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Friday, October 2, 2015

Mount Thomson West Ridge 9-27-2015

Mount Thomson via West Ridge

Colin and I have both wanted to climb Mount Thomson since before we met and we've been discussing it regularly for over 2 years now, so of course we were both stoked when the weekend we tentatively put aside arrived, promising clear skies on summit day.

A leisurely start on Saturday morning got us to camp before 2 o'clock. Bumblebee Pass seemed much larger and more daunting when I first visited 3 years ago. Huckleberry Peak was picturesque as we descended into the basin, surrounded by low clouds. We set camp near a small pond on a grassy knoll high in the basin and waited for the weather around Mount Thomson to clear. 

When the clouds remained for several hours we started up towards the West Ridge Notch to find the start of the climb. An obvious belay station sat about 100 feet below what could only be the "bushy tree" at the top of the first pitch. After scrambling SW to a tiny peak we were lucky to get a 5-minute clearing - and even a bit of sunshine to light up the route - before the whiteout returned. Satisfied with the beta, we carefully returned to camp over some extremely loose talus.

As we lounged in the tent watching weather move through the basin a deep, distant rumble slowly built to a scream and I instantly realized what we were hearing. I have read several accounts of fighter jets flying low through the Alpine Lakes and I've always hoped for a chance to witness this unnatural phenomenon. Despite the clouds that were still surrounding us in all directions, we instinctively jumped out of the tent, looking down the basin toward the only small clearing. As if on cue, the jet burst forth from the white, banking as it tore through the saddle behind Huckleberry Mountain and returned into the clouds. After a brief fit of childish excitement I was reminded of the mixed feelings I hold regarding these incredible machines.

When I awoke around 2 a.m. our tent was glowing with moonlight. I emerged under the stars, immediately disappointed to find a small cloud hovering around Mount Thomson. My brain immediately drew parallels to our recent bail on Mount Stuarts West Ridge but the sky was otherwise clear so I returned to bed, optimistic that the forecast would prove to be accurate.

Sure enough, when our alarm sounded we found nothing but crisp, clear air between us and our target. It was so much colder than expected, that we wore our puffys up to the notch. Colin lead the first pitch, and as I started after him the ice cold rock made me wonder if we had started too early. The sun had just crested over The Four Brothers, but our position on the West Ridge guaranteed us several more hours in the shade. I was beyond stoked upon reaching the large slabs below the false summit, finally removing my puffy to soak up some sunshine. 

Besides the cold start, the climbing was excellent. There were plenty of options for placing pro along the route, except for a 20' stretch just below the false summit (Pitch #4). If we were to do this one again, a second 1" and 0.75" cam would be helpful. When we reached the summit it was clear that we had not, in fact, started too early. It had taken us nearly 6 hours to climb 5 pitches, which was not surprising considering our general lack of experience trad climbing.

Views from the summit were fantastic. Many years of anticipation made this a particularly significant accomplishment for both of us. We toasted with various summit treats while counting dozens of surrounding peaks from which we've gazed upon Mount Thomson with yearning desire. Most notable were the peaks surrounding and beyond Gem Lake, where Colin and I took our first, and arguably most successful peakbagging trip together. It was a bit of a struggle to open the pvc summit register. We found a few familiar names as well as an entry from a threesome from the day before, who we must have just missed on their way out.

The decent was fairly simple, although we made the common mistake of taking the wrong gully, requiring 
a short rap and a bit of mildly sketchy downclimbing to get us back on course. A series of well-worn bootpaths brought us to the east notch, where we took a short break in the sun, watching shadows stretch across the basin toward us. We packed up quickly hoping to catch some more sunlight on the trail out, as well as some of the views we missed out on during the approach. On the hike out we passed about a dozen folks on the PCT, a few of who mentioned they were headed for Canada. So jealous...

13 miles 
4800' gain
4 hours to camp
7 hours to summit
5 hours summit to trailhead

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mount Stuart West Ridge Retreat

Mount Stuart West Ridge (Atttempt) 9-13-2015
We left the trailhead at 830 pm on Friday and set up camp before Ingalls Lake. We started out at 6 the next morning, filling up 5 liters per person at the lake. We were armed with tons of beta yet still managed to pass the second gully - it just felt to soon. Back on track, we climbed clean white ledges to the top of the gully where we found the team that had passed us at the lake halfway up Long John's Tower.

