Tormented on Torment & a Liberty Bell Redemption

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You know you’re in for a long night when this is the view while rappelling

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Looking at the entire traverse from Boston Basin

How did my last post start? Murphy’s law? Well this one is similar, but more along the lines of “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” We had big dreams to do the Torment Forbidden traverse, which I had done last year. Last year I had followed all of it, so it was super easy in my head. I didn’t understand why everyone took three days and not just two. I was also in better shape with more exposed climbing under my belt, whereas this year I haven’t been out as much. But it’s also because seconding puts you on autopilot. This year, for whatever reason, was a different story. On the way up I joked about how 30% of my North Cascades trips are bail trips. Jinx, I owe myself a soda.

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Calvin coming across the basin, Johannesburg back right

We car camped in Calvin’s awesome rooftop tent by the river flowing beneath Cascade River Road the night before (maybe a half mile from the trailhead) and woke up at 5 to get started. The hike up to Boston Basin was less miserable than the last year, though we still had to contend with bugs and a surprisingly high level of humidity. Calvin was having some struggles. “Shit! Fuckin tree branch-” I heard the buzzing. “Ah, shit, SHIT!” It wasn’t a branch stabbing him. Three bee stings to the right arm. Let the swelling and itching begin. Is that enough of an issue to count towards my three strikes rule? (3 things go wrong, I bail). Meh, he can probably tough it out.

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Wildflowers everywhere

The basin was even more gorgeous this year, with wildflowers and trickling streams and sparkling glaciers. I honestly have no idea why more people don’t just do this as an overnight backpacking destination. I checked out the toilet, hoping I’d utilize it before I was in bluebagging territory, and stashed my walking stick with the rangers’ shovel. I expected more snow than last year, but the dry streak out here has nearly caught up to summer 2016 conditions. We restocked water at a stream running across slabs just below the glacier and trekked our way up to the notch left of Torment, not bothering to rope up as the glacier and snow bridges were still solid. We could see a team on the traverse above us, just by the ledge where I had bivvied last year. We made some nice crampon-on-rock moves to get across the small moat separating the glacier from the gulley, strapped crampons back on our packs, and scrambled up the gully to the notch where the rock climb begins. The gully is fourth class, arguably a fifth class move here and there. Time to remember how to climb, baby!

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Crossing the glacier, Torment on the left (photo credit Calvin)

Oh no, wait, first I dropped my glacier glasses all the way down the gully and into the moat. I cursed and laughed. Hey Calvin… can you go get those? He was below me, and therefore closer to them, and I was definitely not downclimbing the moves I had just made if I didn’t have to. To be fair, not having glasses on something like this is basically a dealbreaker. So he dropped down under the moat, probably cursing my existence, and retrieved my sunglasses. Thanks buddy.

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Cal retrieving my glasses

We were already set on me leading, for whatever reason. I was in my head about the first move, remembering it being the single hardest part of Torment. It was just as awkward as last year, but I muscled through it (who needs technique). We were off. I forgot that the hardest part of leading is freaking routefinding. I’d stare at two options, both of which would probably go, but is one better than the other? If I saw rap slings or belay station slings I’d aim for those, otherwise we’d trend up and left. My new shoes were killing my feet and we weren’t moving fast, Calvin kept catching up and then there’d be too much slack so I’d end up just belaying him up to me before re-starting simulclimbing. Might have been helpful to have him just toss a grigri on his end of the rope to pull his own slack through as he caught up. The only slack management we were really using was a microtrax at the top of legit pitches, a trick I learned last year. I squeezed up a left leaning crack and heard a series of “clink…clink, clink, clink, clink” behind me, and turned around to watch my can of spray sunscreen go tapping off each rock below, landing on the glacier a thousand or so feet below. Great, that’ll be there in 30 years when the glacier dies. SPF 30 banana boat can lying on a slab. I’m an asshole. I’ll send some young whipper snapper after it in a few decades.

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Over the crux right off the notch (photo credit Calvin)

As I started getting tired, route finding became trickier. Analysis paralysis was a problem. Instead of just making decisions I’d stare at two options for 2 minutes, for 5 minutes, wishing someone else was making the calls. I finally scrambled up through a a tunnel which I didn’t remember from last year and into a chimney with an overhung chockstone to contend with at the top. God dammit. Nothing was this hard last year. I set up a near-hanging belay at the bottom of the chimney and brought Calvin up. “I don’t like where I am, can you see if the route wraps left around the bottom of this instead of up it?” Calvin grunted through the tunnel unnecessarily and quickly found that you can drop down on some 4th class ledges to a bivvy platform. Unless this is a sidetrack for a bivvy, it’s gotta be the route. I downclimbed the chimney to a horn and brought up a bunch of slack on the rope so I could toss a loop around the horn and effectively fake-rap down to Calvin, who then belayed me across to the bivvy ledge. Fuck I need snacks and water and I can’t stand on my feet because my toes are crushed, we’re taking a break.

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Calvin coming up with Johannesburg in the backdrop

I dropped my pack and took off my shoes and had some almonds and water. Damn this would be a nice bivvy ledge if we had more water. I told Calvin maybe he should lead, we’d be going so much faster. He refused. Trying to give me the lead, dammit. He poked his head around the corner and it was another set of 4th class ledges to get down to the white gully I remembered from last year. And the gully itself is just a loose piece of shit scramble, so you dance up it trying not to destroy your partner’s helmet. We got to the notch and followed footprints (another mistake – whoever made those prints did not know where they were going) instead of dropping down to the nice grassy ledges that would take us to the summit. We reach the saddle between summits after excessive profanity, scarily loose rock, an abject lack of solid handholds and footholds and nowhere to place trustworthy pro. I found a great flake for a nut. Oh, the whole flake moves? Ahh! A great crack for a cam. Oh, a light tug makes the whole crack expand?! Ahh!! A great horn to sling with a runner. Oh, the whole horn tilts forward when I pull on it?! Fuck this shit!!! I hate everything!! There hasn’t been anywhere to sit besides the bivvy ledge for the past 4 hours and I swear last year we did this in like 3 hours and why are we so slow and how did I not notice how loose this was last year and I know all we have ahead us is rapping into a moat to climb out of followed by gnarly exposed 4th class traversing for literally days and you know what? I’m not having fun anymore. The expletives streaming up the ledges from Calvin below me confirmed he was on the same page. I brought him up to my hilariously shitty anchor (I threw in pieces, yes all of them moved, but at least I could sit sort of). Calvin had been in a nice position where all four points of contact were loose, and I’m sure he was thrilled to find out he was roped up with a grumpy chick sitting on a shitty downsloping ledge with an anchor that probably wouldn’t hold the weight of a duck.

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Calvin topping out at the top of the white gully

We agreed to bail. I think if we had mentally committed three days to the traverse maybe we’d have kept going, but we had only committed two, and we were both just not feeling it. Calvin had been in his head for the past few days, I had a downward spiral over the past two hours and was basically hobbling (it’d be limping if it was one foot being problematic, but it was both), the remainder of the climb was no joke, and I wanted to be down. Calvin had promised Tricia that if anything felt off we’d bail, and here we were both pissed and stressed. Who cares. I’ve already done it, it’ll be there next year, I felt bad not bringing our memorial wildflowers for Sue (who had passed on the TFT a week prior) but they were already crushed. I remembered Torment being the easiest part of the traverse last year, and didn’t want to commit the next two days to a similar or higher stress level.

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Sun starting to set on Boston and Sahale

Calvin scrambled ahead to see if he could find rap slings. No dice. We saw some below us. Apparently most people rappel down to the grassy ledges that lead to the saddle you take to rap down onto the north side for the traverse. Last year we just downclimbed with no rope. Ha. I switched back to mountaineering boots, which I probably should have done at the bivvy site, because my feet were utterly destroyed. I could walk again!! I demolished a bag of peanut M&Ms, not realizing how badly I had needed fuel. Wow. We started rappelling into the unknown, hoping at the end of each rap that we’d find a new nest of slings. Hey, we’ve rapped into the dark before, we’re ready for this. The glacier looked so close, there must be a rap route down.

The first few went smoothly, since we still had daylight. Calvin went first. We got pretty quick about setting up rappels. Find the tat nest, Cal lands, I land, untie knots,Cal starts feeding one end through the rap ring, I pull the other end, each tie off one end and lap coil that half, both toss rope, repeat. As sun began to set, it got darker, and both Calvin and I have shit vision. Finally we took out the headlamps and it was my turn to go first (I guess his night vision is even worse than mine). He had just missed a rap station and had to climb back up the rope. He wished me luck, and off I went. Into the abyss.
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Spooky moat cave (taller than I am)

To the rap station he didn’t see, like 20ft below us. Shortest rappel ever. We set up at that rap station and I got in the next rap, which was a full rope with some nice overhanging stretches. Good, that meant we were losing elevation quickly. But it also meant there was potential to rap off of gear and potentially even a hanging station if we didn’t find a ledge. Luckily, I saw a small nest of new tat off to the right, and traversed over to it. By now it was dark. Calvin joined me. Hoping this would be the last rappel, I swung around the slung horn (awkward entry to this rappel) and started over another overhanging section, followed by a sheer rock face. I focused my headlamp on the ends of the rope, which dangled a few feet above a slanted ledge that ran out 10ft to a ~20ft drop to the ground. There was a decent sized moat, and the snowpack was ~12ft from the wall. There was a nice snow ledge I might be able to make it to that was only ~6ft from the wall, and we could ice climb over it and flop on the glacier and boot our way back to camp. But would the ropes reach? I didn’t like seeing them dangle and twitch as I continued down. I figured with rope stretch on my side, I had a chance. I shouted back up to Calvin. I’m gonna give it a shot, might need to prussik my ass back up if it doesn’t go. I’m sure he cursed in response, I couldn’t hear him over the sound of my awesomeness determination.

