Our first day had been warm and calm. Day 2 started the same way - windless and only a little bit hazy. To the west through the trees, a purplish hue tinted the striking, attractive pyramid of Mount Baker. It was looking like it was going to be a great day to witness the beauty of the high alpine, waiting not too far above us.
After breaking camp, we continued hiking upward, still on nicely firm corn snow. Shannon ridge became narrower and the trees started to only be present in small clumps - elsewhere, the terrain was now open. The views from the rounded ridgeline were astounding - west to Baker and east to the non-volcanic crags of the North Cascade Mountains.
Steeper, more open slopes
Steeper terrain and technical-looking crags of rock appeared around us, but there was always a fairly easy line across the snow that skirted them. By mid-day we had climbed high enough that we reached the southern tip of the main alpine area that surrounded Mount Shuksan. And suddenly, there it was: a small but steep and very attractive little pyramid of dark rock - the very tip of Mount Shuksan. It poked out of a large expanse of snow-covered glacier. It was... hmm... a little forbidding-looking, to be honest. Seemed steep and sharp.
Perfect Western Baker View
The weather was absolutely perfect; The early morning's haze had drifted away and now it was completely cloudless and clear, and also very calm, with not a hint of wind. The near-solstice sun was intense, though, and in combination with the strong reflection off the bright snow, we knew to be very careful with keeping covered up and heavily-sunscreened. The year before on our 13-day mountaineering course, we had witnessed what can happen in the high alpine in the summer when two young guys from Texas basically roasted themselves over the course of several sunny days in the alpine. The state of their skins after that was rather stomach-turning. Especially when the pus started to flow.
We set about shovelling out some flat platforms in the snow for our tents. This would be our high camp for the trip, from where we would establish a base of operations and from where we would hopefully launch our summit climb a few days hence.
The spot where our high camp was located, upon this little southern tip of the Shuksan Massif, had some steep little waves and basins of nicely-firm snow. Essentially these features were huge winter snowdrifts that had solidified over the freeze-thaw cycles of late spring. These snow features would work perfectly for the next bit of our mountaineering training, allowing us to practice on steep grades but with harmless and safe runouts. We spent the remainder of the afternoon practicing various snow climbing and belay techniques.
After finishing with our training, we spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening soaking in this awesome spot. As the sun sinks into the western sky, we watch the shadows grow over the snowfields and glaciers up towards the summit, and on the dark green forests southwards to the Baker Lake area We notice some other groups higher up on the snowfields who seem to also be doing snow climbing technique exercises. No wonder - this is a great place to do this sort of thing!
After dinner on the little rocky crest near our high camp, we watch the sun sink down through a clear sky and below the horizon. All around us, the world turns pink and purple and then fades into night.
Twilight above Mount Blum