Two weekends ago, Kirk turner and I decided to try for the old (and new to us as in never having done it) one-two punch, Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker. With bluebird skies and (mostly) safe conditions, it was great fun to give it a shot.
Friday we headed up to ski the North Face of Shuksan. I’ve been shut down by weather or avy conditions every time I’ve tried Shuksan, and have never attempted anything on the North Side that stares at you whenever you drive up to the Mount Baker ski area. We enjoyed some early morning bushwacking below Chair 8, which actually wasn’t as bad as I was expecting given our low snow this year. After the “wack” we skinned up the White Salmon valley. It took quite a while to navigate all the wet slide debris in the valley bottom, but eventually we made it to the base of the NW Couloir.
We cramponed up easy steep snow, spiced by about 100 feet of steep white ice, and made it to the bottom of the BYS Coulior. The couloir was wind loaded, so we decided to traverse over to the NW, and ski that instead. We continued booting up the NW Couloir until we encountered a windslab that went from 1 inch to 3 inches as we got farther up, so we decided to turn around a short distance below the top of the chute (I’ve gotten pretty wary of windslab in steep couloirs). The snow was fun, if a little variable from all the slide debris. We even got a bit of backcountry skiing powder.
After skiing back through the avy debris at the base of the valley, there still remained the 1,000 vert of cramponing up the mud and moss to the ski area, fun! I have to say I lagged quite a bit on that section. We made it back to the parking lot just before dark, and started discussing Baker for the next day’s backcountry skiing ski mountaineering adventure.
The next day we woke even earlier, prepared for the long dirt slog into Baker. Surprisingly, we were able to drive all the way to the trailhead, and had a few miles of frozen dirt hiking before we made it to skinable snow. Normal snowpack this time of year requires a several mile skin/snowmobile just to get to the trailhead. We made it to the climbers camp just as a few people were getting up to start the climb. I’d much rather wake up a bit earlier than lug overnight gear up to the glacier! The glacier was super filled in, and it was a straightforward skin and boot to the summit.
We saw a few people on their way down from climbing the Coleman Headwall, and they mentioned it was in great skiing condition, so we spent 10 minutes at the summit deciding whether to try it. I didn’t feel too good about tackling something like that without hiking up it, so we opted for the rime/sastrugi of our ascent route. We made it back to the car at just about dark and headed home, ready for school the next day.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.