I’m still figuring out how to write about multi day trips. One post per day? One post with all of the days? That’s a long ass read. Thinking what I’ll try is one post per day but with a header that covers all of the days. So, header first.
Day 1 (this post): Drive to Field’s Point Landing, express ferry to Stehekin, hike to Bird Creek Bivvy. ~10mi, 5000ft gain, 5hrs. Day 2 (this post): Bird Creek Bivvy to Tupshin summit and back. ~3mi, 3300ft gain, 10hrs. Day 3: Bird Creek Bivvy to Devore summit, Bird Lakes, and back, then move camp to Bird Creek. ~7mi, 3500ft gain, ~13hrs Day 4:Pack up Bird Creek camp, stash ovenight gear at turnoff for Flora, Flora summit and back to Devore Creek, move camp to Ten Mile Pass. 13mi, 7800ft gain, ~12hrs Day 5: Ten Mile Pass to Holden, ferry back to Field’s Point Landing. ~7mi, 200ft gain, ~2.5
Okay, starting with days 1 and 2. Sparknotes:
Bring bug spray
Devore Creek trail is brushy, but mostly free of blowdowns up to Tenmile Pass
The bushwhack to Bird Creek Bivvy is surprisingly brutal. No open forest until within ~100 vertical feet of the bivvy. Just lots of brush and blowdowns.
There is a huge campsite still in the trees around 5400ft with easy running water. We never found the 5800ft meadowy campsite Summitpost suggested. Maybe if you’re prepped for a very small bivvy you’ll find something.
Route to base of Tupshin climb is straightforward
We only belayed one pitch (see pic). Rock shoes totally unnecessary/almost detrimental.
Rappels were essential, wouldn’t have wanted double rope rap due to loose rock
Rock is extremely loose, including spontaneous rockfall. Wear helmets, climb close together or stay out of each others’ line of fall
We had a party of 6. Smaller parties could definitely descend faster.
A LOT of planning and deliberation went into this trip. Huge shoutout to Ranger Dana at the Chelan ranger station who will never see this but provided a ton of beta regarding blowdowns, including the count (250+ downed trees) and volunteer schedules for people doing trail maintenance. She even took notes and called me back with the trail conditions. Super personal interaction. The blowdown count was scary. The volunteers, however, would be a day ahead of us. Fingers crossed they could get some work done before we had to drag out slow and heavy 5d overnight packs through there.
As much as I love this area, the fact that it’s like 10 hours of transportation to get there drives me insane. I woke up feeling a little nauseous and having zero appetite, which sucks when you’re about to start a long trip. I figured it’d wear of after I got some food in me. We left around 5:30am, stopped at the Sultan Bakery because why not have a bakery head to head, and got to Field’s Point in time for the ferry which dropped us in Stehekin around noon, where we waited an hour for the shuttle to Harlequin Bridge. We killed time looking around the visitor center, the restaurant, talking with the park rangers, and flipping through old books until the shuttle arrived. Make sure you clarify with the shuttle driver that you’re stopping at Harlequin bridge and not High Bridge. The shuttle stops at the bakery where I grabbed a quiche and a sandwich and wolfed down the quiche thinking you weren’t allowed to eat on the shuttle (you can, it’s almost like they want tourists to buy a lot at the bakery, who’d have guessed). “Do you think the bakery has apples?” Andrew asked excitedly. They did not.
The shuttle dropped us off by Harlequin bridge, where my pack fell open. I picked up what I could and re packed, we polished off our bakery snacks, and started walking. Within a mile we were stopping to load up on bug spray, holy CRAP they were bad down low. The Stehekin River Trail basically takes you back along the 3mi to the edge of Lake Chelan, so that feels like a waste, but short of a) a river ford b) sweet talking someone with a boat c) float plane you’re going to have to schlep your asses to Harlequin Bridge and 3mi back along the river to get to the main event: the Devore Creek trail.
The Devore Creek trail starts out with a million switchbacks. I’m not sure how many, because my body decided to shut down around switchback number 3. The queasiness I had been feeling since waking dialed up to 11/10, and I got the sweats/burps/drools/everything that happens before you puke, except my body refused to fucking puke. I spent a few switchbacks fighting off dry heaves. I finally told everyone what was going on, embarrassed and worried because it was only day 1. They let me set the pace which I appreciated so I didn’t get left behind to pass out in a puddle of vomit on a dusty cliff. My body didn’t want food, water, electrolytes, nothing.
I have some theories about why.
It was Thursday. I had a party the prior Friday, up until 2am, food drinks shenanigans you know the drill. I hadn’t slept a full night of sleep since then.
I had been living off the leftover food from that party, because catering is expensive and I’ll be damned if the leftovers are going to waste. But by day 5, they’re a little… soggy and questionable. You are what you eat, I was a five day old soggy Turkish beyti which felt pretty accurate
I had been working ~12hr days since it was a 3d week and we’re in the middle of annual planning and I have self imposed guilt
The trail flattened out eventually and got a little overgrown. There is like one switchback in several miles next to the river, we took a break there and I plopped on the ground and took out my water bottle to try and choke down some fluids. You know after you puke how you get that few minutes of clarity and freshness and relief? I was dying for that, but the moment never came. And when I put my water bottle back, my zipper burst. I almost cried. I just wanted to be home in bed. Rob made a valiant effort to fix it with pliers, but to no avail. I draped the rope over the now bulging side and tightened the side strap. Jon literally helped me lift my pack because I was too weak to pick it up. I wanted to vomit, crawl in a hole, and go to sleep. But instead I plodded along, determined to at least get to camp even if I had to sit out the climbs. My mind wandered. I debated what would be worse if shit really hit the fan. Being sick out in the woods for a few days, or being sick in a helicopter being airlifted out? I doubt they let you puke out the door, so… I guess given the option I’d see if I could wait it out in the woods. At least you don’t have to blue bag your shit here. You can poop anywhere. Whenever, wherever! Cue Shakira.
At the Bird Creek intersection, we caught up to the trail crew taking care of some of the blowdown activity! We thanked them profusely and got some estimates of the rest of the trail. They said 450+ blowdowns… uh oh. But they had already cleared a lot, and we would be above them for two days, so I was cautiously optimistic. We decided to push up to the higher elevation campsite to set ourselves up for success in the coming days. Andrew being a saint took the rope for me and Jon again helped me get my freaking pack on. I don’t think I had spoken more than three sentences in the past few hours. All I knew is I was getting to that camp and shutting down as soon as possible. But the group was good comic relief. Someone was complaining about the weight of their 5 day pack and how much more stuff they had to bring. “I brought an extra pair of underwear for once!” Tim announced. “I’m rearranging your name from TIM to TMI” Rob chirped back.
The bushwhack from Devore Creek/Bird Creek camp up to the 5400ft campsite was brutal. Summitpost says open forest, but due to disease, many trees have fallen over, and brush is growing in with a vengeance. We had no shortage of shenanigans. Slide alder bitch slaps, uphill trips over downed logs, balance beam walks, spiderwebs galore, Tim even took a 5ft fall off a lot but landed softly in trees not even really hitting the ground. My reynaud’s kicked in despite it being relatively warm, despite everyone wearing tank tops and t shirts I couldn’t feel any of my fingers. I put on gloves but I only had liners, no insulated gloves. Just gotta get to camp and you can figure it out from there. After a few minutes, Jon joked we had 10 feet of elevation down. 990ft to go. Cue 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, take one down, pass it around, 99 bottles of beer on the wall. Wait. 98 bottles now. 98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer… [don’t make me add a youtube link for that]
The group got separated around beer #57, and I went into mama duck panic mode. Especially on bushwhacks I hate when people are out of earshot. If one of us snaps an ankle I don’t want to waste an hour waiting for the rest of the group to realize someone’s missing and have to find them. We finally regrouped though, and found this amazing, huge campsite at 5400ft that we had no idea existed. I was expecting small bivvy spots in a meadow, but stumbling upon this was like stumbling upon an oasis in the desert. Here’s where we’re staying, home sweet home for the next two days. 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer… shit wait how am I back at 99 bottles?!
We set up tents and I crawled straight into bed. The thought of eating made the nausea worse but Andrew had a chicken soup packet I managed to eat, figuring even just broth would be better than nothing. I soon found out I had also forgotten my toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. Jesus. I joked about being a hot mess before this trip, but I wasn’t serious! What the heck was wrong with me?! Amazingly Andrew had an extra toothbrush too that is now my toothbrush. “6am start, everyone?” “Sounds attractive to me!” Tim shouted. That’s how we say yes now. “I’ll have time to poop!” he added a few minutes later. Tim ALWAYS wakes up like 90min early so he can have coffee and do a full morning routine while the rest of us sleep. I was so relieved to be with such a good group of people while being a puddle of mush.
We woke up and got moving at 6am as promised. I didn’t feel good but I didn’t feel terrible, so I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happened. We started up through hip height blueberry brush (no berries) and soon broke out into fields of wildflowers and dust. I was definitely dragging, but if they were okay with the pace, I had a chance at making it. 800ft above camp the boys in the group all scattered for bathroom breaks while Amelia and I sat there laughing. An hour after that, I had my own announcement – guess who has an appetite?! I crushed two stroopwaffles, stoked that food tasted good again. We started hiking again and I heard the whoooof of a grouse taking flight (loud and ungraceful) followed by gasps and jumps from Jon and Amelia who had startled the grouse to begin with.
We picked our way up to a mellow ridge, dropped a little over 100ft onto talus fields, and traversed over to a talus basin under Tupshin, where we found a snow finger leading to the obvious ramp (it’s actually obvious, for once). “Traverse, traverse!” I sang. “Cha Cha Slide??” Haha, yes!! You got it! Rob kicked a staircase for us across the snow and we stashed gear below the ramp. We scrambled up the ramp, staying right and low around a corner to a dusty exposed scramble that got us to the top fo the second “pitch.” We scrambled the next two “pitches” until we came to the base of the scrambley flake with a chimney above it. Jon and I each led the pitch with two climbers on the rope behind us since the pitch was just under 30m. Not super tricky, but a fun little lead. Probably scramble-able for most confident climbers.
From the top of the technical pitch, it’s a short but extremely loose, scrappy scramble to the top. We topped out around 10am, 4 hours after leaving camp. We admired the views, shared summit chocolate, and realized we all forgot (or neglected) to bring whiskey. We knew rappels would take forever with six people, so we didn’t linger for very long.
Rappels were as expected with a big group. Patience is key. We leapfrogged with three ropes so all things considered we were moving efficiently for a group of six. We had some spontaneous rockfall come down on us just above the first rap station which was freaky, but no one got dinged. We did have a communication mixup that resulted in me and Jon carrying all three ropes at the base of the raps, but not for very long, Andrew scuttled back up to help as soon as we figured out what was going on. The snow was much softer on the way down which I appreciated, and soon enough we were cruising back to camp through larches and flowers. We stopped on the ridge briefly to stare at Devore, all 6 of us with our jaws open wondering uhh.. how’s that gonna go? It looked crazy intimidating from where we were standing.
We were back at camp around 4. It was great having the late afternoon and evening to wash up in the creek, make dinner, and relax. I was so relieved to be feeling normal again, albeit a little drained and not exactly strong but hopefully that was a calorie problem given the low intake the prior day. Tim I’m pretty sure took a full on bath in one of the reeks and came back in long underwear head to toe. Jon laughed. “You’re me! You’re long john!” Tim’s been calling Jon “Long Jon” for as long as I have known them. I dozed off to Andrew explaining the variety of instant mashed potatoes he brought as extra calories and Rob saying Taco Bell is the only place you can still get gas for under $1.