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Cal using his nut tool as a spoon for snow cones (attempt to rehydrate)

Well the rope stretch was just enough, and I managed to hit the downsloping ledge with my ass. It was sheer except for one tiny crimpy foothold, and the wall next to me had no handholds. Shit. So I was held in place by my autoblock. I prussiked my pack onto the rope so I wouldn’t drop it into the dark black yonder below me and took it off my back so I could put on crampons and get my ice axe. I needed to get onto the snow ledge. With some wriggling and one-handed-crampon-strapping action, I pulled a bunch of slack through the autoblock and scooted over to get my frontpoints onto the one crimpy hold on the slab and kicked a toe hold on the vertical snow. It should only take two moves, I should be able to basically stem it, god dammit why don’t I do more yoga, if I could do a split this would be so much easier. Deep Warrior II. If I fell I’d only go like 10ft down the moat, it would just suck and I’d have to prussik back up the rope to get onto my slab ledge and try again. I was too exhausted for that.

I finally managed to swing my weight up and onto the snow platform where I slammed my axe into the snow and kicked crampons in and loosened my autoblock and thanked the sweet baby jesus that the 2ft thick ledge was frozen enough I didn’t just punch through and destroy it. I anchored to a screw ~5ft up the side of the ice we’d need to climb to get out, took myself off rappel, and tied up the ends of the rope so I wouldn’t drop them into the moat (leaving Calvin to do the same shit I had just done, albeit probably more elegantly). Okay Cal, your turn. Put on your crampons and get your ice tool ready!
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Our awesome bivvy site (photo credit Cal)

I heard the scraping of crampons on rock as Calvin dropped onto the rappel. He came over the lip of the rock face and saw the moat and released another stream of curses. I held the ends of the rope so he’d come straight to the snow shelf, and handed him my ice axe (should have brought a tool…) and pointed out the 7 or so ft he’d be leading. There’s my screw, you got a picket, we’re almost out of here. Calvin snapped into focus and was the happiest I had seen him in a few hours. Some people just enjoy being useful. He was up and over the lip in three swift moves and fewer than 12 f bombs (most of which were directed at my axe, because the pick wouldn’t stick to the frozen snow at all). He pounded in a picket, belayed me up, and we rapped as far down as we could off the picket since face-in-downclimbing steep snow is a pain in the ass and it was like midnight. I’m getting really good at leaving gear behind. Oh, we had rapped off a nut earlier too. Jesus.

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Johannesburg over wildflowers

Back on plain mellow snow we retraced our steps to the first slab before the glacier where we had stopped for water. Every patch of rocks Calvin would ask “is this the water?!” We had been out of water for hours. I don’t drink water like at all, so I was in my usual persistent state of dehydration. We finally found the slabs and drank so much water and I went to the bathroom for the first time all day and we set up our bivvies and made dinner (it’s 2am at this point) and I used my medical tape on my dehydrated meal because there was a hole in the bag ūüė¶ The meal never cooked but I was so hungry I didn’t care. Crunchy salt dry risotto anyone?

Going to sleep those nights is amazing. You’re just so content and it’s so gorgeous and you’re so cozy. We slept in until like 9am. That’s the latest I’ve slept in literally years if you ignore when I go back to the east coast. Calvin made coffee, we discovered that we had cell service, he facetimed Tricia, we debated what to do. Head over to Sharkfin and do that Sunday? Calvin wanted to leave. I didn’t want to go home, I had taken a vaca day for this! He suggested WA Pass. Beckey route up Liberty Bell. I needed to get my lead brain fixed so I could stop this shit. Great, let’s do it.
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Going up the chimney on the second pitch (photo credit Cal)

We hiked back to the car, stopped at the first gas station we saw for benadryl (Cal’s arm was now quite swollen and itchy from the bee stings), and stopped at my car so I could grab my other rock shoes and leave the toe crushers behind. We drove to Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop for dinner, where we destroyed guacamole burgers and beer. We car camped in Calvin’s awesome rooftop tent at the Blue Lake trailhead, woke up at 6, and got moving around 6:30. The approach to the Beckey Route is super easy besides an annoyingly loose gully scramble to the notch where it starts, but soon enough we were at the base. We got gear set up waiting for the team ahead of us, and headed up as soon as they were at the top of the first pitch.

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Belaying at the top of the second pitch

The first pitch is a fun low fifth class “chimney” that you follow beneath a chockstone, though it feels more like climbing a gully than a chimney since there are jugs everywhere with a sweet layback move towards the top. Good hands, good feet. We cruised up it and met the group ahead of us at the belay station. Plenty of room for two teams. The second pitch has a real chimney, requiring actual chimney technique, which I inched up while bitching about chimneys. Over a few chockstones it turns into blocky climbing, and you belay at a tree below the slabby pitch. We passed the team in front of us to get to a further tree, and waited there for them to continue up.

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Heading up the third pitch (photo credit Cal)

The third pitch calls itself fourth class until the crack traverse, but I’d call it low fifth class slabs. The first 20ft or so are easy fourth class, but the 20ft leading to the crack felt technical to me. I placed a ‘panic piece’ (a piece that I usually know is shitty but I want to feel like I placed something, it’s a waste of time and energy) on the first traverse. The finger crack traverse itself was honestly not that bad, just a little side leaning and awkward. Good smears and a good hand in the crack were fine. I overshot the belay station here and went all the way up to the base of the infamous slab, and brought Calvin up.

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There are actually two climbers in this photo

We wasted some time trying to get my cam unstuck, since I had yanked it out in a bad direction and gotten it pretty jammed in there. Then we waited for a team to lower over the slab, and then we were up. It looked intimidating, but was actually surprisingly short and really only one or two moves to get ahold of the glory jugs at the top. From there, we scrambled to the summit, where Calvin donned his summit hat as I sipped on whiskey.

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Summit hat and whiskey!

Two rappels get you back to the base of the route (fastest descent ever and so refreshing after the 11-rappels-ending-in-a-moat debacle of the previous climb) where you can get your gear back, climb back down the annoyingly loose scramble, and hike back to the car on beautifully mellow well maintained trail. We were at the car by 3, stopped for dinner along highway 20, and I was in Seattle once again at a reasonable hour. Crazy when that happens.

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Cal downclimbing to the first rappel

So the weekend was salvaged, and ended up being interspersed with great burgers, beer, benadryl for all, and luxurious car camping. But it was awesome to finally get past my mental block rock climbing and start to get my confidence back after the past few months, and we still enjoyed some pretty awesome terrain and views. We’ll be back for TFT next year when there are fewer mental games going on. Huge thanks to Calvin for putting up with my anxious ass and making me take the lead all weekend, even after the first trip was so rough. Finally coming to the light at the end of the tunnel after trying to get back into climbing the past few months!

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Goat just chilling (photo credit Calvin)

Three Fingers via Bushwack & Meadow Mountain

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Three Fingers from Tin Can Gap

Well you know Murphy’s law. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. We came out of it alive, but this was certainly a casual-hike-with-a-bonus-rock-climb-turned-epic-mountaineering-objective due to our unfamiliarity with the route. We improvised where it might have been faster to be normal, and we tried for normal when it might have been faster to improvise. Whoops! I swear not all trips are like that. And it wasn’t a shitshow, just longer than we expected. Hiked 7/15-7/16, here is the Three Fingers Lookout!

  • Distance: Roughly 18 miles. 7 up, 11 down.
  • Elevation: ~4800ft gain, 6,854ft highest point
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny, 40’s and misty
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours without traffic (but there was traffic)
  • Did I trip: Yes, mostly I fell uphill on the damn bushwack in the night
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I’m a spooky ghost (selfie credit: Haley)

We started up around 8:30pm on Friday, which was 11:30pm for the visiting Floridian (Haley). She was tan at least, so she had that going for her. Convinced I’d be last to the party, I went straight to the trailhead, where I met Calvin, Tricia, and Florida after getting myself lost on a gated forest road. Nailed it. The road to Three Fingers is truly blocked now, with enormous boulders buried in dirt so no one can tow them off like last summer. They really don’t want people driving down that road. There’s also an enormous cedar tree down across the road maybe a mile past the boulders, and I have no idea what’s past that besides an enormous washout ~2mi from the true trailhead. Probably more terrible things waiting to destroy your car.

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Bivvy morning (photo credit: Haley)

We took what we thought would be a shortcut up a ridge pretty much straight from the road closure to Goat Flats. Unfortunately, in the dark, that “shortcut” was more like “a five hour long epic” that didn’t quite get us to the flats because around 2am we decided we were just going to camp at the next flat spot we saw. The shortcut was steep, brushy, had some nice 3rd class scramble moves through the forest, a bleached goat skull (“a human skull?! I’m fucking bailing if it’s a human skull that’s just too creepy I hate the forest”) placed a little too perfectly on a rock, sticky green seeds from bushes that clung to my leggings like velcro, a plethora of spiderwebs, probably bears, and the echoing of gunshots from the rednecks on the forest road below (no offense guys, but between the guns and the thumping base at 1am you aren’t exactly making a great first impression). Haley and I apparently don’t like the dark or bumps in the night, Calvin and Tricia were way behind, and I can’t see shit in the dark, so that left Haley to be the brave one and scout out the flagging tape. We started classifying spiderwebs. Class 1 was a strand of cobweb. Class 2 was a legit cluster. Class 3 was a full formed web. Class 4 was a huge fucking fully formed web with the spider inside of it and I don’t want to know what class 5 would be and 5.12a would probably be enough to send me into cardiac arrest and flee this world for a better one. I had my usual “what are we doing here” moment around 12:30am when Haley took a bathroom break and I stood in the dark waiting for Calvin and Tricia. Why do we do this? Haley had hers an hour later when she bitched out a pinecone. You show that pinecone who’s boss, Florida.

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Cal enjoying the views from Goat Flats

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Goat Flats Throne

I was happy to snuggle down into my bivvy when we decided to call it before Goat Flats. I brought twice as much food as Calvin, Haley, and Tricia combined, which ended up being a good thing a day and a half later. They let me stuff it in their bear bags, which they hung off a tree. We slept for 5 hours and then had a lazy wakeup with breakfast, coffee, the works. And we started up to Goat Flats, which we reached after an hour of mellow hiking, barely even bushwacking.

