Northwest Couloir on Mt Shuksan: Big Days on a Big Mountain

If you want a big day on a big mountain, you really can't go wrong with Mt Shuksan.  This mountain is so iconic, so alpine, that I saw a photo of it being used in a tourist brochure in Nepal.  And the huge Northwest Face rises up from the valley floor at 2900' straight to the summit at 9131', for over 6000' of vertical.  Its BIG.

Doug's a true ski bum.  He took winters off from college to ski, and years later he takes winters off from work.  But even when he does have to work - like right now - he still gets out and gets after it on the weekends, skiing some impressive lines like the North Face of Mt Slalok near Pemberton, BC - a line I attempted last February.  He wanted to ski something "techy", something that put the second word in "Ski-Mountaineering."  When he called me up and asked if I was free for the weekend, I suggested we go for Mt Shuksan's ski-mountaineering gem - the Northwest Couloir.

The NW Face of Mt Shuksan. The NW Couloir is immediately over my left shoulder.  Photo Doug Green.

Despite all our talk about backcountry being "all about the down", Saturday was all about the up.  We lost almost a 1000' in a long, traversing skin through woods and avalanche paths along the Shuksan Arm before climbing up the right side of the White Salmon Glacier.  4500' later, the evening light was spectacular as we set up camp and cooked dinner at 7400' at the top of Winnie's Slide.

Photo Doug Green

We got a later start on Sunday and climbed steadily up across Hell's Highway to the Sulphide, were we ran into a team climbing up from the Sulphide.  They charged on ahead of us and kicked in a great boot pack up the summit pyramid.  We followed along, climbing slower with our skis on our backs, and cached our packs 70' the summit where the skiing got good.

Breakfast cooking on Winnie's Slide.  Photo Doug Green.

The top of Hell's Highway.  Photo Doug Green.


Now it was time for the down.  We made quick work of the summit pyramid, then Hell's Highway, and then a short climb again before we dropped back to camp.  Everything was already stuffed, so we loaded our packs and began the long traverse up and over the hanging glacier to our last descent - the Northwest Couloir.  At first we headed down too far right, and had to stop and boot back up when we realized our mistake.  But once we started skiing the couloir, it was incredible.  After the first 800' through a dog-leg, the couloir opened into a planar, 45-degree, 3000'+ slope.  Forever.

Putting the first word in "ski-mountaineering"!

The spectacular 3000' central shot of the NW Couloir.

The top half of the route was fantastic, but a big slide had took out the bottom third.  The fresh snow hadn't improved the hard bed surface too much, and the avalanche debris field was forgettable.  But still, looking up from the bottom was fiercely satisfying, and kept us going as we skinned back up to the ski area by headlamp.