08 May 2013

Shuksan Attempt - Avalanche Report

Last Friday my buddy Imran wanted to attempt Shuksan, a major objective near Mt. Baker.

Being excellent planners, Imran called me at 10pm and we decided to go for it, leaving Seattle at 4am the next morning. He also convinced his friend Alexis to join us. Apparently there are a lot of crazy skiers in these parts.

Imran put together a very professional trip report. In it, he named all of the people in the party, the gear we'd be carrying, our planned route, the emergency contingencies and of course, the medical concerns for the traveling parties. For me, under Health Issues, he listed "shortness". That's right. It's official. I suffer from shortness. And all this time I just thought I was just Vertically Challenged?

Topo of our LONG route

We were on the trail by 7am with pretty variable skinning conditions. We'd have big patches of snow, then bigger patches of not snow. It's always a debate when you are skinning: remove the skis? don't remove the skis? For the most part...we opted to just leave them on. We got up early! We deserved to be lazy about this!

Alexis finding the snow

Adventure skinning

We traversed for a very long time before beginning our climb. The snow was corntastic and the sun was HOT. I can honestly say this is the warmest it's ever been for me skinning, and I was seeking out the shade with every opportunity. We took a quick break to enjoy the views before heading up toward the col (where most people camp on overnight attempts) and the Sulfide Glacier.

Imran chasing the shade

Little breaky break

Alexis CRUSHING the steep

We gained the ridge and spent a good deal of time enjoying the view and contemplating our next move. Our only real option, if we were to continue, involved a traverse across a 37 degree, south-facing slope with cliffs above and below. Not ideal at 11:30am when it was already 75 degrees out.

Big traversy slope at left

Not a bad view

After discussing at length we felt comfortable at least checking out the slope to see how conditions were before calling it. Imran led the way and had gone maybe 100 yards before we turned back! He took a small handful of snow and tossed it onto a slope below (from a safe place). It grew into a giant pinwheel in seconds and landed with such force that it caused the crack slab slide below. Pretty crazy!

Pinwheels turn to slab

With that our decision was made. Back down we went. The snow was....sticky and variable but that's adventure skiing at it's best! And again, spectacular views!

Hellloooooo Baker!

Once safely at the car we had a mini-epic wherein we lost the car key and had to break in using two ice axes and a probe. I am happy to say that we successfully probed our way into the car and gained the unlock button without breaking any windows! We also located the key.... eventually... right where we thought we had put it. Tricky key, playing hide and go seek!

Careful with those sharp edges!

Kristina: Probing Master! 

In all I'm really proud of this adventure. We made a good decision to come down to live to ski another day. Alexis taught for NOLS for a long time and put it aptly when she said, "Unusual weather patterns breed unusual avalanche conditions." It's been above 70 for a week now in Seattle, quite out of the ordinary for early May, making snow conditions out of the ordinary. Remember to look at overall trending when you are getting after it! Looking forward to more adventures this summer as conditions stabilize!

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