I was told there was a toilet, and given my self admitted obsession with alpine toilets I decided I’d find it. I jogged in circles around the goat paths until I saw a sign. “TOILET” with an arrow. Ooh! It’s like a scavenger hunt. I jogged in that direction, looking for the throne. Another sign. “TOILET” with another arrow. Bust through those trees, jog in that direction, check every cluster of trees for a hidden shitter. Finally found it, surrounded by trees, maximum alpine privacy. That’s bullshit. I want views. I have no idea why they didn’t perch it on the slope 50ft away so you could enjoy looking at the lookout, which was way too far away for us to get excited. I’m not sure this one will make it to the 50 Classic Craps of Washington. Maybe because of the location and not the views.
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Summer trail with patchy snow

We packed up our snacks and started down the summer trail to the lookout. Through the forest it was melted out, but when we popped out on the south side of the ridge it was snow covered. We kicked steps across mellow slopes up to Tin Can Gap, which was partially melted out, enough for wildflowers! At Tin Can Gap we got our first real look at the lookout, perched atop the south summit. Sweet! We weren’t making great time, so we ditched our original plan of traversing the three summits. Oh well. The ropes and cams were relegated to training weight. God dammit.

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Tricia pulling some nifty moves in the moat

Rather than drop onto the glacier, we stuck with the summer trail. That was our mistake. We expected it to be more melted out, or more snow covered, not the awkward in between we ran into. Decent moats to negotiate, one of which involved a rock that slashed my thumb. It probably needed stitches, it still hasn’t healed, and I’m not sure my thumb will ever be the same shape again. Some steep snow to traverse. Some downclimbing third class scrambles, occasionally with crampons (the worst). Some goats, completely uninterested in us but making us look like slow bumbling fools while they dashed down the fields. And finally, a somewhat melted out trail, surrounded by wildflowers, switchbacking on top of the world. Yes. This is why I was here. I hadn’t been expecting wildflowers! We finally hit a snowfield that took us to the final scramble to the lookout. We had no idea where the ladders were, so we each scrambled a separate path to the top.

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Calvin, Tricia, and Haley on moderate snow

I heard Calvin drop one of his classic F bombs. Shit, this wasn’t the top. There was a huge gulley. The good news was he could see the ladders, and we’re idiots, they were right around the corner. I was stuck on a downclimb, I went a little too far with an overnight pack and realized I was not going to be able to scramble down that I just did. Cal tossed me a rope (“what do you need?” “a #1 cam please!” “no, but here’s a few feet of rope”) which I looped around a small horn to fake-rap myself back to safety. Damn downclimbs.

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Florida downclimbing in crampons…yay!

We scurried around the corner and bam, there were the ladders. Woo! But don’t be deceived, they’re crooked and squeaky with one or two rungs that feel like they’re toast any day now. And the airy step to the third ladder makes you pause for a split second. But once you’re up the third ladder, you’re at the lookout, and it’s time to relax.

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Summer trail!!

The clouds moved in quickly, and we were soon socked in by fog. Total bummer, but hey it makes the lookout more cozy. We hoped it’d clear up in the morning, but until then it was dinner, hot chocolate, alpine cider, mountain trivia (there’s a mountain trivia book up there!) and Haley (still on east coast time) was snoring soundly within 30 minutes.

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“do any of these go” (photo credit: Haley)

The recommended waste disposal at the lookout is literally chuck-a-dook. I explained this in a blog post years ago. It’s the most hilarious method, and more convenient for everyone (besides the environment) than blue bagging. Elegantly explained by a piece of paper pinned to the wall of the lookout, you find a nice flat rock, shit on it, and toss it off into the distance, out yonder over the cliffs where the Glacier Waste Treatment Plant takes care of it (aka the Queest Alb Glacier will hide it until it melts out in 100 years, and then there will be slabby boulders scattered with turds).

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Ladders! Yay!

The lookout had some old fire-spotting tools, emergency water in the “attic,” a bottle of bottom shelf tequila, some old first aid supplies, and summit registers/log books going back to the 70’s. The approach to this peak used to be via the Boulder River Trail, which I think is so freaking cool. It took you to Tupso Pass, then followed the “current” trail to the lookout. Then FR 41 to Tupso Pass was built, and suddenly the hike was only 16 miles round trip, and it became swamped with traffic. Even last year when someone towed the boulders off the road (hence the newly piled dirt on top of the boulders this year) the lookout saw a huge spike in hikers, which was painfully obvious on the WHC Facebook group and quite evident in the summit register when we flipped through it. The huge washout is only 2 miles from the trailhead, but the boulders and dirt block the road 8 or 9 miles back, effectively doubling the distance of the hike¬†A few guys tried the old Boulder River approach, which I’d love to attempt someday when I have a week to dedicate to brutal North Cascades bushwacking. Yuck. There used to be cabins where Gerkman Creek joins Boulder River, so you could hike a ways in and stay in a shelter before continuing on to Tupso Pass and the eventual lookout. The trail was ravaged by logging and now has several decades of Devil’s Club and brush growth, and it sounds like there isn’t much left. I have to wonder if it would be a more interesting hike than walking/biking FR41 if someone were to blaze it and get some foot traffic started up again. Here is a map that shows the old trail to Tupso Pass (where FR41 currently ends).

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Coming up the last stretch to the lookout (photo credit: Haley)

We enjoyed out night of sleep in the lookout, and didn’t even get to meet Alpine Andy, the resident rat. He might be dead, cause I think his legacy started in the 70’s (he was there first!) and I doubt rats live for 40+ years. But we left some crumbs as a sacrifice to Alpine Andy and the mountain gods to forgive us for chucking our dookies onto the glacier.

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View of the North peak in the clouds

In the morning we had another lazy start. I had coffee and felt absolutely amazing 30 minutes later. Is this what I’ve been missing my whole life?! Maybe I should start drinking it. We lit the sparklers Tricia brought that we had forgotten to use the previous night, and started down the ladders in the fog. They’re worse when they’re soaking wet, and the scrambley moves are that much more awkward. Haley wore all gray, which sucked for photos. Come on Haley. Florida is no excuse for all gray.

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Ladders aren’t always easy

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Ask her why she wore gray

We dropped down the snowfield quickly, and found the huge boulder we had scouted out the day before. We figured we could rap down to the glacier and walk across that instead of following the summer trail, which had been a pain in the ass. Cal and I set up a nice double rope rappel, Haley and I went down first to counter balance each other (one on each strand), and Cal and Tricia came next. We pulled the ropes, set up two teams of two, and started across the glacier. Honestly we probably could have downclimbed the talus field, but it was loose and crappy and we had 7 ACLs for 4 people so rapping was easier.

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Wildflowers in the mist

That’s what we should have done on the way up. Take the glacier, not the freaking summer trail. It was an easy walk with some stretches of steep snow, but we kicked a sidewalk for everyone and even found a rogue water bottle from a previous party (which, in hindsight, I think we forgot to pick up. Shit). We were back at Tin Can Gap within a few hours, and carried on to Goat Flats. From there, instead of taking our shortcut back down, we took the Meadow Mountain trail. Tricia is just a few months off ACL surgery, and going down that steep ass shortcut probably would have sent her back to the table. The Meadow Mountain trail wasn’t bad to Saddle Lake, where it got a bit brushy for about an hour. The trail appears to bypass the true summit of Meadow Mountain, but it’s honestly not in terrible shape. I started fighting foot fatigue, and finally Haley and I ditched Calvin and Tricia and said we’d meet them back at the car. 20 minutes after we split up I realized I had just told Tricia to eat her last Gu because I had a bunch she could have (I knew Cal was out), and then I took off leaving them with nothing. So I found a nice log that had fallen across the trail, and left several Gus, some shot blocks, and a packet of advil for whatever pains I imagined they were enduring. “It’ll be like a mile to the road” Calvin had said, which had made me laugh. “A mile and 2500ft of elevation loss, right.”

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Florida remembering how to walk on snow (taking the glacier back to Tin Can Gap)

It was several hours, with a gnarly blowdown that threw all of us off the trail. Haley and I found the shortcut relatively quickly since there’s a strip through the brush leading down to the next switchback (“nothing leaves traces that obvious except for people… it must be to the trail”) but Calvin and Tricia weren’t so lucky. It had occurred to me to maybe leave a rock arrow on the trail or some sign to turn off there to avoid the blowdown, but I’m a lazy asshole.

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Calvin jogging across Goat Flats to get water

“I see the road!!” Haley sounded excited. Meadow Mountain would drop us off on the old road about two miles from our cars, so we wanted to reach the road by dark. But the “road” she saw was a log. Come on, Florida, you’re the one with the good eyesight. Finally she saw the road for real (“shut up I’m not listening until OH MY GOD IT IS THE ROAD!!!”) and we hustled down to it, only to begin the real slog. My feet were killing me in my damn mountaineering boots, and we had a forest road to walk. The cedar tree was the real relief, because it was so freaking cool. I started counting the rings but lost interest at ring #150, which was like 1/3-1/4 of the way across the log, so we lowballed the age at 550 years.¬† EDIT: Another guy counted the rings and got 745!! A tree that was 745 years old! Hoooooolyyyy Shiiiit. Insane seeing something that massive. I want to cut a slice and make a table out of it.

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Holy shit!! It IS the road!

We got back to the car just before dark, where I pulled out my car camping stuff and we sat down and destroyed a box of cheez its. We placed bets on when Tricia and Calvin would be back. I nailed it with a guess of 10:45. They got back to us and it turned out they had tried to radio and text and everything telling us to just go home, but we hadn’t gotten any of the communication. Oh well, it’s 11pm on a Sunday and I’m lying on a forest road looking at the stars, it could be worse.

