Tuesday, July 23, 2013

CASCADE CLIMBING BLITZ: OLD GOLD & NEW GEMS

GETTING THE BALL ROLLING--OR TRYING TO...
Serendipity is a sweet thing and it works in mysterious ways...My last Rainier trip with RMI wrapped up on July 10th and I was stoked to have a ten day period in the North Cascades trip on the horizon. For the last month or so I'd been lining up climbing partners—nobody had the whole stretch free, so I'd lined up several two-day projects, excited about them all. I set sail on July 11th, but I'd lost all of my camp spoons, so I swung by Whittaker Mountaineering on the way out of the Ashford/Rainier Basecamp. Up at the counter I ran into Pepper, an Amherst student working for the summer with Whittaker. He was looking for my opinion on ropes. Of course, any opinion on ropes necessitates knowing what the intended use was. Turns out Pepper was planning a trip that weekend with his cousin Seth up to Boston Basin—by chance exactly where I was headed—or so I thought. I gave Pepper some thoughts on ropes and headed on my way.

On the steep stuff--Shuksan's Hanging Glacier Route, Day 9 of 9.

The trip report includes both a narrative and some tech notes. Tech notes are italicized and bulleted—in the event you're primarily interested in “news you can use” for checking out these sweet North Cascade lines.  And as always, you can check out more pictures of the routes and the climbing on the Adventure Spirit Rock+Ice+Alpine Facebook Page.

I'd gotten no further than South Hill—about one hour north of Ashford—when the phone rang. It was Jared, a former UVM ice leadership student of mine and now a guide at American Alpine Institute—my first climbing partner for the week. We'd set up a plan to go climbing crazy up in Boston Basin. But, the scheduler at AAI had other plans it seems, and had booked him for an orientation the next day. I swerved into a Starbucks for some internet, sent out a couple of random inquiries to friends in the area, and in the process of doing so, thought of Pepper and his plan in Boston Basin. After tracking down his number, we connected, he checked with his cousin about it, and it looked like it we were on to start climbing July 13th. I love it when a plan comes together.

With July 12th still open and partnerless, I decided to head toward Washington Pass to solo Black Peak, thus salvaging the start to the adventures and beginning a ten-day streak of superb climbing combining stellar weather, classic and obscure climbs, and solid climbing camaraderie. By week's end the climbing calendar looked like this:

  • July 12: Black Peak (North Ridge-South Ridge Traverse, 5.3, Grade II)
  • July 13: Sahale Peak-Sharkfin Tower (Link-up: Quien Sabe Route, 4th Class, Grade II & South Ridge, 5th Class, Grade II)
  • July 14: Forbidden Peak (East Ridge-West Ridge Traverse, 5.8, Grade III)
  • July 15: Poster Peak (Blue's Buttress, 5.7, Grade III)
  • July 16: Burgundy Spire (North Face, 5.8, Grade III, DNS)
  • July 17: Torment Peak/Boston Basin approach (5.7 moves over Sharkfin Col)
  • July 18: Torment Peak (North Ridge, 5th Class, Grade IV)
  • July 19: Mt. Shuksan (Fisher Chimneys approach, 4-5th Class moves, Grade III)
  • July 20: Mt. Shuksan (Southwest Rib to Hanging Glacier, Summit Circumnavigation to East Ridge, 5th Class IV [w/Circumnavigation & East Ridge], 90+degree ice, ).
Happy on high--Black Peak.

JULY 12TH—BLACK PEAK, NORTH RIDGE
Approaching the hulking mass of Black Peak via Lewis and Wing Lakes is a delightful alpine ramble. Here it is mid-July and the ice isn't even off of Wing Lake. While I'd once before climbed Black Peak via the South Ridge (4th Class), I hadn't checked out the North Ridge (5.3). Though 5.3 climbing may not sound too intimidating, Black Peak has a reputation for loose rock, so I brought a few pieces of bail cord and a short section of line: whenever I solo, my motto is “Never climb up anything you're not prepared to down climb or back off of.” Cortes gained conquistador fame by burning his ships to cement commitment among his men, but Cortez wouldn't have lasted long as a climber. Don't burn the ships.

Black Peak was true to it's reputation. Sections that included both difficult to protect and loose rock made me just as happy to be doing it solo, without the concern of dropping rocks on a second. Despite the loose rock, the line is aesthetic, sticking to the thin ridge almost the whole time. Landing up on top, I relaxed and gazed out west, spying the stunning geometry of Forbidden Peak and looking forward to the climbing that would unfold there with Pepper and Seth the next day.

