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North America, United States, Washington, Cascade Mountains, Mount Shuksan, Direct West Face

Mount Shnksan, Direct West Face. On Saturday, August 26, Don Keller, Mike Forney, Erich Zahn and I found ourselves at Lake Ann surrounded by a large party getting ready for the summit climb the next day. We had come with the idea of climbing from the Lower Curtis Glacier up the center of a prominent rock face and then over the Upper Curtis Glacier rejoining the regular route at “Hell’s Highway.” From the lake the route is dominated by the ice cliffs of the Upper Curtis Glacier, and this had apparently diverted previous parties from this beautiful ascent. During a reconnaissance on Saturday afternoon we went up onto the face, and found to our delight that not only did the upper icefall appear solid, but that the rock face itself would give us good protection. Satisfied, we returned to camp for an early start the next day. As we left camp at 3:15 a.m. a full moon was breaking through a thin layer of low clouds. By the time we reached the flat Lower Curtis Glacier the sky was clear, and the moon outlining the pinnacles and flooding the cirque gave the scene a wonderful quality of serenity and grandeur. We moved up over the lower rocks, through the darker shadows to the lower edge of the rock face directly under the center of the upper ice cliff. After we roped, the first pitch went up a leftward-slanting ledge to a short vertical wall and then to a good belay spot. From here the rock went easily, as we moved directly upward, the first light of dawn giving better visibility. At all times we found the rock extremely solid and with a favorable lie to its strata. About 100 feet below the foot of the upper ice cliff we had a second breakfast on a prominent ledge which gave us good protection. From here we continued to the right through a stream and up the rock to the ice cliff. We climbed along its base until we reached a corner just above a prominent pinnacle. Donning crampons, we had several enjoyable pitches over the first section of the cliff. This was followed by an area of easy shattered ice, allowing us to proceed rapidly to the final wall. The key was found, and the party emerged onto the flat, brilliantly sunlit Upper Curtis Glacier. We continued to the summit on the regular route. This climb probably has varying conditions, depending on the season and the stability of the upper ice cliff.

Tony Hovey