Mount Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier is the perfect introductory alpine climb, combining moderate glacier travel with a beautiful summit pyramid.  In early season the Sulphide Glacier is also the perfect ski mountaineering objective with long, wide-open skiing on an impressive, but not too intimidating, glacier.  The Sulphide Glacier is one of Mount Shuksan’s largest glaciers which slowly ramps up to the final summit pyramid.  The climbing on the summit pyramid involves steep snow and moderate rock which takes you to the tiny perch of the true summit.  The views from here include Mt. Baker to the West, the Canadain Peaks to the North, and on a clear day Rainier to the South.
For many people, the Sulphide Glacier climb gives them their first glimpse of the true potential of the climbs in the North Cascades.  A large percentage of the climbers that visit Washington State are first drawn to the bigger volcano climbs such as Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker, often unaware of the spectacular climbing that is found elsewhere in the state.  Mount Shuksan offers the beautiful glacier climbing that the Cascades are so famous for plus a nice dose of technical climbing on a classic summit pyramid.
The climb of Mount Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier is typically done as either a three or four-day outing, depending on how much additional training the climbers want to include.  Day one starts down in the forest and slowly climbs into the alpine and eventually camp at either the 5,400’ camp in the saddle or just below the glacier at 5,700’.
Day two will start off with the necessary training for the ascent of Mount Shuksan.  This will include ice axe arrest, glacier travel, and cramponing skills.  The amount of training will depend on the previous experience of the climbers.  After the training, you will move your camp to high camp at 6,500’.  This move is a relatively short move but puts the team into position for a shorter summit day.  It also gives you a great vantage point to watch the sunset over Mt. Baker.
The climbing on summit day the following morning will start with a moderate glacial climb up to the final summit pyramid.  The standard route follows the central gully and typically involves mixed snow and rock climbing.  For those climbers with a little bit of rock climbing experience, the Southeast Ridge of the summit pyramid is also an option.  This exposed ridge is climbed in a half dozen or more short pitches of low 5th class rock.  The climbing is relatively easy but the exposure is impressive.
Regardless of which option is chosen on the ascent of the summit pyramid you will descend the central gully via rappels, lowers and down climbing.  Once on the glacier, you will retrace your steps down the glacier and back to your high camp.  From there, you can pack up and continue your descent or, if you are on the four-day program, take the extra time to relax or get some more climbing in.  There are some enjoyable, short rock climbs near the camp and some large crevasses nearby to practice crevasse rescue or ice climbing.
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Skills Required
  • No previous climbing experience necessary
  • Good physical fitness
Consider combining this climb with an ascent of Mount Baker via the Easton or Coleman Deming Glacier, hitting two iconic Northwest summits in one trip.  If you are looking for a slightly more challenging climb on Mount Shuksan check out the Fisher Chimneys route on the west side of the peak.
More information:
  • Recommended reading: Selected Climbs in the Cascades: Volume 1