Black Peak's North Ridge on the right.
  • TECH NOTES ON BLACK PEAK: Crampons and an ice ax are necessary until late summer; best if the crampons can fit on your approach shoes rather than boots, as that'll help for the climbing. Wearing climbing shoes can help with precision and curtail rock fall. A short 30-40m section of rope would be plenty and a standard light rack would be fine—but be sure to check any placements, as most of the rock is crap. And definitely “try before you buy” any hold or foot placement. Having said that, obviously bring a helmet. Though this climb is only rated 5.3, I wouldn't recommend it for climbers exploring multi-pitch/alpine climbs in that grade, as the loose rock is unnerving. The Washington Pass SuperTopo gives this climb three stars. While the setting is spectacular, I feel three stars is very generous if applied to the climbing itself. Black Peak could make for an amazing winter/spring alpine summit, when more of the rock were pasted into place, but for the warmer months Poster Peak is definitely a better option—see below.
JULY 13TH—SAHALE/SHARKFIN TOWER
Forbidden Peak's first suggested name was “Isosceles Peak,” no doubt due to the picture-perfect-symmetry of it's East and West Ridges. While I'd climbed the West Ridge a few times before, I'd long been looking to explore it's East Ridge and thought that an East Ridge-West Ridge Traverse suggested an aesthetic combination. Pepper's cousin Seth had flown up from SF with the plan to climb Sahale and Forbidden's West Ridge, and since I was something of the third wheel in their climbing plans, I didn't want to press the issue too much, but suggested it as a cool alternative to the classic but rather overdone West Ridge ascent-descent.

Turns out Seth had a pretty strong climbing resume, ranging from being a Mountain Trip guide on Denali, to climbing Ama Dablam, to climbing in just about every country you might imagine has rocks. And Pepper, though something of a young buck, lacks nothing in the fitness and go-for-it areas. We cruised up easily from the 3200` trailhead to about 6500` in the Basin, stashed our overnight gear (we'd be camping at the Basin High Camp, which was out of the way of Sahale) and headed onto the Quien Sabe Glacier. The Glacier is beginning to crack up in the later-season style, but by heading hard “climber's right” toward the top of the glacier we were able to circumvent the primary/typical gaping maw.
Topping out on Sahale
We summited Sahale by 2pm and since none of us had brought any interesting camp reading material or a deck of cards, the obvious solution was to extend the day with an ascent of the arcing south ridge of Sharkfin Tower, conveniently along the way toward our final campsite for the day. Sharkfin Tower itself is guarded by a flank of lower walls that allow entry only via a middle couloir and the couloir near “Sharkfin Col”. The middle couloir is more of the early to mid-season option so we went for it. Seth was feeling his beans and signed up for the lead up the initial rock section onto the rapidly-melting snow of the middle couloir. As he negotiated his way from rock onto snow a large section of the lower couloir let loose, undermined by some combination of heat and running water. We scurried up quickly and cruised to the upper snow band. In it's current condition, I'd not recommend the middle couloir for accessing the upper snow band.

Once up in the couloir, things were smooth and we continued up onto the sinewy snow rib that connects climbers to the base of the route. The route went “like butta” (as my Boston climbers like to say—and after all, I was in Boston Basin) and we were back down and on our way to Boston Basin High Camp with plenty of time to prep for the coming day. Given everyone's really strong performance our first day and the general synchronicity of the team, both Seth and Pepper seemed on board to go for an East Ridge-West Ridge Traverse of Forbidden Peak the following day. I grinned myself to sleep.

Up on the South Ridge of Sharkfin Tower
  • TECH NOTES ABOUT SAHALE/SHARKFIN: The Quien Sabe has it's typical mid-to-late season huge crack toward the top—head to climber's right to get around it. Other than that, the route is quite straightforward. As noted in the report, by now Sharkfin's middle couloir is now melted-out/actively falling down. I'd definitely suggest the Sharkfin Col couloir (climber's left side of the cliff band). Depending on your comfort with steep snow and how early in the day you got onto the upper snowfield, a picket could be useful.

