Vesper Peak via Ragged Edge

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Sperry from the hike route on Vesper

Last minute plans are sometimes the best plans. On Friday night I was bitching about no one wanting to go on an alpine climb (we were going cragging at Index on Saturday) when JT suggested Robert and I go do Ragged Edge after cragging. I thought Ragged Edge was a 5.9 route, so I laughed and ignored the idea. Turns out, Ragged Edge is a 5.7, and lucky for me Robert brought all his overnight gear to Index. So when I said “hey, wanna drive to Vesper and hike up after this and do Ragged Edge in the morning?” the answer was uhhh, hell yeah! Climbed 8/5-8/6, in the midst of the near-apocalyptic smoke from the BC wildfires.

  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Elevation: 4200ft gain, 6200ft highest point
  • Weather: 90’s 70’s and smoky
  • Commute from Seattle: ~2:30, 2 hours flat if you drive like Robert
  • Did I Trip: No! Suckers
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Smoky pink sunrise over Morning Star

We got to the trailhead around 8 after a round of post-index burgers, and started up the trail at 8:30. The road is reported as closed, but it’s not. There was a sign but everyone was driving past it. Do so at your own risk. We settled on bringing hiking boots and rock shoes, and left traction and ice axes at the cars. The bright side of hiking up at night is that the heat doesn’t break down your mind and body and soul like it does from 11am-3pm, so we cruised up to the talus field below Headlee Pass without issue, minus some whining about the soft kitty litter scree on the trail. The cairns along the trail were actually helpful(!) and perfectly spaced out so that when I stood by one, my headlamp just barely illuminated the next. Headlee Pass itself was a series of surprisingly pleasant switchbacks in the dark. I reached the top, went to pee while Robert caught up, and then we took off across the talus traverse to the lake. We agreed to camp at the first damn spot we found, and that spot was a nice flat grassy clearing just above the outlet stream. We popped open some cider, talked about how incredible everything was, and spent the next 6 hours alternating between fighting off mice and dozing while the mice got back into our packs. Okay, my pack.

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Robert checking out the hazy sun over Sperry on the approach

I woke up to a mostly eaten doughnut (…dammit) and a partially consumed apple cup (DAMMIT). I did a bad job of defending my food. Apparently nudging it with your foot when you hear munching isn’t enough to get mice to run away. Plus now they’ve tasted the glory that is Sultan Bakery, and they’ll be hungry for more. We debated whether we should pack up the bivvies and stash them in bushes (risk an unsuspecting hiker carrying them down or back to town thinking we forgot them), or leave them there to be clear it was a campsite (risk them being stolen or eaten). We settled on the latter and headed off to the start of the route.

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Dying glacier, not sure if it has a name

Whatever directions you’ve heard about the approach, forget them. Just follow the regular trail towards the summit until you finally get above the last clump of trees (~5500ft) and cross slabby rock to the right. The notch is very, very obvious, with several cairns, and the route is so popular you’ll probably pass campsites the entire way. From the notch there’s a series of ledges you follow until you’re at the start of the route. There were two groups already there, one that was starting up the layback variation and one starting up the original. The guys on the layback were already climbing whereas the group on the original was still roping up, so we figured we’d follow the variation.

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Robert leading the second pitch

The first pitch of the variation starts with a sweet layback (that can also be climbed just as jugs besides the last move, which I forgot) and then follows basically some nontechnical terrain to the base of the second pitch, which honestly… we never really found it. I just sat in a comfy spot on some 2nd class ledges with only a horn slung as an anchor and belayed Robert up, who continued onto the second pitch. You can sling or thread an enormous boulder as well. Robert scrambled up a diagonal ledge behind me trending west, up and onto slabs, where he could clip bolts (turns out this route is half sport) and finally discovered the “faint white dyke” that supposedly marks the start of the pitch (lies, I tell you). From the slabs he traversed right and up a short gully to the bolted anchor. The slab traverse sucks, but if you go nearly to the top of the slab there’s a nice horizontal crack you can follow with your hands for a bit instead of just smearing sideways forever.

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Robert waiting at the second belay

I took the third pitch, which goes one step right and then up and left across (woohoo!) more slabs! Keep heading left until you reach the arete. I stayed just right of the arete, where there is a crack for gear, a bolt, and a fixed pin (I’m not confident in my pin-evaluating skills so I backed it up with a nut just in case). The mini arete takes you to a short ledge, where you traverse right for an awesome gear anchor in a corner crack below the blocky boulders of the fourth pitch. If there’s already a party in the right corner crack, then there’s another crack right above where you top out on the ledge just barely to the right of the arete. Coordinate with the other groups and make new friends, there’s plenty of space. This pitch was a blast, possibly my favorite of the whole climb. And it lends itself to awesome photos.

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Robert coming up the third pitch

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Robert leading the fourth pitch

Robert led the fourth pitch, which was blocky climbing to a variety of choose-your-own-adventure cracks to another bolted belay, where I followed after taking like 50 pics of the group below us. We swapped gear and I continued up onto the fifth pitch (can you tell how amazing swinging leads is from this), which I had read was exposed but honestly it’s not that bad. It follows thin cracks and edges (which might as well have been slabby feet with finger cracks, ugh) up and right to another bolted anchor on the arete. The first few steps were awkward, I remember being very aware of the exposure until Robert started singing Gaston (yes, from Beauty and the Beast) and naturally I joined in, clipping a cam while admiring how many eggs Gaston eats for breakfast. The pitch ended up being more traversing than up, yuck, but it was a fun one. At the chains I belayed Robert awkwardly (made the anchor a bit too long so it was hard to pull up slack quickly and he’s a damn fast climber) up and we decided I’d lead the last pitch too. Awesome. Nothing like topping out on the final pitch of a climb.

