Skiers on Ruth Ridge
  Nooksack Traverse  
  by Sam Avaiusini  

First of all, credit must be given to Jason and Sky. This trip was the fruit of their imagination and they deserve big-time props for envisioning what may become a classic line.

Josh Hummel skis the Nooksack
Josh Hummel skis the Nooksack with Jagged Ridge behind. © Sky Sjue. Enlarge
On Friday the 2nd I picked Lowell up just before 3 a.m. and we swooped down to Sky's place where the Hummels had just arrived. As this was our first trip with Lowell, brief introductions were made and we were soon on the road. We parked the Hummel’s Exploder about 2.5 miles from the Hannegan Pass trailhead where I promptly got my Tahoe stuck while backing up to turn around. About ten minutes of teamwork led to extrication and soon we were all piled in my rig for the thirty-minute shuttle to our drop-off point at Mt. Baker Ski Area.

The gate to the White Salmon parking lot was closed, so initially we chose to park on the side of the road, just below the turn-off to the parking lot. After a few minutes of packing, a State Department of Transportation truck came down from the upper lot. I managed to wave them down to ask if it was okay to park there and they said something to the effect of, “Sure, if you don’t like those fancy rims on your truck, you could leave it right there.” By now the gate to the lower lot was open, but because it gets locked every night, there was no guarantee that when we came back we would be able to drive out. The DOT guy generously offered to follow me up to the upper lot and where I could park in the employee area and then drive me back down to the rest of the gang.

Around 7:30 we began skinning towards Chair 8 and then we made a descending traverse to White Salmon Creek. This was everyone's first time up the White Salmon, but Lowell had down-climbed it some years ago, so he led the way (he does a lot of that!). By 12:30, we were climbing Winnie’s Slide. From the top of the rise we climbed left then made a sharp right turn on Upper Curtis Glacier and headed for the “Highway to Hell”. By now, the winds had picked up considerably, blowing ice crystals in our face, and Hell's Highway was starting to live up to its name.

Climbing the White Salmon Glacier. Mt. Baker behind.
Climbing the White Salmon Glacier. Mt. Baker behind. © Sam Avaiusini. Enlarge
The terrain finally leveled off and we found the Sulphide Glacier in excellent condition with no open crevasses to be seen. Around 3 p.m., we arrived at about 8,100 ft. and what would become the site of the most deluxe snow cave in a wind depression near the margin of the Sulphide and Crystal Glaciers. After about three hours of steady work we had carved out an almost 100 square-foot studio apartment in the sky...Hey, but the rent was cheap!

Somewhere over the course of the evening, I casually asked Lowell what his secret was. How does he keep up such a stiff pace all the time? “I use a NordicTrack”, he said. That was enough explanation for me…I’m buying one!

Jason and Josh pitched their tent outside the servant's entrance of our cave and soon we were all fast asleep after hearty meals. Could the weather be this spectacular tomorrow…?

In a word, “yes!” We left the “Bat Cave” around 7:15 Saturday morning and were on top of Mt. Shuksan in just over an hour. The snow in the gully was a bit firm, but not really icy and crampons were not necessary. This was an especially sweet peak in Sky’s bag. Over the past few years, he had successfully climbed several routes on Shuksan, but had never made it to the summit. We spent a good 30 minutes playing “Name That Peak” and then we were off… Our day was just getting started. We all skied the summit pyramid under firm but carveable ski conditions.

Back at the “Bat Cave” we packed up and then headed across the Crystal Glacier to the unknown. What would the entrance to the Nooksack Headwall be like? Would there be a huge cornice? Would we have to rappel? Would it even go safely?

Lowell descending the Nooksack Headwall.
Lowell descending the Nooksack Headwall. © Sam Avaiusini.
We all suspected there would be a gnarly “edge-of-the-world” type of entrance that might require a rappel. As we got closer to the edge, the slope kept rolling away out of sight. But we soon discovered there was a narrow, skiable entrance between the huge cornice to our right and the ice-cliff to our left. This was supposed to be the crux of the entire trip and we had just lucked out in a big way. We gobbled up about 400 feet of 35° to 45° powder and were left awestruck by our surroundings. The route across the head of the Nooksack Cirque looked clean and free of significant obstacles. This allowed us to make short work out of about two miles of glacier. Later in the season, the Nooksack Glacier is simply too riddled with crevasses, yet we found it to be very straightforward in early April.

