Climb the Crown Jewel of the North Cascades up to 9,131 ft. for stunning mountain views, challenging rock and ice climbing, and vertigo-inducing heights.
Overview: 16 miles roundtrip, 6,600 ft. elevation gain
The Sulphide Glacier is the easiest and most popular route to the summit of Mt. Shuksan, and is a great beginner’s glacier + rock climb. More experienced climbers may enjoy the Fisher Chimneys route. The route described here makes for a very long two days because of its gradual, drawn-out approach (you’ll want trekking poles for this).
I joined Mountain Gurus for this climb and can’t recommend their services enough. As part of a 4-day Intro to Mountaineering Course, we spent each day learning the fundamentals of glacier travel, crevasse rescue training, ropes and rock climbing techniques, and general mountain safety guidelines.
You’ll begin at Shannon Ridge Trailhead, which is pretty easy to find and accessible for any type of vehicle. To get there, exit I-5 at Burlington and head east on Highway 20. Turn onto Baker Lake Road and continue 23 miles until you reach Shannon Creek Campground. Turn left on Forest Road 1152, drive just past a 4 mile marker, and take a sharp right onto Forest Road 1152-014 to the very end of the road. The parking lot is wide and flat, as is the road leading there, no need for a high-clearance vehicle.
To begin your hike, you’ll start out on an old road trail 2.5 miles up to Shannon Ridge, which will give you awe-inspiring views of the valleys and mountains around. Follow the ridge another 2 miles over a pass to your right, and continue on until you are at the southern wing of Mt. Shuksan with the summit pyramid in sight.
We ended up making a higher camp than we were expecting, a little above 6,000 ft., because it was a low-snow year and couldn’t find access to running water lower down. In any event, plan to camp on the snow and to melt snow for water, though you should be able to find some runoff you can boil or treat. The campsite we chose was truly an amphitheater of the North Cascades National Park, surrounded by jagged peaks from every angle.
On summit day you’ll slog across the (seemingly) never-ending Sulphide Glacier to the base of the rock pyramid, along the way passing the intersection of Fisher Chimneys on your left. You’ll want to be roped up to your team along the glacier as there are crevasse dangers on either side.
The summit pinnacle is a 400 ft. tall rock pyramid that is pretty straightforward and decorated with numerous anchors and ropes from older expeditions. The easiest and most direct way up is through a class 3-4 gully that may be covered in snow or ice earlier in the season. Later in the season, this gully may become a “bowling alley” of loose rocks. Use your judgment and forego the summit if conditions seem unstable.
Once you’ve made it to the top, take a few deep breaths and pat yourself on the back! Like so many places in the North Cascades NP, the higher you go, the more rewarding the views. A sea of peaks looks up at you from below the summit of Shuksan, and hidden from view until the top is Mt. Baker looming to the west.
As always, begin early (alpine start ~ 3 or 4am) so you have the advantage of hard, frozen snow for your crampons to grip into. This is a particularly popular climb so the later you begin, the more chances you have of running into a bottleneck up the summit gully or crowds at the top of the rock pinnacle.
Astonishingly, there is a pit toilet about 200 ft. downhill of the high camp overnight area. It is very exposed (both for the user and for audiences above), so be prepared to use your blue bags if necessary.
- North Cascades National Park Permit
- Trekking poles
- Ice axe
- Crampon-compatible mountaineering boots
- Alpine harness
- Ice tool, snow pickets, ice screws, rope
- Crevasse rescue kit
- Headlamp + extra batteries
- Overnight snow camping gear (tent, stove, cookware, sleeping bag, etc.)
- Navigational gear
- 2+ liters of water
- Means to boil or treat water with iodine
- Plenty of food
- Blue bags for human waste
- First aid kit, emergency GPS spotter
- Emergency bivvy or shelter
- Sun protection, storm protection, plenty of layers!