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Robert coming up the fifth pitch

I started up and it was all going smoothly until I dropped the entire carabiner of nuts on my feet. Well, my foot. Which was nicely jammed in a crack. How do you squat to pick shit up when you’re hanging in a crack with a hand jam and a foot jam? God dammit. How did I let this happen. I tossed in a cam and clipped into it just in case. And then I started the awkward process of collecting the various pieces, which miraculously hadn’t fallen off my foot. Don’t lean left, don’t lean right, don’t even breathe on them. It probably took me a solid 5 minutes to collect everything and get moving again. Apologies to the group behind us – we had always been stuck behind the group in front of us, but while I took my sweet ass time scattering gear like dandelion seeds the burden of slow-ass team was on me.

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Robert coming up the last pitch, Copper Lake and Big Four in the background

Past that I cruised up the arete (which must be the only “ragged edge” of this climb) overanalyzing gear placements and one-inch heather ledges until I was at the top, where I whooped and slung a fat horn. That’s an easy anchor right there. Robert asked me if I had built anything. Don’t trust the horn? I threw two cams in a crack too and brought him on up where we raved about how amazing alpine climbing was and how cool it was even with the smoke and how it was addicting and why would you ever go cragging and I can’t wait until next weekend. We finally took off our rock shoes and put on the hiking boots we had carried on our harnesses (hahaha… ahaha… ah… bring trail runners), downed some snacks, and headed back to see just how much of our gear the mice had eaten.

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Summit!!

You can avoid the snow on the way down if you want to, but it’s not bad. The slabs are quick moving, and we were back at camp to rescue our gear from the vermin. I filled up my water bladder at the outlet stream as a guy jumped in for a swim right upstream of me. Now I have all your slick sweaty body grease in my water source you jerk. Robert didn’t fill up (I offered him my iodine tablets, to which he responded “yeah but I want to be able to DRINK the water” – iodine tablets taste like dump), but requested my “giardia water” several times on the way down. I haven’t been sick out both ends yet, so I think we avoided the giardia. Knock wood.

We were back at the trailhead around 3. My legs were surprisingly tired. Robert had mentioned chicken bacon ranch sandwiches on the way down, and I had not been able to get the image out of my head for hours. We needed to know where the closest Subway was. We didn’t have cell service. Okay, whoever gets service first googles the closest Subway and tells the other. Robert took off, passing two other cars on a gravel stretch while I laughed in my car because I knew I had no chance of passing them. I might have made it past them like 35 minutes later in an actual passing zone, but by then Robert was way ahead.
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Rolling down easy slabs with Morning Star, Del Campo, and Gothic in the back

We rolled into Subway basically drooling. Robert drank a gatorade before even reaching the counter. The cashier laughed as we lit up over sandwich ingredients, and apologized when she saw Robert had taken an empty beverage from the fridge (“he drank it he didn’t find it!!!”). That sandwich was one of the best things I had ever eaten. And it was still sunny out. I was home at a reasonable hour, in bed at a reasonable hour, crazy shit was happening. It was amazingly nice to have a whole weekend go that smoothly, that successfully. Ragged edge is a sweet route, probably a softer 5.7 in my opinion, and somewhat crowded. But if you’re the type to complain about crowds, you shouldn’t be on that route. Oh, and I strongly recommend bivvying, because it makes everything that much more pleasant.

 

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Sweet silhouette pic on the approach

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)

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.

Cutthroat Peak: Why the 10 Essentials are a Thing

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Tony, Calvin, Andrea, and Quinn

Yeah, I often cut corners with the essentials, you all know that. But here’s a trip that slapped me in the face and called me an idiot in the most pleasant, enjoyable way possible. My Polish heritage shone bright and strong on this one. From the beginning (for me, at least) it was already a struggle. Saturday morning arrived, and I was crabby. I know, I know, that’s how most of my favorite climbs start. But this was more of a frantic, active crabby than a resigned-to-my-fate crabby. My flight back from San Diego had landed late Friday night. I was not packed. I had done no research besides knowing we were taking te West Ridge, which at its best is a 5.7. I did not know where my slings were, where my quick draws were, where my cams were. How many slings were in my closet? Were most of them in the trunk? Do I need to poach from my pickets? How many biners do you still have? WHY AREN’T ANY OF THESE COLOR COORDINATED? I was a disaster. I considered bailing. No don’t be a flake. I left late, despite waking up at 5am. I hit traffic. I considered bailing again. Traffic cleared. Woo! I hit more traffic. Everyone else was at a bakery in Concrete and I was stuck behind a semi in Marysville. I was definitely bailing. I had forgotten my camera. I messaged Calvin asking how much I’d fuck up rope teams if I bailed. The answer? “A lot.” Suck it up, buttercup.

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Cutthroat Peak from the highway

Well, despite the entire world yelling at me not to go, I made it to the bakery, had an amazing scramble for breakfast/lunch (….brunch), grabbed a cinnamon roll for the road, hopped in Tony’s car, and we were on our way after a brief stop at the ranger station. Which you should stop at, because the rangers are super chill with tons of knowledge and they have this really cool 3d topo map you can geek out over for hours, if you aren’t shoo-ed out by your friends.