We dropped to the base and took the scramble route on the right of a black rib, dropping a rope for a couple party members. At the dogs head notch the true summit came into view, and we once again caught site of the party ahead of us roped up below the next notch. The "scissors" were clearly visible about 300' above us but we had solid beta on the climb ahead so we skipped the airy traverse and scrambled down and around a small overhanging butress. Colin and I soloed separate routes up to an easy chimney with a massive boulder chocked inside. We belayed the others up then crossed a broad ledge and scrambled up to a group of bivy sites just below the West Ridge Notch.

It was 5 pm and we were planning for 3-5 hours to climb the final section of the route. We set camp and watched the other teams reach the summit over our dinner. We planned to get started at 6 on Sunday, but woke at 5 in a whiteout. At 930 it was decision time and the clouds just kept rolling through from the west. We had a few brief glimpses of the summit, but I scrambled up to the scissors notch where I could see nothing but clouds in place of the Cascades. We required very little discussion. Retreating would require several rappels and would take at least as long as it would to complete the climb as planned, exiting down the Cascadian Couloir. The CC would also be safest option by far if we could count on decent visibility, but we could not risk getting caught in a whiteout on the final 400' given our current experience. It was unmistakably the right decision, although a painful one.

We used 4 established rap stations along the descent, cleaning at least as much as we left behind and downclimbing wherever possible. Of course the weather drastically improved by the time we made it to LJT and provided one last frustrating look at the imposing summit before we dropped back into the gully. Mount Stuart shone with alpenglow as we returned past Lake Ingalls, stopping once more for water. You win some, you lose some.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Another week in The Enchantments Day 3: Prusik Peak

The four of us were brimming with excitement as we geared up to climb the West Ridge of Prusik Peak with the sun rising behind the lofty tower across the valley. Despite only 170' of prominence, Prusik Peak holds a great deal of importance and regard within and beyond the climbing community due to its rich history and highly photogenic south face.

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This would be mine and Colin's first real multi-pitch alpine trad climb so we started at first light in hopes of traversing east to summit Temple Mountain before returning to base camp. A light wind helped to keep mosquitos at bay while we set up anchors below the first pitch. Nick and Rob started up first, placing pro sparingly up to the first of three prominent horns. We swung leads in the shade up to the third pitch. Fred Beckey's piton is still fixed below the friction slab, which Rob and Colin led with finesse.

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I backed down from a layback-to-mantle move at the top of an expanding crack. Colin bailed me out, then as he took in the rope from the top of the last pitch, the rope was hopelessly wedged into the crack above. "Your on belay!", I heard from above. "No I'm not!" After a moment of panicked thought, Nick radioed in a suggestion. Colin kept a tight belay and I started the final pitch in true fashion, ascending via prusiks.

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Nick lifted our bags to ease the final step to the summit through the chimney. We celebrated in the sunshine and wasted little time before setting up the first rappel at a chock stone toward the east. It took us nearly 7 hours to reach the summit. Needless to say this was a great learning experience for us all. Two double-rope rappels brought us to scrambling territory and we traversed on level back to the balanced rock for our shoes and trekking poles.

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With well over 5 hours of daylight left we might have squeezed on Temple, but we all quickly agreed to call it a day. The climb had been mentally exhausting, and we needed some good rest before the big traverse to Argonaut in the morning. We detoured past Gnome tarn on the way back to the trail for a break before returning to camp for well deserved dinner.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Another week in The Enchantments Day 1-2: Enchantment Peaks and Cannon Mountain

Day 1

Three of us started early on Tuesday morning so that we could be to the top of Aasgard Pass before the sun hit us. Colin geeked out on a rubber boa we found on the Colchuck Lake Trail. We took a long break by the lake at the base of Aasgard before flying up in two pushes. About 200' below the top we climbed a fun friction slab with two small waterfalls on it. I was expecting similar snow levels to our August trip last year but it became immediately apparent that would not be the case.

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Our planned base camp was waiting for us when we arrived around noon. I write this as we lounge by the creek waiting for Nick to come strolling in, which he did just as the sky began turning orange and pink behind him.  It feels great to be back in the core with a strong climbing team, thirsty for adventure!

Day 2

The goals for Wednesday were The Enchantment Peaks and Canon Mountain. Colin and I turned back from the Middle Peak of Enchantment Peaks in 2014 due to wet exposed rock just below the summit. This year we brought a rope and some pro as well as some good weather,  it would seem. It took us about 45 minutes to cover the roughly 1/2 mile from camp and scramble up to the giant boulder. Rob climbed the class 4 move to the summit boulder and set a fixed line for the rest of us.