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745 years old!! Me for scale (photo credit: Haley)

I bailed pretty quickly. The drive out felt like it took forever. I passed a guy in a flannel on the side of the road just staring off into the dark. People are fucking terrifying. But hey, the trip was awesome, despite the surprisingly long days and abject lack of views at the lookout. There’s a fair bit of history up there, and now that I know the route (aka drop to the glacier if it’s early season or very snowy, it’ll save you SO much time) it’ll be faster next time. I’d love to see how much Goat Flats has been restored since the road closure. I am under the impression it used to be insanely popular, and the goat herds had actually migrated and are just recently returning to the area. It’s amazing that the lookout is kept in such good shape by volunteers, and I love that that’s the case. It’s too bad more lookouts like that one weren’t preserved.

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Tough to be unhappy in such a spectacular place!

So if you have a two day weekend, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially as the trail melts out. The glacier would be a great ski too if it’s early season, and snow might make the approach through the woods easier (if it’s consolidated – powder would be a bitch). There is a limited supply of flat rocks up there for chuckadook though, so get up there while supplies last!

Mt. Stuart via Ice Cliffs Glacier (aka Go Get A [excessive expletives] PLB)

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The cornice at the top. At least 20′ tall

“Maybe I should have renewed that SPOT subscription.” “I mean we’ve only been talking about it for the past 5 weeks right?” “Yeah… it would be nice to have right now.” “I’ll take a space heater, a hot shower, and a down comforter with my beacon please. And a foot massage.” And there we were, in a nice ice ledge/snow cave we had dug halfway down the Sherpa glacier, staring at the snow lit up by the moon and wondering how fucked we’d be when I wouldn’t show up to work at 9am and no one would know why. How did we get to this point, you ask? Let’s find out. Climbed 5/6-5/8.

  • Distance: ~20mi round trip
  • Elevation: 7200ft gain (9,416ft highest point)
  • Weather: 30’s and sunny? Random snow squalls
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30
  • Did I Trip: Many, many postholes. And shattered dreams.
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Come on it’s hilarious. Especially when you ring the bell.

We got to the trailhead at 7pm. Well I did, JT showed up at 10 and insisted on doing the approach. Nope, it’s like a 6 hour approach without the road, with plenty of creek crossings and no trail and I figured it’d be easier in the morning. We had time. JT begged but I was committed, I needed sleep. Call me lame.

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First glimpse!

We got moving at 6am. JT had brought a hilarious electric fatbike, so we strapped our packs to the bike and he started to take them up. Don’t worry, the bike has a bell you can ring in case you need to pass anyone at your top speed of 3mph. We figured we’d leapfrog and take turns with the bike, which if it didn’t save us much time at least provided comic relief for the four miles of dry, easily driveable road. I left my trail runners on for the 2 miles of Colchuck trail we needed to follow, no traction or anything. When we branched off onto the Stuart Lake trail it started getting a little more postholey, and when we finally started the cross country trek, it got real postholey. We were hoping someone else would have broken trail but of course not. We came along an old skin track that we followed on and off, but all of the creek crossings were different. Many logs, not many good access points. The snowbanks made it awkward, since youd’ have to drop down two feet of snow and hope to land your ass on the log. Lots of shimmying. It was a lot more fun when you’re a kid, and not carrying 50lbs with skis attached to your park. I clotheslined my skis at one point because I was so worried that when I sat on the shimmy log they’d stick in the snow behind me and tip me forward and thus off the log, leading to my untimely and mildly embarrassing demise.

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Route on the left, JT ready to ski!

But we survived the river crossings and honestly that was probably the hardest part of the approach. We camped just above the trees at the base of the route. We skinned up to check it out, figuring if it looked too intimidating we’d do Sherpa instead. But Ice Cliffs looked dope, and well within our abilities, so we decided to go for it. We made some turns on the way back to camp, perfect mellow green run for baby skiiers like me. Look at those S’s baby. Someone’s learning.
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That’s a 5 star bivvy. Best night of sleep in months.

We dug out our bivvy spots back at camp. I walked up to some avvy debris piles to collect branches as ground insulation, because we had time and I wanted to be warm and have everything smell like Christmas. We left tracks all over that basin (this was problematic later). We melted water, watched a climber get plucked off the North Buttress Couloir on Colchuck, and went to sleep as the sun set.

We got up around 5 and started up to the couloir. There was avvy debris mixed with chunks of glacial ice from the icefall at the base of the route, frozen solid, like a talus field except snow and ice. Soon enough, the steep snow starter. We knew if we stayed left of the icefall there would be a nice snowy couloir that would lead us up to the mellow, flat section above the falls. From that section, it would be steep snow to the cornice, and…. well, we’d deal with that when we got there.
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Baby turns!

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Already in heaven

Luckily, it was fucking freezing. Everything was rock solid. We placed no pro, until one spicy section I was halfway up when I realized I was hanging on by like 1cm of ice pick and 5mm of crampon frontpoints. I looked up at JT. Same deal. Oh, good, we’re on ice. With no protection. With a thousand feet of terrible runout. Well. Not much we can do now. I swallowed and wished for JT to move quickly and blanked out the consequences. 30 feet later it was soft enough to at least get an inch of boot in, and 30 feet after that I was back to walking up with some variations on french technique. There are two advantages to being horribly duck footed. Breaststroke, and climbing steep snow. I have found my calling.

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For once I was thankful for clouds

We took a quick break on the flat section after some traversing (which I hate, and will always hate, because it is arguably more tedious and less comfortable than downclimbing). We placed a picket for protection just in case since the runout was a nice slide down to the icefall followed by a i-don’t-want-to-know-how-far drop. I destroyed some sour patch watermelon and some goldfish. It was a short walk to where the final steep snow slope began, and we decided to start placing running belays here just to be safe. I’m still not sure it was necessary, and we’ve rehashed it several times. It slows you down a lot, but if someone’s tired, you should probably place it. So we did. One time the rope got stuck, and we took turns whipping it to get it loose. Naturally this resulted in me singing Whip It Good for the rest of the way up. Isn’t that what you sing when you’re in the middle of nowhere slogging up snow?

And that meant the pace was slow enough I could take tons of pictures. The bummer is that my phone started this trip at 7% battery, I had left the camera in the car, and that meant I had to ration photos. Ugh, the horrors.
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Living the freaking dream

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I saw that #1 cam crack from 50 feet away I was so proud

We mixed pickets and some rock pro as anchors. We stayed to the right since the majority of the falling debris that passed us was on the left (I think this contradicts what summitpost says). We took a break on a sweet snowdrift next to the rock, and finally hit up the last stretch. The cornice was MASSIVE. We had been pumping ourselves up to burrow through it, but upon seeing it, we could either spend 4 hours trying to burrow or we could suck it up and test out the mixed chimney that was in the middle. Survey says? Let’s try the chimney.

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JT at our last break

JT made a bomber rock anchor below the chimney. Yeah, I wasn’t leading that. Maybe if our lives had depended on it. It didn’t look bad until you were in it. I could tell he was panicking too (sorry JT) as I belayed him up. And he wasn’t sure the pickets he placed halfway up would take a fall. But 15 minutes later, he was whooping on top of the ridge, and I was throwing my entire body weight upwards on the picket trying to get the damn thing out of the snow cursing his fucking indestructible placement because this thing was $25 and I’ll be damned if I leave $25 in this god forsaken chimney (this is foreshadowing).

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Final stretch!

I finally got the picket out and made the spicy mixed move to get out of the slightly overhung chimney. I looked up at JT who was laughing as I dragged my fat tired ass over the edge. We organized our gear and started walking up towards the summit, jealous of the skiiers heading down Cascade Couloir, which looked so mellow and easy and fun.

It took maybe an hour to get to the top. JT was ahead of me. More front pointing on hard snow, man I’m sick of hard snow and it’s going to be a pain in the ass to downclimb this. I look up at JT as we got close. “Fuck.”
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HAHAHA ahaha haha ah no.

“What? Is it not the summit?” “It’s definitely not the summit.” “Are you sure??” “Well unless there’s a bigger, taller peak right next to us… yeah, I’m sure.” I hurried up beside him and we both just burst out laughing. The real summit of Stuart was another hundred feet higher, with more hard steep snow, which meant more frontpointing and more downclimbing that shit and random snow squalls kept happening and there was just no way either of us were going up there and we didn’t even have to say it outright, we just knew. We sat down and kept laughing at how humbling it was and had some snacks. And soon enough, started the downclimb, crossing out fingers that entry to the Sherpa couloir would be easy.

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Looking out at Sherpa and Balanced Rock

And it was! I lay on the edge of the couloir moaning about how much of a pain in the ass downclimbing was going to be, until I started laughing again. Look where we are! We’re on top of the world, and I’m still finding a reason to whine. We started down, I was pretty tired and I told JT to go first and kick great steps. Great steps meant like 1″ of purchase, if that. Ugh. Damn my weak winter calves.

So we kicked, or tried to, if you can call that kicking steps. After a few hundred feet there was no more kicking, just frontpoints, and laser sharp focus. Half an hour later, there was just sharp focus. An hour after that, there was blurry focus, and while my body physically felt fine, I was mentally losing it. The bottom looked so close. Maybe two rappels, if we set up an anchor and just left it? Yeah, that looked about right. JT was talking to himself as he downclimbed. “One foot now, two points in, next foot now, two more points in, now the first foot, now the second foot, just keep going, second foot, first foot, making steps.” I was singing that song that the parrot in the Lion King sings in his bone cage, somthing about I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts do do do do do do there they are all standing in a row, big ones small ones some the size of your head! I finally made a joke about bivvying.
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I mean, you have to laugh a little at the situation

And that joke about bivvying basically shut us down. I hear when pregnant women make it to restrooms, they don’t always make it to the toilet. Their brains are like HEY WE’RE HERE LET’S GO! That’s how the bivvy was. My brain heard the joke and was like HELL YEAH WE’RE DONE! and I could feel myself crashing as we anchored ourselves with pickets and shoveled the biggest ledge we could after chopping through the surface ice with our tools. I put on all my layers, sat on my pack, we undid our coils and used those as ground cover too. Shivver bivvying at its finest. “Do you think there’s something fucked up in our heads?” JT asked. “No, no way. We’re normal. We’re awesome. Why?” “Because.. .we’re stuck outside and we’re exhausted and we’re spending the night here and we’re still having fun?” I mean, you have a point. I was pondering a different, slightly related, equally hilarious (to me) question. “Do you think our parents would be proud that we’re making the safe call to stop and rest here, or do you think they’d just be pissed we got ourselves here to begin with?”

