Northwest Arayete (III 5.9, 1,300′), a new moderate that takes the striking arete up the northwest pillar of Mt. Shuksan (9,127′), North Cascades National Park, Washington. Recent development in the area has illustrated that numerous accessible, obvious objectives on relatively well-traveled peaks remain available for first ascents. [Photo] Courtesy of Darin Berdinka
Apparently Beckey missed a few, much to the delight of Cascade ascentionists Darin Berdinka and Matt Alford, who established a stellar new Grade III 5.9 route on Mt. Shuksan this August. The Northwest Arayete (so named for Berdinka’s 16 month-old daughter Araya) climbs the previously ignored northwest pillar. Shuksan, like many peaks in the Cascades, rarely is witness to a new route. However, in recent years moderate new routing on many of the range’s untouched faces and ridges has increased exponentially.
On August 6, Berdinka and Alford, starting from the White Salmon Glacier, climbed the 1300-foot arete in sixteen hours car-to-car, climbing “nine pitches of sustained, moderate face climbing” according to Berdinka. The route ascends a peak which is not known for its rock quality, and the pair was pleasantly surprised to encounter solid rock for the entire route. The climbers fixed two pins on the arete and protected the entire route without bolts.
“Though a relatively minor feature of the mountain, the beauty of the arete, the quality of climbing, the alpine position and the relatively fast and straightforward approach made for a very aesthetic route,” Berdinka said. “By the end of the season it had seen at least two repeats by other Bellingham-area climbers who confirmed its quality.”
Darin Berdinka following Pitch 3 (5.9), which led the pair onto a west-facing, “beautiful orange wall.” Although Mt. Shuksan has a reputation for poor rock, Berdinka and Alford found the route surprisingly solid and enjoyable. [Photo] Matt Alford
The climb, along with several others recently established in the Cascades, including the Megalodon Ridge on Mount Goode illustrates the area’s remaining potential. The Shuksan ascentionists don’t seem too surprised that the line has been overlooked, however. Guidebooks–especially Beckey’s legendary and comprehensive series–certainly inspire, but have also had a hand in restricting climbers to known routes. “I would guess [the lack of new-routing in past decades was due to] a combination of many factors including, but not limited to, a focus on cragging and a sense that the Cascades were ‘climbed out’ after the really big, really apparent lines had been done,” Berdinka said. Shuksan is not known for having stellar rock, and lies outside popular alpine destinations such as Washington Pass and the Stuart range–perhaps another reason no one had previously spotted the line.
Ski mountaineering in particular has gained momentum in the area: last year Ross Peritore descended the triple couloirs on the classic Dragontail peak, and new rock routes such as Northwest Arayete and Megalodon are going up with increasing regularity. The quality of Shuksan’s newest route emphasizes that one need not travel to Pakistan to encounter new challenges, as perhaps no range is ever “tapped out.”