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The East Peak was clearly higher but reaching it from our side of the ridge would require some 5th class down-climbing. I belayed nick down to a ledge 40 feet down on the north side and he traversed up and across the ridge, setting pro along the way. Robbie and Colin used prusiks for protection and I cleaned behind them.

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We scrambled up one more peak en route to the true summit, which was also an easy scramble. Pictures, scotch, and snacks, and we were on our way. After decending the Ridgeline towards Prusik Pass for about 1/2 mile we took a chossy gully down to the north and began or way up to Druids Plateau.

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After the recent drought it was no surprise to find most of the moats and rock ponds on the plateau completely dry. We stopped at a pond halfway across the plateau and pumped some water then continued north to have a look down into Coney Lake Basin. Scrambling up Cannon was even more fun than I remembered. The massive rock pile of a summit is a pleasant mix of friction slab and boulder hopping, and the final few moves are just a bit of a challenge. The view from the top stretches across The Enchantments to the Stuart Range and beyond Glacier Peak to the north.  

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We cruised past the long shallow unnamed tarn on the way back to Prusik Pass, but thick clouds of mosquitos discouraged a lengthy visit. We stopped at a few opportune points along the way to study the West Face of Prusik Peak, and discuss the route for Thursday's climb.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Whitehorse Extravaganza 2015

***There is currently no water source before the So-Bahli-Ahli Glacier*** The sporadic bushwhack up to Lone Tree Pass was very thick, however the trail was pretty easy to follow. The glacier was easily navigable to the summit block, which was completely dry. From the rappel station at the summit our 60m rope came up 10 feet short of the moat, which was 20+ feet deep in some areas. We made our second rap off some scary-small chockstones. Get it while it's hot!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mount Shuksan via Fischer Chimneys

We drove up Friday night, and after further discussion we chose to stay near Glacier in order to obtain a backcountry camping permit before heading out.

With permits in hand, we left the trailhead before 10 am. We made good time to Lake Anne where we took a short break and analyzed the route description and studied the path that lay ahead. The traverse above the crevasse field on Upper Curtis Glacier was clear to see, however we couldn't be sure where the Fischer Chimneys began. 

The yellow spray painted arrow eluded us, but we did spot the lowest rappel station. The scramble up the chimneys was super fun. A few short dispersed sections of 4th class, but juggy holds were plentiful wherever there was exposure. From Lake Anne to the top of the chimneys took just under 3 hours.

We found a dry bivy spot big enough for 4 near the top of the White Salmon Glacier. While we settled into our bivies I was reminded of the 20% chance of rain in the forecast when dark storm clouds descended on Baker and to the north.  While we ate dinner a group of 5 down-climbed the steep slopes just above or camp. We chatted with them while they transitioned from Glacier to rock gear, then went right to sleep, ready for a 2am wakeup call.

We roped up at the Upper Curtis Glacier, crossing above the only real crevasse danger of the day and then started up Hells Highway. Temperatures at camp remained above 30 degrees overnight, so kicking steps was easy.

The sun hit Mount Baker as we moved onto the Sulphide Glacier, but stayed behind the Summit Pyramid while we approached. A few rope teams ahead of us were ascending what snow remained in the SW gully. We opted for the ridge scramble which added some some time, but occasional sunshine took the edge off of the icy glacier breeze. For once I can agree with Beckey's description of class 3 scrambling . Juggy holds were plentiful despite the occasional exposure.

We took some great shots on the summit  with the banner, but found no register. After a lengthy stay we made 3 raps with a bit of down-climbing between each station. 70 meters of rope would have been nice here.

We tied in again below Hells Highway to cross above the glacier cliffs on the way back to camp where we packed up slowly 4 more raps brought us to the bottom of the Chimneys. The sun baked down on us as we inched our sore feet past Lake Ann and up the 900 feet climb back to the trailhead.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Glacier Peak in 48 hours: Type two fun, defined 3-7-2015

2015-3-7 Glacier Peak

Tahoma was the first epic plan for the weekend, but the road to Sunrise is still gated at Crystal and I've got my heart set on the Emmons.  Colin assured me that 3 full days for Glacier Peak is overkill, so we recruited Camille and hit the North Fork Sauk River Trail just after 7 on Friday night. We were aware that there is no camping allowed on the ridge at White Pass,  but unaware of 2 campgrounds in the basin to west. We set up camp at the Mackinaw Shelter at 10 and planned for a 3 am wake-up call.

