Tormented on Torment & a Liberty Bell Redemption

DSC00452

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

DSC00427

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.

DSC00430

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.

DSC00431

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!

IMG954957

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.

DSC00438

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.

IMG954960

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.

DSC00444

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.

DSC00445

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.

DSC00451

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.
DSC00454

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.

DSC00455

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!
IMG954989

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.

DSC00460

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 😦 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.
IMG954978

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.

DSC00462

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.

IMG954985

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.

DSC00463

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.

DSC00469

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.

DSC00481

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!

IMG954987

Goat just chilling (photo credit Calvin)

Torment Forbidden Traverse

dsc07645_2

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.

dsc07566

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.

dsc07569_1

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.

dsc07568

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.

dsc07579

Meadows and slabs and an awesome cloud

dsc07582

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.

dsc07588

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.

dsc07593

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.

dsc07595_1

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.

dsc07606

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.

dsc07608

Forbidden from the summit of Torment

dsc07609

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!”

dsc07613

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.

awkward-moat

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.

dsc07615

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.

dsc07617

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.

dsc07625

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.
dsc07626

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.
dsc07629

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.

dsc07633

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.*

dsc07636

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.

dsc07643

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.

dsc07648

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.
dsc07650

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.

dsc07653

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!

dsc07655

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.

dsc07634

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.

dsc07580

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.

Mt. Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier

DSC07387

Baker and part of the ridge above the clouds

 The forecast called for Mostly Sunny. Every forecast showed sunshine. You know how that goes, usually it turns out to be mostly sunny. Psych! Not this trip. A last minute plan for Shuksan as a day trip came to fruition when I realized it was Angie’s last weekend in the PNW and we had to do something. We had not yet gone on a glaciated climb since she always had to be back in Seattle by a reasonable hour on Sundays to drive back to Ashford. We had always been limited to shorter trips. Here was our chance, and with Haley and Angie I knew we’d have a kick ass girls team. And with a forecast of mostly sunny, what could go wrong? I was in the mood for some incredible sweeping views of the North Cascades. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Shuksan. Sulphide is huge bang for your buck, Fisher Chimneys is the most enjoyable route I’ve climbed up anything out here (small sample size, to be fair), Price Glacier and North Face will hopefully happen sometime in the next year. So many routes, such great views, very alpine feel. But Shuksan’s a tease, and doesn’t return my unrequited love. Just strings me along with false promises and narrow weather windows and glimpses of mind blowing views.
  • Distance: 14.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 6500ft gain (9127ft highest point)
  • Weather: Foggy and 40’s, sunny and 60’s
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30 without traffic
  • Did I Trip: A majestic, foot-caught-on-branch-land-face-down-in-mud-and-skid-a-few-feet beauty. So you could say yes.
DSC07366

A well camouflaged toad on the trail

We camped at the trailhead, where Angie and Haley ended up sleeping in my car while I bivvied on the ground. Three people in the car is a lot of people, and I could not be bothered to share. “Does not play well with others,” I snarkily announced as my head hit the pillow I had made from rolled-up extra sleeping bag. At one point it started drizzling and I laughed and rolled my eyes. The proud owner of the car had been relegated to the gravel parking lot, while the plebs slept inside it. Luckily the rain didn’t last, and my bivvy was wonderfully cozy.

IMG_20160723_180648326

Foxglove!

I woke up to my alarm at 3am. Usually I’m up before it, but I was completely unconscious. The best night (okay, the best two hours) of sleep I’ve ever had. But I dragged myself out of my bivvy and packed. No stars in the sky, just thick fog everywhere. Whatever, mostly sunny forecast, it’ll burn off when the sun rises. I was excited to see how my camelback bladder did in my pack. I always just carried water bottles, but I was experimenting. I reached for the bladder I had filled up at home and – wait a sec, where the fuck is the water? The bag was empty. My trunk was dry. The bag was dry. I definitely filled it up, Angie had watched me. It was a total mystery. Ghost water. I though of Kacie, who I teased relentlessly when she forgot her water on Baring. Now I understand. She had the ghost water. Well, I refilled it with the water I had in my trunk and we started out.