JULY 14TH—FORBIDDEN PEAK EAST RIDGE-WEST RIDGE TRAVERSE
The East Ridge is by no means an obscure route—in recent years it has seen a flurry of interest—but in comparison to the West Ridge's “50 Classic Climbs” status and it's more moderate 5.6 rating, the East Ridge's 5.8 line is seen as something of the ugly stepsister. I've always preferred subdued and understated beauty to the flaunted variety and the East Ridge only aided in underscoring that approach. All along the climb, we had the ridge to ourselves, allowing us time to soak in the beauty of the fifteen miles of untouched wildness to the east toward Black Peak. And the 5.8 rating on the East Ridge is no “gimme” both sections that the Nelson guidebook describe as 5.7 and 5.8 are beyond the vertical—something to keep in mind if you're only bringing boots.


The thin fins of Forbidden's East Ridge
Hitting the top of Forbidden is always a thrill. I've always appreciated the British term “proper summit” and if ever there was a “proper summit,” it's Forbidden's. The West, East, and North Ridges of this behemoth converge into only a few square feet of inhabitable stone. We were fortunate enough to arrive there in between some of the lull in climbers from the West Ridge and enjoyed the summit, it's satisfaction, and it's scenery, in group solitude.

Despite the crowds on the West Ridge, we were able to get down (via the rock couloir) with the time Seth needed to get back to Sea-Tac and after the knee-pounding descent from Boston Basin, we parted ways. I felt really honored that they'd welcomed me into their climbing plans and that they'd been up for an adventure different from what they'd originally had in mind. Climbing is it's own curse: it's intensity of experience can both forge partnerships and destroy them. I'd gone into this weekend with only the idea of salvaging my original climbing plan and come out of it elated to have shared a new experience on Forbidden's East Ridge with a very accomplished alpine climber and a very talented up-and-coming alpine climber. We hiked out by the dying light and I headed off for the next stretch in Washington Pass.

Fine rock quality on the East Ridge.
  • TECH NOTES ABOUT THE EAST RIDGE-WEST RIDGE FORBIDDEN TRAVERSE: This is a great climb combo. As noted, the 5.7-5.8 climbing on the East Ridge is steep (at times beyond vertical)--don't let the grade lull you into “boots only” complacency unless you're really solid at the grade. Plan a bit of extra time for negotiating the usual traffic jams on the West Ridge—a combination of rappels and short-pitch/down climbing can speed you through. You could of course avoid all that by descending the East Face Ledges, but a traverse is always appealing to me. One party on the way down seemed to be having trouble connecting between the existing rap stations when using a 60m rope, but it may just be that they were just generally having trouble. Now that we're in mid-season, the rock gully rappels from the base/col of the West Ridge are the better way to descend (versus the standard snow couloir mentioned in Nelson's “Select Climbs”, etc). Look for the first station off to skier's right, so as to get situated, but the first station can be pretty easily passed with some down climbing to the next station. Several 30m rappels using in situ, solid-looking, anchors get you to the snowfield. After reaching the snowfield, keep your rope handy, because you'll probably want to use it to do one final rappel from the rock island just below versus negotiating the rapidly-melting couloir to skier's left.

JULY 15TH—POSTER PEAK, BLUES BUTTRESS
There is that old cliché that “new friends are silver and old friends are gold” and if that's the case then Dave Chamberlain is definitely 24K. He and I met over a decade ago at University of New Hampshire when I was getting my master's in Kinesiology/Outdoor Education. Since then, we've climbed all spaces and places around the US, in the Dolomites, and in the French Alps. He's currently on a honeymoon tour—despite hiss somewhat dirtbag demeanor he's somehow managed to attract the attention of his lovely new wife (and up-and-coming climber) Rachel—and they're currently on a Western States Climbing and Conviviality Tour. Rachel wanted some time in Seattle with her family, so Dave and I met up in Washington Pass for a two-day stint.

Dave up on Blue's Buttress 
First on the docket was Poster Peak. Lying in the shadow of the impressive granite spires of the Liberty Bell Group, Poster Peak's lovely lines didn't get much attention until it was featured in some posters by a local guide service and later also used by others around the Methow Valley. With a relatively brief (1-1.5 hour) approach and 11-16 pitches of climbing (most of it should actually be short pitched/roped for efficiency and safety-rock-fall reasons) it is definitely an up-and-coming gem in the Washington Pass crown. Though rated 5.7, most moves are well-below that grade, and route-finding is straightforward (stay on the ridge), so the climbing went quickly. We topped out in a couple of hours and gazed at the various Washington Pass spires before beginning an easy walk-off descent.