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Crux of the approach – building a bridge

We get to the trailhead and who’d have guessed, the peaks were all out in full view! And the weather was only supposed to get better. We were in luck. We started up the approach. I almost asked how the approach would be on the way there, and then I remembered Calvin abhors approaches (“hate” doesn’t cut it) so the approach must be short and awesome. And it was! We were at camp in what felt like an hour. It was more like 90 minutes, but after the past few trips, it passed in the blink of an eye.

Here’s where we’re going to start checking our 10 essentials off the list. We’ll be using REI’s updated 10 essentials since the original list is a bit archaic. Let’s see what Team Cutthroat brought.
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Andrea not sharing her Shepherd’s pie

We set up our tents on what flat ground we could find, and started dinner. I had nearly brought a bivvy because it was so clear out and weather was supposed to improve (it was mid June!), but had forgotten mine when I hopped into Tony’s car. Andrea refused to share her shepherd’s pie. JT had sour patch watermelons for dinner. I, shockingly, was not hungry, so I made hot chocolate and sipped that while soaking in the views and the roiling clouds. The ignition on Tony’s stove wouldn’t work, and I was so excited to save the day with my lighter when someone else stole my thunder and offered their lighter. Essential #1: firestarter. Stove doesn’t count.

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Snow sticking? Time for bed! (Photo credit: Andrea)

Within an hour, the views we had were gone, it was windy, and it was snowing in various directions. Essential #2: Shelter. Bivvy would have been okay, but damn was I happy to have a four season tent. In mid June. I bailed on the group and went to hang out in my sleeping bag. After maybe an hour I heard JT say “hey is anyone bored enough to go for a hike?” Yes, I was probably bored enough, but I had also just regained circulation in my toes and fingers and was not about to head back into the snow after getting dry and cozy. Can we just talk about hiking instead of actually hiking? Sorry guys, I’m gonna be a princess on this one.

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Marmot scouting out the tasty snacks in my tent (photo credit Tony)

I dozed on and off for 12 hours, wondering whether the wind and snow would stop. I eventually got up around 7am and unzipped my tent to reveal blue skies, sunshine, and several inches of fresh (did I mention it was mid-June) snow. And Tony, impatiently running around camp.

We made a quick breakfast. I tried Andrea’s dehydrated scramble and nearly vomited, devoured my cinnamon bun instead, and still spent the next 20 minutes fighting off nausea because it was way too much straight sugar at 7am. We weren’t sure how conditions would be, so over coffee and tea we debated whether we’d need crampons, gloves, would it be half snow half rock, will it be wet from snowmelt. I’ve never led a climb in less than stellar conditions, so I was anxious about potentially having to wear gloves and deal with wet rock. But I need practice, and I figured we’d be back down by early afternoon, so it wouldn’t be that long to be uncomfortable. And we had a solid 8 hours of leeway to fuck up before the sun set. Yeah, I drastically underestimated that.

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Views across the highway

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Cutthroat over our tents

We started up towards the ridge, warming up with some nice 3rd class scrambling. And a move that was supposedly 5th class, but honestly everything from 3rd class to like 5.6ish feels the same to me. If I tell you what a scramble is rated it’s because I read it somewhere. I’m not good at climbing, just oblivious. We stashed our gear at the base of the first pitch, only bringing bare necessities. Andrea and I were one rope team, and she carried the bag. Water, food…. is that all we brought? That might be all we brought. That and our glowing personalities.

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JT heading up the first pitch

Everyone switched to rock shoes. Except me, because I am dumb I had never done an alpine climb in rock shoes before, and it literally did not occur to me to use anything besides my Nepal Evos. So that’s what I had. Calvin lent his rock shoes to Tony and wore mountaineering boots himself, so at least there were two of us. I spent the next 18 hours (that’s not a typo, 18 hours) hearing how much better rock shoes are.

JT and Bish started up the first pitch. Calvin was managing two ropes and bringing Tony and Quinn up behind him and went up a slightly different way. I started up JT’s route so we could climb at the same time. Choss city, baby. I always find the first pitch awkward. It’s like warming up swimming, I never remember how it’s supposed to feel and I’m uncoordinated and slow. I got a mediocre cam in followed by another mediocre cam, and grabbed a large handhold only to hear the entire thing creak as I put my weight on it, so I immediately bailed and went to climb a corner crack instead. Yuck. I don’t care how easy rock shoes might be, those Evos can edge on anything.

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My turn to head up (photo credit Tony)

I clipped into Calvin’s anchor and belayed Andrea up, who kind of alternated with Quinn and Tony. Andrea floated up to me (Andrea I’m gonna tell you right now I do proofread but I keep accidentally typing “Andrew” so if you see that anywhere I AM SO SORRY) and we waited for Quinn and Tony to reach us. JT and Bish were already on the next pitch. My nose was already getting sunburned. Essential #3: sun protection. Don’t be Rudolph.

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Tony, Andrea, and Quinn, with my rope and Calvin’s two ropes

This continued for the next few pitches until we decided to just go ahead of Calvin’s group, because hauling two people up on two individual ropes is not very efficient and I’m impatient. Andrea and I quickly caught up to JT after an easy pitch to the ridge and a light ridge scramble. We protected the ridge, though I will admit I had one or two half assed anchors (I doubt Andrea was reassured by the shrub tiny tree I tossed a sling around like 15ft from where I set up my belay station). The main reason we caught up to JT and Bish was that they were stumped by the fifth or so pitch. We weren’t sure where to go. We had an idea, but figured it was best to wait for Calvin & co, so we sat around for an hour or so while they made their way over to us. Essential #4: Map and Navigation tools. Did we know where we were, and could we get down safely? Yeah, but I mean, I’m impatient and I wanted to go up. Going up requires navigation too.