After a slow breakfast we started up the 28 switchbacks to the PCT. Snow appeared around 5000' and covered the long traverse to White Pass. We put on crampons for the last mile or so, following some ski tracks above steep slopes. We stopped at a few spots of melted out trail to watch the rising sunlight on Sloan Peak and the Monte Cristo Group behind us. The skiers whose tracks we followed were camped at the pass. We exchanged pleasantries while taking a break before continuing on. We quickly agreed to change into snowshoes after a few some post-holing.

When we reached the saddle two peaks west of Point 6770 our distant target finally appeared across the White Chuck Glacier.  Crampons went back on for the traversing descent down the shady side of the ridge. They were again traded for snowshoes as soon as we hit the sun baked glacier. It was getting late in the day, and I was intent on making up for lost time on the way to High Camp but snow conditions were just not cooperating.

 When we reached High Camp we melted snow and reassessed. Camille decided that she would wait behind so we planned to return by 5, giving us 4 hours for the round trip. This would turn out to be a hopelessly optimistic plan. The Cool Glacier looked smooth as butter, and Colin was confident we could avoid the few crevasses he saw last summer so we left or rope and harnesses. We plonked our snowshoes into the edge of the Cool as the sun left it and hauled ass across to the next saddle, pausing once to watch rock peel away from the east face of Disappointment Peak.

On the north side of the glacier we met 2 skiers on their way down. It was nearly 5 o'clock, our planned return time to Camille at High Camp. We were moving far too slow,  but i could not resist the summit fever. One look into Colin's eyes and I knew that no discussion was necessary, and we continued on. The next 1000 feet came and went at a painfully slow pace. Colin was lagging behind but I kept moving as the sun began to set behind Mount Pilchuck. I ascended the final stretch between rime-covered rock and stepped onto the summit in time to catch the last few minutes of sunlight.

Colin joined me and we wasted no time before starting the descent. It was 6:15. We were a little worried about Camille, and regretting or decision to continue on. A single headlamp could be seen on the White Chuck, so we flew back down to High Camp as quickly as ore legs would carry us. We were both getting low on water and wanted to catch Camille in case she took the stove with her. Regardless of our choice to continue past our agreed return time, it would have been wise to further discuss contingencies before splitting up our group. Colin was hopeful that Camille would still be waiting for us, but when an hour after sunset we were still below the short elevation gain back to High Camp I knew that was a long shot. I couldn't blame her if she had to get moving to stay warm, or worse that she assumed something had gone wrong. I started to feel terrible for putting our friend in such a position.

We were elated to find the stove waiting for us, although it was now clear that we would be chasing Camille back to camp. After quickly depleting or fuel we quickly repacked and headed back as moonlight descended upon the White Chuck Glacier. This was the beginning my separation with Colin.  I would stop each time his light was lost behind me, but by the time he reached me my toes began to freeze, and I was growing more concerned that Camille might decide to continue past camp in search for help.

We post-holed most of the way across the White Chuck, too stubborn to switch to snowshoes yet again. This was a poor decision as the rapidly cooling surface grew less consistent, breaking randomly under every third or fourth step. The final ascent and return to White Pass was grueling. When I noticed it was 1 am, I waited for Colin to catch up one final time. I  expressed my concern that at the rate we were going, we wouldn't reach camp until nearly 3 o'clock. Colin was moving as fast as he could safely and we agreed to split up so that I could reach Camille asap.

When I returned to camp I was relieved to find Camille fast asleep. My attention to immediately turned to hot food but the filter was with Colin and I was not excited at the prospect of boiling water from the creek, so I drank my last sip of water and crawled into my bag to await his return. I awoke with my headlamp still on as Colin joined us in the tent and we both passed out, no longer concerned with dinner.

 When I woke up naturally at 7 Colin asked me what the hell I was thinking and Camille opened her eyes long enough to smile at the realization that we were back safe. They both promptly went back to sleep until I roused them at 2 p.m. to suggest we break camp and get back to Granite Falls while Playa Bonitas was still open. On our way out the trail seemed to have grown since we last traveled it less than 48 hours prior. Like I said - "Type 2 fun, defined.