  • TECH NOTES ABOUT POSTER PEAK: Look for and follow closely the cairns that lead out from the hairpin parking area. The dead snag tree (mentioned in Ian Nicholson's SuperTopo) is a dead giveaway for the start of the route. Much of the route is 3-4th class scrambling and the descent is possible without a rope, so a 30m section of rope would be plenty for the route. This route is a great place for people to practice efficient alpine travel. The translation for that is “don't pitch the whole thing out”--later in the week I ran into a large group of club-climbers on Shuksan's East Ridge (see below for details) and they definitely would do well to do some extra alpine rock travel efficiency practice on a quieter peak like Poster. For one reason or another, I seemed to find that 0.5-0.75 (purple and green BD) worked wonders on this route—if you think you'll be challenged at the grade, you may want to bring an extra one or two. By mid-summer, the descent is possible without an ax or crampons—provided you're not planning for an early AM climb and descent.

JULY 16TH—BURGUNDY SPIRE, NORTH FACE
Waking up the next morning we made our morning pilgrimage to Mazama's Mecca, the Country Store. Sidling up to the counter around 7:30am, we ran into the affable Ian Nicholson, writer of the new and very useful Washington Pass SuperTopo guidebook. He asked what we had in mind for the day and we told him “Burgundy Spire's North Face.” Ian replied, “Great route. Going up and camping today and climbing tomorrow then?” Dave and I looked at each other, mumbled something, paid for our coffee, and skedaddled toward Burgundy Spire. After busting up the interminably steep approach slopes, we crossed through the lovely Bench Camp climbing area. One tent was up and I surmised it was from the mini-van that'd been parked in the lot since the day before. They were still asleep—apparently it'd been a long day. Dave and I upped the hustle and went up the increasingly scree-covered slopes toward Burgundy Col, our objective now looming above.

Burgundy Peak, North Face
I had a big day planned the following day (North Ridge of Torment), Dave were on the casual climbing-and-catching-up-conversation plan, and the descent route raps the ascent line, so we geared up to explore, if not to summit. The first two pitches go easily, but figuring out the third took a bit of scoping out—the rap line cleans off rock in the middle that can lure you in, but the better way is more to the right. After sleuthing that out, it was time for us to enjoy the views and head to the valley. I definitely look forward to climbing the North Face in it's entirety, tenting out at Bench Camp, and linking it up with Paisano Pinnacle for a 13-pitch 5.9+ adventure.

Can't beat the views on Burgundy Spire
  • TECH NOTES FOR BURGUNDY SPIRE'S NORTH FACE: The approach time Ian lists in the guidebook (2.5 hours) is more-or-less accurate for a smooth-on-scree party. If anyone in your party isn't comfortable with steep scree the approach will take longer and the descent could take forever. For this reason and for purposes of easy water access at Bench Camp, this route may best be done on a warm early-summer day when snow will speed the ascent/descent. Definitely bring a tag line or double 60m ropes for the climb; otherwise, the rapping gets more complicated. Regarding the rap lines (in this case, pitch 3), keep in mind that rappelers have cleaned the rock beneath, but that isn't the best ascent route—look to climber's right for the best line. Pitches one and two have a fair bit of loose rock. Pitch one is rated 5.5, but it really only has a few 5.5 opening moves; the remainder could easily be short-rope/pitched. Pitch two is similar in this regard. And though you can leave things at the base of the climb for easy retrieval at the end, pitches one and two can most comfortably be done in approach shoes, and the traverse following pitch four/rappelling pitch five would be more comfortable as well.

JULY 17-18TH—TORMENT PEAK, NORTH RIDGE
RMI guide Jake Beren and I have established an annual tradition of climbing prior to the start of the Rainier season. This year, Jake's personal month-long Alaskan siege and my own RMI Alaskan Alpine Expedition & Denali Climbs meant that all we'd had the opportunity to do was share some cook-tent time at the Denali Basecamp on the Kahiltna Glacier. Fortunately, providence handed us matching open schedules on July 17-18th –a perfect window for Torment Peak's North Ridge. Our phone-message set-up of the event made me a little unsure it would actually come together, and indeed it almost didn't for an entirely different reason...