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Time to get moving and warm up!!

There’s not much sleeping when it’s like that. You’ll start to doze and then your body remembers you’re fucking freezing and starts to shiver and you wake yourself up again. So we watched the snow get lit up by the moon, I wondered how long it takes trenchfoot to set in and thanked the sweet baby jesus for telling me to wear ski boots instead of mountaineering boots (toasty liners), and occasionally I had some snacks. We had plenty of food and water at least.

As soon as sun rose we were moving. We had already decided to rappel off gear and just leave the gear behind. Two rappels right? No, I suck at distance judging and we all know it. 2 raps turned into six. I couldn’t get pickets in through the ice, but it was still too thin for a v thread. Snow bollards were an option but I thought they’d take too long to make since we’d have to cut through all the crust. A chunk of ice broke my helmet (not a split, just knocked a plastic piece loose, but that was enough to render it useless). Great, we’re bailing. Fuck the pickets with two flat ends, always get the ones with one sharp end. It was impossible to get the flat end ones in the snow even after I chopped a starter hole. Pound that picket in harder, Eve. What happened to your swimmer triceps and shoulders?! Bro do you even lift?!? (no. but i should.)
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Somehow the snow still hadn’t softened up, here I am happily rappelling down

We finally reached the bergschrund, which was nicely covered with avvy debris. One last rap to get over it, and we were walking off! Woo! JT looked down as he was crossing. “Oh, I can get my sunglasses!” I started laughing. He had dropped them sometime on Monday, and I figured they were toast. I belayed him into the crevasse to retrieve his brand new Julbos. Small miracles!

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Glacier glasses that (on their first day in the wild) were nearly abandoned in the crevasse

We walked back to the sunny soft snow where I had one of the best glissades of my life back to camp. We boiled water, had the best alpine cider ever, and started to pack. Soon we heard helicopter blades chopping through the wind. Damn, there must be another rescue! Busy weekend.

Except then the helo came and hovered right over us. And then it flew right over the ice cliffs route, and down the sherpa route. “They just… do you think they’re looking for us?” “Well they just flew literally right up ice cliffs and right down sherpa, so…. yes?” It was 10:30. Would my office have seriously called SAR at 9:01 sharp? I’ve been late to work after climbs before, this isn’t exactly the first time I’ve had an unplanned bivvy. I mean, maybe?
We stood by our stuff and stared at the copter, who hovered next to us for another 5 minutes before flying off. They definitely saw us, right? They’ve got to be going back to tell everyone we’re okay. I mean we’re standing on snow wearing bright orange and blue packing up our skis, there’s no way they didn’t see us.
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The Shimmy

We started the trek out, which involved more postholing and somehow more log shimmying than the way in. Helicopters continued to fly around us, one flew next to us and we waved as they pointed while we crossed the swampy section right where you cut off from the Stuart Lake trail. Half an hour later, back on the Colchuck trail, we saw two more helicopters. “There’s something bigger than us going on out there,” JT said. I hoped he was right, but I was freaking the fuck out. Yeah we know we’re fine, but my office doesn’t. And if they called my family, then there’s at least 20 people who are panicking right now. But they pointed at us in the swamp, and they hovered right next to us on the snowfield. They must be looking for someone else and figured out we weren’t the ones they were looking for. But the thought was still in my head, and my body was on fire with anxiety and I was flying down the trail trying my best to not leave JT behind. He broke trail like all the way through the snow, and I had been lazy. But I had to get back to cell service before anyone called my family.

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Shattered Dreams

We got to the Colchuck trailhead, which had been recently cleared of downed trees, bathrooms cleaned, and even restocked with fresh toilet paper. Best bathroom experience of my life. Plus, this must mean the road is open!! Great, JT take the bike and the packs, I’ll start walking, get the car, and meet me halfway up the road. Helicopters continued to fly over. I waved to one as I walked down the road. That one definitely didn’t see me. No one waved.

A few hours later, I hear an engine. And I see an FJ come around the corner. Woohoo, JT!! The road is open!! Except… behind him is a huge pickup truck. With a huge label on the side. In all caps. “SHERIFF.”¬†Oh, shit. So they were looking for us. That helicopter was for us. All day, that helicopter was looking for us. JT had gotten back to our cars, each of which had a note¬†saying “you’ve been reported as overdue, please call the sheriff.” So he drove to cell service, called the sheriff, who opened the gate to the road and let him come pick me up. You know what’s great about a having bright yellow xterra? They saw it from the sky immediately and said yep Eve’s car is here. Nothing subtle about that.
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This is really getting in the way of our self rescue

In my state of mixed guilt and embarrassment and shame and humiliation I wasn’t sure what to do. How could the best route of my life and a simple¬†overnight bivvy have caused all of this? We felt like we had everything under control 100% of the time. At no point was I concerned for our safety, or scared, or even stressed. I was more anxious about being late to work and missing EMT class than anything else. Sure the bivvy wasn’t ideal, but it was absolutely the right call. Tired, on a tedious 40+ degree slope with another 600ft to descend with only our crampon points, already late, and one misstep if we tried to push it would have resulted in a fatal fall. So we stopped, and got up a few hours later, surprisingly refreshed once we loosened up stiff frigid limbs.

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Good look at Stuart over the swamp on the left

We thanked Chelan Mountain Rescue profusely. These guys dropped everything they were doing to send out a helo to look for us, and to be fair, from the air it looked pretty bad. They saw the bivvy ledge, the bail gear, the bergschrund, and a ton of avvy debris from earlier in the week. The bail gear ended just above the bergschrund, and it probably looked like either 1) we were hit by an avalanche and were nicely buried or 2) we were trying to bail and we rapped off the end of the rope or something failed and we fell into the schrund. They thought it was a recovery.

Luckily, neither of the above even came close to happening. We just left an awkward trail of bail gear. While they were changing plans from rescue to recovery, we were bitching about postholing and why did we carry skis and shit none of these logs are good for crossing the stream and can you believe that buttered popcorn jelly beans are still disgusting after 3 days of climbing? I’m like at least 2 days from starvation if those still taste like shit.
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Sherpa Glacier on left, our route on right behind the center crag

If we had had a messaging beacon, we’d have been able to send out a text as soon as we set up the bivvy saying hey, we’re fine, just going to be late. If we had a true PLB maybe¬†our friends would have felt a bit safer knowing we hadn’t hit SOS yet. Instead, no one knew what had happened. My coworkers knew my intended routes because I wouldn’t shut up about it all week, but none of my immediate climbing friends did, and that caused a bunch of confusion when they started wondering why no one had heard from me. Should we have flagged down the helicopter? Yeah, but I’m still not sure what the sign is for “hey, you’re looking for us, but we’re fine, gonna hike out!” In our heads, we were barely even overdue at that point (a few hours, we knew we’d be getting to the trailhead wicked late on Tuesday), and we definitely weren’t lost. Turns out they saw us and assumed we were hikers, not the people they were looking for. There were tracks all over the basin, they had no way of knowing which were ours (answer: all of them). And given the bail gear pattern, holy shit I’d probably have thought the same.

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Colchuck Peak, the lone climber’s rescue foreshadowing our own epic

Get a beacon! One beacon could have saved all of this confusion, all of the effort on SAR/CMR’s part (god forbid someone else get injured looking for me, especially when nothing’s wrong with me to begin with), and all of the ensuing feelings that I, my friends and family, and coworkers all went through in the 12 hours I was missing. We had been discussing it for over a month and¬†I was too cheap to buy my own. I always pictured beacons as purely “SOS” function, not the “hey everything’s fine but we’re going to be late” heads up to the real life friends and coworkers back in the city, and that’s what you’ll get with the satellite messenger beacons. You never think it’ll be you, until it’s you.

I have no idea if my office called that a vacation day, a personal/sick day, or is turning the other cheek. I was brainstorming my apologies and excuses while we were bivvying. “Call it a vacation day, call it two vacation days, I’m so sorry I’m¬†so embarrassed” blah blah blah. I got into work and no one cared, everyone wanted to hear the story, and everyone was just relieved I was okay. Everyone had rallied and called in personal favors to anyone they knew who climbed or could stir up a rescue. That’s an awesome office right there. And there I was, back to spreadsheets. Spreadsheets never made me bivvy in a snow cave, or rap off $300 of gear, or resort to eating butter popcorn jelly beans. Tough choice between those and turds.
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So proud of my bivvy branch collection. Good thing I got such good sleep on night #1

Huge, huge thanks to CMR and SAR for coming after us. As embarrassed as I was, it’s amazing knowing an entire community is ready to jump on it 90 minutes after someone calls us in as overdue. Thank you to everyone who called, everyone who pitched in with information, everyone who got up right away to put the search into effect. And huge thanks to JT for suffering through all of that with me, and thanks to Mt. Stuart for being a coy bitch, and thanks to everyone for not making me feel tooooo guilty upon my return.* And lastly, thanks to my family back in Boston who put up with my questionable hobby. I can’t apologize enough, nothing I say will change anything, just know we do our best to be safe. From here on out you’ll get the “we’re okay, just going to be late” messages at 3am. You guys are the best, don’t ever think I take you for granted.

So go get a PLB. Don’t talk to me until you have one.
*You now have permission to make jokes at my expense.

Granite Mountain via the ‘Wind Scoured Ridge’

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The lookout!

