The Fisher Chimneys of Mount Shuksan draws climbers seeking a dynamic, variable route entailing a variety of features. From simply hiking through alpine meadows, to scrambling up solid granite slopes, ascending steep snow/ice slides, traversing over three glaciers, and to multiple rappels on the descent, it's obvious to see why this massif is one of the most photographed peaks in the Cascade Range. Its rugged beauty dominates the landscape while the juxtaposed, perfectly volcanic shaped Mount Baker sits opposite, allowing continuously appealing views throughougt the entirety of the climb.
A permit is needed to camp overnight within the border of North Cascades National Park. One can be obtained online in advance (as early as March). Or, walk-up permits can be obtained for free from any park ranger station in-person just before your climb, if sites are available, on a last-minute basis. A way to bypass the need for a backcountry camping permit would be to simply camp at Lake Ann, or anywhere within the Mount Baker Wilderness area, approximately 4 miles from the trailhead.
From the Lake Ann Trailhead, immediately descend into the Swift Creek basin. Following heavy snow years and early in the season, snowfileds could still exist; snow melt may also cause the creek to run high and over the trail. Several creek crossings may be necessary through this section. Once you cross the other set of Swift Creek headwaters and pass a trail juction, the trail ascends the southern end of the basin up a ridge concealing Lake Ann. Again, early season may equate to deep snowfields along this ridge climb. This is where the first unimpeded views of Mount Baker will be noticed.
Camping at Lake Ann is recommended. Several proper backcountry sites can be found as well as running water from runoff or the nearby Shuksan Creek, just up trail. Possibly the primary motivational factor for camping here is the in-your-face view of the rugged east face of Mount Shuksan and the hanging Lower Curtis Glacier. Warm alpenglow at sunset could be ideal for photos. All the while, several waterfalls pour down the cliffs on every side of the Shuksan Creek canyon. Sadly, however, Mount Baker is shrouded from view by the steep western ridge encircling the lake.
From Lake Ann, the trail meanders for a short distance through the sub-alpine forest before ascending sharply up several steep switchbacks above the treeline to unimpeded views of Mount Baker, just 11 miles to the west. The trail then crosses into North Cascades National Park and is marked by a border sign. The scrambling seems to begin almost immediately after passing the border sign. A scree field and a couple of drainages preceed the first pitch of multi-limb scrambling. The route is fairly obvious and proceeds up a shallow (Class III) gulley, topping out on a trail. An existing rappel station may be seen at the top of this gulley. From here, route finding may be necessary, snow depending.
There is a large snow field that may be present year round. An ice ax and crampons may be desired to cross it. Toward the top of the east end of the field, or possibly where the base of the cliff face meets the non-featured slope in late snow-free season, the route meets the base of the first Fisher Chimney. In early season, dropping down into the moat between the snowfield and the cliff might be the best choice to dismount the field. From here, it is alomst completely multiple Class III scrambles to the top of Shuksan Arm. The chimneys are basically obvious once they are spotted. The rock on the route is mostly clear of vegetation and scuffed by boots. The top of this first chimney pitch may be marked by a rappel station followed by a dirt trail ramp that descends over a very short distance before meeting the base of the second chimney.
Continue scrambling up the mostly obivous chimney route, constantly checking for signs of previous travel such as boot scuffs and less vegitation as well as possible pre-existent rappel stations. Early season conditions may be marked by a ribbon of snow through the chimney that ends at the false ridge top. Ascending the snow field might be possible if the snow is solid - ice ax and sufficient crampons could be necessary. Otherwise, scrambing up the exposed rock alongside the snow ribbon may be a sufficient route alternative. At the top of this false ridge there is a final short scramble to the top of Shuksan Arm. Enjoy views of the numerous peaks to the north into Canada (the border is just 11 miles away) while Mount Baker remains ever present above the route just taken.
Ascend the southeast edge of the Salmon Glacier to exposed rock and bivy sites below Winnie's Slide. Running water may be found in this area and could make it an ideal campsite. However, just above the steep Winnie's Slide (where late-season conditions may reveal solid ice), prime bivy sites will be found. Settled in a shallow saddle above the slide and before the Upper Curtis Glacier, several tent platforms will be found along with substantial running water from glacier/snow melt - heavier flows obviously occur later in the warmer afternoons. Rope up to ascend/switchback the Upper Curtis Glacier, navigating around crevasses and assessing snow bridges. The summit pyramid is now in view as the promintory in the northeastern sky.
The route then drops down to cross the remaining Upper Curtis Glacier to the south (in the opposite direction of the summit) before arriving at the second steep slide known as Hell's Highway. Again, views of the ever present Mount Baker to the west are impressive. A running belay may be necessary through the steepish Hell's Highway. Late season conditions may also reveal solid ice here. Proceed through The Hourglass as the route takes a left turn to the east, followed by another hard left to the north onto the Sulphide Glacier (a complete 180-degree route change in relation to the Upper Curtis Glacier route).
The slog up the Sulphide Glacier is gradual and fairly brief, but now the climber has new views of the countless North Cascade peaks to the east and southeast. Arrive at the base of the summit pyramid and identifity the final Class III route that scrambles up the south gulley. It is straightforward, but it is filled with several loose rocks. You may notice a few existing rappel stations here, as well.
At the summit, enjoy expansive views in every direction of the vast North Cascades and Mount Baker wildernesses, as well as the peaks in British Columbia. Then there are views of the many glaciers coating Mount Shuksan itself. To descend the pyramid, rather than downclimbing, one may desire multiple rappels down the south gulley. Existing rappel stations may be found and used if the rigged gear is bomber, of course. Descend via the ascent route down the Sulphide Glacier, back through Hell's Highway, onto the Upper Curtis Glacier, down Winnie's Slide, across the White Salmon Glacier, and return to the top of Shuksan Arm. Descending the chimneys could be completed as a long downclimb or via several rappels. Again, rappel stations may be present and utilized if the gear is found to be appropriate for use. This route is popular for guided teams that could be maintaining these rappel stations.
Depending on the speed of your group, how long your summit day took, and where you camped the previous night, you may wish to camp at Lake Ann for a second night before hiking out to the trailhead. The rugged terrain of these landscapes and the mountainous vistas afforded by it are sought by any climber. Experiencing this peak and its surrounding scenes is an incredible and memorable experience.