Thick layer of fog obscuring the wildness below Torment.
I'd arrived in Mazama with about a quarter of a tank of gas, with the idea of filling up a few gallons there, so as to make it the 75 miles back over to Marblemount. Trouble was, the pumps in Mazama were closed my whole time there, due to a forest-fire caused power outage and that didn't occur to me until I woke at 4:30am to make the drive. At that hour, even the pumps 13 miles down the road in Winthrop would be closed. I pointed the car toward Washington Pass and stepped—ever so lightly—on the gas. By the time I hit Rainy Pass the fuel light glowed on. I turned off the radio and my headlights, used the wipers as little as possible in the squalls of rain, and ruminated in my head such pleasant thoughts as, “Just how empty a tank triggers the light?” and “Just how good is my MPG with the fuel-sipping Fit loaded to the gills with climbing and camping gear?” The answer to this second question was “Good enough”; I rolled into Marblemount on fumes, filled the tank, and headed up Cascade River Road toward the Boston Basin Trailhead, eager to see if the rest of the plan would congeal. By that point, it'd begun to rain again...

The plan was that Jake would be going in a day early with fellow RMIer Geoff Schellens, they'd tackle the North Ridge of Forbidden and then I'd intercept Jake in Boston Basin that morning. One potential problem with that plan was that the phone message they'd left the day before describing that plan was recorded at 8:30am. Marblemount is the last place with phone reception and it is an hour from there to the trailhead. It's another 1.5 hours up to Boston Basin. I've done the North Ridge of Forbidden in a day, but we started at 4am. From Boston Basin. So their 8:30am start from Marblemount seemed ambitious to say the least. But then again, this was Jake and Geoff, and anything was possible. Turns out—as I discovered when I encountered them tented up in Boston Basin—they'd seen the wisdom of scrapping that plan and had instead checked out the East Ridge-West Ridge Traverse I'd done earlier in the week. Problem now was that the rain was still falling. I dove into the tent and enjoyed the camaraderie of the close quarters while peering out eagerly in signs of a break in the weather.

Moraine Lake far below the Torment top-out
By the time I'd boiled up and slurped down a packet of Ramen, the clouds had indeed begun flushing out. The plan was on! Jake and I packed up and headed for Sharkfin Col, the start point for the counterclockwise circumambulation of the Forbidden-Torment massif that takes you to Torment's North Ridge. The Col, just left of the start of the Sharkfin left/west couloir is purported to have 5.7-5.8 moves, but we didn't encounter anything that felt like that grade. All we encountered was rock with hold that ripped off like leaves of lettuce. But in short order we were at the rap station, descending onto the north side of the massif, onto the crenelations of the Boston Glacier. Pulling the rap line on this side always feels a bit committing: you could scramble back up the rappel couloir but it wouldn't be pretty. And the only thing in between the 15 miles from the Boston Glacier to Highway 20 to the north is a blend of slide alder, devil's club, and misery that would look make Dante's 5th Circle of Hell look like tea with the Queen.

From the Col, we headed northwest toward the cols in Forbidden's North Ridge, opting for the more northerly of the two options, which plopped us promptly out onto the Forbidden Glacier. From there we were greeted with the entire majestic glacial behemoth of Eldorado and the serenity of Moraine Lake glowing green below, and a look at our North Ridge objective. After a clean crossing of the much more intact Forbidden Glacier, we were at the base of that ridge. Our plan was to bivvy en route and it didn't look too comfy up on the rock ridge, so we opted for a short day, a relaxing evening, and a stunning camp situated on a promontory below the ridge.

Morning light hit and we made a beeline for the base of the ridge, fish hooking around from the north so as to avoid the foreboding ice knives stacked on the glacier above. The Beckey guidebook describes going up the couloir at this point, but from below it looked to be moated-out and full of scree (and proved to be from above). From there, the ridge unwound in a mix of 4-5th class terrain steps up to the eastern/lower summit of Torment, taking us about 5 hours in total to get up—but as is so often the case in the alpine—the descent was the crux. Torment's eastern summit isn't frequently visited and it seems as though everyone who has visited there decided on a different descent plan, leaving tat in all kinds of random and misleading places. Following a few rappels and some traversing, we finally made it to the South Face. One 30m rappel was followed by a 60m rappel, after we teamed up with two climbing rangers who had found their descent into the South Face bowl equally as enigmatic. The climb's never over until the last rap line has been retrieved and fortunately our 60m line pulled smoothly (see Tech Notes). We'd completed the circuambulation of the massif and were back in Boston Basin, ready for the foot-flattening descent back to the trailhead—a fine end to a noteworthy, if obscure, climb with a talented and eminently enjoyable climbing partner. I'm already looking forward to next year.