“Should I hike Granite Mountain?” you ask? I’m going to go with a resounding “no,” unless you like postholing and slogging through massive amounts of powder and have decided you need a good workout. Or if you have an AT setup, you can skip all of the suffering and just have a freaking blast, besides the stream crossings on the snowshoe-trampled trail. But hey, gotta get in shape for spring climbing, right? I nearly bailed since I had heard miserable stories about the ice crust with a few inches of fresh snow the day before, and Aaron didn’t have snowshoes or skis so we’d just be booting. And the only thing worse than struggling through several feet of powder is struggling through several feet of powder with a two inch thick layer of ice on top that you may or may not break through every time you take a step. But spring is quickly approaching, and I can’t sit on my ass on a sunny Sunday, so bring it on, Granite. Hiked 1/12/2017.

  • Distance: ~5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 3800ft gain (5633ft highest point)
  • Weather: 30-40’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 55 minutes without traffic
  • Did I Trip: the real question is “how many steps did I take without tripping” because the ratio of tripping to walking was very high

First of all, here is a map. The red line is roughly your route from where the standard trail first meets the gulley. Don’t follow the green line. If you’re a solid skiier and comfortable in avvy territory, it did look like a great ski all the way down the gulley to the tees. This was taken from a discussion on¬†nwhikers.net.

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Red is your route

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How most of the lower hike went (calf to knee ish)

Well I was originally hoping to do Pratt Mountain, a popular winter snowshoe that happens to share a trailhead with Granite Mountain. But we got to the trailhead and there was a group of 12 mountaineers that had just started, followed by a group of 12 folks from the Outdoor Adventurer’s meetup group. Shit. Okay so we’re not doing Pratt. Well I think I know a route up Granite that’ll avoid avvy territory, want to give it a shot? Aaron was down. He looked at it from the highway and laughed. “You chose this?!” thinking it’d be a few hours of quick easy hiking. Psych!

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The first of several avvy gullies on Granite. Be wary.

As usual we had maybe 7 essentials between the two of us. Aaron didn’t bring traction. Okay, take my microspikes, I can use crampons. He didn’t have an axe either. Or poles. Okay take my extra pole. I didn’t have waterproof pants, and would look ridiculous wearing full on crampons on the trail, so I stuck it out in boots. And my avy beacon was broken. Great. 1=0 when it comes to beacons, so we knew we’d have to be conservative.

We started up the trail, which was basically plowed by all of the foot traffic. No ice, just compact snow, totally fine in¬†plain old¬†boots. At the turn off to either Pratt Lake or Granite, we officially decided to give Granite a run rather than follow the 30ish folks ahead of us on the way to Pratt. We figured if we were fast, we could do both! This thought became progressively more hilarious as the day went on. But hey, best case we summit, worst case we get a workout and turn around. Let’s do it!
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The view as we broke out of the trees!

The snowshoe trail continued a little bit further until the gully. Well we sure as shit weren’t going across the avalanche gully, so I have no idea where the tracks went. I don’t think they knew the winter route and we never came across them higher up, so I’m guessing they turned back. We started heading directly up through the trees, paralleling the gully well to our right. Upon stepping off the snowshoe tracks, we were met with knee deep powder with an ice crust exactly as predicted. Ohhhh boy.

With every step, you go through frantic questioning. “Will it hold? Will it break? How deep will I posthole if it breaks? Will I slam my shin into it and get a bruise?” Nine out of ten times the answers are “no,” “yes,” “about 18-24 inches,” and “probably.” We tried switchbacking up but quickly realized it wasn’t that much faster than going straight up since you were wallowing in powder either way. Straight up it was. How else are we going to get in our daily cardio?
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McClellan Butte is the pointy one

We were losing hope after maybe 90 minutes of this shit. I knew what I was getting into, I had specifically chosen a snow slog knowing I had to get in shape and needed hours of breaking trail. I don’t think Aaron realized what he had signed up for. Either way, repetitive stomping in powder with no views and no excitement gets old very quickly. We decided to head to the edge of the gully to see how far away the ridge looked.

“Well…. according to the GPS, it’s wicked far, but according to my eyes, it’s like right freaking there!!” I announced. The GPS app had us like halfway up the slope with so far to go, but looking at the ridge I was like that can’t be more than an hour. Is there a false summit?? I had done Granite before and I didn’t remember a false summit and the topo map didn’t show a false summit but something wasn’t adding up. We kept going up through the trees, planning on getting some views, having a snack, and re-evaluating.
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It wouldn’t be bad if you had crampons

As usual, we broke out of the trees, team morale spiked with the sun and excitement and views, and we took a quick break and kept moving. From the trees it’s a short jaunt to the exposed rocks, which you follow to the true “wind scoured ridge.” Stay on the rocks and you are free from peril (probably, no guarantees). We hopped up on icy rock after icy rock, occasionally requiring hands and at times just booting it through snow or slippery heather. The snow was a fresh inch or two on top of ice which made it tricky, especially for Aaron who was down to one microspike. Where was the other one?! We had no idea. He had noticed he was down to one when we were still in the forest, but it wasn’t an issue until now. It must have popped off in one of the eight million postholes we endured on the way up. Oh well, we’ll find it on the way down.

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Neat sky behind a tree

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Obligatory Rainier shot

Crampons and an ice axe were very helpful. One microspike was not. So Aaron stuck to the rocks and softer snow while I booted up whatever I felt like booting up. I finally looked up and saw the lookout. Holy shit, it’s right there!!! We’re going to make it! I had still been having doubts thanks to the topo map. But now it was within sight, and it really WAS close. Eventually we crested the ridge below the lookout, and reveled in our views of Kaleetan, Chair, and Bryant.

The cornice up there is a good size, a little taller than I am. We walked over to the end of it which was risky, especially given its size.¬†¬†Cornices can break off and take a section of snow on what looks like the non-corniced side of the ridge with them, so you really need to give them a wide berth. The lookout was locked as it is in the “offseason” so we just snapped a few pics and started to head down. Plus, it was almost 3. It had taken us 5 hours to get to the lookout. Holy crap. So much for being back by 5.
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Kaleetan, Chair ,Glacier (snowy peak in back), and Bryant. Who knew!?

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Chickamin, Lemah, Summit Chief

The views were awesome. I had no idea, the only other time I had been on Granite we were socked in by fog. Everything looks better with a dusting of snow, but the views to the north and east were epic regardless. It was tough to head back down knowing it was one of my few weekends in the mountains, but I wanted to be back at a reasonable hour. Luckily, going down went¬†faster than going up, though¬†we had to play it safe with Aaron’s single microspike. I gave him an extra pole so I could walk down with a pole and an ice axe and he’d have two poles, which helped a bit. Self arresting with poles is spicy. But the slopes were mellow for the most part, until we made a decision¬†that is a great example of “what not to do.”

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Nice cornice

We descended too far on the wind scoured ridge instead of following the rocks east to the trees we had come up through. We could have kept going straight down, but then we’d have had to navigate a bit instead of following the (surprisingly efficient) route we had taken up. And I’m lazy. So instead, we chose to cross the definition of an avalanche slope, facing the south, on a sunny day, on a notoriously avalachey mountain. While the snow seemed fairly consolidated besides the few inches on top of the ice crust, and we hadn’t seen any serious red flags for an avalanche, it was still unnerving. Did I mention that the previous day in SAR we had been looking at pictures of bodies buried in avalanches on Granite? Yeah, it was on my mind. Welp, one at a time, move quickly, and don’t trip. Let’s get this over with.

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Heading back to the lookout

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Glissading down

Spoiler alert, we were fine. But you never know. .01% chance something goes wrong, 99.99% chance of a horrible outcome if something does go wrong. That’s how a lot of mountaineering is. Sorry mom. Next time I’ll go back up and over instead of across. But it was quick. From there on out we were back on the rock, and soon enough we were in the trees were we glissaded down our tracks (destroying every beautiful staircase we had made on the way up so you all have to break your own trail, suckers) which flew by if you ignore my immediately numb ass. We were almost back to the snowshoe tracks when I saw something curled up in the bottom of a posthole. Could it be?!

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A close call with a double posthole

I started laughing. “I found the microspike!!!” We couldn’t believe it. Just saved ourselves $70! We stashed them and continued down to the snowshoe tracks, which were a relief after all of the postholing and frigid glissading. Somehow the snowshoe trail was way longer than we remembered. My legs were still fresh, though that suddenly deteriorated when we hit the parking lot.

The rest of the cars had left. I’m sure the trail to Pratt was a highway of trampled snowshoe shaped steps, but we chose the route less traveled. Why snowshoe on a highway when you can flounder in powder for a few hours and enjoy a winter summit of a crazy popular summer peak? I had been up Granite a few years ago, but socked in by fog. Here’s a rare link to one of my early blog posts before I became so wordy. I’d say it was a hell of a lot better this time around! And did I mention it’s barely an hour from Seattle? Check out those views!
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Crossing the last saddle before rising to the lookout

Torment Forbidden Traverse

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Left to right: Eldorado, Klawatti, Austera, Primus, and Tricouni above Moraine and Primus Lakes

 

If you had asked me in February, “Eve, if you can only climb one peak this summer, what would it be?” the answer would the the Torment-Forbidden traverse. Because I’m a cheating bastard and that’s two peaks. I’d settle for just Forbidden, but let’s be real, the traverse was the true goal. I stood on Eldorado¬†almost exactly a year ago (I wrote this a few weeks ago okay don’t get technical with me)¬†staring at Forbidden asking what is that, and how do I climb it.

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Torment on the left, Forbidden on the right

Well a few weeks after Eldorado, I started trad climbing. My old REI coworkers were laughing at me because until a year ago, I swore I’d never be into rock climbing. A few months after Eldorado, I started leading trad. 9 months of putting pennies aside, I got a full rack. And June came and went, and then July, and August started, and I began to think Forbidden wasn’t going to happen. I had had a decent climbing season, not as much rock as I wanted but plenty of successful trips. My shredded hands and sunburned face could attest.