I have wanted Challenger since like… 2015, probably. I don’t remember where I first saw it or heard of it. Over the following few years, bureaucracy, lack of PTO while I was contracting, grief, lack of fitness, lack of interested partners, a million things became reasons to push it off every summer. In fact I think I’m having an existential crisis right now because two peaks I’ve been looking at but was never able to find partners for (Triumph the week before and now Challenger) have come to fruition in the past two weeks and it reminds me why I don’t like setting goals. Because what do you do once you reach them?! Most people feel pride and accomplishment and I just feel like now there’s a hole, an empty space where there used to be a dream. And if I could do it, was it really that ambitious of a dream to begin with?
Anyway, saving the existential crisis for later, let’s get to some stats. Jon’s Garmin died the last day so these are estimates but they seem in line with other reports.
Elevation gain: 18k total, LOTS of up and down wow
Weather: 70’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: ~2:45 without traffic
Did I Trip: No legit ones actually but that’s probably because I crawled for like 30% of the trip and you can’t trip when you’re crawling
We got a late start on Thursday after dropping Sammy at boarding and picking up permits at the ranger station. “Are you aware of the situation up there?” My mind flashed to caution tape and helicopters and serial killers and ancient graveyards and rabid bears and massive trail damage due to suspiciously localized earthquakes. “The… the snowpack?” I said as I stared blankly at the ranger. “Yeah, we know it’s way snowier than usual.” He hyped up stories of people swimming through waist deep snow. Maybe postholing, but no one’s swimming through snow that deep this year. We were just out last weekend. We’ll be fine. We got our permits and went on our merry way wondering what the heck “the situation” would be like.
The Hannegan Pass trailhead was not too full, we were able to park nice and close to the washout. I actually love this trail. Well sort of. It’s HUGE bang for your buck in terms of effort to views, the only catch is that I’ve never experienced a trail SO DRY despite having SO MANY WATERFALLS running across it. There are streams like every fifth of a mile and yet you feel like you are mummifying in a desert for the majority of your hike. We slogged the 4 miles up to the pass in the sun and took a leisurely break, chatting with some hikers coming down from Easy Ridge (only 6hrs from Easy Ridge to Hannegan Pass, which was a good sign for us) and seeing a familiar face come up from the far side of the pass. The ranger who gave us our permits for Triumph the prior week! He had told us he’d be opening the Copper Ridge lookout but I figured no chance would we run into him. He independently brought up how dry and sunny this trail is. We laughed and shared some trip conditions and stoke before he went to head home and we went further out into the wild.
We finished out the 3.5mi to Copper Creek Camp around 3pm. Some of the creeks in the Chilliwack valley are like waterslides, carving their way through slick smooth rock instead of the rocky rivers we’re used to hopping across. Super cool features. The trail also loses a deceptively large amount of elevation. I don’t know what it is, I don’t want to know what it is, I just remember thinking shit, this is downhill ALL THE WAY TO CAMP AND WE HAVE TO COME ALL THE WAY BACK UP IT ON SUNDAY but that’s a problem for future me.
Copper Creek camp was, for lack of better words, lovely. Downright pleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a chill day (which was funny, knowing what was about to come). We hung out at camp, found the two pit toilets, carb loaded, I think I even took a nap. There were no bugs, just warm dappled afternoon sunlight through the trees. Even the bears stayed away from my extremely accessible food. ONE COMPLAINT: People left toilet paper all ove the ground! Some mere feet from the toilet! Is the toilet too camouflaged? Do you have something against pit toilets? Omg people. Take care of our outdoors, come on. At least bury it.
We got moving around 5:30am knowing we had a long day ahead of us. John shook out the tent, which always makes me think “shake shake shake” which turns into shake your booty. So the next few hours would be full of me repeating that chorus. There is supposedly a trail to the river ford, we didn’t find it. We did find a log that I strongly disliked but still crossed thanks to stubbornness and a burning desire to not take my shoes off so early in the day. But I swore I would not be taking that log on the way back. We found the Easy Ridge trail quickly, and I’d say it was easy to follow for maybe 85% of the time. I did manage to get us off trail where we ended up cutting a switchback, but we re-found it quickly thanks to gpx tracks (Jon’s being surprisingly more accurate than my AlpineQuest app, which had yet to let me down, more on that later). We crested the ridge around 8am, but that didn’t mean much, because the ridge goes on forever. And the bugs were bad. Really bad. I had a sweet potato baby food. My new Invisalign strategy is liquid calories thanks to two recommendations I got last week. The sweet potato wasn’t as bad as it sounds I was ready to gag but it mostly tasted like fruits. Instant sugar, let’s go.
It was an easy walk past tarns and mellow slab highways and meadows to the false summit of Easy Peak, where I looked at the real Easy Peak and said ah shit, that doesn’t look so easy. We took a brunch break to crush some calories and when we stood up I said something like “well, let’s get to a point where that snow and scramble doesn’t look so intimidating.” Except that point never came, because we ended up scrambling some wet slabs up to a patch of steep snow that we ascended without ice axes or crampons. That snow led to a crumbling mess of a peak where we topped out 30ft later. And that’s where the good stuff started.
Easy Ridge is gorgeous, and the second half past Easy Peak is like 100x better tahn the first half. Only problem is there are fewer tarns (that could also be a pro depending on your feelings about views and mosquitoes). We were half in clouds, half in sun. I suddenly saw something sprinting away from us: BEAR! He was hauling ass down the snow while we stood there dumbfounded.
We dropped off the ridge to the south and started the long downward traverse to the Imperfect Impasse (or the Perfect Impasse? it’s not an impasse because you can pass it so Perfect Impasse seems wrong but I think that’s what it was originally called). It’s this miraculous canyon ripping down Whatcom’s ridge that has exactly one sketchy section you can scramble through. Except we had one problem. We didn’t really get any beta for the Impasse, because everyone had said they usually get skunked so you should just ignore it and drop 2000ft of elevation to go around the bottom where the canyon opens up onto normal talus slopes. The first wobbly piece of talus cued surfin safari, which finally replaced shake shake shake.
Well. I beg to differ. Try to find the impasse. Holy shit.
We dropped down through some brush (there IS a better way where you can follow talus the whole way) and some wet slabs before popping out at the base of the Impasse. Believe me I made that sound way faster and more pleasant than it was. But we weren’t mentally and emotionally wrecked yet, that part came later. We crossed below the canyon on snow, hearing the running water below us and having no idea how thick the snow bridge was. But suddenly we saw bear prints. Well I mean if it held a bear… it can probably hold us? Walk carefully. We scrambled up the other side of the canyon on vegetated slopes and suddenly I hear HEEEY BEAR! from Jon ahead of me. I pop my head over the hill and see Jon standing across from a bear at a stream. Holy shit. The bear lumbered away while Jon shouted HEY and then turned around to see me ready to bail back the way we had came. We pushed forward with Jon shouting “hey bear” and me talking to the bear like the Guardian of the Alpine. “Hiii bear we’ll just be here for a few minutes sorry” “Please let us through real quick we’ll be gone soon” “Ok but you could have worn a better trail here this one is kinda shitty you can do better than that” “Ok Mr. Bear we’re going uphill now thanks for letting us use your traaail!” Very kind of him.
We gained a brushy ridge. I definitely read a trip report that said “just pick your way up the basin and avoid all the brush” and instead our GPX track went… straight into the brush. We started cursing its owner, who said he had uploaded the down route because his up route was so bad. Did he upload the wrong route? Who goes through this?! WHO DOES THIS? I swear we were doing like 5.7 rated tree climbing. We saw a gully to the right. Why doesn’t anyone take the gully?! Must be a reason. Back to the trees. We found a water bottle, so some other dumbasses had gone this way. My pole strapped to my pack kept getting caught on branches. Loops of the rope kept getting caught on branches. I can’t believe I didn’t rip or break anything muscling through those trees. My sunglasses miraculously did not get slapped off my face. We saw the gully again. This is BULLSHIT I started cursing under my breath. I was getting belligerent. Manhandling trees. Jon burst out from the trees and saw the gully a third time. THIS IS RETARDED!!!! I followed in quick succession WHO CHOSE THIS WHY DID WE LISTEN WHY ARE WE HERE I was just relieved he was raging with me.
We continued upwards to slabby rock. This must be the section people rappel. Surfin Safari was placed with “now walk it out walk it out” on loop because that’s how I feel on slab. Run it out. So next time you’re in the alpine admiring views just think somewhere is someone on a slab vibing “it’s on once again, patron once again, I threw my hair back, then I froze like the wind, west side WALK IT OUT” oh hey look a rap sling. Jon got onto the arete proper. I stayed on the lower slabs, which felt like the last pitch of Ragged Edge on Vesper except there were no views and no cute flowers and no pro. Jon’s arete seemed downright pleasant with nice features and sticky rock. Another rap sling at the top (I think for two 15m raps vs one 30m rap). We took another break. “I hate slabs” I announced. “No you don’t, you do them all the time.” Touche, sir. I was tired and pissed from the trees and frayed from the scramble. There’s no way the impasse is worse than this. I pounded another baby food. We kept moving. 20ft higher was a way better break spot with way better views. I hate when I do that. “Perfect Pass better be PERFECT” Jon announced. You’re damn right it better be perfect.
I thought we had to be above the worst of it, no way would we run into anything that could compete with the trees. We carried up through patches of snow to the base of what I called the headwall, where we left the snow and headed for waterfall slabs instead. I have never scrambled so much wet rock in my life. Wet, mossy, slick rock. But I guess that’s better than 5.7 trees? We tried to find spots with sizeable footholds at least. At this point I was driven by sheer determination and stubbornness. We’re getting. To. The. God. Damn. Pass. Jon made it to the pass first, scrambling up a final blocky vegetated waterfall. He immediately started scouting campsites. Meanwhile I was below and behind him doing what can only be described as literally crawling up the rocks standing up only when I was on mostly flat ground. I dropped my pack at the first campsite Jon had found, partially because it was a beautiful, well protected spot but also because it was the first campsite he found. Upon further investigation, it was definitely the best campsite, so the pack could stay where it lay. There were a multitude of streams coming off the snowpacks, huge cornices that I imagine were absolutely wild in winter. I am surprised more people don’t come up here to ski.
I glanced at my phone and realized it was actually only like 3pm. We had taken about 8.5-9 hours from Copper Creek to Perfect Pass with much room for improvement on routefinding between Easy Pass and Perfect Pass, even though we ignored the Impasse and lost/regained the 2kft of elevation. I wanted to do Whatcom, but it was socked in by clouds above us. I figured I wasn’t coming all the way back out here just for Whatcom. “Ok, if the clouds clear, Whatcom at 4:30? Shouldn’t be more than 90min round trip from here.” “Deal.” Sweet. I went back to my nap.