  • TECH NOTES FOR TORMENT PEAK'S NORTH RIDGE: A 70m rope was useful in spanning the moat on the Boston Glacier side of the Sharkfin Col rappel. You could currently do it with a 60m, but it would involve more rope games and time spent faffing on potentially collapsible moat terrain. We used the more northerly col at Forbidden's North Ridge, which currently goes smoothly and doesn't require a rappel on the west side. If you're heading to the NW Face of Forbidden this col causes you to loose a bit more elevation than ideal, but it's no problem if accessing Torment's lower North Rib. There is a nice camp on the promontory just below/north of the North Ridge. It is out of the way of the serac fall, has a stunning view, and has running water in season. When getting onto the ridge (coming in on the east side) don't dawdle—there is ample serac fall danger here: arrive in a rope configuration that will speed you through this area and be clear on where you're going. The Beckey guidebook describes going up the couloir at this point, but from below it looked to be moated-out and full of scree (and proved to be from above). We stepped to the west onto the ridge. From there, the ridge unwound in a mix of 4th and 5th class terrain steps up to the summit. While the rock quality isn't high, the angle and slope of the ridge minimizes rockfall exposure. We were 5 hours traveling up the ridge, going at a casual pace and utilizing a rope for most all of it. The descent off Torment into the South Face bowl isn't straightforward—use your best judgement and bring cord/biners to leave. Once in the bowl, 3x30m rappels will land you back on the glacier (we did a 60m rappel, but I wouldn't suggest taking the risk of jamming the lines on this blocky face.
JULY 19-20TH---MOUNT SHUKSAN'S NW RIB TO HANGING GLACIER TO EAST RIDGE
Continuing on the theme of “Overlooked Cascade Climbs,” I headed toward Shuksan to meet up with Alex Kubacki and climb Mount Shuksan's NWRib/Hanging Glacier Route. Our first day we were only going up to Winnie's Slide, so we were able to enjoy a casual mid-day start, arriving at the top of Fisher Chimney's with ample time to enjoy the technicolor early-evening panorama and some kibitzing with Pacific Alpine Guide's Tyler Reid. Waking up at 4am, we prepped breakfast with headlamps, but by coffee time it was time to stow the torch. It's tough to start a summit day with an immediate 800' descent, but that's what we did down the White Salmon Glacier. Just up about 10 o'clock from a large round-ish rock formation, we found our entry onto the Southwest Rib and after a bit of rock scrambling we were at the toe of the Hanging Glacier.

Alex scrambling up Fisher Chimneys
Things went smoothly initially, first a series of ablated blue ice fins, then stiff snow. After cruiser conditions and ruminations about what to get for lunch back in Glacier, of course we encountered some slow-down conditions, in the form of two sections of 90+ degree alpine ice. By the time you read this report conditions have surely changed substantially, but at about 7,500' we encountered some obligatory steep ice blocks. None of them were over 25' high,but they presented a challenging mix of alpine ice and glacial “snice” (see Tech Notes) as we moved climber's left to circumvent the impassible cracks to the right. Toward the top we caught sight of a clean sheet of grey ice reminiscent of Crawford Notches “Willeys Slide” climb. We cruised this WI2/AI3 terrain and came up to the saddle adjacent to the NW Arete, then hopped onto the Crystal Glacier. Negotiating the Hanging Glacier had felt a bit like being a mouse in a maze, trying to find the cheese amidst numerous walls and dead-ends. Reaching the Crystal Glacier was cause for a long exhale.

Tackling the steeper ice sections on the Hanging Glacier
A long exhale is about all you get in alpine climbing, so we put the rope into glacial travel mode and made an expedited clockwise cruise to the East Ridge. Alex & I had been totally alone and exposed on the Hanging Glacier, but now on the East Ridge we encountered the early-afternoon commute. A club-climbing group was clogged up on pitch two; their leader couldn't figure out the route above, as three climbers waited for him below. The “freedom of the hills” is a lovely thing and it speaks to the sense o liberation and self-reliance that we can experience out in the wilder places, but with freedom also comes responsibility. A narrow alpine ridge 5 hours from the trailhead is no place to test your 5.3 lead climbing skills (check out Ingalls Peak's ridges, the North Ridge of Cutthroat, or the North Ridge of Forbidden for some less crowded options). In any case, they were an amicable party and we shared some belay ledge time as things got sorted out.