DSC07371

The bright green crampons look great with my blue & pink runners

I was wearing my brand new trail runners, finally getting the update to my trusty old Saucony Peregrines, which (I am almost ashamed to admit) are nearly 3 years old with well over a thousand miles on them through the Cascades, through Wisconsin, through Montana, through Moab, and I’m sure some extra epic trails I’m forgetting. There were toads everywhere, and huge flowers (foxglove?) and salmonberries!! So many salmonberries. But we figured we’d get them on the way down. We hit the ridge and broke out of the trees. Baker was completely obscured, but clouds seemed to be clearing up since there were patches of blue sky. Snow started at the notch (around 5200ft), and Angie and Haley switched to boots. I went to take a drink from my water hose for the first time and – wait, where the fuck is the water?? AGAIN?! It had disappeared. My pack wasn’t wet. My back wasn’t wet. If it had all leaked out of the hose (which was resting against my leg) my side would be soaked. This shit made no sense. Sneaky ass ghost water, dehydrating unsuspecting climbers all across America.

We came up upon the first campsite we had seen all morning, which we thought was IMG. Angie works for IMG, and we were going to say hi until we realized duh, everyone’s asleep, it’s 6:30am. We carried on our merry way, and stopped to refill water (or in my case, see if I could fight the magical disappearing qualities of my bladder). I made Angie and Haley top theirs off too since there was a chance I’d need some if my bladder kept emptying its damn ghost water.

DSC07372

“Mostly Sunny” my ass

We found low camp next, which housed a Mountain Madness team and I believe a group with the Mountaineers. Again, we didn’t chat much, as everyone was asleep besides two people having coffee. And we had work to do. I took a sip of my water. Which was still there.

At this point, visibility was around 30ft, and with a mellow, mostly featureless glacier (very few open crevasses), navigation is like 30% difficult and 70% boring. We aimed for high camp, only to find… nothing. There’s a toilet up there somewhere, but we didn’t exactly miss out on the views from that lovely throne with all of the fog. Remind me to mark a waypoint there next time. We roped up and stayed left near the ridge since that was the route we were familiar with from last year, and ridges make for easy navigation. It meant a few unnecessary steep slopes, but they were short. Kicking steps in trail runners turned out to be difficult, but I was anchoring the rope, so I had Angie and Haley both kicking steps in front of me. Staircases, woohoo!

DSC07373

Holy shit! Mostly sunny!

Soon enough we were on a ridge that I remembered from Labor Day weekend last year, when we had to descend Sulphide in similar conditions. We took a quick break there for snacks, and as we stood up, the clouds started to clear. I couldn’t form words. “GO! GO go KEEP GOING” I was waving my arms until Haley and Angie turned around and realized what was happening. We caught glimpses of the summit pyramid and Baker, and as we got higher and higher it got clearer and clearer until we were officially above the clouds surrounded by sunshine and blue skies. Blue skies are nice. Partly cloudy is better. Above the clouds is second best. And best, is being above the cotton candy clouds, but below those high, wispy cirrus clouds. Well after all that fog, I’ll settle for second best. Now if only a few other peaks would poke up above the sea of clouds.

DSC07377

Baker and part of the ridge above the clouds

DSC07379

Clouds playing along the arm

We were quick getting to the summit pyramid, despite my fifteen micro stops. “Guys wait I need sunscreen.” “Guys wait can I borrow someone’s chapstick with SPF?” “Guys wait my shoe is untied.” “Guys hold up a sec I need to delayer.” “GUYSIDROPPEDMYGLOVESSORRYWAIT” “Hahaha… guys… sorry but one more stop I dropped a coil.” I’m usually more organized, I swear. At least I still had my water, which was a record for the day. It hadn’t disappeared yet.