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I mean the forest was pleasant

Enter Connor. I had gotten to know Connor going up Olympus, and between bringing surprise cupcakes for his birthday and pitching my favorite single wall mountaineering tent (okay, my only tent) in a fucking jungle I guess I qualified as a passable climbing partner. He’s been checking off every route on the 50 Classics list he can get to, and the West Ridge of Forbidden is one of them. And the full traverse… well, that’s even better. Before I get into the more-filler-less-beta description, go¬†check out Steph Abegg’s blog. That’s what we ran off of. She has step by step instructions that make it very hard to get off course.

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Pleasant waterfall

We got a lazy start on Saturday morning (this was back in mid-August), hitting the trailhead around 10am after McDonalds gave us the wrong sandwiches on our way out (I wanted TWO sausage egg and cheese sandwiches, not one, dammit) and an awkward parking job on my part trying to fit into the trailhead lot. Nothing like a big bright yellow SUV parked diagonally on a bank out of line next to everyone else. We started hiking and I was already dragging. I don’t know if it was the heat or the sun or the dehydration or what but my legs just weren’t responding to my brain’s pleas. I’d put the approach right up there as third after¬†Snowfield (first) and Eldorado (second)¬†with class 3 tree roots and narrow boot path and interesting (read: filled my boots with water) river crossings. Oh, and tons of bugs that would stick to you if you were sweaty. Bastards. I also had on my fresh new Smartwool socks (take II, they did not do so hot on Formidable), hoping the compression would help with my calf issues. No luck. Or, my calf issues would have been debilitating that morning without them, who knows. Either way, I can assure you that they look great when you roll up your pant legs because it’s hot out.

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Meadows and slabs and an awesome cloud

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The Throne looking out at Johannesburg

We broke above tree line (finally!) and my mood picked up a bit. Not enough to get the legs back up to speed, but at least we were drifting through meadows looking at Johannesburg and Mixup and Magic and Sahale and could see the entire traverse ahead of us, a ridge of rock poking out above quickly softening glaciers. And we found the Boston Basin toilet everyone talks about! Add it to the list of Classic Craps of Washington. I haven’t made much progress towards my future as the Patron Saint of Alpine Shits lately but this was a step. I snapped a picture and we continued on, across talus that eventually gave way to the slabby sort of rock that used to be covered by glacier.

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Crossing the glacier, looking up at Torment

We didn’t take many breaks, wanting to get to the rock climb ASAP. I was hoping I’d be faster on rock than I felt slogging across talus and snow. We reached the foot of the glacier and saw a group of four way ahead of us. Shit, we have to get ahead of them. Connor took off. Well, my legs are still in bed in Seattle, so you go ahead and do that and I’ll catch up. We didn’t deem it necessary to rope up, though there were a few small crevasses and snow bridges and a groan or two. Luckily when I reached the base of the gully that leads to the notch, the group of four was still getting their gear¬†prepped. Connor hopped up to the notch, I waited until he was out of the gully (it was pretty loose) and started up myself. A few fourth class moves, a few pebbles knocked down on the guy below me (who unfortunately came up immediately behind me until he realized he’d just be peppered with small rocks) and we were in business.

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Awesome pic of the team behind us

We switched into rock shoes, flaked out the rope to 30m (60m rope), and started simulclimbing. Connor led. I assumed we’d alternate leading until I realized how much faster it’d be with him leading rather than my newbie ass, plus with simulclimbing there wasn’t a blatant need to swing leads like when you’re doing things pitch by pitch. Honestly, the only move that felt harder than a 3rd class scramble was the first move up from the notch, which follows a ~15ft crack. After that, it’s basically all scrambling. For once, my navigation was on point. Connor led, and I directed. So I’m useful for some things, like beta, and boiling water, and taking photos.

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Connor leading, mostly a scramble

From the top of the crack that marks the start of the route, you basically follow a series of ledges to the left until you’re dropped into another nice, loose gully, this one whiter than the first one (I don’t know why that sticks in my memory). Head up and right to another dip in the ridge (rap slings were a good cue), and drop down onto the southeast face and follow more ledges to the saddle between the two summits. I honestly think we might have been following a different route than planned, because there was very little ridge involved, mostly face traversing. But it was quick and painless, so I didn’t¬† complain. I snapped a few pictures of the team behind us, excited about the views, forgetting how they’d consistently get better and better as we went.

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Connor coming up to the summit, Forbidden on the right

THE SUMMIT ON THE LEFT IS THE TRUE SUMMIT. No one just straight up said that!! They said “the south summit” or “the higher of the summits” and bullshit like that. It’s the one on the left, okay? And you can’t tell from below. Connor ran to the one on the right, I didn’t trust it, I pulled out the topo but they’re so freaking close on the one I had that I couldn’t tell which was “the southern summit.” I figured we’d divide and conquer and stand up and see who was taller, so I went left.

Nailed it. I get up to the top and boom, there’s an old school summit register in a brass pipe. I whipped it out and signed it and got ready to head down and meet Connor, thinking he was waiting until his head popped over the ridge. Sweet, summit break! And we had made good time since hitting the rock, too. The two summits are very comparable, I honestly would not have been able to tell which was the true one without the summit register. We had some water and snacks and soaked in the views, checking out Forbidden which looked so much taller and sharper and darker in the distance.

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Forbidden from the summit of Torment

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The joys of rope management

Wanting to reach the only decent bivvy spot, we moved on quickly. We dropped down to the first notch, where we knew we’d have to rappel down to the glacier, and probably deal with a moat. Great, Connor can go first. Quick tip: Use the rappel sling on the far side, not the one immediately on your left when you reach the notch. We swapped to mountaineering boots. I donned my crampons as Connor rapped down, and had just finished tightening the straps when I head “you should probably get your crampons!” from below. I hear some shuffling and some kicking and I peek over the ridge, just as I see an ice tool come over the edge of the moat followed by a bare hand grasping at the snow. Like when zombies dramatically dig out of their graves one hand at a time, Connor climbed out, sans crampons. “Off rappel!”

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Rapping into the moat

Great, so I’m going to be swung over the moat to the snow, like I read in Steph Abegg’s blog. Can’t say I’ve ever had to do that before. Should have read more closely. I clipped my axe to my harness and started down, scraping crampons on rock. Swinging over was awkward. You need to get a few feet below the edge of the snow or else when your partner pulls the rope you just go up and not across and you’ll hang above the gap, and need to move horizontally along the rope. I was also facing backwards, which wasn’t elegant, and had used a prussik rather than an autoblock (out of habit since that’s how I learned, yes this habit is now broken), which makes it much tougher to slide down the rope and nearly impossible to slide across. So you can imagine just about how awkward this was. Reference Figure A below if you need a visual. I finally dropped low enough to be dragged over to the snow and got a good hold with my ice axe, but couldn’t balance since I was fighting against the prussik, which was still holding me farther up the rope. Eventually I just had Connor grab me and hold me above the snow until I could undo the damn prussik. So yeah, awkward sequence, but you know what? Now I know how to do it, and it’ll be 5x faster the next time around, and I’m never using a prussik again. Another quick tip: you can avoid the moat scenario by scrambling class 4-5 ledges on the south face of the traverse, but hey, this was probably the most useful stretch of the trip for me in terms of learning new things, so I’ll give it a 7/10. Would have been a solid 8.5 with an autoblock.

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Figure A

We traversed to the next moat, and alternated between moat and snow and rock for a while. Getting across the first moat had taken up a lot of time, and switching between snow, dropping into moats,¬†and climbing back up on rock was slow going. We eventually came around a corner and saw the steep snow traverse, which would have to be nearly front pointing. I regretted leaving the pinky rest on my ice tool, since it would make plunging the shaft a pain in the ass (are we still doing phrasing?) but the snow wasn’t too steep, so I hoped it wouldn’t be an issue. Connor asked if I wanted to rope up, but on something like that, if you fall you’ll just take your partner with you unless you’re taking the time to set pro. So nah. If just I die, I’ll haunt a crampon or something instead of a house so I’ll still get to go up peaks. Watch out guys.

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Traversing below some hanging snow

The snow traverse was slower going than I expected. More tedious than anything. There was one brief icy section, but most was soft enough for nicely kicked steps and the ice tool stuck well, I ended up using the pick more than the shaft. Halfway across the traverse I thought to myself ugh, please let there be a bivvy spot at this notch. Huh, I must be tired if I’m hoping for a bivvy spot. I knew the ideal bivvy spot was at the next notch, but we had used up so much time rapping across the moat that I didn’t think we were going to make it. Turned out we could have made it by dark if we had tried, but apparently I was tired, and since I didn’t know how long it would take, I was ready for dinner and bedtime.

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Last light on Boston and Sahale from the bivvy

Well, we found a bivvy spot on the south side of the ridge. It wasn’t great, a little narrow and a little slanted, but it’d do. I started boiling water as Connor set up the perfect gear nest hanging from a cam. The whole rack, our helmets, no critters were getting into that shit. We flaked out the rope as a ground cover like on Formidable and I whipped out my new Nemo down quilt. It arrived at my office minutes before a meeting the day before the trip, and it was like Christmas. My face lit up, my boss started laughing, I dashed for my keys to tear open the box and unpack my new toy and told everyone all about it. My boss actually offered to get me the sleeping pad that pairs with the quilt after she saw how thrilled I was running around the office with the quilt, only to be stopped in my tracks by a meeting to sell fashion product to our friendly local online retailer (the opposite of me sleeping on a rope spread out on a rock with just a quilt). But the quilt is amazing. It’s a 30 degree quilt, so not for winter, but damn I’d have been in heaven if I had it on Formidable. And it weighs a mere 19oz, which is about the weight of the sleeping bag liner I had used on Formidable.

