in spite of the fact that I had hiked in those boots for months with no problem. I performed some campside surgery and settled in a tiny tent with my sister, who was nice enough to read to me, as I forgot my glasses.

Next morning, it was sleety/snowy and we put on the crampons, grabbed our ice axes and headed up the very steep glacier to learn our life-preserving skills: team and self-arrest and roped travel. This was fun: I really like arresting myself as long as no handcuffs are involved.  We spent about five or six hours doing this and returned down the very steep glacier to our camp. Cup-a-Soup never tasted so good.  During the trip down, I realized that my footing was becoming more and more unreliable due to the cancer-like growth of my blisters and pure exhaustion. Sarah and our wonder-boy guide, Chad, kept a much faster pace than I could manage at this point. I was “off the back” all the time.

I made a painful, yet wise, decision to forgo the summit bid, as I felt I would dangerously slow down the team and was worried about my now infected, oozing heels. I spent the day in my tent (it was snowing/sleeting), writing in my journal. I opened a Dove candy and it had a message inside the wrapper: “It’s OK to do nothing today.”  I took that as an affirmation of my decision to be a tent potato and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude, something I rarely experience. After about 10 hours, Sarah and Chad returned, exhausted but exhilarated by their successful summit of Mt. Shuksan. We celebrated with Cup-a-Soup and more delicious foods that come to life when hot water is added. We then spent another rainy/sleety night tent-bound.

Next morning, we packed up camp and headed down. It was snowing at the high camp and that became rain as we descended into the forest. Once one succumbs to the rain, it’s kind of muddy, slippery and fun — imagine mud wrestling on a steep slope. It did slow us down a bit, but I enjoyed the slower pace and actually seeing something besides Sarah’s feet. As we neared the bottom, the sun came out and it became a beautiful day.

All in all, it was a great experience that I would like to try again. Next year, I plan to do Mt. Rainier and go all the way.

Here’s the link to my pics »


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