DSC07394

Angie coming up the scramble

We unroped at the patch of rocks at the base of the scramble. We kept crampons and ice axes for the next 50 or so vertical feet until we were officially on rock only, and stashed them at the base of the central gully. We followed the gully fairly well (a few hesitations, a few sketchy off route moves while scouting) until the top, where we went too far to the right. A big part of scrambling and rock climbing in general is trusting your feet, and I did not trust my feet in those trail runners. Which isn’t the shoes’ fault, I just had to get used to them. I mean shit I watched my friend climb a pillar at Ruby Beach in flip flops. You can’t always blame footwear, sometimes it’s just in your head.

DSC07401

Angie on the ridge

Anyway, we ended up on the SE ridge for the last maybe 50 vertical feet, but at that point there are no technical moves left (the rest of the ridge is 5.6ish). One slabby move sketched me out until Angie pointed out that it’s way easier than downclimbing, and she was totally right. As soon as I realized my shoes would in fact stick to the rock it was quick moving, and before I knew it, we were standing on the summit.

 

DSC07413

Summit quilt!

We snapped pictures, destroyed Haley’s like 5lbs of M&Ms (she did most of the work), I took 50 pictures of my trail runners (should have left the crampons on) and eventually we started down as the clouds were rising. Downclimbing the gully was a painstaking affair. We took a slightly different route down, which was easier than our route up but downclimbing 4th class is a bitch. Summitpost claims it’s 3rd class, I don’t think that’s true. Unless we missed a blatant gully that would have been way easier.

DSC07424

Haley on the downclimb

I can see why everyone prefers to rappel. Step by step, we inched down. The cap came off my sunscreen, spattering the rocks with lotion. I tried to carry it down balancing it in my hand but eventually had to give up, my hands were too necessary on some of those moves. I basically needed handholds any time I had to face inward to downclimb, which again is really more mental than anything. Those trail runners did fine. Sure it was tough edging on footholds whereas the Nepal Evos can edge on anything, but they still stuck to all of the slabby moves, and I didn’t actually lose footing once (which could have been because I was being ultra conservative with every single move).

We grabbed our axes and crampons, roped up, and descended back into the clouds. So much for “mostly sunny.” We saw another party coming up just below the summit pyramid. I yelled to Haley and Angie, “Don’t trip now!” We pass the group, say our hellos and good lucks, and Haley immediately wiped out. Day = made.

Back at low camp we unroped, didn’t recognize anyone, and carried on to what we assumed was the IMG camp (the Eureka tents are kind of a giveaway). Angie said hi to her coworker, we told everyone it was sunny and glorious above 7200ft, and made our way back to the notch.

DSC07425

Back into the fog

We took a more extended break along the ridge, and pounded downhill where we each had a muddy wipeout (or in my case, two). We devoured salmonberries left and right, leaving none for the parties behind us or the parties coming up or the local bear population. Suckers. I always thought the yellow salmonberries were unripe, but it turns out they’re just a different species! They’re edible too, and taste even better than the red ones.

We were back at the car by 6pm, where my feet were thrilled to be relieved of trail runner duty and assigned to flip flops. I forgot that glacier travel means snow, which will make your feet cold and wet, and that means blisters and pruning and general discomfort (and stink). Yuck. And the crampons had rubbed my ankles raw, which was less than pleasing. Though interestingly, the aches and pains and blisters and wounds on my ankles and feet were no different from what mountaineering boots give them. So maybe my feet are the problem, not the footwear. And my water was still in my pack. No more ghosts.

DSC07384

Baker again

We piled back into the car. Angie fell asleep right away, snoring like a train. I was jealous, but not too tired just yet. Too busy daydreaming about mac n cheese and the chicken bacon ranch sandwich I had in the car. Delicious. We dropped Haley off, and Angie and I headed back to Seattle, where she somehow dragged herself off the couch at 3am AGAIN to get back to Ashford. I did not leave my bed. But in case you’re curious, yes, the water in my camelback had disappeared again when I woke up. 2L of water in plastic doesn’t just evaporate. Bastards, those H2O molecules.

DSC07418

Fresh new kicks. Should have left the crampons on for the picture.