By now we had covered a lot of ground, but the day was still far from over. We had designs on climbing Icy Peak and skiing the Spillway Glacier which is normally too broken for skiing and had probably never been skied before. Jason and Josh seemed leary of having to do any rock climbing in their tele boots, but Lowell, having just done a traverse from Ruth to Icy last spring, suspected a weakness in Icy’s flanks. By 3 p.m., we had ascended to the prominent notch just east of the summit. Looking to our left, we were surprised to see that there was snow all the way to the top! We dropped our packs and skinned to within five feet to the true summit. After a short break and more amazing views, Sky got the party started by dropping in right from the top. He was grinning all the way!

The snow on the Spillway Glacier was pretty incredible. We skied ankle to calf deep fluff for about 1,600 ft. before cutting left and heading for Ruth-Icy col. We set up camp just west of the col and stood in amazement while reliving the day’s bounty. Lowell was able to pick up a brief weather report on his FM radio, and while it looked to us like Sunday was going to be cloudy with possible precipitation, the weather report for Vancouver called for “sun and clouds”.

We woke up fairly early but took our time getting out of camp. The weatherman lied. There were no clouds! Still in awe of our weather luck, we whiled away the hours snapping more photos and talking about the future.

Crow flying below.
Winged company. © Jason Hummel.
Lowell shared stories from past journeys, then it dawned on us...what hasn't this guy climbed or skied or traversed? He took his first ski mountaineering trip when I was only three years old!!!

We broke camp at the leisurely hour of 11 a.m. and began the climb to Ruth Mountain. The way was easy and uneventful aside from the 800-foot gully on the south-southwest flank of the peak. Here, the snow had already received a lot of sun, and while the surface was poor for skinning, carrying the skis on our packs didn’t look too inviting either.

Somehow, “Mr. NordicTrack” managed to skin up the entire gully. Sky made it about half way before giving way to post holing. The Hummels and I just decided to hoof it all the way up. Warm liquid goo phase, complete! Finally on the summit of Ruth, it’s all downhill to the car!

The descent of Ruth Mountain was definitely the worst snow of the trip...crust up high, some good corn in the middle, but then more warm liquid goo phase. Down the valley, we reached the trailhead and had a couple miles of road to ski, with a few sections that were melted out...no big thing.

Trip stats according to Topo! software: Twenty miles total distance, 11,400 ft. total elevation gain, 12,400 ft. total elevation loss. Peaks climbed: Mt. Shuksan (9,131 ft.), Icy Peak (7,062 ft.), Ruth Mountain (7,115 ft.). Seven named glaciers: White Salmon, Upper Curtis, Sulphide, Crystal, East Nooksack, Spillway and Ruth...plus three unnamed snowfields and two possible first ski descents.

Somebody pinch me… Did we just do that?

Lowell Skoog
Jason Hummel
Josh Hummel
Sky Sjue
Sam Avaiusini

April 2, 2004
Ski White Salmon Glacier Route on Mt. Shuksan from Mt. Baker Ski Area to Sulphide Glacier on Mt. Shuksan.
April 3, 2004
• Ascend Shuksan summit
• Traverse Crystal Glacier to Nooksack Headwall
• Ski down headwall
• Traverse Nooksack Glacier.
• Ascend Icy Peak
• Ski Spillway Glacier
April 4, 2004
Ascend Ruth and descend to Hannegan Pass Road.

Distance & Elevation
• 20 Miles Total
• 11,400 foot gain
• 12,400 foot loss

Glaciers Skied

• White Salmon
• Upper Curtis
• Sulphide
• Crystal
• East Nooksack*
• Spillway*
• Ruth
  * Possible First Descent
   Route Map (1.1MB)

Mt. Shuksan
Icy Peak
Mt. Ruth