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Starting up the milk jugs (photo credit Tony)

I usually do so much research before climbs, but I had done zero for this one, and route finding was getting less obvious off the ridge. Calvin had a photo of the exact section. We eventually found our way to the next pitch, which JT stared at for 10 minutes, with every minute letting my mind question my abilities more and more. And then Calvin caught up. Do we climb the juggy part (eventually dubbed “milk jug”) on the left, or the crack on the right? Calvin and JT discussed it while I sat there staring into the distance losing confidence by the second. Finally JT got started up. He and Bish didn’t totally make it look easy, and I was sitting there like okay if their muscles were shaking on these moves, I’m fucked. This was only my second climb of the season, and Dorado Needle barely counts. But we’re here, so fuck it, let’s see what happens. Essential #4.5: A huge pair of balls Confidence and/or Ignorance.

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Bish belaying JT up the chimney

JT left his gear so I wouldn’t have to waste time bothering with placement. Besides the stopper that had slid out of its place once he got above it. I placed another stopper, hesitated before the move, heard Calvin saying something behind me, and finally said fuck it and started up. And turned around at the top to see my stopper had popped out just like JT’s. Great. Luckily the moves weren’t nearly as bad as I had thought they’d be. I anchored to a less than stellar horn along the ledge that JT had slung, and Calvin came up next, making some comment about placing a better stopper. Yeah, his fell out two minutes later too. That sneaky crack.

Calvin made it up to me, and I belayed Andrea up. JT was halfway up the chimney, and I could hear him. A series of grunts and scraping, followed by “I hate chimneys.” But he did well, and soon enough Bish was on his way up behind JT. Once Bish was out of sight, I started up with Andrea belaying me and Calvin peeking around the corner. Which was helpful, because eventually I got stumped hanging beneath a chockstone until Calvin gave away the secret – put your foot against the wall behind you. Duh.

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Tony enjoying the views

Up and over the chockstone and onto some gravelly scree, where I finally slipped and started sliding. I managed to catch myself before the rope did (I got complacent, don’t get complacent) but unfortunately I kicked a football size rock onto Andrea. Who took it like a champ and sacrificed her wrist to keep me on belay! I felt terrible about it but couldn’t help but think that if I had kept sliding and hadn’t caught myself before the chimney, that belay would have been pretty damn important. We duct taped her wrist for stability, luckily no blood to worry about. Essential #5: First aid.

The next two pitches were straightforward but trickier than I expected. My amateur opinion is that there were one or two more 5.6ish moves between the chimney and the top. And so, so much rope drag. Extend your protection, guys. Hauling rope is brutal with that much rope drag. I had to get creative with pro, since JT had some of my gear and much had been left behind for Calvin’s team. I had Andrea clean the second to last pitch so I’d have some left for the final pitch.

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Summit!

We finally got to the step below the summit. Which I was told was a scramble, but looking at it (maybe I took a bad route), I wasn’t positive I could make the move without falling backwards (which would be unpleasant when leading), and I had JT throw me a loop of his rope. It was probably all mental because naturally as soon as I was on his rope the move was a piece of cake. Again, Essential #4.5. I whipped out my phone to take a summit pic, aaaaaand… my phone died.

I cried a little on the inside and belayed Andrea up. She enjoyed a hilarious summit pee (sorry Bish and JT) and we had summit chocolate and took summit photos. I took like 11 selfies on JT’s camera. Eventually it got cold and I realized how late it was. 7pm. Also I was out of snacks. Essential #6: Extra food. Well it shouldn’t take more than 2 hours to rap down right? JT started setting up his rappel as Calvin & co made it up to the summit. I was getting impatient and briefly celebrated them before getting annoyed. Blatantly annoyed. Poor Tony. He’s seen me snap a few times now. No I don’t want to take 20 more photos, it’s time to go down. I suggested stacking rappels on one rope to be faster, and everyone agreed. JT dropped down the first rap, followed by Bish. I was ready to get Andrea all set up when Calvin decided he’d teach Tony, Quinn, and Andrea how to rappel, and I could just go off with JT and Bish, which was music to my cranky impatient ears. We’d go down and figure out the route, which would make it easy for the other four to follow us.

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One of my favorite pics of me ever taken. (Photo credit Andrea)

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My other favorite picture. Rappelling always makes bad ass pictures. Sunset just helps. (Photo credit Tony)

Tony snapped a sweet picture of me rappelling which made me a little happier. I dropped down to join Bish and JT and we pulled the rope and set up the next rappel. It was a race to see how far we could get before the sun set. It was already tough enough to figure out where to go. I’m convinced we did not take the best rap route, but we were following obvious slings and rap stations for the first few, so it had clearly been done.

Bish and JT only had fleece sweaters over t shirts. I at least had a puffy. None of us had headlamps. Andrea had my water, Bish and JT were out and Bish’s extra water bottle was at our gear stash below. I recall looking at the sun setting over the peaks and seeing it halfway below the horizon and thinking wow, it’s gorgeous, but we might be fucked. Essential #7: Hydration.