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Dome and Glacier in the backdrop, Formidable center, Mixup and the Triplets in the foreground. Can I wake up to this every day

With my bare feet wrapped in my new favorite toy (new Smartwool socks still needed to dry and smelled worse than Connor’s dinner) I dined on Thai Curry while Connor suffered through some vegan mac n cheese. He claimed it wasn’t that bad but I took a single bite and I think I’d have rather gone hungry. Sorry vegans, it was $1 at the grocery outlet so I’m sure there’s better version of vegan mac n cheese out there. I felt like a princess with my $12 dehydrated meal. Luxuries. Should have brought myself some wine.

I had been hoping to catch the meteor shower, but I only saw one single shooting star. The moon was too bright for us to even see the milky way. At one point I swear something ran across my arm (this was after I listened to something shuffle around for a few minutes) but I never did find it. John’s twin 50’s turned into twin 47’s after they bivvied on Torment the weekend prior and woke up to a rat chewing through their gear. I’d fuck up anything that tried to munch that new down quilt. That rat would probably taste better than the vegan mac n cheese. And then I’d cry.
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Rocking the new socks

The quilt was awesome. Toasty warm. The strings that turn it into half a sleeping bag were a pain in the ass, but made it easier to tighten up gaps if I realized my arm was sticking out, or felt a cool breeze on my leg. And it’s super soft. With that and the new sleeping pad, I’m pretty set for lightweight camping next summer. Now I can potentially be comfy cozy and not shiver bivvy all of the overnight climbs where I don’t feel like carrying a full overnight setup.

I finally committed to waking up around maybe 7:30 am. We made coffee, packed up our gear, and put our still slightly wet socks back on. We had to backtrack to the notch to drop down to the north face of the ridge to continue the traverse, and of course as soon as we reach the next notch, there’s a glorious bivvy spot right there that’s huge, flat, I mean shit, it looked like it had been swept. I groaned and we continued on.
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More traversing

The rock sections of the traverse weren’t technically challenging, just exposed. It’s mostly a fourth class scramble, and I knew the rock was supposed to improve as we got closer to Forbidden. I never though exposure bothered me, so this was a reality check. There were definitely spots (especially downclimbing) where I was slow and cautious, and I remember three sections where I was straight up uncomfortable. It’s been a loooong time since I pushed my comfort zone on anything, but I remember standing spread out like a starfish trying to traverse a section of rock and realizing shit, this feels awkward. And then I looked down. Terrible idea, most of the traverse has hundreds of feet of exposure beneath you, and tipping backwards would unquestionably be fatal (sorry mom). Then I looked at Connor. “I’m… uncomfortable.” He looked at me and laughed and just said “okay, so go back and find another way.” Oh. Huh. Don’t mind if I do. And it really was that simple, and totally snapped my downward spiraling thoughts of “oh, I’m uncomfortable, oh, look at those hundreds of feet of air below me, oh, what if my arms and legs get tired in this position, oh god are they getting tired right now?!” Soon we reached the notch that marks the start of the Forbidden climb, where we stashed our boots, extra gear, and laid our (still wet) socks out to dry.

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And more traversing

Starting up Forbidden was exciting. I mean it’s a classic after all, and there were several other parties up there, and I loved where we were and we had been making such good time and we were passing everyone and then bam. We hit my second spot of discomfort, which was likely more performance anxiety than anything. Any of you who have come to a climbing gym with me (or even rock climbed with me) know I get in my head about things, especially when others are watching. I’m sure I’ll get over it eventually. But here comes this guided group of three who step aside and let us pass. And it was the notorious Airy Step at the beginning of Forbidden. Not technically hard, but a little exposed. I stepped across, and though I logically knew it was an easy move, it’s different taking a step with a 6″ drop compared to a 600′ drop beneath you. Connor tossed in a cam, I farted around trying to figure out how to get past my mental block without using the cam and laughing at myself for being pathetic because this whole situation was so stupid, and finally decided fuck it, I can’t sit here deliberating while all four of these people stare at me and I used the damn cam.*

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Connor on the sidewalk before rapping to the official start of Forbidden

After that it was mostly cruising. I think we made it notch to summit in 45 minutes, maybe an hour. Again, besides a 5.6ish crux, most of the climbing was 4th or 5th class scrambling There was a slight bouldering move where you drop down just before the summit, but it isn’t difficult, in fact it was probably one of my favorite moves of the entire climb in both directions. It just felt very fluid going in both directions, which is always the feeling I’m after. Before I knew it, we were on top, looking out at the Eldorado massif and Torment and Johannesburg and Formidable and Sahale and a world of peaks I haven’t even come close to touching yet.

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Connor on the summit!

Amazingly, we had the summit all to ourselves. We took a long break to savor the scenery, we had perfect weather and ridiculous views and it’s easy to take it all for granted and I had to remind myself where we were and what we had done. Even just two years ago I had no idea any of this existed, or was accessible to the average person. Especially the weekend after Formidable, two amazing climbs in such an incredible area. I wasn’t exhausted enough on Torment/Forbidden for it to really sink in (my legs had decided to join me on Sunday at least, after a rough Saturday), but those views are some of the best I’ve ever had. Did we sign a summit register? I don’t even remember.

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Summit selfie!

We started down. I was anxious about downclimbing. I think it’s similar to my issue with slabby climbs, I just don’t trust my feet. I know logically it’s better to stand up straight, but when it’s exposed I try to keep my center of gravity low, which usually results in my shoes not getting full purchase on the rock. The more of it you do the easier it gets, but I hadn’t been doing a ton of rock climbing this summer. We rapped the crux and two other sections (rap slings are abundant) and it took us longer to get back to the notch than it took to get to the summit. We collected the gear we had stashed (socks finally dry! Woo!) and decided to rap the gulley (mostly my decision, I think) rather than down climb. Rapelling is tedious, but I was mentally done with downclimbing, and there was a group below us ready to be pelted with rocks if I knocked anything down. There are rap stations the entire way, and we ended up downclimbing a few steps at the bottom to reach the glacier. I had my last awkward moment here, knowing there were steps below my foot but not being able to see them with nothing to grab with my hands. If I have a handhold, I’m happy to hang off it. If I don’t, it’s hard to trust that my foot is going to land on something. This is me downclimbing. I’m uncoordinated, what if my foot is an inch too far to the left? I laughed at myself again, rolling my eyes at the stupidity of the situation. “You have like three huge stairs right below your foot!” I heard Connor yell. Suck it up, buttercup.
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Connor rappelling back down, Eldorado and Moraine Lake in the background

Dropping onto snow was a relief, since from there on out I’d know exactly where my feet were going and it’d be quick easy moving. Except for when I fell on my ass. We crossed the glacier quickly and were back on slabs. Despite my slow ass downclimbing, we had once again caught up to the group in front of us, who had a huge head start since we took so long on the summit. I gave myself a quick reminder that I only felt like a shitty climber because I was comparing myself to a guy who crushes 5.13’s before breakfast. We continued down and the other group followed us, which was amusing because we had no idea where we were going since we had come from Torment, not the standard approach. I whipped out the topo and got us back on track – you head slightly southwest on the slabs below the glacier and the wrap southeast to get back to camp, you can’t make a beeline from glacier to high camp. We cruised across talus, then meadows, crossed the same river that previously filled our boots with water, drowned our boots again, and floated down the trail that I had been dragging up the previous day. Why did I think this was so bad? It wasn’t even that steep! And the bugs had disappeared.

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Sahale looking tempting, if only we had more time

The only real event on the way down was running into park rangers, who of course interrogated us to see if we had overnight permits. They asked where we were from, what cars did we have (I worried that I had gotten a ticket for my shitty conspicuous parking job in my obnoxiously awesomely colored car), did it have Washington plates? Did we have radios, did we have cell service up on the traverse (I didn’t even check! Who would check that?!). We had been snacksturbating about KFC and taco bell and hamburgers, your questions are getting in the way of my food fantasies, dammit!

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Cruising through meadows in the afternoon light

The rangers finally carried on, and we hustled back to the car where my great parking job was no longer surrounded by cars and I confirmed that I did not receive a ticket for being a borderline douchebag (it wasn’t that bad really). We changed into flip flops and stuffed our stinky boots into the trunk and hopped in the car, ready to rush to KFC. Except… I am a slow driver on forest roads. Yeah, look at my car, 4wd, I know. It doesn’t matter, it has a hard time on washboard sections and skids out easily, so I go slow. Like old lady slow, even when KFC is on the line. Watch out Paul Walker, here comes granny.

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Not a bad peak to stare at for a whole traverse

We made it to KFC with 8 minutes to spare. I was ready to rush in the door (“should we call ahead?!”) but Connor insisted on drive through. Okay, I dragged you into McDonalds yesterday, fine, we’ll do drive through this time. We pull up to the window. “What is the most pieces of fried chicken you could put in a bucket?” She went over to count what they had left. “We could do…. 8.” “You’ll get sick if you eat 8 pieces.” “I’ll take 8! And a famous bowl, and a large soda.” She gave me more than 8 pieces. No, I could not finish the bucket. Yes, I felt sick around piece #7. And I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between tearing apart fried chicken and devouring a famous bowl and the mellow notes of Jack Johnson playing in the background.

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Cute cairn near Boston Basin high camp. Mixup, Triplets, Cascade Peak, and Johannesburg in the background

I could have gone to sleep right there. Amazing weekend. Perfect weather, successful gear test for my new quilt, plenty of new tricks learned and a crash course in downclimbing, boots that I should have hung on slings from my bathroom window so the stench didn’t permeate my entire apartment, and great company, all wrapped up with a bucket of fried American joy and a pile of failure in a sadness bowl.*

*I googled it to try and find a picture. None did the exposure justice (or I am a wimp, or both), but the first one I found was a woman who also clipped into a cam. So, there’s at least two of us.
**No one’s going to get that reference, but I cracked up immediately thinking of it when I realized what Connor had ordered. Also, the Famous Bowl is not only the top selling fast food item in the USA, it is the top selling fast food item in the world. So KFC¬†got something right, piling all of their various meals in a trough bowl.