Whatcom was a quick side trip. We slogged up some moderate snow (I found a ski strap just uphill of Perfect Pass, possibly from JT’s team months prior which would be hilarious) to a surprisingly pleasant, fun ridge scramble. After the knife edges we had on Triumph and Custer, this was a piece of cake. Clouds unfortunately moved in over Challenger as we ascended Whatcom, blocking out views to the south and east, but that made the ridge look more dramatic. We didn’t find a summit register, just snapped some pics and headed back down. “Would you have carried one up here if you knew?” Jon asked laughing. “Ugh… at home I’d have said yes, now I don’t know.” I put crampons on for the descent because I don’t trust my feet in trail runners on snow at all unless I can get a good 2″ deep heel print, which wasn’t happening. Jon is like the king of plunge stepping and disappeared into the fog below me, and soon enough we were cooking dinner back at the tent.
I was apprehensive about the clouds. Given our streak the past few weeks… shitty spring, left the Chilliwacks a day early, Triumph cleared miraculously but we were socked in the rest of the time, Bacon I bailed for a dozen reasons but one of the reasons was lack of views… I was going to be really discouraged if we ended up socked in by clouds on Challenger. They weren’t supposed to be here today, it was supposed to be mostly sunny! And I guess it was, minus the peaks we were on. And the Pickets do tend to frustrate you by deciding to shroud themselves in clouds and mystery as soon as you arrive. But the forecast was for sun. Just sun. Please mother nature pleeeeease give me one sunny day! I hung my food 5ft from the tent ready to fight off any bear that wanted it and went to sleep. The tent was flapping enough that I put in headphones and was relieved to have music to block out the wind, which I had forgotten on the past few trips. Fingers crossed for a clear morning. I woke up around 1 or 2 am to the sound of silence, no wind, no tent flapping loudly. A sigh of relief, and back to sleep.
We woke up to an inversion, a spectacular sunrise, and a mostly cloud free sky (besides the streaks that lit up with sunrise). We got moving quickly, each carrying coils with friction knots between us in the case of a crevasse fall. You really, really don’t want to fall on a two person rope. I mean you never want to fall, but a 2p rope makes any sort of arrest and rescue extremely difficult, if not impossible. I think people overestimate their abilities on two person ropes (myself included) and underestimate the difficulty of a real two person rescue. A friend once set up a z haul for me in a crevasse (practice), and was only above to get about two feet of space in his system meaning a TON of mini hauls and resets. I’ve had to arrest single partners multiple times on slopes with good runouts (vs crevasses) and even then, the moment their weight hits you is terrifying and strenuous. I am basically of the mindset that if something happens on a 2p rope, you’re probably fucked, but like Nirmal Purja said in 14 Peaks, usually when you think you’re fucked, you’re actually only like 50% fucked. So I’ll take my chances on a 2p rope vs unroped travel.
We head up the side of the col until we could see mellow snow (vs cornices and lips), and started the long traverse. And boy is it LONG. We crossed one rock arm with a cute mossy stream running through it, and from there it was all snow, just avoiding crevasses here and there. We were moving quickly by glacier travel standards. The glacier was well covered (I don’t like “filled in” because crevasses don’t fill in, they just get covered) and we had great line of sight which made navigation easy. The two cloud strips relieved us of some sunshine while still providing ample views, and soon enough we were on the ridge heading up the mini hogsback towards a saddle between the summit and a low point east of the summit.
The bergshrund still had a huge snowbridge, but I could see how it would be entirely impassable later in the season. In fact, just a week later this crazy picture of an extremely narrow bridge was posted on Facebook, the comparison is sobering. I wish I had better pictures for comparison. The bridge was 10+ft across and 3+ft thick when we crossed it, and the pic on fb shows a very narrow piece that won’t last much longer. A good example of how quickly conditions can change and how you can never be positive what’s underneath you. That bridge could have been hollow underneath and we just happened to see a 3ft thick piece from the angle we were at, who knows.
The spookiest part for us was right above the bergschrund. We switched back to climber’s left up a steep slope above the bergshrund, and I was kicking steps when we heard a WHUMPF and the entire snowpack moved and a tiny half inch crack opened up directly below our feet. We froze. “WHOA did you hear that holy shit” I was scared to kick another step for fear the whole slope would give way. But when nothing had happened in 10 seconds, we hauled ass up to the ridge (only ~20ft away). Our best guess is that it was a glide crack or something similar to a slumping cornice given we were on presumably unsupported snowpack above the bergshrund. I did not take the time to try to dig and see if it went down to ice vs rock, but believe me I wish I could 1) see what it looks like now and 2) go back and set up a safe way to analyze what’s beneath it. I texted Forrest (long time avy instructor and very experirnced climber) as soon as I was home to debrief. That’s the best we can do, try to learn from what we experienced. Maybe we got lucky this time. Glide cracks don’t tend to get triggered by human weight, but a slumping lip could.
We followed another mini snow arete to the rock. I jumped into a moat because I like being snugly between rock and ice while Jon stayed on the snow slope until it petered out. At that point, we stashed snow gear and it was an easy scramble to the “5.5-5.7” rock pitch. The beta I read said “5.5-5.7 depending on how long your arms are” which suggested that some nice jug would be just out of my reach leaving me with shitty slabs, but I have fairly average arms and there was no shortage of jugs or mantles. We didn’t even use the 3 pieces of gear we had brought. There was a piton, another piton, a third piton, a fixed cam, and a fourth piton, and boom you’re at the top of the pitch. Jon led it in his freaking Merrel Moabs and I followed in some Vasque basically-trail-runner-but-with-ankle-high-tops. It was fine. Definitely not 5.7. We stashed the rope there and scrambled to the summit including another cool alpine sidewalk with some exposure. There is a rap anchor on the summit, so I think some people stay roped up for the top out too.
Summit views are ridiculous. The entire northern Pickets cirque is just breathtaking. Eiley Wiley Ridge looks beautiful. Luna seems standalone, almost not part of the Pickets ridge, but with two beautiful lakes below a face that rarely gets climbed above a valley that rarely gets visited. Fury’s NW Buttress looks insane, both the approach and the buttress itself. Like it literally might be easier to approach via Challenger than bushwhacking with the bugs in that valley, yikes. As usual I was eager to get down, so I went to start setting up the rappel while Jon enjoyed the summit views for a few more minutes. The rap was fine with a 30m rope, and soon enough we were back on the glacier where we followed intermittent tracks (surprised how quickly ours had melted/blended back in with the snow) back to camp. At one point I was moaning about dehydration. “Well have you been drinking from your camelback?” Jon asked. “….no…” I replied sheepishly. I kept forgetting it was there. 20 minutes of me monologuing later, Jon said “hey, you do realize I’m 20ft behind you on a rope and you’re facing away from me? I have no idea what you’re saying.” Oh, right. Glacier travel. Damn.
At camp, holy shit – people! We ran into Ryan Stoddard and an old acquaintance Westy that I hadn’t seen or talked to in several years! Small world. They were just as surprised as us to see others. They carried on towards the summit. Jon remarked about their small packs. I said yeah.. knowing Westy, they’re probably doing one push. When we got back to cell service, yep, sure as heck they had done it in one push. Absolutely insane. Those day packs must have been nice.
We packed up camp and tried to find the impasse on the way down. Having no beta on that side made it seem mostly impossible, so we gave up after 20-30 minutes of scouting and went back down the way we came. We downclimbed the top of the slabby arete the way Jon had ascended, and then rapped the second half. Or, I rapped and Jon used the rope as a hand line. My rope management in precarious positions is quite nifty. I was relieved to be below the slabs. Now all we had left was the 5.7 trees, which we quickly found and ignored in favor of the grassy gully to skiier’s left. Which went almost to the bottom! We were forced into trees for maybe the last 15-20ft, but MUCH better than what we fought on the way up. From there, we followed the bear’s trail back over a small river, down to the bottom of the impasse canyon, and over to some talus where we regained what felt like infinite elevation back to snowfields while being absolutely cooked by the sun. I have never been so sweaty in my life. The snowfields looked so short and doable. “It’s right there Eve!!” Jon said pointing at Easy Ridge. Right there. And probably like 2 hours away.
We alternated between heather and snowfields, dunking sun hats in every river we found, splashing faces, chugging water. Jon dropped his sunglasses somewhere but we knew we had no chance of finding them, fortunately I had spares… bright pink spares. He looked great. Actually he looks better in them than I do. At the ridge our spirits lifted knowing we just had short ups and downs and ridiculous alpine views. I could hear thunder in the distance which was starting to concern me, but that was a problem for future me. Jon didn’t hear anything. The last crux for me was the far side of Easy Peak, where I knew we’d have to drop down that shitty loose rock and then steep snow again. I refused to let my brain turn off until we were past it. I immediately trundled like 5 big rocks down to the valley below. Jon went far skier’s right and I stayed left so we could both kick down whatever was necessary without concern. At the top of the snow, I put on crampons and he stuck with boots, fortunately the snow was more mellow than I had remembered it. He waited for me at the bottom while I calculated every step, too tired to trust my feet enough to plunge step given the lack of purchase I was getting. I just didn’t have the strength left to really force a good heel cup and 40whatever lbs on my back wasn’t enough to make it happen naturally. It was extremely tedious.
We ran into two climbers going to put up a new route on the west side of the Pickets. Intrigued but not wanting to press too much, I just asked if they’d post a report if they were successful. Answer: yes, and here it is!! They had a great trip doing a new route on Spectre, a seldom visited peak WAY the fuck out there. Probably in the running for most remote point in the lower 48.
We overshot our goal campsite by some lovely tarns, quickly realized it, turned around, and hiked the longest 0.1 mile I have ever hiked in my life before dropping packs and setting up camp. Finally Jon heard the thunder too, I confirmed I wasn’t losing my mind, and we looked over to see a massive storm cell to the east. I have no idea where it really was, but Challenger was about 5mi away and still in the sunlight, so hopefully it stays over there. It continued moving due south, leaving us with sunny blue skies and an interesting slow motion show.
We filled up on water, enjoyed out last dehydrated meal, jumped in a frozen tarn, took a thousand sunset pics over the less frozen/more buggy tarn, and then dove into the tent to hide from the bugs. The bugs. Were. Everywhere. And lower on Easy Ridge was even worse. Yeah tarns are gorgeous, but they spawn mosquitos. You can’t win them all, you know?
We got moving around 8am the next morning and had an uneventful trip out. Whatever had been in my head transitioned to Down as we lost elevation. In addition to losing elevation, I also lost the Easy Ridge trail on the switchbacks again, same as one of our gpx tracks did which was amusing. My phone had a +/- accuracy of 20ft, which is not really helpful when you are trying to find a sometimes barely visible trail. Jon’s inreach kept turning off every two minutes due to what he later figured out was a corrupted memory card. Jon with balls of steel took the log to cross the river again, I rapped the riverbank and forded it because fuck no my life flashed in front of my eyes on the way up no way am I doing this log downsloping even if the ratio of foot size to log diameter is better for me than for him. Yes, the rap would have been unnecessary if I had scouted like 50ft downstream, but I didn’t, I just wanted to keep up with this crazy guy who has no fear and far superior balance to my own. Perks of river ford: freezing water feels absolutely incredible on cold tired feet and calves covered in a burning heat rash. Upon our return to the main trail, we immediately found the trail to the river we had missed with freshly cut logs. And then we found fresh drainage ditches. And then more freshly cut logs. And then… the team clearing the trail!! Woohoo! We showered them with gratitude and praise. Turns out in the park you can use chainsaws unlike in the wilderness areas (and I guess park trumps the fact it’s all Stephen Mathers wilderness?) where you can only use hand tools.