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First I thought “It’s gorgeous!” Then I thought “shit.” (photo credit Tony)

The first hour after sunset is still light, and we carried on our merry way, getting colder every minute. Eventually it was dark, and we couldn’t see rap stations below us. We got down to a gulley, scrambled a little further, followed a broad ledge around a corner that I was hoping would lead us to where we had left our gear. Nope, still a few hundred feet up. Shit. But wait is that a rap station?? By that tree? I couldn’t tell until I was like five feet away. Yes!! Old slings! YES! JT caught up to me and we took stock of the situation. Was there another ledge below us? Two ledges? Could we even cross the snow if we got down to it? “I’m waiting for headlamps” JT declared. “You wanna lead that?” I laughed, or tried to. “Nah, looks like we’re waiting!” “Well, I’m going to go huddle with Bish to stay warm, wanna join?” It’s 1am, it’s pitch black, we’re fucking freezing, and we have no headlamps. Or water, or snacks, or layers. Yeah, I’ll come snuggle with you guys. And you know what? To everyone who told me how much better rock shoes would be, ask me how warm my feet were. Well, not warm. Ask me how not freezing cold my feet were. Essential #8: Illumination. We wouldn’t have had to wait over an hour if we had brought headlamps, and we’d have been moving a hell of a lot faster.

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Group huddle. Damn close to a shiver bivvy (photo credit Andrea)

That’s when I realized just how fucking cold JT and Bish must be. Essential #9: Insulation. We were all shivering, but they had basically no layers, I at least had a light puffy I had worn all day and mountaineering boots. So we huddled. For ages. And ages. It actually helped. Every time we turned around it looked like the other four had made zero progress. We watched their headlamps slowly descend. Finally they were on the broad scree ledge, and made their way to us. We got Tony involved in the group huddle and I felt tolerably warm for the first time in a while. I have no idea who said what, but I remember someone making me laugh (more of a soft giggle because laughing was hard and loud and would make me breath more cold air) as we sat there shivering. I knew we had to head down but damn I was enjoying sitting there. The other benefit of illumination? You can pretend it’s the sun and feel warmer.

Calvin led the first rap down, and the rest of us followed. My harness was killing my hips. It took my breath away when I started each of those last two rappels, it hurt so badly. I debated not backing up the rappel because it’d be faster, but realized that being so tired, this was absolutely the time to keep using that prussik to be safe. There was one more rap to get down to snow below, where we could traverse over to the saddle where we had left our stuff that morning. Oh wait, I mean where we had left our stuff the previous day.

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#tbt that one time it was light out. Hardy, Golden Horn, and Tower mountains.

Calvin rapped down first again. “FUCK!!!!” is the first thing we hear drifting up over the wall. Followed by several sentences comprised of 90% F bombs and 10% various incarnations of shit. Some of our group laughed. I looked at JT and said “that sounded like a real fuck, not like Calvin complaining about approaches.”That snow we were looking at? Our concerns had come true. The snow was firm and icy, and no one had brought crampons.

JT went down next. He and Calvin put their heads together. I was third. “Bring the ice tools!” “What tools? You mean the nut tools?” “Tonight, they’re ice tools!” I rapped down with our MVT (Most Valuable Tools) and met up with them. Kicking steps was actually feasible with mountaineering boots. JT holed up in a moat to belay Calvin, who started across the snow slope with a double belay because I totally misunderstood directions. I was told to tie a knot in the rope between JT and Calvin to be like an anchor, which I assumed meant belay. So I tossed a munter on my locker (I had dropped my ATC in the moat RIP ATC) and started belaying Calvin.

Here’s where the nut tools came in. Calvin was cutting handholds in the snow! Ha! It’s all about improvisation. The steps were solid enough for me, but the nut-tool-cracks were good for balance, and I can only imagine how this would have been in rock shoes. Like using your bare feet to walk across a steep icy slope. Even I’m not that masochistic. I think.

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Remind me why we do this (photo credit Andrea)

Turns out JT meant knots to use as handholds. Whoops. Oh well. Calvin made it to the rocks on the other side and set up an anchor and I clipped into our little hand line (which ended up being easier than knots and holding it would have been) and repeated his steps, kicking them deeper and more frequent for the plebs in rock shoes behind us. I got to the other side and unclipped and waited with Calvin. Why the hell didn’t I bring a headlamp. I hate relying on other people and here I was waiting for light. Until I got impatient and said fuck it, I’m just going. I headed up to where our stuff was, whooped, and waited there for everyone. I tried to figure out what stuff belonged to everyone, but that’s tough in the dark.

The scramble down was easier than the scramble up. We dropped down quickly, and finally made it to scree that you could just plunge step down. We reached the snow, also icy, and Calvin and I slid down on our hips half-self-arresting at the same time. I was ecstatic, so close to camp and enjoying the slide down ice, until we heard “ROCK!!!!” from above us, and looked up to see a few football sized rocks tumbling towards us. Calvin miraculously ran to the side of the slope. I’m uncoordinated and awkwardly bear-crawled-with-an-axe to the side. Rocks dodged. And yes, between the harness misery and the arrest-slide I did wake up covered in bruises the next morning. As in Tuesday morning. Because the sun was rising, and it was Monday.

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Sunrise on Monday (photo credit Tony)

I went to grab water from the stream. Nectar of the Gods. Tony said he was going to make coffee. I said fuck no, you will not make coffee, I have to get to work and you are my ride. JT and Bish packed up and left in like 10 minutes, while I paced around bitching about it until everyone else was packed up. If I turn bitchy just put all the group shit on my pack when I’m like that and I’ll a) be slower and b) probably stop bitching because I’ll be too busy being proud of what I’m carrying.

Andrea took off on the way down. I kept stopping for water and layer adjustments. Calvin and Quinn and Tony were somewhere above us. We got to the forest and did a pretty good job of crossing a questionable stream on an even more questionable log. We lost the trail in snow but found it five minutes later and soon enough we were back at the road waiting for the boys. You might notice I never used the 10th essential, which is a repair kit. The only thing that needed repairing was my pride.

