Back in 1998, Brian and Andree and I had taken a 13-day mountaineering course
in order to lay a basic foundation for our climbing skills.
By 1999, Brian and I had begun to think about stepping out on our own and tackling a big out-west mountaineering peak - likely one of the Cascade Volcanoes. Brian in particular had his eye on Mount Rainier, grand-daddy northwest volcano of them all, and I had to admit, the draw was there. However, we felt we weren't quite ready for a self-guided climb of such a big objective, and so we decided to return to our mountaineering "alma mater" -- the Alpine Ascents International mountaineering school out of Seattle -- and get another week or so of instruction. We chose to construct a custom course, tailored for our wants and needs. Based on the great experience from the original course, we booked our now-favorite guide, Tom Bridge.
The course was intended as both a general skills refresher and as a boundary-pushing exercise: we chose a slightly more technical line on a very dramatic peak - Mount Shuksan. Specifically, we chose a route that involved both glacier travel and some alpine rock.
We flew out west to Northwestern Washington at the beginning of July. Since we were already Alpine Ascent clients and there was just myself and Brian with our instructor Tom, we travelled directly to his home in Bellingham, where he saddled us up in his old Volkswagen microbus and we headed off east along WA-20 - the North Cascades Highway.
Mount Shukshan is a 9127-foot high non-volcanic peak, situated just east of higher and more famous Mount Baker. Among the non-volcanic peaks of the North Cascades, it is a giant (in fact, it's the highest). We are climbing up to the peak from the south up a spur known as Shannon Ridge, and to get to the appropriate trailhead, we drive past the Baker Lake area and up various gravelled national forest roads to the Shannon Ridge Trailhead. There, deep in a tall western conifer forest, we prepared for our multi-day climb of Mount Shuksan.
It's early July, and early in the summer climbing season. There has been a large snowpack this year, and it isn't long after setting out from the trailhead that we encounter snow. Soon the trail is buried, and we must continue navigating up through the forest over dirty (though thankfully nice and firm) snowpack.
Given that we're following a ridgeline, routefinding up Shannon Ridge is pretty straightforward. By mid-day we begin to get a few glimpses of scenery through the more frequent open patches between the trees. Early afternoon, we decide to stop (while we're in the trees), set up camp, and do some basic crevasse self-rescue practice for the rest of the day.