I knew the return to Hannegan Pass would be tough. When we broke out into the sun like a half mile from the pass I was ready to get roasted. At the pass we took a long break, Jon hiding from sunshine and people deep in the trees to recharge and me plopping down with the crowds to chat everyone up so I could recharge. But first I dropped my pack and grabbed a nalgene. I had one thing on my mind. “Snowcone” I whispered as I grabbed it and then i shouted SNOWCONE as I ran to the snow to stuff my water bottle with snow and flavored mio. 10/10 prime alpine dessert.
I’m striking out on synonyms for brutal. The hike from Hannegan Pass to the car was absolutely.. heinous? Savage? BRUTAL! How can a trail with so many streams be so incredibly dry?! It was BAKING in the sun. So hot, so dry, I got mad that the streams were all so low to the ground (OBVIOUSLY) and weren’t like waist level waterfalls next to the trail that i could easily touch without squatting or bending over. We ran into a friend I haven’t seen in years, Jennifer, and we did a quick greeting before Jon and I hustled onwards because we were in survival mode. I told him all about her ridiculous garden and flowers and wedding pictures and mushroom foraging. I’m surprised he didn’t tell me to stop talking. I did it myself when I was convinced we were near the end of the trail. I predicted 800ft or 300 steps to get to the parking lot. It was 291 steps. That’s the closest I’ve ever been in my life to having my guess match reality, even when I have line of sight to where I’m going. Sheer coincidence but I was so stoked.
We split a beer at the car because I couldn’t handle a full one. I was so dehydrated and hadn’t left any water at the car. Rookie mistake. Jon fortunately had some he shared. We changed into fresh clothes and beat the rush at North Fork Brewery on highway 9. We parked, stumbled in (literally, in my case), got bar seating. I almost burst into tears when the bartender said “hi” because it knew we were about to be taken care of and fed (because we were giving them money, but still).
We ordered a large artichoke dip, a calzone, and a hoagie. Next time I’ll just get two large artichoke dips. It’s fucking DELICIOUS. It arrived and we though shit that’s way too big and 10min later it was gone. I added extra romano cheese to all of my servings. I couldn’t believe I ate the whole sandwich too but I did. Fabulous. 10/10. The servers were swamped. There was a 90min wait for takeout! The manager came out to the bar at one point and said “I disconnected the phones for you guys so you don’t have to answer.” That’s good management right there. Being the boundary for his employees. But they kept on top of it in good spirits and I tipped excessively. Get there before 4:30 if you can, it’ll be a mobscene after then.
It has been a long time since I had a trip that strenuous. I have a five day coming up this weekend and I’m hoping it’s a breeze compared to that because wow. Challenger is one of the easier, more accessible and popular Picket peaks and damn it is still a committing trip. Spectacular scenery though, and worth the effort a thousand times over. But next time, I’m looking for the imperfect impasse, even though I think I’ll hate it (lots of slabby negative holds with exposure). Or I’ll go in via Big Beaver and Eiley Wiley ridge for traverse purposes (plus that ridge has some cool lakes). What a ridiculous area. I wish I had more free time. And maybe also a helicopter.
This peak has been on my radar for probably seven years now. A low grade but technical ridge ramble in a spectacular setting with ridiculous views and not many visitors, that’s probably my favorite combo in the climbing world. The forecast looked good, I had Friday off, and we crossed our fingers for one of the two permits available for the Triumph zone in the North Cascades National Park. We decided on a casual 3d itinerary. Spoiler: no one ever got the second permit.
Distance: 7.5mi to camp at the col, ~18mi round trip
Elevation: ~4,200ft gain to the col, 7,600ft gain round trip (some gain and loss in both directions), 7,240ft highest point
Weather: 50’s and cloudy
Commute from Seattle: 2:30 without traffic
Did I Trip: a crotch deep posthole but no trips per se
We dropped Sammy at Snoline Kennel in Arlington, got to the ranger station around 9:30am, and had no trouble snagging an overnight permit for the next two nights. The road to the trailhead was steeper than I remembered, but Jon’s front wheel drive car did just fine as long as he kept his foot on the gas. The TH has a nice restroom and space for a dozen cars, including some parked on the road. Surprisingly small for such a popular hike! Triumph is behind Thornton Lakes and Trappers Peak, two great objectives with impressive views. I’ve been to Trappers Peak twice and Thornton Lakes once, but never beyond. As usual, I remembered almost nothing about the trail, including confusing two offshoot trails for one another (I guess there’s one trail to Trappers and one trail to a mystery lookout point that isn’t on any of my maps).
The trail was snow free until the col above the lakes where the trail splits to Trappers Peak or the lakes. We took a snack break on a large rock overlooking the lakes with great views of Thornton Peak, a surprisingly rarely climbed objective despite great access and great views. “Oh no!!! My cheese!” Similar to the pizza debacle two weeks ago, I look over and see two babybel cheeses tumbling down the slope away from Jon. They got caught in some blueberries and heather and we went on a brief cheese rescue to make sure no calories were left behind.
We dropped down to the lake through intermittent snow and found two crossings for the outlet stream. I crossed at the mouth of the lake on some 3rd class rock followed by a log jam, Jon crossed further downstream on some rock that I knew I didn’t want to downclimb with an overnight pack followed by a log jam. Both routes went Later on Jon said “yeah that was a move for tall people.” I am not a tall person, I am quite average, and glad I found a route with average moves. The supposed campsite by the outlet stream was entirely snowed in, and lumpy postholey snow, not pleasant for setting up camp. I’m not sure where the group we passed camped (if anywhere).
On the west side of the lake we followed a bootpath in and out of snow. GPX tracks were very helpful for this section since there actually were areas to cliff out and at least two points where the bootpath makes a sudden 90 degree turn, first in some boulder just beyond the outlet stream (left) and again just before the middle lake (right). At the middle lake, ran into the downside of GPX tracks too, you don’t always know if the route goes where you’d want it to go given the conditions when you’re there vs whenever they were there. We stayed west of the lake at first, but ran into some cliffs and ended up backtracking to the mouth of the second lake where we found an easy snow crossing. Finally on the east side of the second lake, snow gave way to talus and grass and blueberries, and we did a rising traverse up to the col, quickly intersecting the boot path to the top. Summitpost said you can see it on satellite imagery, so we were optimistic, and Summitpost was right, it was quite obvious.The last ~200ft to the col were snow covered and went quickly despite stopping every 50ft to wipe sweat from our faces.
The col was entirely covered by snow and we were suddenly being whipped around by gusts of wind. It was cold and clouds were moving in fast. We saw a patch of heather with a social trail. We followed it to a flat spot where a cute bubbling stream coming straight off the snowpack. Damn I was hoping that was a tent spot. Wait, a little further. Around the two trees! Yes! A melted out dirt patch exactly the size of our tent. No views, but we could avoid camping on snow, and get some protection from the wind. Home sweet home.
We got the tent set up quickly, made dinner, and marveled at how it was only 4:30 and what the heck were we going to do with the next 4-5hrs before bed? We watched views slowly disappear and felt the wind pick up and temperatures drop. I groaned. If this kept up, I’m going to have a repeat of our night going after Cadet Peak. I voiced that out loud but Jon was already sound asleep, lucky bastard. I. Hate. Wind. Especially in a tent. I do not know what it is. It is not rational. But strong gusts of wind just give me this deep unsettling feeling of something coming after me. Like a wave washing over you except you can’t tread water to get above it. So I lay awake all night, cursing the howling and bemoaning the fact I had forgotten my ipod once again. But the forecast had been for sunny and no wind. Mountain weather is tricky.
We “woke up” in the morning, in quotes because we were both wide awake long before the alarm went off. The tent was covered in water droplets. We could hear the rain. We opened the tent doors around 5am and I walked over to the col to take a look at Triumph. It’s wet, windy, cloudy, and cold. Can’t even see the notch. Back to bed, re-evaluate in an hour? We were there so we figured we might as well walk across the basin to where the climb starts, but we didn’t want to be huddled over there for hours in the rain waiting for weather to be clear. So we’d burn some time hanging out in sleeping bags and see what happened.
I was cranky like an overtired child. Triumph has been high on my list for years. This spring sucked thanks to weather, we basically just had extended winter. We backed out of a trip to Dark Peak because of weather. We left the Chilliwacks a day early because of weather. I had bailed on Bacon Peak (another highly coveted peak on my list) the prior weekend 90% because of mental game but 10% because I don’t care much to climb without views and it was in the clouds. And now it’s mid July and I’m about to get skunked again by weather? When the forecast said sunny? I was discouraged and pissed and throwing an adult tantrum.* “This is a WASTE of a PEAK if we don’t even get to see the VIEWS why are we HERE I can’t beLIEVE weather has been so shitty for so many weekends this year we’ve had ONE WEEKEND WITH TWO SUNNY DAYS AAAA” for like half an hour. I’ll climb peaks I don’t care about in crappy weather sure but not peaks I chose specifically for the views… no one likes repeating peaks, let’s save it for a clear day! I don’t care about the peak, I’m here for the views! I was excessively frustrated. I just wanted to see beautiful things 😡
7am came around, and the rain had stopped. And the clouds had lifted like 100ft, enough for us to at least see the notch. We knew the forecast (if you could trust it) called for skies to clear up throughout the day, so I ate my pb&j disasters and we donned our boots and crampons. Might as well check it out. We aimed for the bunny ears across the basin, you can’t see them in the picture but they’re above the left leaning snow finger on the left (two parallel snow fingers).
The snow coming off the col where we camped had created an extremely steep lip by the lower bivvy site (also melted out), but after that it mellows out and is a simple walk, avoiding crevasses and moats (though I think we were technically lower than the glacier the whole time). There was still a good 5-10ft of snow on top of the slabs below the glacier, with some enormous glide cracks on the slabs down low. I imagine this crossing is much nicer now vs in August/September when it’s all melted out and you’re hopping across (probably wet) bedrock slabs.
In about an hour we found ourselves stepping off snow onto a short but wet fourth class scramble (turned out there was a way better route we missed) to get to the gully that led to the notch (mostly a walk). “Well, get to the base of the notch?” Jon asked. “I feel like I’ve already decided to bail, but sure, why not” I replied. At the notch, we were pleasantly surprised to see that not only was the entire first pitch in view, but the rock was dry. I dropped my pack and took out the rope. The forecast is supposed to improve. The rap/descent route is the same as the climbing route so we can bail whenever if the weather doesn’t clear. So…. you want the first pitch? We stashed our packs and snow gear and racked up.
P1: 5.fun, PG13. Jon’s lead, thank god. Up through some blocky features, traverse right on a ledge, and continue up on some downward sloping rocks (they don’t deserve to be called holds) with zero options for pro. I’m glad Jon led that one. I think we could have stayed left and climbed through a tree and up more jugs, but can’t say for sure. But if you go right, it will be run out, albeit with easy moves. Trust your feet.
P2: 5.fun, My lead! Felt like gym climbing which means 5.fun trad climbing. Good jugs and feet everywhere you wanted them. Straight up to a bush at the top, and right beyond it was the bivy site. Long way to carry overnight gear, but sure does look like a fantastic spot.
We scrambled/walked easy terrain past some snow fins to the base of the next pitch. I think the beta says one bivvy spot but you could sleep like a dozen people here with bivvy gear when this is melted out, unless the snow fins were hiding weirdness. And to our pleasant surprise, the next pitch that had been hidden in clouds was suddenly visible before us.