We changed into fresh ish clothes (new pair of underwear = whole new day) and got water from the stream across the road. I apologized again for kicking that rock down on Andrea’s arm and she once again lit up with pride that she had held the belay. We definitely heard an f bomb float out of the woods, and laughed. They must be getting close.

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Black Peak in the center

The four of them finally popped out of the woods and we straightened out all of our gear. Back to civilization and straight to work! 18 hours of straight hiking and climbing. A blizzard, a bluebird day, killer trad lead practice for yours truly, a summit, a moonrise, a sunset, a moonset, a time warp because that’s what happens when it’s pitch black and you’re moving, and a sunrise. And you know what? There’s something to be said for watching the sun set from the top of a mountain, moving through the dark, and then seeing it rise as if no time had passed. I was totally into it.

Except you should always bring your 10 essentials.
Oh, did I mention this was Quinn and Tony’s first rock climb?
*My boss was less into it. I showed up to a chorus of “holy shit, why are you a zombie, what happened, is everyone okay” as I blindly attempted to get work done while on-and-off dozing in my chair and hallucinating doing something in Excel only to jerk awake and realize I was in fact clicking blank space on my desktop or running reports in one of our programs. The exception was my coworker Roger, who said “Damn you look beat, must have been an awesome weekend!!!” Now that’s the attitude to have. There’s no such thing as failure.

Tower Mountain and Golden Horn

Rob and Simon at the beginning of the scramble

Rob and Simon at the beginning of the scramble

Edit: Happy one year anniversary to the blog! Woo! Here’s a link to my first ever post… it’s come a long way, as have my photography skills (or lack thereof) and tendency to keep talking.

With much of the Cascades getting a solid amount of fresh snow on Friday, we figured we’d avoid potential avalanchey situations and check out the dry, east side. A forecast of “Sunny, 0% precipitation” turned into “Mostly cloudy, snow, and freezing temperatures,” but when has that stopped us? We met at the trailhead parking lot Friday night and got started Saturday morning for what I thought was a 7 mile approach. Hiked 9/26/2015-9/27/2015!
  • Distance: 24ish miles round trip (surprise! 10 mile approach!)
  • Elevation gain: ~7000ish?
  • Weather: high 20’s and snowing to 50’s and sunny. Yay, mountain weather!
  • Commute from Seattle: Just over 3 hours
  • Did I Trip: I fell on my ass twice and struggled like a beached whale to get over the final summit block if that counts
  • GPX file here (summitpost also has one for just Golden Horn)
Awesome topography in every direction

Awesome topography in every direction

So there was one potential issue with this trip from the beginning that I neglected to tell my teammates: I was sick. For those of you who don’t know me, I almost never get sick. So when I do, I’m a victim of the man cold. It’s all over, I must be dying, what do I do? Do I eat soup and wash my hands a lot? I have no idea. Actually, you know what might cure me? 48+ hours of physical exertion, little sleep, no showers, and sleeping (trying) in a germ cocoon. Yeah, that’ll do it.

Kacie in fall colors

Kacie in fall colors

I knew John and Rob from Rainier back in August, but had just met Kacie and Simon. Simon pulled up in a manual transmission off-roading jeep and immediately offered me hot chocolate, so he had to be cool. Kacie made herself crack up all alone by changing the color of her inflatable tent lamp, so she had passed the test too. After a soggy night that staunchly defied the “0% precipitation” forecast, we got started.

From the beginning, the hike was gorgeous, even in the fog. The approach is entirely along the PCT, meaning mellow, well groomed, soft flat trails. Almost no elevation gain. We made good time. I had been worried about keeping up due to my abject lack of energy, but I did okay. Green trees and dirt gave way to white granite and larches, and soon enough we were all in a constant state of wonder. Everywhere you turned was beauty, it didn’t matter where you looked.

A few miles into the trail, I turned around and saw Simon talking on a banana phone, and Kacie exclaimed “You have service up here!? Do you have A Tree&Tree?!” and in that moment, I knew we had an awesome group.

Flat, well groomed PCT

Flat, well groomed PCT

We continued along the PCT with occasional glimpses of Tower and Golden Horn through the clouds, but it didn’t seem like weather was clearing up. The trail is very straightforward, since you’re on one of the most well-maintained trails in the state. The offshoot for Snowy Lakes is maybe a quarter mile after you pass beneath Tower Mountain, directly across from an open field with a few campsites (and in our case, four far ass marmots lying on a rock). The trail turns from beautiful flat highway to steep and rocky, but not too steep and rocky. We were just spoiled by the PCT, and being back on a less maintained trail was hard.

Snowy Lakes were stunning as soon as we came around the corner. We set up camp on a ledge sheltered from the wind at the lower lake, in a nook away from the mobs of people (all relative, it was like 20 people total). Luckily, there were rocks. I had been worried about setting up my tent. I hadn’t camped on a non-glacier in… well… a long time. Did I need stakes? What if there weren’t rocks? How do you keep it from flying off in wind if you can’t deadman anything!? Oh wait, there won’t be as much wind. It was pretty out of place, but damn if that orange didn’t look great against the yellow larches and bright blue water.

It's a little out of place

It’s a little out of place

Looking back at Mt. Hardy

Looking back at Mt. Hardy

We waited a bit longer before aiming for Tower, hoping for weather to clear up, but since it wasn’t improving, we got moving. Onward! We went off trail a bit to get to the talus slope, and from there you just work your way to a cave that’s very visible from Snowy Lakes. Cross to the right in front of the cave, and you will find yourself in the main gully. As you gain elevation, views open up, and the ridgeline that grows into Hardy was a very neat topographical feature. If only it had been clearer.

