(Words and Photos from Russell Cunningham):
Before I start this writeup, I need to say that this Trip Report is entirely dedicated to my dear friend Liz Daley. She and I had talked for years about tagging the first ever snowboard descent on Mount Shuksan’s Hanging Glacier Headwall, and without her infectious stoke even in her afterlife, I doubt that this trip would have happened. She was better and more proficient at this game of snowboard alpinism than all of us combined.
Love you forever, Liz!!
This past week I took a couple days off work at Karakoram to go tag a couple lines I’ve been dreaming / drooling over for the better part of a decade. My buddy Adam called me at midnight on Tuesday and said, “bro, it snowed 4 feet, its stayed overcast and cold, and has only snowed another 4-6 inches in the past 72 hours. I think its time get radically steep on The Shuk”. As always, the Pre Gnarfest anxiety began to build.
As she was looking 3 days before departure:
Overnight packs are stupid:
First view of the HG Headwall on the approach:
Sunsets are not stupid, but extremely badass:
Beginning the day at 6:30am, we traversed out the arm and accessed the lower White Salmon Glacier:
Crevasse crossings were pretty fat at higher elevations:
Finally at the top of the Headwall of the Hanging Glacier. All I really have to say, is that the place is BURLY. You’re looking down a slope that starts at 50 degrees, rolls to damn near 60 degrees, and all the while you’re above a 4,000 foot potential fall. Here is Adam taking a few steps into the route to check stability. Moments after I took these photos, I insisted that we set up an anchor and do a full snow assessment on belay.
After we decided that it was stable and that we were going to ride it, I decided to go first. At this point I pretty much stopped taking photos, and focused on not dying.. I entered the route on my toe edge, with 2 ice tools. As I gained the main spine the rest of the route comes into view, and quite literally overwhelmingly steep. I dropped into the primary rollover a few feet, and quickly discovered that I was on top of 4-6 inches of powder that was sitting on top of blue water ice. At one point I lost an edge, and had to self arrest with my tools… Liz would be proud!
Anyway, after running into the ice, I decided to avoid turning until I was away from the main fall line of the cliffs below. Once I was about 1/3 of the way into the route, I could start to open it up and make steep, fun GS style turns on the 55 degree terrain.
Looking back up, after “landing” on the Hanging Glacier. Here is the route as seen from the top of the ice cliff:
The traditional exit ramp for the Hanging Glacier route was not in shape this year due to significantly lower than average snowpack. So instead we climbed up through the primary ice fall of the hanging glacier. This proved to be pretty hard work, as it was deep trail breaking on steep, ~40 degree terrain, with a huge looming serac above us most of the way up. I’m glad no blocks of ice wiped us out..
We gained the top of the NW Couloir, and we were STOKED:
By far, the best turns, on the best line of the year. It was extremely reminiscent to riding huge lines in Valdez last April…
Looking back up the NWC:
Looking back up at the Headwall above the Hanging Glacier:
All in all, this trip was significant in two major ways:
First of all, I had previously attempted to ride the Northwest Couloir 7 different times, over 6 friggin years! Each time I had either run into a creepy wind slab that left me sprinting home, or, found the route too bulletproof to ride. Getting to drop into the route with full confidence in the snow stability, and to be able to crank high speed turns, was really sometime amazing.
Secondly, and this is not really important, but this is likely the first snowboard descent on the rider’s right variation of the Hanging Glacier Headwall. My buddy Seth Holton pointed out that the skier’s left variation was ridden in 2011. Either way, the Headwall is an amazing place to be, and the physical position of being on your snowboard, literally hanging thousands of feet in the air, is truly mind blowing.
I’m not a religious dude, but somehow I felt a little closer to our fallen sister that day. Thanks for watching over us LizDee.
Here’s a video made by Adam Roberts from the day:[video_responsive]