P3: 4th-5.fun-3rd. The first steep rise. Jon’s lead, even though it was easier than the next one and I wanted it I said no you take it the next one will be good for me. And so he did. Easy 4th class gully on the left, some 5th class above that, we did some simuling, and the clouds parted to reveal that we were at the base of the second steep rise.
P4: 4th-5.fun The second steep rise, I took this one and it was a blast. I tried going right (against what beta directed) and wasted 10min looking for a route that didn’t have blocks pulling off the wall. You can see the clean brown rock where flakes had peeled off. I finally went left and oh wow, the beta was right, who’da thunk? More fun gym style climbing with pockets and ledges exactly where I wanted them. Oh hey!! a green nut! It pulled out immediately, not even stuck. Hey take this nut when you get here, it’s easy to clean! And at the belay station, the clouds had lifted enough to reveal the next section: gendarmes and I assumed the knife edge beyond them. Still no views of the crux.
Here’s where we got funky. At the knife edge ridge, the beta says there are two gendarmes, the first of which is bypassed on the right, the second is up and over with enjoyable fifth class climbing. Just go up and over all of them. Because:
P5: 5.6 PG13. Jon led a very questionable traverse down and right around the first gendarme. Do I think it made us better climbers? Yeah, maybe. Did it create wicked bad rope drag, involve smearing on marginally protected mossy wet lichen slabs, and waste time? Also yes. On the way back, we scrambled to the top and rapped off, and I think it could have been climbed maybe with some spooky smears worst case on climber’s right. Left looked blocky.
P6: Low 5th, mostly 3rd-4th. Back to stoke, I got to the top of the second gendarme and shouted to Jon confirming that it was, in fact, very enjoyable 5th class climbing just like we were told. Selfishly having fun, I continued along the entire knife edge ridge, giggling because the rock was so solid and the exposure so wild and the views below us finally feeling alpine. I set up a gear belay to climber’s left in a crack around the ridge and sat on an awkward ledge because I couldn’t see any tat. In classic Eve fashion, had I continued 15ft higher I’d have found a rap nest to use instead.
I belayed Jon across the knife edge and to my gear anchor. “Why didn’t you sling the horn?” he asked. “Because… it literally did not occur to me with that crack right there.” We swapped a horn sling for two cams so he could carry on with a more thorough rack, and he went off up the next pitch, towards the swirling clouds that were still obscuring the crux but had given us line of sight up the pitch in between.
P7: 5.6, clean and fun. Jon’s lead. Steep climbing, but just a total blast. Similar theme. Solid rock, small holds and feet appear everywhere you want them though you can’t always see them, just spectacular. “What are you doing?!” Jon shouted as I cleaned a blue sling. “Uh, cleaning gear?” “That’s not my sling!” “But it has your extension on it?” “Well yeah I clipped it but it isn’t mine!” “…well it is now!” More free booty!! This pitch brought us perfectly to the bottom of the crux, which, that’s right, the clouds had lifted just enough to reveal.
P8: 5.7 offwidth, Jon’s lead again. We could finally see it. I’m glad the clouds had blocked it when we were lower down, all of the beta said it looks very improbable until you’re right next to it. And from where we were, we could see the anchor above it, and it looked… well, actually pretty probable. You can supposedly avoid this crack by traversing around a rock horn to the right, but the traverse looked like 15-20 horizontal feet of unprotectable slab and the crack looked vertical and protectable and actually enjoyable. So, crack it was.
Jon started up, and was loving it. The last move to the visible anchor was tricky, but he crushed it. Piece of cake. I started up. I don’t think I did a single crack move besides maybe one fist and one foot jam. There are enough features on the right side of the face that the crack is just an added feature. The last move to the anchor does involve some steep smears on slab (slab is my least favorite thing ever) but there are still good hands and feet to the left and you’re over the ledge before you know it. Oh, and there’s a very stuck cam at the top of the crack too. I did not expect to see so much abandoned gear on this climb! Seems Triumph likes to eat gear.
P9: low 5th-3rd. I took this lead and wasted time trying to go left up what felt 5.6y but with a deck and overhung for short people before Jon said “you know it’s like 3rd class to the right” and I went right and laughed. I found myself at the base of the slab wall summitpost mentions, which actually has finger cracks in it that would be fun if I had any gear that fit finger cracks (smallest we had was a .4 cam). I scouted right. That just looks like a scramble but it’ll create mad rope drag. Back to slab wall. Nope, not feeling it. Back right. Yeah, I really think that goes, but it’ll be faster if we just scramble it. I looked at the slab wall again. My brain was falling to pieces. It felt like the mile 20 bonk in a marathon where you just get really tired and dumb (except that one time I got pissed). My decision making was shot. I needed food and water. I shouted down to Jon who was only like 20ft below me. I’m just going to belay you up here. I don’t want to make the slab move and I am pretty sure the route to the right is just a scramble that we can do unroped. I built a gear anchor and brought him up.
I really needed food and a drink. I have invisalign, which means I can’t just eat while I’m moving/standing. It’s a whole process to take them out, stash them somewhere secure, have a snack, put them back in, and that has been resulting in me undereating on a lot of trips this summer. I bonked similarly on Spickard because of the same issue, got to the top of a ridge and just felt super dumb and lethargic and like I didn’t want to use my full body for the next part of the climb because it seemed too complicated. I don’t know how else to explain it. I’m doing my best to figure it out but it’s been extremely frustrating. I really miss pocket snacks. If I knew Invisalign would be a 9mo affair and not 3mo like originally told, I would have started in September to avoid climbing season, not in January. I almost cried at the dentist a week ago when they said I needed more through mid September. I can bail any time I want and say my teeth are good enough, but I have summit fever with the Invisalign, why come this far just to stop six weeks early? Power through. I had my quick snack. I think Jon would have been pacing the ledge waiting for me had there been space. But he scouted the corner while I snacked, and I was right, the route to the right went easily.
P10: Just kidding, there’s no P10, you can scramble from here! I’d honestly just scramble after the crux pitch and carry the tope, maybe starting at the base of the slab wall if you want to stay roped for 20ft past the crux. You don’t have to stop at the top of the offwidth crack, a 60m rope is long enough to get to the slab/finger crack wall.
To the right of the slab wall where I bonked is a thin, sharp ledge you can walk up to the base of the “great notch” summitpost mentions. A snow wall helped mitigate the exposure. Then follow a trail left of the great notch for a few feet, then climb the 4th class scramble on the right at the terminus for ~12ft to another trail. Follow that trail left, and then just scramble 4th class heather and ledges to the summit. I honestly have no idea why summitpost recommends roping up at all beyond the great notch. We did at first and it was probably more of a hazard than a safety precaution. Also, how are there boot paths up here with so little traffic? Is that just how fragile the alpine is? Are goats trampling this routinely?
The summit had a tiny, full summit register. If I knew, I’d have carried a bigger one with a fresh notepad, but hopefully whoever goes up next can refresh it. I don’t know what happens to old registers when they are replaced. Mountaineers maybe?
The clouds didn’t quite part for us on the summit. We got glimpses of blue sky, but many surrounding peaks were surrounded by their own clouds. Bummer, I had really been hoping to see the mystery traverse from there. I had another snack (Again with the invisalign diet, I realized I had only eaten 3 stroop waffles in the past 8hrs and not even half a liter of water) and chugged a half liter of Mio. It took us 6hrs from notch to summit, and we expected about the same back to the notch base on prior reports, so we were antsy to get moving.
We downclimbed past one rap station to the second, and rapped almost to the upper bootpath. From there we walked/downclimbed to the Great Notch. I wanted a hand line going down the ~12ft fourth class move to the lower trail because it was a big drop for my height and if you lost balance when landing or straight up fell you’d miss the trail and just keep going 1000ft, but couldn’t find the end of the rope on Jon’s shoulders to set up a short one and said fuck it don’t worry about it and made the move and it was fine. I found a handhold I hadn’t found on the way up that made it a 6″ drop compared to what had felt like a dyno on the way up. We downclimbed all the way to the slab/finger crack wall, where we started rapping.
I think we made maybe 10 rappels in total. We did a bit of downclimbing between each one, and we scrambled the entire knife edge rather than try to set up rope work. Everyone’s risk tolerance is different. I consider my risk tolerance to be relatively low and I felt fine scrambling the knife edge knowing the rock was extremely solid. Stay in your three foot world and focus on the bomber holds all around you. Flow state.
The clouds were finally lifting all the way, minus the summit itself. The raps down were spectacularly beautiful. Finally wildflowers were popping, green valleys, blue lakes, glaciers hanging on the pickets. Despair looked less appealing than I expected. The pickets kept their tips in the clouds, but gave us just enough of a tease to whet my appetite. Trappers Peak (no apostrophe, remember) had its usual late season cornices lit up by the sun. You could see the lake beyond the col that housed out tent out of sight. Every time Jon got on rappel I started snapping photos. “Don’t forget to look at the views!” I shouted. He laughed. “What do you think I do every time you’re on rappel?!”
We had rappels DIALED. It’s so efficient when you can prep your rap while someone else is on the rope and hop on as soon as they’re off. You land, you untie the knots, they flake the rope (or feed it into the next rap anchor) while you pull. In this case, we did a lot of flaking because there was downclimbing between most rap stations. Fortunately, there were ample rap stations. We actually skipped two because they were unnecessary, though we had to do maybe 10ft of 4th class downclimbing at the base of some raps. Jon also had a trick tossing the flakes – roll up the middle of each side separately from the bottom, if that makes sense, so you end up tossing four sets of coils. Toss middle first, then bottom. It never got tangled doing that, unlike when I toss all flakes at once and 25% of the time end up finding knots halfway down the rappel.
We were back at the notch just 4hrs after leaving the summit. Jon was first on the last rap. He got to the ground and I just hear “Oh, FUCK!” That’s a strong phrase coming from Mr. Jon who usually defaults to “oh my word” when I’m throwing phrases like “what the fuck/holy shit/no fucking way” around. “What happened?” “My pack is gone! And my boots! I need those to get out of here!!” My brain raced to conclusions. someone took our stuff. No that’s absurd, no one’s out here. Goats took our stuff? I started rapping. “It’s in the moat! I can see it! It fell in the moat!” Jon was already downclimbing the notch. I pulled the rope. “Well, get a pic for documentation?” He paused long enough to take a pic and then continued frantically running around. I flaked the rope and picked up all my shit in my arms, awkwardly downclimbing while juggling two poles, an ice axe, crampons, my loose boots, and the rope, ready to drop the rest of our shit in the moat if I even slightly lost balance.
We couldn’t find anywhere to place pro for a rappel into the moat. I proposed I sit on the other side of a wedge and he rap off my body weight. I really did not want him downclimbing into a moat and getting hurt or stuck or anything that would require me to retrieve him. We’ve used people stuffed in moats as anchors before, it’s not a new technique. He was ready to downclimb until I finally spotted a short crack that fit a .5 snug as a bug and a .4 slightly less snug but passably tight. Okay Jon, rap off these, I’ll watch them like a hawk and shout if they move the tiniest bit. He flung his whole body weight against them and they stayed perfectly and the rock didn’t budge (the gully is so loose I was worried the flake would shift or break). Great. The rap will hopefully be sustained, just try your best to stay smooth and not shock load it just in case. I won’t pull the rope up unless you say so. And off he went.**
My staring contest with the cams went well. What I hadn’t mentioned yet is I had had to use the bathroom for like two hours at this point. But it seemed inappropriate to do that given the pack-and-boot rescue situation, and I certainly couldn’t chuck-a-dook into the moat he was exploring, that would just be adding insult to injury. So I fought bodily urges (always emphasized while waiting for something, like hide and go seek or a staring contest) while channeling all my discomfort into daring those cams to move. “I got the pack!” I hear from Jon. “And one boot!”
