Epic Climbs That Might Not Be on Your Radar

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by Mary Brown

‘Twas the night before Rainier dates were released, when all through the land
Many a climber was stirring, contemplating high altitude plans so grand
Their crampons were placed in the gear bin with care
In hopes to use them on Rainier in weather so fair

My timer was set for the exact release time
To ensure the best Rainier date would surely be mine
When up in the attic there arose such a clatter
I leapt from my MacBook to see what was the matter
Away from my browser I flew like a flash
Ran up the stairs in mad crazy dash
When what to my blurry blue-screened eyes did appear
But a family of raccoons and oddly… a deer

And then in a twinkle, I heard the clock chime eight
My blood ran cold, it was already too late
I sprinted down the stairs feeling totally manic
If I don’t get a July date, let’s all drop everything and panic

I stared at my screen, heart filling with dread
The whole season was sold out, those raccoons are dead
Besides Rainier, what else could there be
No other peak will do, no not for me
All is lost, might as well give up
Hand me the whisky and my big cup

As I wept on the floor feeling quite tragic
I longed and pined for that sweet alpine magic
Sunrises at 10K are really quite grand
Anything else is nothing but bland

Perhaps it was time to pivot, check out a new spot
New crevasses, new views, and all that whatnot
But where to begin, my noggin was blank
I blamed the whiskey, one too many a drank
Alpine Accents, guide me in this quest
I need another peak, I will not rest
Give me a list to check once or twice
And we’ll see what peak has that most special spice

If this tragic tale has happened to you, we feel your pain! It seems like the Rainier climbing season is sold out before the coffee cools the morning of the release. No don’t drop everything and panic, we haven’t released the dates for 2022 yet. They will be released in a digital newsletter coming to an inbox near you in the coming weeks. Speaking of, don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list! While the primetime dates sell out very fast, there are usually still early and late season climbs up for grabs for about a month after the release date – give or take.

But if your carefully laid plans of snagging a popular Rainier date are waylaid by raccoons or more dastardly…opossum OR you’re looking for your next climbing objective, we have a few sleeper routes for you to consider. These climbs are lovely as they are varied and are nestled into some of the wildest terrain in Washington. Without further ado (or poetry) here are four guide favorites to pique your adventure imagination for the coming year.

Mount Baker: The Ice King of the Cascades
All the crevasses of Rainier at half of the cost.

epic climbs that might not be on your radar- sleeper favorites
A view from camp on Kulshan from 2021 climber Tatiana Van Campenhout

If you want to climb a volcano that involves winding through icy blue crevasses, ogling at spectacular sunrises, and partaking in some of the best views around but don’t fancy carrying a heavy pack or dealing with altitude, you can’t get much better than Mount Baker. Plus, it’s just about half the cost of our 3-day Rainier climb. In our opinion, Baker is hands-down the best introduction out there to big mountain mountaineering. For many, the first step towards Denali is a step onto the Easton Glacier of Mount Baker.

In Your Words:
I was a bit uncertain how I would feel about this trip because it has been a while since I have done a “beginner” mountain with a relatively large group (I was doing this mountain with a niece who expressed an interest in trying mountaineering). I had a blast! The guides were fantastic, the weather gods kind, and it was a fun, interesting and strong team. I also think there is value in taking a step back and reviewing basic skills, particularly when it’s been awhile since you used them. It was a nice luxury to arrive at camp with the tents sent up. A number of years ago I did Rainier as my first “big” mountain, but I think Baker is a better choice for most first time experiences as it’s a bit less physically demanding and you are not dealing with potential altitude issues, so you can focus more on skill development and the beautiful scenery! – 2021 Baker Climber

From the Guides:
To me, Mount Baker offers one of the most classic mountaineering experiences a climber can have in the Cascades. Whether I’m guiding on the Easton or the Coleman-Deming, I’m constantly in awe of the beauty and scale of the glaciers up there, both of which are easily some of the best places to introduce new climbers to real deal glacier travel techniques. Also, its position right between the North Cascades and Bellingham Bay make for some of the most unbelievable views I have seen in the Cascades. It really does feel like a very serene and wild place. – John Collis

Shuksan-Sulfide Glacier: Approachable Alpinism with Epic Selfie Potential
For the climber who wants to dabble in that #alpinist lifestyle.

epic climbs that might not be on your radar- sleeper favorites
The epic summit panorama from the top of Shuksan as captured by AAI Guide Ben Markhart

If your bedside table is littered with gritty alpine epics from the likes of Krauker, House, and Twight but you’ve never set foot on a glacier or contemplated scaling a rock wall for realsies, you should take a gander at the Sulphide Glacier on Shuksan. The climb starts with a day of rock climbing instruction overlooking the Puget Sound (yes, there is rappelling) before you head into the backcountry. The Sulphide Glacier is mellow, the rock summit pyramid never feels too extreme, and the views are outstanding the entire climb. If you’re looking for a friendly introduction to the world of alpine climbing, look no further.