Alex and I hit the summit 6.5 casual hours after leaving Lower Winnie's Slide. The views were immense and the summit of Shuksan always provides a provocative sense of exposure. So it was sweet sadness to shake Alex's hand on the summit—we could go no higher and my climbing in the North Cascades had officially culminated for the season.

  • TECH NOTES ON MOUNT SHUKSAN'S NW RIB/HANGING GLACIER ROUTE: Camping just over the top of Fisher Chimney's is best for the AM descent of the White Salmon—no need to head all the way up to the higher Winnie's Slide Camp. And there's a reliable seasonal water supply on the rocks north of the camp. The Beckey book depicts the descent of the White Salmon going hard skier's left, but that avenue is currently blocked by a crevasse the entire width. Skiers right works fine and is shorter. Find the small ramp of rock in the SW Buttress, rise up it into another couloir (not so apparent when looking at the mountain/photos) then over another small rib then you'll see the start of the Hanging Glacier. We started up the glacier staying climber's right and then had to go left because of crevassing, but that could change week to week. Along the way we encountered mandatory short pitches of overhanging ice/”snice” that were pretty challenging. I brought 5 screws but wouldn't have minded another. Two good swinging tools (not axes) are a must and one adze is useful for chopping crud off the surface of the ice. Higher on the glacier, once the summit pyramid was in view, we stayed left, trending toward the top of the NW Arete. The circumnavigation of the pyramid was smooth and despite clogging on the East Ridge, it's pretty easy to choose a viable line ten feet to the right or left of wherever people seem to think the route has to go. For the South Gully rappels a 30m rope is necessary unless you want to do some down climbing.
Looking out while organizing rope, re-racking gear, eating a snack, and gulping down some water, I reflected on the last nine days and how beautifully things had crystallized. I'd climbed some amazing classic Cascade lines and explored some more obscure but definitely attractive lines. Next season, Adventure Spirit Rock+Ice+Alpine Experiences will again be getting North Cascades permits and I'm definitely looking forward to sharing some of the old gold and new gems with climbers. Rope organized and gear re-racked, I prepared to head back down to the starting point and considered the absurdity of this pursuit and the pleasure it gives me.  Rene Duamal wrote in the book Mount Analog:

So what's the point?...What is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above...There is an art to finding your way in the lower regions by the memory of what you have seen when you were higher up.  When you can no longer see, you can at least still know.

After ten days at it in the North Cascades, I'm certainly no closer to knowing anything, but I can certainly see more clearly--much appreciation to all those who accompanied me along the way.  It's been a great season thus far, in Alaska, in Denali, on Rainier, in the North Cascades, and now my sights are set on the next series of objectives--right in Rene Daumal's back yard--the French Alps.  Looking forward to bringing those experiences back down to the valley and sharing them here.  In the meantime, wishing everyone the best of times and climbs during the summer season!

Eager for the views ahead...
  • TECH NOTES ON GEAR USED: Throughout these adventures, I used the Mammut Skywalker 2 Helmet, the Togir Slide Harness, the Sphere UL Spring bag, the Light Pump Mat UL, and the 9.2mm Revelation rope. I've already posted reviews about a lot of this gear—and it continued to provide top-notch performance for this kind of lightweight alpine-style climbing. Of specific note, the sleep system, coupling a high R-rated sleeping pad with a very compact bag worked particularly well (see my previous review for details). I haven't yet had the opportunity to use and report out on the rope. The Revelation's 9.2mm size makes it very alpine-friendly and the superDRY treatment meant it could be dragged along in soggy snow without putting on weight like some kind of out-of-work actor. Additionally, the PTFE coating did deliver smooth gliding performance on the rock and in the hand—in fact, along the way one partners specifically and spontaneously commented, “Man, this is a supple rope!” And despite the fact that much of the time I was using munter hitch belays, the rope never got ungainly with kinks. Finally, and best of all, after nine days of time hard at it in the hills, this rope shows no wear and tear. If only the same could be said about me! Time to go tend to the blisters and re-rack the gear.

As always, you can check out more pictures on the Adventure Spirit Rock+Ice+Alpine Facebook Page

1 comment:

andreacharest said...

Wow, Kel! Very thorough, entertaining, and inspiring report. It makes me so much more excited to head that way in September!
~Andrea Charest