He climbed back up onto the snow, and spotted a rap anchor on the rock on the other side of the snow gully. “Do you want the rope to rap the rest of the way?” I shouted. “Yes!” I took the cams out, relieved he was on secure ground and had a fresh rap anchor across the way. He rapped from there to the snow while I packed up the rest of my stuff and met him on the snow. I took the rope back. He had only found one boot. His other foot was in a sock, then a doggy bag (literally, like for dog poop), and then his rock climbing shoe. On a glacier.
I couldn’t help but laugh. You look ridiculous. He had a crampon and boot on the left foot, and just the rock shoe on the right. Fortunately that meant downhill foot had a crampon, uphill was the weak one. Well, I’ll kick the best steps I can, and that steep snow traverse… we’ll deal with it when we get there. Oh and look, the cloud level dropped and has reclaimed our col once again. I laughed. “You did say you were up for a challenge this morning! Just… maybe not this challenge.”
We made quick work of the first part of the glacier traverse. Snow was decently soft. We crossed the rock rib and started up the steep traverse. I’d kick once with the left foot (for his cramponed boot), and then three times hard with my right foot to get the best platform step I could make for his rock climbing shoe. The traverse was steep in shoes with crampons, nevermind one foot in a freaking rock shoe with no circulation/feeling. We crested the snow lip by the lower bivvy site and only had like 60ft to the top of the col. I thought Jon was going to puke. The screaming barfies are what happen usually ice climbing when blood starts flowing back into numb extremeties, your vision blacks out and waves of nausea wrack your body. I know Jon’s toes were numb, he was about to be in agony. I was torn between racing up the slope and kicking half decent steps. At the top on flat snow he took off ahead of me. He dove into the tent and shoved his foot in his sleeping bag. I threw my things on the ground and grabbed toilet paper and ran into the bushes. 10min later we reconvened at camp as whole new people with mostly normal feet and GI tracts. He didn’t puke.
Dinner that night was insanely good. I proposed messaging someone with the inreach and having them meet us at the lakes with boots for Jon, but he thought he could tough it out with his Mythos (rock climbing shoe) on the hike out. Okay, we’ll see in the morning! Wind didn’t pick up too much, the clouds helped the night sky actually be dark, and I slept like a cozy baby.
In the morning, we moved our exit time up an hour to have some buffer time given he’d be hiking out in a rock shoe. I put on crampons while he somehow plunge stepped down the snow in his rock shoe (plunge stepping in firm snow is the only time I wish I was a little bit heavier). The boot path up to the col was half melted out fortunately and he regained circulation in his foot before we hit the snow near the lake. We traced our old steps as well as we could, occasionally referring to the GPX track to be sure. Soon enough we were crossing the outlet of the lower lake where we ran into some of Jon’s friends, Dave, Dave, and Trevor. Dave caught sight of Jon’s feet. “Are you… are you hiking in a Mythos?” “…yes, I lost a boot up there.” We told them about the moat, and Triumph eating gear, in our case, the gear was Jon’s boot. Dave cracked up. Everyone who climbs has some story like that. He isn’t wrong. They went on their way towards Thornton peak, and we carried on back to the car.
The rock shoe actually did pretty well on soft dirt trail apparently, but not so much when we got back to the last ~2mi, which were on an old logging road. Flat, hard, and rocky. He was limping for the last mile or so, but the only alternative was my mountaineering socks or his flip flops, and it wasn’t bad enough for either of those yet. We finally popped back out at the cars, where we had beers and rested for half an hour before starting the drive back to civilization.
Triumph is an amazing climb, it reminded me of Forbidden except with more technical climbing and more walks between pitches. But good rock in a really good setting, and it’s amazing that the clouds revealed the route pitch by pitch. Saturday morning I thought the shitty weather was going to be exactly when we needed it to be nice, but it ended up being the opposite – we climbed during the only weather window that weekend. Mountain weather is so volatile, it’s actually insane how often the forecast is decently accurate. Triumph has been a very long time coming, and it’s almost sad having it completed at this point after thinking about it for so many years. I am just glad it didn’t turn into another bail, and I have Jon to thank for wanting to at least check it out Saturday morning and see what happened!
*I apologized later. “Thanks for being gneiss enough to put up with my grumps. I won’t take it for granite. I have faults. It was a rocky start. I’ll be boulder next time.” Is that enough puns for one climb?
**we quickly realized he had taken the inreach with him. Pro tip: if you are doing something bold, leave the inreach with the person waiting on the safe ledge!
It was Tuesday night. “Want to go to the Pasayten to climb Cathedral?” Yeah right, that’s a 20mi approach for a multipitch 5.9, I haven’t hiked more than like 7 miles in a day since.. who knows. Nevermind climbing 5.9. I ignored it and rolled over and went back to sleep.
Wednesday morning. 5am. I was awake. I mean, you don’t get this offer very often. I had sorta just assumed I’d never climb the peaks back there because they’re so far and when would I ever find partners/make time? That chasm jump randomly kept me up at night too. So maybe… maybe I should consider this. I could get 20mi in a day given enough time. I can follow most rock and I can prusik/aid up if necessary. “Hmm so five days… leaving tonight, back Monday morning?” Eric starts sending me routes on mountain project. He knew he had my attention. “Okay, well I can’t leave Weds, but I could leave Thursday afternoon, and take Friday/Monday off… and also, I’ve climbed twice this year, so you’d be leading all of it. Is that better or worse than the alternative?” “Gotcha!! Okay fuck yeah! I’m in! I’ll start packing!” I could feel the stoke coming through the phone. Shit. What the fuck did I just sign up for?
Distance: 42mi round trip
Elevation gain: 5600ft (including both Cathedral and Amphitheatre), highest point 8601ft
Weather: 80’s and sunny, some thunderstorms, dense bugs (the air had a higher % bug than % oxygen i think)
Commute from Seattle: 4.5 hours
Did I Trip: No!! How is that even possible
Best beta: Steph Abegg as usual, we relied on MP and I wish we had seen this beforehand (ALSO THEY SAW A PUFF MUSHROOM)
We left Seattle around 2pm on Thursday and got to the trailhead around 7. The road is in unbelievably good condition. We passed small stands with posters, like an interpretive trail sign, until we passed a memorial for four people and it all clicked. This was all part of a memorial for the four firefighters who had died in the Thirtymile Fire (a huge wildfire) in July of 2001. Our stoke dropped, tempered by the raw memorial. I proclaimed we’d be stopping at every sign on the way back to read each one.
We started out immediately to see how many bonus miles we could knock out that night so we wouldn’t have to do a full 20 miles on Friday. Eric’s pack was 55lbs, mine clocked in at 45 (I swore it was heavier, I was wrong). I thought there would be campsites at Pocket Lake (spoiler alert: there were not) which was about 5 miles up the Chewuch River trail but Pocket Lake turned out to be a hint of a marsh more so than a lake. It’s okay, we can go further, bonus miles! Luckily, about a half mile beyond this alleged Pocket Lake, we found a wide open meadow right before the turnoff to the Fire Creek trail. That turnoff is also a great place to get water. but bring a filter, because there’s horse poop everywhere. Fortunately, Eric had considered this. I had not.
We pitched camp in the open meadow and had an uneventful night besides a mystery crash in the forest and some rock fall that apparently sent Eric running in his sleeping bag thinking we were right beneath the cliffs. We were up and moving by 5:30am, eager to knock out mileage and get to Upper Cathedral Lake before the heat of the day. And if we were there soon enough, maybe we could even get on one of the routes up Amphitheater Peak!
We plodded along a very evenly graded trail (yay, horses! Last time I was on a “horse trail” in the Pasayten it was a lie) through varying stages of recovering burn zone. Fires had swept various parts of this loop in 2001, 2003, and 2017 (same fire that roasted Shellrock Pass and almost Dot Lakes!). We had sketchy log crossings. We saw a grouse (or a pheasant, or something). We saw a bear print. We saw a moose with her calf! We saw glacial erratics miles away from any glaciers carried down these valleys eons ago. Wildflowers starting to break through as the forest recovered. And black toothpick trees with peakaboo views as far as the eye could see. Literally. For like 17 miles. I started out all “wow it’s beautiful” but started falling into “fuck there are so many miles.” “Oh thank god a water break.” “Oh dear lord no we’re going uphill.” “Oh no a downed log.” “Oh no another log.” “Oh no a cluster of logs.” “Oh no it’s a switchback.” I started chanting the sections we had left in our head. We were on a 3.9mi stretch. Then 1.2, 1.1., .6, home stretch. Then 1.1, .6, home stretch. Then 1.1, home stretch. And finally. HOME STRETCH.
Right when I thought we were in the twilight zone making no progress through burn zone with increasing mosquitos and flies we broke out into open meadows and found ourselves in The Sound of Music. Remmel towered in the distance (it’s a walk up! A walk up!!) and grasses and cicadas and wildflowers and tarns sprawled as far as we could see. That’s Canada over there, eh? The jokes started. My aching feet were battling with my desire to take 1000 pictures. Do I want to walk to that tarn? Brain and heart say yes, body says you can go fuck yourself. We took the scenic route unknowingly, connecting with the Boundary Trail instead of following the cutoff that would have taken us directly below Amphitheatre and straight to Upper Cathedral Lake. A different type of bonus miles.
We finally reached the lake around 1pm, and quickly found a campsite (somewhat determined by “I just put my stuff down, and cannot convince myself to pick it up again”). Eric spotted a party of two climbing Pilgrimage to Mecca across the lake, and scrambled over to the base of the route to say hi. I stayed at camp, napping, or something that required no movement of any kind. I was already mildly anxious about the rock climb and I planned to conserve energy so I’d be as fresh as possible the next day.
Around dinnertime, we realized Erik and Maria had been at the belay for the final pitch for… well, a few hours. Erik had climbed some but appeared to be back down. We were debating if we should be worried. Right as we were trying to figure out what was going on, Erik shouted “Hey Eric! FYI, having some arm cramps.. gonna give it 30min and attempt to climb through it!” Some back and forth started to figure out how bad the situation was. Do you have water? No! Do you have headlamps? Yes! What radio channel? Pitch 3! One more pitch to go! Base of pitch 4! No, what RADIO CHANNEL? Radio! Rockie Talkie 10!! We cracked up. Rockie talkie ten, got it. We were able to radio them, though they couldn’t respond to us. Our camp neighbors came over. “Hey, we heard your buddy yelling, sounds like he’s got some arm cramps and can’t place gear? We’re climbing that route tomorrow, if they rap off gear we can clean it and bring it all back.” Rock climbing is such an awesome community. They hung with us for a while discussing options in case this turned into a full blown situation, laughing and joking the whole time too. After about 45min, Erik gave the final pitch a good old fashioned college try, and topped out with all four of us cheering from the lake below. “Like watching our own action movie” our neighbor said. “Strong work guys and… we’ll meet you around the corner on the descent with water and some menthols.” Eric took off to go be support crew and I continued to play sloth hiding from mosquitos at camp. Fortunately they did come back through our campsite so I could cheer and celebrate.
