After a week of high pressure and with signs of spring all around Seattle, Kelsey and I were itching to get out into the mountains. We considered Whitehorse as a good early spring adventure, but eventually decided on the White Salmon Glacier on Shuksan instead. We thought about going car to car, but decided that a night at high camp with this weather would be lovely.
We left Seattle a bit before 9am on Saturday morning and were skinning from the White Salmon Lodge by about noon. In 15 minutes, we hit the clear cut and began skiing down heavy, wet snow next to the trees until hitting a section about halfway down that was too narrow and steep for us to ski, so we switched to booting and made our way down the dry forest in true PNW mountaineering fashion. I'd been there before while climbing the North Face in July of 2013, so the territory was moderately familiar.
Soon enough, we made it out of the trees and back onto snow, which quickly brought us to the gentle valley bottom. A few stream crossings and one more set of trees later brought us to the wide-open valley with massive wet slide avalanche debris from chutes on the Shuksan Arm. We crossed these at about 2pm and headed for the bottom of the White Salmon Glacier, rounding the turn at about 2:45pm.
We hadn't made a final call on camping location, but with that much time left to ascend about 2,500 feet, it made lots of sense to head up to the top of Winne's Slide. The snow was soft, but not concerning, and made for good skinning. We dispatched the vert pretty efficiently and were at Winnie's slide at about 5pm. After a quick boot up the face, we set about digging out a campsite next to a pair of other climbers who had arrived earlier in the day.
We enjoyed a brilliant sunset while cooking dinner and then promptly tucked ourselves in for bed at about 8pm with an alarm set for 4:30am. I'd pulled the bonehead move of stopping on the drive up to buy some Vias, but had forgotten to pack them, so we had no coffee to make the early wakeup more palatable. Thankfully it wasn't too cold and the skies were clear. We left camp at about 5:15am. I remembered the section from the summit pyramid down to the top of Hell's Highway as being prime for skiing, so we carried skies on our backs and booted our way in the darkness on firm snow.
An hour brought us through Hell's Highway and onto the Sulphide Glacier just as the sun was beginning to rise over The Pickets—it was gorgeous. We arrived at the base of the summit pyramid with the other party of two just ahead of us at 7am, just as Mount Baker was beginning to get lit up in pastels from the summit downwards.
When I'd originally climbed Shuksan via the Sulhide Glacier in 2011, we had stopped short of ascending the rimed-up summit pyramid, so this was my shot at redemption in wintry conditions. It turned out to be quite civil with a whippet and a light axe. The snow was very firm and took a few kicks per step, but was nice and secure. We were standing on the top by 7:30am, enjoying great visibility in the morning light.
We retraced our steps, including an icy ski from the base of the summit pyramid to the top of Hell's Highway, and were back at camp at 9:20am. The snow was still very firm and the sun was not yet hitting the White Salmon from what we could see, so we decided to take a nap before packing up and skiing down. Unfortunately, while the top 500 feet were icy, the bottom 2,500 feet was some of the worst concrete I've experienced in the mountains—our poles would plunge 2 feet into the slush and we each fell a half-dozen times with our ultralight, matchstick skis not helping matters. It was tough, but we eventually made it to the valley floor, back across the debris and streams, up through the forest, and back to the ski area at 2pm. It was an awesome early-season adventure despite the ski conditions on the way down.