I love the Loobster. I've climbed with him for thirty years. He's twenty years my senior and while we've been equal partners in the past, I'm finally, maybe, the stronger one. His endurance and energy is inspiring to me. I used to say, "I sure hope I can do what the Loobster does when I'm his age." I'm doing what he did at my current age, but he doesn't seem to be slowing down much and now I'm not sure I even want to do what he's doing when I get to that age. It just seems too hard.
I've done so many climbs with the Loobster that we've been at our limits together. Climbing can be stressful and the Loobster has seen me at my best. And my worst. My love and respect for him is so great that whenever I think of climbing with him I can't, for the life me, forget my bad moments. My short temper. My fear and stress breaking me down into a person I don't want to be. But the past is the past and I now use it for extra motivation to be mindful, to be calm, to caring, to be thoughtful, to be more like the Loobster. It's very encouraging that he stays interested in climbing with me. And, perhaps, I am judging my past behavior too harshly.
The goal of the trip was to climb the Fisher Chimneys route on Mt. Shuksan. Shuksan is in the North Cascades National Park and looms over the Mt. Baker Ski Area. Not living in the Northwest, I only became aware of the mountain via “Fifty Classic Climbs in North America.” This book guided most of my early climbing and I’ve done over thirty of the routes. My interest in these climbs has been rekindled. It might be reasonable to get forty of them. I have unfinished business on at least one and new places to go for others. Shuksan is one of those places. The 50CC route is the Price Glacier - complex ice fall on the north face. My interest in the Fisher Chimneys was in learning the descent off of Shuksan for a subsequent attempt on the Price Glacier.
|Camp I in the Mt. Baker Ski Area parking lot.|
Things didn’t go as planned. That’s okay. We rolled with it. It started to go off the rails with flight problems. From a late plane to air traffic control issues to baggage problems we proceeded to leave the Sea-Tac airport two hours behind schedule. Seattle traffic and a couple of accidents conspired to add another hour. That wouldn’t put us on the trail until nearly 8 p.m. so we decided to sleep at the trailhead and try the climb in a day. After a stop for dinner, we arrived at the trailhead. Loobster wanted to pitch a tent off in some discreet area we knew not where. I convinced him, with some difficulty, to just throw down our bags in a large parking lot just down from the trailhead. He was worried about ranger detection. He worries a lot more than I do.
|Looby Dooby Doo|
We weren't hiking until nearly 9:30 a.m. There was no need to rush, as we weren't going very far. Part of me thought we should still just do it in a day, but I knew that would stress the Loobster and kept my mouth shut. We lingered on the packing and ate some breakfast.
|Lake Ann at 4600 feet on August 5th. Crazy|
We got a good view of Shuksan here, but we'd been able to see it for a lot of the hike and the mountain itself is prominent from the road...if the skies are clear. The weather was great the entire trip, but epice forest fires up in British Columbia had caused the entire North Cascades to be inundated with smoke and, while breathing wasn't an issue, everywhere we looked we saw a brown haze, making everything else appear a bit ghostly.
We didn't even sit down at the lake, but continued on, as we'd heard there were sites just past the lake. The trail dropped again, this time less than a hundred feet and we didn't spot any enticing spots before the trail started climbing again, with a vengeance. The trail narrowed to more of a climber's path and switch-backed up a steep slope.
|Hiking in to Camp II|
We had to inch out on precarious tongue of snow and step across to steep slabby rock. It was only maybe twenty or thirty feet of climbing, but in my mountain boots and with a pack on, I thought it was a bit dicey. The Loobster styled it, though. This guy, at 74-years old, is strong and agile. And confident. Above this crux the terrain stayed steep, but was now just third and second class.
|Fisher Chimney from Camp II|
It was still early afternoon and after setting up camp, I couldn't resist and headed off to check out the Fisher Chimneys. I carried a nearly empty pack with me and wore my helmet and brought one axe. We had both carried two axes into basecamp, but after talking to other climbers, decided that one axe would be sufficient. I crossed three easy, small snowfields and started up the Chimneys. The 800-foot climb up the rock wall is a mix of second, third, and fourth class climbing on mostly very solid rock. I ditched my pack and axe early on, but kept the helmet on as a couple of big parties were descending above me. These parties were rappelling a couple of sections, and maybe one section was low 5th, but I don't think so. Excellent terrain for a Minion.
|These three photos are all part of the Fisher Chimneys|
I reversed the route back to camp where the Loobster was trying to catch up on his sleep. Somewhat revived, he went off to scout the route as well. If I had known he was going to do that, I'd have waited. He probably didn't know that either, but he got some rest was feeling good and is generally not one who can sit around in camp. So, off he went. I read my book.
We add a nice dinner from Backpacker's Pantry or something like that and got to bed pretty early. We didn't see any need to move in the dark, so settled on a casual start. We set the alarm for 5 a.m. and after a cup of coffee, we were moving by 5:30 a.m. We carried our mountain boots to the base of Winnie's Slide and then switched into them. A quick jaunt up the slide and a short traverse and we arrived at the upper bivy location, where a couple of teams were packing up to head down.
|Loobster on Winnie's Slide|
The Sulphide Glacier route is the standard route on the peak and the route the Loobster took on his first time up the peak. It's a low angle glacier walk up to the summit pyramid. When we joined that route, we met a solo climber. I forget his name, but he was a fit dude, doing the peak in a day, after doing a 20-mile Enchantment hike the previous day. He was a dentist from Boise. He gapped us going up the final part of the glacier and we headed over to the far right to climb the ridge instead of the standard route.
|Heading up the Upper Curtis Glacier. Shuksan's summit looms above.|
On the summit we hung out with the dentist and I bragged about my two most impressive climbing partners: the Loobster and Derek. He was suitably impressed with both. He cranked his head around so abruptly when I mentioned Loobster's age that I thought he was going to get whiplash. He said, "You're 74?!" That was the reaction I was looking for.
|We don't have this in Colorado!|
|Descending towards Hell's Highway|
|On the Sulphide Glacier|
|Heading up the summit pyramid|
What a great trip with the redoubtable Loobster. We have more trips in our future. He doesn't appear to be slowing down much. Nor speeding up his packing. But we still mesh pretty well together on climbs. Thanks, Loobster!
|Another great summit for us.|
|Looking back at the mountain on the way out. Smokey, but still majestic. The glacier at the bottom is the Lower Curtis Glacier. The hanging glacier above is the Upper Curtis Glacier. We traversed that and when through that prominent gap.|