We woke up around 5:30 and got moving around 6. I thought I slept like a rock but my Whoop recovery was 7% so apparently I was wrong. We hiked up and over Cathedral Pass, and left the first switchback to start heading up to the gulley. We did not find a climbers trail, but the gully and start of the route were easy enough to find based on pictures.
Things we brought:
4L of water
Some cigarettes for Eric
No bug spray
~10L of human blood in our bodies to offer to the mosquito guardians of Cathedral
Light layers (nothing waterproof)
Screenshots of beta
Just enough tape to cover our hands
STOKE FOR DAYS
Oh, and we had swapped radio with Erik and Maria, so we could talk and they could reach us, but we couldn’t reach them. I still couldn’t believe we were there. Well, let’s get after it! Eric started up the first pitch a little after 7am. Our goal was to average 1 hour per pitch and be done by 5pm.
The first pitch was pretty straightforward. Thanks to mountain project, we chose the “nondescript easier cracks to the right” instead of the offwidth at the top, though by “grainy” I think they meant “the rock gets extremely loose and sandy” which is never fun. I spent some time hanging and battling to remove a red #1 cam which didn’t make the rest of the climb seem promising. My price was going up as bugs swarmed my head and my fingers got bloody fighting this crack. Would I pay… $25 to keep moving? $35? If it hit like $75 then I’d be leaving it there and buying Eric a new cam, but somewhere around $45 it finally came loose.
Pitch 2 was phenomenal, the chimney was the perfect size for me, nothing required skin/blood sacrifices, and I was stoked the whole way though I do think we exited the chimney a little too early and also overshot the best belay ledge (it’s a super short pitch). Not much to see here, just a good old scoot your way up the chimney.
Pitch 3… well, the first words out of my mouth upon reaching the belay were “that was NOT 5.8.” I am not convinced we hit any of the features listed in the description, and I struggled HARD. I was discouraged, the pitch took well over an hour, if this is how the rest went we were going to be slow. Bugs had followed us yet again. I was wearing my thick soft shell to try and prevent severe blood loss.
Pitches 4 and 5 blend together in my mind. Both ended in a traverse on a huge sandy belay ledge, something about twin cracks, finger cracks, if a pitch didn’t have finger cracks on this route you’re probably off route. Both fine, definitely confidence boosters after pitch 3 where I had been reevaluating wtf I was doing on this route. Also, “cruxy mantle” in the description is accurate, there was a mantle and it was the type where I felt like I had just disobeyed the laws of physics using pressure so you have that to look forward to. Or maybe the bugs carried me as thanks for my bodily sacrifice.
Pitches 6 and 7 were kinda bummers. We didn’t find the 3rd-4th class terrain in pitch 6, or the “open book feature.” Everything was 5.6ish or higher. Steph Abegg was more realistic (“choose your 5.7 adventure”) so I wish I had read that a little more closely before the climb. Eric told me he had spilled an entire liter of water, he was getting arm cramps pulling up a 12lb 70m rope every pitch, I was getting tired, I sat at the belay stations which only exacerbated the tiredness. My snack was the crumbs of severely crushed cheese and crackers, not unlike the state of my energy and soul. Eric’s soul soon shattered too upon the realization that he had forgotten the lighter for his menthols. But it’s okay, we’re gonna dig deep and crush this crux. Look where we are. This is awesome. 5.9 finger cracks coming up. And the 10a finger crack that followed. What had I climbed this year? 5.6 and some top roped 5.8s? Yeah. This is like when my dad ran 7 miles one time and then decided to run a full marathon. No stop, it’s going to be great.
Eric started leading the 7th pitch, and a few drops of water hit my shoulder. Oh. Oh no. A few more drops. And then a rumble. That… that was thunder. Did Eric notice? I’m not going to say anything I think he’s focused enough on leading he doesn’t notice. Except the thunder got louder. And closer. And the rain drops continued, though not enough to really wet the rock. I got to Eric at the belay station. We laughed. Shit might be about to get weird.
We were in good spirits, the nihilistic “eff it, what can you do” kind determined to knock out the crux and get off this peak before we were caught in a Colorado style afternoon thunderstorm. Eric started up, game time decision whether he’d link the pitches or not. We ended up not linking them, for many reasons but the one I focused on was that I was about to be struggle city and wanted/needed a tight belay. Eric had walked me through aiding in case I needed it but I already knew I’d be doing my best to not be utilizing any gear because pride. And speed. Aid is slow. And now I had the added motivation of thunder. Fingers, let’s get ready to get fucked up.
Getting off the ground of pitch 8 was the hardest move of the entire route in my opinion. Once off the ground, you can stem up the twin finger cracks and it’s actually a blast. I managed to find plenty of placements for my fingers everywhere I needed them. Didn’t have to aid with any gear. I’d link a few moves and then have Eric take, especially when I was cleaning gear. His placements were bomb and usually had good rests, I just was so wiped and climbing at the edge of my capabilities this year. But I was determined, and Eric knew it. And this rock is SHARP. It may not be comfortable, but everything sticks. Eric CRUSHED both of these leads. Eell, every lead, but these two were especially impressive. Cruxes, dehydration, onsighting, thunder, threatening rain, mosquitos, what more could you ask for? And he did both cleanly and confidently.
Eric was pulling up the rope on the 9th pitch getting ready to belay me when I heard RAINBOW! EVE!!!! RAINBOW!!! SHOULDIGETMYCAMERA think of the enthusiasm pouring from the double rainbow guy from 10 years ago, that was Eric, fanatically shouting some hundred feet above me. Way ahead of you!!! I shouted back, holding my camera precariously on a semi-mostly-hanging belay. There was an enormous rainbow across the valley to the east
It felt like we cruised up both crux pitches. I even got some super comfy ring locks on the 9th pitch! I was honestly surprised, it was very fun (albeit painful, my hands were shredded) climbing with finger placements exactly where you hope they’ll be. I think having thunder behind me kept me from getting in my head and helped me commit to every move, and every move I made I found exactly the holds I needed. I felt pretty good about my finger crack abilities by the end of the second pitch. Stoked to be at the final belay, Eric asked if I wanted to lead the last pitch. No. Thank you, but no.
And so, Eric started up. As soon as he got out of view I heard him cursing. Something about a fucking hand crack this isn’t a hand crack is this a 5.8 hand crack no way is this 5.8 5.8 my ass and soon enough I heard “Eve, off belay!” and I laughed taking him off belay wondering what the heck this last pitch was about to be like. It was supposed to be a short 5.8 hand crack and then a scramble to the summit! But it was a weird off width/fist crack almost, and some shenanigans I don’t remember now, I was just happy to get to Eric and see that all we had left was a scramble. And the chasm jump. Ohhh boy.
We only spent a few minutes on the summit. It was around 4:30pm, we had at least surpassed our time goal. Didn’t find a register, wanted to get down before the storm came. Chugged the final quarter liter of water/nuun that we had between the two of us. I kept my rock shoes on for the chasm jump but took one look at it and said nope, get the rope. I did not come 99% of the way to be that fool who falls in a chasm carrying a rope or a climbing rack. We made a small anchor so I could downclimb and step over, except then I asked to be lowered instead. Once on the other side I switched shoes and suddenly Eric was next to me having leapt the chasm like everyone else I’ve talked to. I wasn’t even sure I could jump that on flat ground with how tired my legs were.
There was another spicy downclimb into a gully (like… a canyon) and then you traverse into a real gully (open fan of talus and scree and crap, traverse don’t climb the opposing wall in the canyon) and can just walk the rest of the way down. We saw two people on the trail below. Is that Erik and Maria? If they have water I might cry. I laughed. Their turn to bring us water and menthols! Erik met us first with like 3L of water (as Eric was chugging directly from a stream). I chugged some of Erik’s water without crying and soon enough we were back with Maria, who had a lighter! I fucking love the rock climbing community. Eric has good taste in people, I already trusted Maria/Erik would be cool but they surpassed expectations this weekend.
We all hiked back to camp and ate dinner together, resigned to the bugs. Eric had brought pudding cups (speaking of “light and fast”, Erik had 6 dehydrated meals because you never know what you’ll be in the mood for) and candles for the fourth of july, and even though it was technically the 3rd, Erik and Maria were headed out early the next morning so we decided to celebrate then and there. Awesome night with some really chill, fun people. Hope we get on another climb in the near future. We’ve already proven we won’t do the Seattle Freeze.
I slept rough that night, trapped in a sleeping bad with sore muscles that desperately needed stretching. We woke up to the smell of wildfire smoke and had a lazy morning. We packed up camp and deciding to walk up Amphitheatre on the way out. We stashed our packs in the shade at a mini switchback and just took one bag of snacks/water with us, not really knowing how Amphitheatre would go (we only had beta on the climbing routes) but I was pretty sure it was a walk up from this side. Given the view from below, I was SO SURE we were going to cliff out before the real summit, but we figured we’d give it a shot and bail in 2 hours if we somehow hadn’t summitted by then.
We followed a very well maintained horse-friendly trail up to the saddle and then took off to the right following intermittent boot paths. Right where I thought we’d cliff out before the true summit actually turned out to just… be the summit! Must have been a weird angle from below, and it hadn’t even taken us an hour. We admired the views and Cathedral, and the wild number of unclimbed routes all around us. Amphitheatre has some very cool geology, it’s shaped like a capital T and the lower left side of the T is rolling meadows but every other side is hundreds of feet of vertical rock.
Amphitheatre had a summit register (like the cutest tiny PVC pipe) which we signed before downing some water and snacks. We knew we’d hit a stream on the way back to our packs, so figured best to drink as much as possible now. I actually felt peppy and rejuvenated, like 800ft of walking gain with no pack had revived my body. Back at our oversized packs, we loaded up and headed cross country to intersect with the trail, following the Denali rules of “walk separately” so you don’t trample the same place in the event that you are forced to walk on vegetation. We probably saved ourselves a mile or two by going this way instead of following the boundary trail, and we did find the shortcut turnoff that would have taken us directly to the upper lake that we ignored in favor of the scenic route on the way up.
At first, it felt like we were flying back to the trailhead. The places we took breaks at on the way up came hilariously quickly (1.2, 1.1, .6, home stretch was suddenly “crap we’re done with all of the short stretches”) feeling like minutes instead of the eternity the approach had taken. But the sun got higher, and the bugs got denser and braver, and my body got weaker. We decided to aim for the horse camp just past where the trail splits to Tungsten or Chewuch/Remmel (or just before, if you’re on the way up). That would give us about 8 miles to hike the next day. Except when we were halfway there I was dragging. We a 3.9mi stretch, then 2.2, then another 2.2, something like that, didn’t matter because it all blended into “i’m going to FREAK OUT if we stand here too long because the bugs are starting to incite an instinctual flight response” and “if I take this pack off it may never go back on again.” We kept reminding ourselves these were bonus miles. We had all day Monday to do the rest, just wanted to see how far we could get on Sunday.