In Your Words:
It was incredible! This Mount Shuksan climb was one of my all time favorite climbs. The route was a great introduction into more technical terrain and alpine climbing. I’m shocked it is not a more popular climb, as it truly was one of my favorite ever climbs. – 2021 Shuksan-Sulfide Climber

From the Guides:
The Sulfide is fun to guide because of the variety! A beautiful approach hike, easy glacier travel, and then a bit of rock climbing at the top. And the views the whole way are incredible. Plus, if the pit toilets are melted out you can enjoy a toilet with the best view of the North Cascades. – Robin Pendery

Mount Olympus: The Crown Jewel of Olympic National Park
For the climber that wants a little bit of everything – a renaissance alpinist.

epic climbs that might not be on your radar- sleeper favorites
Not even AAI Guide Gary Newmeyer could resist the elusive Mount Olympus selfie.

The closest thing to a Lord of the Rings style quest you’ll find on our climb menu, Mount Olympus via the Blue Glacier truly has it all. Starting with a long approach through the verdant Hoh Rainforest and ending on a rocky pinnacle that gazes out on the craggy and seldom seen snow capped peaks of Olympic National Park, you can’t get much more adventurous than this climb. As an added bonus, a summit of Mount Olympus earns serious bragging rights in the mountaineering circles of the PNW and marks you as a climber of excellent taste.

In Your Words:
The best climbing trip I have ever been on, and that includes successful summits of Mt. Adams, Mt. Baker, and Mt. Rainer. The views from the summit across the Olympics are spectacular, and the climbing itself involves a fun hike through the Hoh rain forest, glacier traverse as well as rock climbing.- 2021 Mount Olympus Climber

From the Guides:
Mt. Olympus via the Blue Glacier is the most unique, yet quintessential, mountaineering experience that you could seek out in the Pacific Northwest. Your journey begins, and ends, with two days of trekking through the moss-laden Hoh Rainforest- the mind boggling size of the Sitka Spruce, Red Cedar, and Doug Fir are worth the trip on their own. However, the fun really begins as you drop down the lateral moraine and head towards the Olympus massif. Once you’ve navigated the glacier, the summit of Olympus still requires a couple hundred feet of 4th to 5th class climbing, which is truly the cherry on top of an already spectacular outing. This trip is a treat to guide and is a must-do climb for any mountaineer in the PNW! – Koby Yudkin

Shuksan- Fisher Chimneys: The Ultra Mega Classic
For the true connoisseur of alpine climbs – a real smorgasbord of delights.

epic climbs that might not be on your radar- sleeper favorites
Senior AAI Guide Paul Koubek captured climbers working their way through the iconic chimneys.  A little exposed!

Considered by many to be one of the finest objectives in the super stacked North Cascades, if you’re ready to take the next step in your climbing career, look no further than the Fisher Chimneys. Variety is the name of the game on this one, it’s impossible to get bored! Lots of fun scrambly rock, steep snow climbing, massive glaciers, a little ice, rappelling, and an airy summit on top – what’s not to love? Bonus, there’s excellent cell service at the upper bivy to facilitate epic facetime calls to make your friends and family exceedingly jealous.

In Your Words:
I had a great time on the Fisher Chimneys Route of Mount Shuksan. The mix of terrain – glacier, snow, rock – made the route absolutely fun. In addition, having camp just above Winnie’s Slide, and seeing the sunset behind Baker every night was a truly serene experience. – 2021 Fisher Chimneys Climber

From the Guides:
I love guiding the Fisher Chimneys for a number of reasons: Mount Shuksan is jaw droppingly beautiful – perhaps the most photographed peak in Cascadia? It is complimented by a great series of wonderfully surmountable challenges – short roping 4th and 5th class climbing in the eponymous Chimneys, fun moderate ice or snow climbing on Winnie’s Slide and Hell’s Highway, significant glaciated terrain to navigate on the Upper Curtis and Sulfide Glaciers, and of course rock climbing the 5th class summit pinnacle. Oh – and did I mention the incredibly scenic Lake Ann, and the chance to munch on dew ripened blueberries – both found on the hike in and out. – Paul Koubek

Editor’s Note:  Two things.  Thing one: The opening shot is Hannah McGowan leading the infamous “Hell’s Highway” pitch of the Fisher-Chimneys route on Mount Shuksan.   Thing two: You can sign up for our newsletter on the very bottom of our homepage.  Good luck and happy first day of meteorological fall! 


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