It was several years ago. I did a winter trip to Artist Point with the Washington Alpine Club for a backcountry skiing course. I was in awe of the cotton candy sunset that added Mount Shuksan to mountains I want to climb.
I don’t always try and find the common route up a mountain. I like variety and less crowds, along with a challenge. The Fisher Chimneys route satisfied that criteria with complex navigation, scrambling, glacier travel, oh and more scrambling to summit.
To celebrate our 4-year wedding anniversary, we left the puppy with friends for the first time and took a long weekend away. Andy and I had only been on the same glacier rope once before, and this time we were a rope team of two. It’s always a communication dynamic when tied together and moving at a pace that works, especially when you’re in a relationship. Though, we’ve been on enough outdoor adventures that our communication has evolved and seems to be less frustrating than past climbs probably because I’m more in shape and can almost keep up these days.
About Mount Shuksan
First ascent: 1906, Asahel Curtis and W. Montelius Price
The ancestral land: Nłeʔkepmx Tmíxʷ (Nlaka’pamux), Puget Sound Salish, Nuxwsa’7aq (Nooksack)
Land management: North Cascades National Park
What to expect
The Fisher Chimneys route and summit pyramid require 3rd to 4th class scrambling on rock. The summit pyramid has an option for a 5th class trad climb via the Southeast Rib. The difficulties of the climb include glacier travel, Hell’s Highway, Winnie’s Slide, 3rd to 4th class scrambling on the Fisher Chimneys and summit pyramid. Hell’s Highway and Winnie’s Slide may have step snow or ice depending on the time of the year. Consider bringing ice protection for belaying early or late in the season.
Know before you go
Permits needed if camping at the National Park boundary just past Lake Ann.
Stats are measured from GPS tracks that may not be 100% accurate.
- Distance: 14.4 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 6,632 feet
- Estimated time: 10 to 15 hours moving time, not including breaks
- Trailhead to Lake Ann: 2 hours
- Lake Ann to summit: 6.5 hours
- Summit to Lake Ann: 6.5 hours
- Lake Ann to trailhead: 2 hours
Places to camp
You have several options for camp. If you can’t tell, I stayed at Lake Ann. However, there are campsites past Lake Ann making your summit push day shorter but means you have to carry a heavier pack longer.
- Lake Ann (4,700 feet)
- Ridge above first chimney (5,650 feet)
- Below Winnie’s Slide (6,900 feet)
- After Winnie’s Slide (7,050 feet)
Starting at the Lake Ann Trailhead, you descend down and hike in the meadows before ascending up towards Lake Ann.
We started Friday afternoon and hiked to Lake Ann and found a campsite. Not wanting to stop at the ranger station or attempt to get a permit for camping within the national park boundary. Another benefit of staying at Lake Ann is not carrying heavy packs with camp gear up through the Fisher Chimneys.
We woke up and started climbing around 3:50 a.m. It wasn’t long until we no longer needed headlamps to find the way. Taking us 2 hours to get to the base of the Chimneys, we passed some of the higher camps and started navigating through the lower Fisher Chimneys. It was straight-forward going up and down. Stay in the gullies. I’d say the start of the Lower Chimneys had the hardest moves (at least for downclimbing in mountaineering boots).
Look for belay stations slung with webbing. We made mental notes on which ones we’d want to use if the scramble was a steep downclimb on the return.
Top out of the Fisher Chimneys and briefly walk on the White Salmon Glacier. We took a quick break here to put on crampons and decided not to rope up quite yet. The snow was steep but the boot pack was set and manageable without high consequence. Later in the season when the snow is melted and ice remains, friends have suggested bringing an ice screw for protection. You then get to another camp.
Upper Curtis Glacier & Hell’s Highway
You’ll find running water if you need to filter or fill up. Here is where we roped up and started on the Upper Curtis Glacier that starts steep and then tapers off before you lose elevation to access Hell’s Highway. Hell’s Highway is a ramp to the Sulphide Glacier that can be relatively similar to Winnie’s Slide. Fortunately, a boot pack was established and we ascended without difficulty.
Reach the Sulphide Glacier with views of the summit pyramid. Merge with the Sulphide Glacier route and take the route of least resistance (or least crevasses) towards the summit. We stashed our crampons and ice axes at the base of the gulley to start the scramble.
Looking at the pyramid, you may see climbers on the right ridge, which is a trad route that requires placement of gear protection. Instead, find a network of gullies on the pyramid that look like a scramble route. Remains of crampon and ice tool rock scratches help show where others have marked their path, usually when ice remains on the rock. Top out and sign the summit register. We reached the summit at 10:30 am.
Descent to camp
From the top, descend either by downclimbing, or using rappel stations. Check the anchor and webbing before using but this is a guided route and should be reliable. Another group was also downclimbing (while still on their rope) and became a bottleneck. Not wanting to rappel above or around them, we also down climbed slowly behind as they managed their rope. We got to a steep snow section before getting back to our gear that we ascended on the way up. Now, it was soft and easy to plunge step. The steepness of the slope meant we continued to wait for the roped team until it was safe to pass them. We estimated the bottleneck added an extra hour.
We gathered our stashed gear, put on our crampons and tied into the rope to descend the way we came and finally passed the slower moving team.
This time, we stayed on rope until the White Salmon Glacier for efficiency. I did lose one of my plunge steps descending Hell’s Highway and had to do a quick arrest. Andy didn’t even notice I slipped while he belayed me. He lost his footing near the same place and was able to arrest as well. The snow definitely was softer making the steep sections manageable.
Winnie’s Slide didn’t soften up as much as we had hoped and the steep angle meant down-climbing in the boot pack. We reached another group coming up and we waited for them to pass before continuing down. It took us 2 hours and 45 minutes to descend from the summit to the top of Fisher Chimneys.
We down climbed most of the Fisher Chimneys but decided to rappel two sections. Taking the rope out to rappel slowed us down on the first one, so we decided not to do it again until the last rappel station to avoid the steep move we started on.
It was smooth sailing back to Lake Ann to camp. We arrived at 5 pm after 13 hours of climbing. We dried out our gear, restocked up on water, and rinsed off in the stream. I was happy we had another night at camp to watch the sunset and spend time in the mountains.
Trip dates: July 19 – 21, 2019
You can find my tracks on Gaia GPS Mount Shuksan – FIsher Chimneys.
Suggested gear list
- Mountaineering boots
- Ice axe
- Glacier rope
- Glacier travel gear: prusiks
- Belay device
- Glacier sunglasses
- Hiking layers
- Down jacket
- Hard shell
- Extra pair of socks
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Water filter