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Entries from North Cascades

Mt. Shuksan: Mike Walter & Team Drying Out on the Sulphide Glacier

It rained hard all night last night, and we are currently in a very humid cloud with intermittent showers. We decided not to climb today because of the weather. Instead, we did some training and hanging out in our cook tent. We’re currently taking siestas in our tents in order to warm back up from the penetrating dampness and cold. Hopefully, if it clears up this afternoon, we’ll be able to take a climb up higher on the Sulphide Glacier.

RMI Guide Mike Walter

Mt. Shuksan: The Seminar Spends the Day Practicing Technical Skills

We had a good day of technical training yesterday on the Sulphide Glacier, with mostly sunny skies. We woke this morning to rain and snow, so we are still lounging in our tents before breakfast. Hopefully it dries up soon so we can continue our training today.

RMI Guide Mike Walter

Mt. Shuksan - Fisher Chimneys: Blais & Team Descend Through New Snow

We got back into cell service late last night after an exciting day of climbing on Mount Shuksan yesterday. New snow in the Fisher Chimneys made it prudent to wear our crampons all the way down to the talus field below the Chimneys. Our team had a great time descending this tough terrain and came away from the trip with an excellent experience. Fun climbing in this wild September weather!

Thanks for the inspiring attitudes everyone.

RMI Guide Zeb Blais

Mt. Shuksan - Fisher Chimneys: Weather Thwarts Summit Attempt

The guide team monitored weather conditions throughout the night, only to find snow and poor visibility each time we looked out of our tent. With our time frame and weather forecast, our plan for the day is to pack up camp and take as much time as we need to get down the Chimneys safely. We’ll send another dispatch from town.

Until then-

RMI Guide Zeb Blais & Team

Mt. Shuksan: Nugent & Team Summit!

Update 7:15 pm PT

Hi all…

We are safely back at camp after a long descent down a very wet and snowy central gully on the summit pyramid. The team stayed strong the whole way through and rounded out a great day after putting the whole team on the summit.

Now, it’s just a walk through the woods tomorrow morning and we’ll be back in Babylon!
2:07 pm PT
Hey everyone.  It’s Billy checking in from the summit of Mount Shuksan with our whole crew! Give a shout you guys,“Yeah!”  I will give you guys a call when we are back down at camp , safe and sound. We are about to begin our descent.

RMI Guide Billy Nugent

RMI Guide Billy Nugent calls in from the Mt. Shuksan summit!

Shuksan Seminar: Nugent & Team Ready for Summit Bid

Hey, it’s Billy here checking in from the Sulphide yet again on our Expedition Skills Seminar. We ended up not going for the climb today despite the perfect weather. There’s a ton of new snow up on the upper summit pyramid.  We figured we’d give that stuff a chance to sort of settle out and melt and see whatever it was going to do on the first truly hot day in quite a while. We let things just sort of mellow out up there, and we kept ourselves busy with ice climbing in and out of crevasses.  We went for a little walk around the Sulphide Glacier and then capped off the day with some belaying and rappelling practice.  Everyone is super excited for our summit attempt tomorrow. We’ll call and hopefully check in from the tippy top and let you know what we run into up there. Alright. All for now.

RMI Guide Billy Nugent

RMI Guide Billy Nugent calls in from the Shuksan Seminar.

Shuksan Seminar: Nugent’s Team Practices Mountaineering Skills on the Sulphide Glacier

Hey, Billy here checking in again from our Expedition Seminar out on the Sulphide. All is going well. Our team is enjoying a significant improvement in the weather. We spent the morning doing some anchor systems, and we learned how to move around, how to manage rope on rocky terrain- both blocky rock and more fifth-class rock.  That was pretty exciting and then we sort of changed gears for the afternoon. We headed out to a crevasse where the team honed their skills on crevasse rescue, so we had a great day.  We’re hoping to take a crack at the summit tomorrow, but we’re not super sure if we’re going to do it tomorrow or wait another day.  There’s a lot of new snow up on up on the summit pyramid and the next couple of days are supposed to be quite warm, so we might let some of that snow melt off. We’ll give you a call tomorrow and let you know what we ended up doing. Check in and let you know where we’re at. Alright. All for now. Talk later.

RMI Guide Billy Nugent

RMI Guide Billy Nugent checks in from the Shuksan Seminar.

Mt. Shuksan: Nugent & Team Check in from the Sulphide Glacier

Hey, it’s Billy here checking in from the Sulphide Glacier on Mt. Shuksan.  We’re on an expedition skills seminar.  All is well here. We had a good day of training despite some moderately inclement weather, a little bit of overcast skies and some rain in the morning.  But that didn’t stop us from doing the snow school and learning some snow anchors and other skills, and everyone’s doing well. Right now things are just starting to clear up actually for the first time so the team is enjoying the views and taking some photos, and we’re all hanging out and going to rack out soon and head to bed and looking for another good day of training tomorrow. Alright so I’ll call in tomorrow evening and let you guys know how it went.  Alright bye for now.

RMI Guide Billy Nugent

RMI Guide Billy Nugent checks in from the Expedition Skills Seminar - Shuksan.

Mt. Shuksan: Nugent and Team Settle In On the Sulphide Glacier

Hey! It’s Billy here checking in from the Sulphide Glacier on Mt. Shuksan where the most recent storm cycle actually left us with a nice coating of new snow. Things are exceptionally beautiful here right now but the fog’s kind of moving in and out. And our team has built camp and settled on in and we just enjoyed some dinner. And we’re gonna rack out and hit the hay pretty soon here to get us ready for a big day training tomorrow.