We made it to the cave, and someone said “Rave cave! We even have hula hoops!” I laughed and said “really?!” before realizing what a gullible idiot I was. There are no hula hoops in the wild. Except five minutes later, crossing the cave entrance, there were hula hoops! Holy shit, I didn’t think you were serious! Okay, perk for the way back. We were watching clouds drop lower and lower on Tower as some low hanging dark clouds came towards us from Black Peak, so we wanted to move fast. I announced that I didn’t think we’d get dumped on, we just wouldn’t have views.

Snow in the gully (Photo credit: John)

Snow in the gully (Photo credit: John)

Well, I’d be a shitty forecaster, because within 15 minutes, it was snowing. I’ll work on that. We made it to the gully (continue east past the cave and you’ll see the gully on your left) where we ran into a four person team that had turned around and had been waiting a long time for the other half of their group to get back. Much of the rock was frozen over, icicles included, not to mention the gully was a bowling alley of rocks to begin with. We let them pass us since they were turning around, and decided we’d still give it a shot. The left side is smoother with more exposure, the right side is more jagged with more prominent footholds and handholds, and that’s the way I’d suggest going.

It didn’t matter, we didn’t make it very far. We turned around maybe 200 vertical feet from the summit. It just wasn’t worth it. Cold fingers, low visibility, snow, rock fall, icicles, the potential for the entire fourth class scramble to be a sheet of ice on our way down… meh. We turned back, knocking down a microwave sized rock in the process. The other group was long gone, but it’s still a little unnerving.

Why would you stay at home when you can hula hoop in a cave on the side of a mountain?!

Why would you stay at home when you can hula hoop in a cave on the side of a mountain?! (Photo credit: John)

Nearly back at the cave, Rob turned to me and just said “we should hula hoop!” I thought he was joking, but to hell with it, we got to the cave and picked up those damn hula hoops and went for it! There is nothing more hilarious than John and Rob hula hooping in a cave in the snow at 8,000ft. Well maybe the human ladder that happened 24 hours later, but we’ll get to that. We hula hooped, we broke into bouts of Beach Boys songs and dancing. I had Surfin Safari in my head (why? it’s the furthest topic from what we’re doing) and had shamelessly sung the opening verse a few times, which eventually triggered a spontaneous performance of Barbara Ann since we had a perfect division of bass voices and sopranos (if I try to be shrill enough). Barbara Ann became the song of the trip, much like Come and Get Your Love back on Eldoardo. It’s just hilarious and makes me smile every time. Anyway, imagine hiking up to a cave and there’s a bunch of people hula hooping in snow singing that. That would have happened, except that no one else was up there, because it was gross out.

Cave life

Rave cave! (There was a bivvy spot in the back if you’re ever stuck)

Jesus brings out the sun back at the lakes

Jesus brings out the sun back at the lakes

Energy renewed and spirits lifted, we set out back down the loose talus to head back to camp. Simon had turned around earlier, and we wondered what he might have in store for us. More hot chocolate? A fire? No, that’s a lot to ask. We stopped to take pictures of the snowy larches, lament how the weather wasn’t doing us any favors, and joke about how it was so foggy there WAS no peak to summit, I mean if you turn around there’s just nothing there! At Rob’s suggestion, we considered pathetically yelling “Simon!” in the fog close to camp, hoping he’d get the Touching the Void reference. But it wasn’t foggy enough, and we were so excited by what Simon had for us back at camp that we forgot anyway.

Not only was there hot chocolate, there was a fire! In the snow! Woo! We had our hot drinks and crowded around it warming up, until someone turned around and saw the sun breaking through the clouds across upper Snowy Lake. We dropped everything except cameras (and in Simon’s case, his precious fifth of vodka) and ran to the upper lake to take pictures. A group of unhappy looking campers was making dinner as we excitedly ran past to see the sun on the lake, and the next hour was spent running everywhere like overexcited chickens snapping pictures, talking to other pictures, doing karate, walking on water, skipping rocks (or trying to learn how, for me – “did you even have a childhood?!”) and enjoying the situation to its fullest.

Sun sneaking beneath the clouds

Sun sneaking beneath the clouds

“I’m a blackbelt what’d you expect?”

We finally figured we had overstayed our welcome at the upper lake. We were loud, and I proclaimed it was time to go back to our corner. We invited everyone to come to our fire, where we had plenty of food and drinks. Alcoholic or just cozy, take your choice. No one took us up on our offer besides a camper across Lower Snowy Lake from us, who couldn’t resist the offer of fire and warm drinks and hilarious jokes. We crowded around it again as night fell, and thoroughly enjoyed our Backpacker’s Pantry meals, tabasco hot chocolate (sorry Kacie, I’m not sold on it), spiked hot chocolate, various kinda of tea, and finally, an apple crumble dessert. From Mountain House. Dehydrated. It was delicious, and would make a great breakfast too. Take note.

My body finally caught up to me, and I retired to my tent. My germ cocoon. Friday night I had felt iffy, Saturday night was doomsday. Doomsnight. I snuggled in my sleeping bag, freezing cold, and waited out the misery. Come on, body. Get over yourself, you have shit to do tomorrow. I finally gave up around 6am and left the tent to explore the outdoors since sleep was clearly a hopeless endeavor.

Golden Horn reflected in Lower Snowy Lake

Golden Horn reflected in Lower Snowy Lake

Mt. Hardy reflected in Upper Snowy Lake

Mt. Hardy reflected in Upper Snowy Lake

I got to watch sunrise light up Golden Horn, and snap pictures of reflections in the lakes. I hit up the lower ridgelines to look out over the clouds at the ridge across the valley. Eventually everyone else woke up and we made tea and hot chocolate. Guys, I’m used to being up and moving within an hour of waking up. Sitting around for three hours drove me insane. I don’t work well with casual starts, apparently.

