Leader – Rick Laidlaw
Co-Leader – Doug Laidlaw
Participants – Mike Lafleur, Eric Anderson, Andy Doig, Howard Gaston
Day 1 – June 22nd
Doug, Howard and I took the same flight to Seattle. Arriving first, we headed over to pick up the car and waited in line long enough at the rental car center for Mike to land, get his bags and meet us before we got the car. Once we secured our car, we went to Seattle to pick up fuel at REI before heading back to the airport to check into our hotel and pick up Eric and Andy when their flights arrived. In order to save time the following morning, we grabbed dinner and hit the grocery store near the airport. This allowed us to head straight to Glacier, WA after breakfast with the goal of getting on the trail around noon.
Day 2 – June 23rd
Our day started with a hearty breakfast at Denny’s and packing the car. Mike had a good idea to save space by leaving our travel bags in storage at the hotel until we got back. This gave us more room but had some negatives, which I’ll discuss later.
We headed for the ranger station in Sedro-Woolley, WA where I had been instructed to pick up our permit. Upon arrival, I was told we were actually supposed to get it at the information center in Glacier. Nobody seemed to know why the instructions I was sent were incorrect. Nonetheless, it didn’t cost us much time as Sedro-Woolley is not far out of the way and we enjoyed the drive up and around Mt Baker, although we couldn’t see it because of the grey, rainy weather.
We drove to the trail head in a cold rain, and the weather forecast did not look promising, but it did look as though it would improve a little that afternoon. We hit the trail around 1pm for our four-mile hike into our first camp at Lake Ann. The trail was in good shape, a little muddy in spots but mostly clear of snow and route-finding was only tricky in a couple of spots. Weather was an issue, on the other hand, as the rain continued off and on and visibility was poor to non-existent. We found a camp site and set up tents between bouts of rain which, thankfully, keep us relatively dry.
Late in the evening the clouds parted for a few minutes allowing for Shuksan and the Fisher Chimneys to make an appearance, but they were quickly swallowed again by the clouds.
Day 3 – June 24th
Rain continued off and on most of the night. We were able to eat breakfast and pack tents without rain but just about everything was wet at this point anyway. We hit the trail at 10:00 am for our climb through the Fisher Chimneys, not exactly sure what the conditions would be. Luckily route finding was easier than expected as the snow had melted out on most of the trail and the parts that were still snow-covered had boot tracks from previous climbing parties.
We made steady progress upward through the chimneys, but wet rock and cloudy conditions prevented us from moving quickly. Extra caution was needed on the 3rd and 4th class terrain and we reached our high camp above Winnies’s Slide at 4pm. Snow still covered the primary tent site but we were able to squeeze two tents on the ridge overlooking the upper mountain. As the weather broke later in the evening we were (finally) treated to spectacular views of our route and Mt Baker in the distance.
Dinner that night was the critical moment of the trip. We had a team discussion about the weather, the climb and what we should do. Do we proceed to the summit or not?
While the weather was improving just in time for our summit attempt that night, the forecast for the following afternoon and beyond was not good. Tuesday’s forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms with rain following through Wednesday. Our exposed position on the ridge was not a safe place to ride out a thunderstorm and even if the storms should miss us, we would certainly be downclimbing the Chimneys in the rain.
After some discussion the team made the difficult decision to abandon the summit attempt and use the good weather window to make it down to a safe elevation below the Chimneys.
We enjoyed the first good weather on the trip and watched the sun slowly set. No need to go to bed early if there was to be no alpine start.
Day 4 – June 25th
The team awoke to perfect mountain weather: clear skies, moderate temperatures and light winds.
While it was difficult not to be going for the summit, the focus was on safely descending the Chimneys before the afternoon storms arrived. We broke camp and started down around 9am.
The conditions were remarkably different from the day before. Not only was the rock dry but the views were fantastic, and the lack of clouds allowed us to see just how exposed the route actually is. The day before, we could not see the 2000-foot cliffs and air we were climbing above.
A lot of downclimbing, five rappels, and four snow fields later, we were back below the Chimneys as large storm clouds started to form. In the end, no storms came right overhead but we did see lightning to our south and heard thunder to our north. Rain began to fall (again) which confirmed that we had made the right call to go down.
The team agreed to make the long hike out to the car rather than spend another night camping in the rain (only to have to hike out in the rain the following day). So, at about 4pm we took a break, refilled our water and started the 4-mile trek back the car. Needless to say, we were all very tired and ready to dump the heavy packs when we reached the car at 7pm, 10 hours after leaving our high camp. And we still had to find a place to sleep for the night.
On the drive out of the park into Glacier we were flagged down by a woman who need a jump for her car. We navigated into her campsite, jumped her car and then headed on to a pizza dinner.
Glacier did not have any available lodging so we were forced to drive an hour to Bellingham where we checked into a Days Inn at about 10pm. Of course, we had left bags back at the hotel in Seattle, so most of us didn’t have clean clothes. It was not a lot of fun to put those filthy clothes back on after taking a shower!
Day 5 – June 26th
That morning we made our way back to our hotel in Seattle. We were able to check in early, shower and clean up for an afternoon of fun in the city. We headed into Seattle where we had a team dinner near Pike’s Place to celebrate a fun trip.
Video Link (courtesy of Andy Doig): www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kznSdxlh-8