Weird stuff definitely today on the lower glacier. We actually saw multiple frogs on the glacier so the team hasn’t decided whether or not that’s a good omen or bad omen but we’re hoping that it’s a good one. And we’re hoping to get an awesome week of learning and climbing. So, that’s all for now. We’ll check in again tomorrow, and let you know how the day went.

RMI Guide Billy Nugent and Team

RMI Guide Billy Nugent checks in from the Sulphide Glacier on Mt. Shuksan.

Sahale Mountain: A Great Introduction to the North Cascades

Sahale Mountain is the perfect place to start your alpine climbing career.  The climb has it all: a thick, forested approach to the Boston Basin Camp on a tough climber’s trail, low angle rock slab climbing, a intricate glacial navigation and even a pitch or two of 5th class rock climbing.  While this may sound daunting, the relatively low mileage and vertical gain for the trip make it a very accessible climb for those looking to improve their movement skills and get a taste of alpine climbing.  For experienced mountaineers, it’s pure fun.  Late this August, the constantly changing terrain and the remote setting of Boston Basin provided a stunning backdrop for four days of climbing for our small group of four climbers, fellow guide Robby Young, and myself.

Guide Robby Young enjoying a post climb snack

While Sahale Mountain is a good introduction to the North Cascades, it is still a physically demanding climb that requires climbers to show up prepared.  The approach is arduous.  With heavy packs full of food, fuel, tents, climbing gear and layers, the thin climbers’ trail winds through the forest about 3 miles and around 3,500’ vertical up to the lowest camp in Boston Basin.  One of our team counted crossing over 300 downed trees on the approach (he claimed to be accurate, but my hunch is that he cooked the books a little on that number).  Regardless of the actual number, this wasn’t a well-maintained city sidewalk!

The Quien Sabe Glacier and Sahale's summit pyramid

Once we emerged from the thick forest, Boston Basin greeted us with spectacular views of granite peaks in all directions.  North of camp Mount Torment and Forbidden Peak look as intimidating as their names imply.  East of camp, Sharkfin, Boston Peak and Sahale fence in the Quien Sabe—Spanish for who knows—Glacier.  Simply camping in this setting is worth the price of admission, but at this point the fun was just beginning.

Climbers descend granite slabs to camp in Boston Basin

After setting up camp, we rested for the remainder of the day to get an early start on a day of training for our summit bid.  Much of the climbing on Sahale consists of moderate rock, so our team focused on rock movement for much of our training day.  Between camp and the Quien Sabe Glacier lies 1,400’ of low and moderate angle granite slab walking.  Moving on this terrain requires skillful footwork and good balance.  After practicing smearing, edging and route finding on rock we gained the glacier.  Donning crampons, harnesses and ice axes we delved into efficient movement techniques for snow, ice and glacial travel.  With our team’s improved movement skills, we headed back to camp ready to tackle our objective the next day.

Our team traversing the Quien Sabe Glacier

We rose early, in full darkness, to set ourselves up for a potentially long summit push.  Due to light snow accumulations over the winter and a hot summer, the Quien Sabe had very little seasonal snow remaining.  The route wound from the far north edge of the glacier to the south where the glacier bumps up against a rock arrete at 8,200’.  The climbing was straightforward and there was only one section of glacier where we needed to walk with absolute focus on each step.

At the south end of the glacier, we moved onto rock for about 50’ vertical feet and then climbed directly up a steep snow face. We had watched teams navigating the bergshrund (the largest, highest crevasse on a glacier) just north of this area the previous day while we were training.  We decided the jumbled ice plugs and snow bridges they had crossed were not something we wanted to tangle with unnecessarily, and we believed that we had spotted a smoother route to the South that eliminated the hazard of walking through broken ice of the “direct” route.

Above the bergshrund,  we found smooth climbing onto the ridge.  Often a moat can form between the glacier and the rock, which can make the transition from glacier to rock difficult, but this wasn’t the case for us.  A small step off the glacier onto the solid rock of Sahale’s summit ridge was all it took.  50’ of 3rd class scrambling put us on the ridge headed for the summit pyramid.

Climbers on Sahale's summit ridge with Boston Peak in the background

Robby and I short roped our teams along the narrow rocky ridge until we arrived at the last steep pitch leading to Sahale’s pointy summit.  This pitch presents a 4th or low 5th class move or two to get to the highest block of granite on top. We pitched out this section, running our rope out to the top and belaying our climbers up the short step. What a great way to top out!  Without a breath of wind on the summit, our team enjoyed the high perch for a full half hour before starting the descent.

Traversing Sahale's summit ridge

Our team moved well across the softened the surface of the glacier, and soon we were back on the rock slabs above camp stripping crampons. We just had a couple of short stretches of slab to down climb to get back to our tents.  The team pulled it off in great style and we finished the climb telling stories and watching a beautiful sunset.

With gravity and the motivation of a meal in town helping us, we descended the climbers’ trail back to our cars. Soon we were enjoying cold beer and Marblemount’s best barbecue, Que Car BBQ!

Whether you’ve done a pile of 14ers or this is your first mountaineering trip, Sahale is a great trip.

Zeb Blais is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. He has climbed and skied mountains across the globe. In the spring of 2014, he set out to traverse Tajikistan’s Fedchenko Glacier on skis. Find Zeb on Instagram at @zebblais.

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