We finally got moving a little after 9am. There was a group ahead of us on Golden Horn that I had run into before the rest of my team woke up, so I knew we’d have company. I was a little worried about keeping up with everyone given how I was feeling, but eh, I’d play it by ear. We were in such a beautiful place, it wouldn’t even matter if I missed out on the peaks.

Looking back at Tower over Snowy Lakes

Looking back at Tower over Snowy Lakes

The hike to Golden Horn is almost entirely line of sight – walk across scree fields until you’re nearly at the base of the summit block, and then do a little class three scrambling to wrap around to the southwest side of the peak. A short gully will bring you to the final few steps. Here, stay on the southwest side of the peak, don’t try to go for the north side. The other group had been staring at the northwest side for a long time, and was about to give up when we showed up and scouted out the southern side. We all joined up, and Joe offered to lead it.

He used two cams, 1 and .75 I think. There was a great horizontal crack in the second slab, and the second crack he utilized was between a flat boulder and the cube of granite that made up the final move to the summit. An elegant muscle up/shimmy combination, and he was on top! We let their team wrap up before sending John up to top rope our group.

Rob on the shimmy move

Rob on the shimmy move

I couldn’t figure out what the hell was taking John so long to get a good anchor set up. He finally got it worked out, and I got Kacie roped up and ready to go on her first rock climb. Go big or go home! Rob was up next after Kacie tapped the summit, and he made the muscle up/shimmy move look easy. John lowered him, and it was my turn. Getting up to that top move was a breeze, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I hopped up, got my elbows over the edge, and immediately realized it wouldn’t be so easy. For anyone who knew me in high school and college, my eight-straight-pull-up days are long over, and it was a pitiful fall from glory. My shoulders and lats forgot how to exist. I told John to drop me back to the flat ledge. I was gonna give it one more try before admitting defeat. Come on body, one push, just one push. With a shot of luck and a bit of a jump, I managed to drag my ass over the edge, only slightly resembling a beached whale. Hell. Yes. (note: how are there no pics or videos of people getting stuck trying to get out of a pool?! That’s what it was like)

Kacie got a solid 10 pics of the struggle

Kacie got a solid 10 pics of the struggle

Got there eventually! (Photo credit: John)

Got there eventually! (Photo credit: John)

I snapped a few pictures, laughed at John’s anchor (which was amazing but impressively precarious to set up, which is why it had taken so long), and had him lower me back down. Naturally I had wanted to rappel, but he was reluctant, and I realized I was in no condition to argue given how shitty I was feeling, and probably not in the best state for any major decisions either. Great, I’ll downclimb.

We finally went to regroup with Simon, who had patiently waited at the notch while we figured out the technical pitch. There was a tricky ledge we had to get across. I scuttled down it just fine (I think my state of mind took away the “look what’s below you, or isn’t” fear) but Simon announced that the previous group had used him as a human ladder, and when Kacie wasn’t sure about getting across, he grabbed a rock at the end, hung his body along the ledge and said “Okay, go, climb me!”

Simon sacrifices his body for the greater good

Simon sacrifices his body for the greater good

Simon coming back down the scramble

Simon coming back down the scramble

I think I cried laughing. Kacie’s face says it all. John was up next, and finally we were all across the ridge. At one point, I think Rob had told Simon he didn’t have to wait for us, and Simon had said “No, you need me to get down!” We had no idea what that meant until the human ladder happened. Simon for MVP!

From there, we made quick work of the hike back to camp. Plunge-stepping down scree is much easier than hiking up it, and before I knew it we were back at camp. Which was great, because I was losing hearing in my right ear (it still hasn’t returned three days later) and was on my way towards becoming a very useless group member. We took a break by the lake while everyone packed up tents (I can pack up that tent in like 10 minutes now). We finally had the lakes to ourselves, since everyone else had left. I ate about 1500 calories in one sitting. A beef and cheese burrito, a full thing of maple butter, a bag of m&ms, a kind bar, the combos that had spilled all over the brain of my bag. “Cheese flavored filling,” not even cheese. Whatever, they’re delicious.

The way the light reflected off the lake was ridiculous. That's Rob in the bottom left corner for scale

The way the light reflected off the lake was ridiculous. That’s Rob in the bottom left corner for scale

The hike back out was the perfect end to a trip. Sunny, smooth, greeting PCT through-hikers, golden hour, and (we had hoped) the lunar eclipse. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch a glimpse of the moon. We knew it was a supermoon, so when we saw tons of stars, we knew the moon had to be eclipsed. On the drive back, the moon was so bright it kept startling me when it flashed through the windows, and I stopped while crossing a bridge to get a good look.

I got back to Seattle a little after midnight, and succumbed to another miserable night. Turned out my bed wasn’t much better than the sleeping bag/tent/germ cocoon combo. And I probably hadn’t done myself any favors by going on that trip. But you know what? 100% worth it. Gorgeous area, awesome company, and one (and a half) stunning, enjoyable peaks. I think next year I’d like to turn it into a trail run if I don’t have time to take up a full weekend, and maybe take another shot at Tower. Or Hardy, which I’ll have to research, but I chatted with Dave at the top of Golden Horn and we thought it looked pretty doable. And I can only hope my next trip involves people as hilarious as the four I was with. Hula hoops and human ladders for all.
Golden hour

Fall foliage at golden hour