But, miracles happen. We started getting suspicious and mildly concerned when all of the logs/downed trees we had remembered were… missing. Were we on the right trail? Was I hallucinating? We finally ran into a party who said there was a WTA crew doing trail work on the full Cathedral Pass loop, meaning all of those downed logs we had battled on the way up were no longer there!! We didn’t have to skirt trees or stumble over twisted gnarled tree trunks or crawl beneath awkwardly low but not low enough logs. One may be a mild inconvenience, but 100 and you start to resent the existence of trees. The groups had also trampled and brushed out the trail, making it obvious and easy to walk. We joked about how we wanted to catch up to them to thank them but also never wanted to catch up to them because it would mean back to jumping fallen trees. We ran into them just after the turnoff to Remmel Lake I think, where they had set up camp in the buggiest section of trail possible. One of the guys did a casual 8mi trail run (he obviously forgot to take our 12lb rope with him) to scout the next section they’d be clearing while we slogged along wishing we were 24 and ripped. We persevered through the last section of downed trees, somehow didn’t fall off the bouncy skinny double logs across the river, and dropped our packs at camp.
I set up my tent immediately, took off shoes and socks, and sat my shattered, depleted body straight in the river. It was wonderful. Like a bath for body and soul, 10/10 would sit again. My core temperature returned to normal, my feet were finally relieved of pressure, the heat rash all over my legs temporarily stopped burning and itching. I pumped some water with Eric’s pump (so exhausted it was so hard) and limped back to camp barefoot. I destroyed some mac n cheese with chicken, and went to lie on my sleeping bad. I could barely lift my arms, they were the heaviest I’ve ever felt them in my life. My shirt stank from sweat combined with dunks in the river. Everything was dirty. Thank god for spare clothing, I just wished I had a third shirt and more pants. I dozed on and off throughout the night, woken up by sore muscles every time I had to roll over. Using the sleeping bag like an open quilt helped a lot, but it was too warm for the weather and all the bugs were getting stuck in my tent fly causing a caucophony of whatever is the opposite of a lullaby.
We woke up early again, and I think got moving around 6:30. We CRUSHED the last section, carried by rants and commiseration and survival instinct and desperation, counting each valley turn and dredging up landmarks from our memories of four days ago. The last maybe quarter mile to the car was brutal for me mentally, totally flat but the trail just kept going and then finally we were at the bridge that crossed tot he parking lot and bam we were back at my car. Which had a ticket, as expected. But it wasn’t really a ticket… just a notice to pay te $5 for a day pass! They’re way too nice, I was expecting to be donating $35 to the USFS for my forgetfulness.
I had Eric get the keys from the top of my pack so I could back up to the car and sit my pack down like a semi approaching a loading dock, except even slower and probably less coordinated. I chugged the leftover propel in the trunk of my car, changed into super low profile running shoes, fresh shirt, ahhh it felt wonderful. Time to stagger into the Mazama store for some salted baguettes.
But first, we stopped at the main memorial for the four firefighters. The fire had trapped 14 firefighters and 2 civilians, and there were several spots where these 16 folks grouped together. We read the memorial signs in reverse order which was tricky, but still fascinating, informative, and tragic. Highly recommend stopping at them on the way in and reading them in order (they’re all within a few short miles).
Surrounded by a quick moving wildfire (125 feet per second uphill = 85 miles per hour), six trapped firefighters deployed shelters on the scree and talus (field of small rocks), just as instructed in training. One decided his shelter would not hold and jumped in the river, another had no fire gloves and burned his hands badly trying to set up the shelter and then put out the flames that were already inside it. He bailed too and got in a van on the road (just feet from the river). Amazingly, the van sustained barely any burns, and those in the river survived. Unfortunately, the shelters couldn’t handle the sustained heat of the wildfire, the incident commander couldn’t get teams to the shelters because of the heat, and the four inside their shelters perished. And there we were, almost exactly 20 years later, watching the forest regrow while these people leave voids in their place.
Back in the car for good, we went straight to the Mazama general store, which has become a total overpriced hipster tourist market that stopped serving their dreamy breakfast burritos and only sells large containers of overpriced lotion to desperate sunburned/deet-lotion-burned climbers such as myself. My face had molted in the past 48hrs so I covered it in $18 cedar scented lotion you bougie bastards (okay, it smelled great). We got salted baguettes and sandwiches. I wish they made sandwiches ON the baguettes instead of whatever weird sliced bread they use. “Wait where did you get that?” Eric suddenly had a sandwich on a baguette. “Did you… did you migrate your sandwich onto the baguette?” “…yes. I knew what I wanted I wasn’t going to waste time with that dumb bread.” I cracked up. Expert move.
The drive back to Seattle was uneventful, besides possibly getting 28 miles to the gallon. I don’t trust it, but coming back from WA pass was the one time my car definitely got at least 26mpg, because we literally only had 2 gallons and somehow traveled ~52 miles (and then put 21 gallons into a 20 gallon tank). We were back in Seattle around 4ish, early enough I had an awkward few hours of lying on the couch making excuses to not unpack. I powered up the hill to Ha! to have mac n cheese with my roommate, because that mac n cheese brings LIFE to tattered muscles. I hadn’t had it in years, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t earn four nights of mac n cheese in a row. And this was a heck of a lot better than the variety of dehydrated mac n cheeses I had subsisted on for four days.
Easily the most memorable climb I’ve been on in a while. Awesome people, strong sense of climbing community, good company, and really just so much stoke. The whole crew and everyone we ran into were just so happy to be out there doing what we were doing despite the heat, the mosquitos, the physicality of it all. Couldn’t have asked for a better July 4th weekend, America is pretty freaking beautiful and I’m so thrilled we pulled this off.
“I’m so fucking sweaty.” “A fat fuck and a recent appendectomy patient go to climb a 7,000ft peak, what did you expect?” “It’s okay, you can say two fat fucks.” I laughed. Calvin and I were on our first trip of the year. I was coming off of a brutal few months of being very sedentary, and Calvin was what, three weeks post appendectomy? And a winter of no climbs? Yeah. So we figured we’d do Monte Cristo, and we’d roll up at 9pm and camp and take it easy in the morning. I mean, how hard could it be? 20 years ago it was basically a walk up.
Distance:16mi round trip? Ish?
Elevation Gain: 5000ft, 7000ft highest point
Weather: 50’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: 2hrs with no traffic
Did I Trip: No but I hit a tree on the bike
View from Monte Cristo town center
Well, as it turns out there are a few things I’ve taken for granted getting out so often over the past few years. Like always knowing snow levels. And snow conditions. And overnight freezing levels. And recent weather. A strong Facebook presence and weekly beta spray. And in my dark months I avoided Facebook and I hoped for rain every weekend and I did not care to know when we had powder days.
Dumas St 2019
Calvin and I met at the trailhead around 4:30, and took off on bikes. I was borrowing Tricia’s bike, which was a small frame. I am not a small frame. I am a solid medium, which I figured out within 10 minutes of being hunched over on a bike with a 45lb pack on my back. Also, biking with a pack for the first time is like skiing with a pack for the first time. Inertia is different and turning is harder and you don’t just sit there (or stand in the case of skiing), you actually have to use muscles and do stuff. I learned that when I hit a tree immediately on the first turn.
The road is easy at first. You pass the (new since I was last there) turnoff for Gothic Basin, and continue to where the old turnoff was about a mile in, which involves some non-road singletrack, where the aforementioned microcrash happened. At that point you go straight for another ~100ft and then cross the river, popping out right where the bridge on the old road is. From there, you have maybe a quarter mile along river rocks, and then it’s clear road from there. Oh, the other shitty part? Biking uphill with a massive pack as a fat fuck is fucking HARD. I walked the bike. I WALKED THE BIKE. ON A GRAVEL ROAD. And hung my head in shame. And stretched out my cramped, screaming back muscles. Jesus. I’m too young to be getting old.
Dumas St, 1916. It’s now a trail with no views.
We rolled up to Monte Cristo around 6. I had lost Calvin, who toasted me on the ride in, but with some shouting we reconvened and parked the bikes. “What’s the combo of the lock?” Oh shit. Owen told me once. “Uhhh… 5730. If it’s not that then… then I don’t know. I’m not sure why I think it’s even that.” Well, it was right (now you all know) and we hitched the bikes to the rack. I marveled at the views from the meadow and how the hell this area used to be a bustling mining town. Here’s a quick link to some history on the mining boom, decline, tourism, and eventual abandonment of the town. The prominent old sites are still labeled (Royal Hotel, Dumas Street, homesteads) and it’s just wild seeing how much the river and forest have taken back. Flat plots of land have been eroded by streams, trees have regrown to block views, buildings have fallen with only pieces of foundations left. I grabbed a pamphlet from the sign in the meadows for bedtime reading at camp and we headed up the trail to Glacier Basin.
Already beautiful and not even the actual basin
The trail starts in two places, either from the campsites up the road before the turnoff to Monte Cristo, or from just beyond the bike racks where you immediately cross the river after the clearing in town (down Dumas street). The trail is nice and only a mild incline for maybe a half mile, and then it turns into Boston Basin Lite. High steps, slick rock, dust in the air, veggie belays, they even put a hand line (rope) in place for one section. We climbed higher and higher and finally turned the corner into the basin, and WOW. This place is spectacular. I couldn’t believe Surafel didn’t want to spend the night. It’s breathtaking and you don’t need any technical gear to get there. I marveled at the area around me as we tried to not kill moss and dodged newly grown slide alder. Calvin had been here last in 2001, when it was just a meadow of wildflowers, and it’s incredible hearing how it has changed.
Time to gain some vert
We set up camp dead in the center and buried our food under some rocks.I’m scared of bears. I read the Monte Cristo pamphlet, and it’s pretty incredible what that town used to be and how quickly the forest has reclaimed it. I barely slept (bc bears, jeez). It barely gets dark this time of year, especially when you’e surrounded by snow. We basically didn’t need headlamps at any point. We woke up at 6am, had a casual breakfast, and got started up at 7:30.
The first section was a talus hop followed by mellow snow with perfect cramponing conditions. We were doing the guide pace, which is a nice way of saying the fat fucks were plugging along. Two Facebook friends I had never met in person caught up to us (Fletcher and Jake) with two buddies, and broke trail the rest of the way. On one hand, sick, there’s like a staircase by the time I get there. On the other hand, I have become a fat fuck and I’m not here to be fucking pampered you fucking assholes don’t you dare break trail for my slow ass. Well, it didn’t matter, because the nice steps quickly turned into steep runnels, and we found ourselves perched precariously above a moat on a 50ish degree ice slope.
Finally back on normal snow
Calvin was cruising up and I hesitated. Soft moat, basically ice, no ice gear, no real ice axe…. yeaah, I’m not going that way. And I’d strongly prefer to not downclimb this. I was having flashbacks to downclimbing the Sherpa Glacier in 2017, except this was even more firm. Can we go up and around? Calvin downclimbed (“the downclimbing was fine, i was more concerned by the soft step” he says. i don’t think my butthole unpuckered the entire time he was downclimbing) and started up and around the runnels, which worked out very well. Still spicier than I’d have liked given the gear we had, but nothing unmanageable, and soon enough we were back on crampon friendly slopes.
Traverse to the start of the rock pitch
We topped out soon after, took a snack break, and made the quick traverse to the start of the rock pitch. We waited for Fletcher’s group, which unfortunately delayed us long enough that Calvin’s coffee kicked in and forced him to take a shit right there on the rock step 2 ft below the last climber in Fletcher’s group. Yes, he brought a blue bag. Yes, I was nearly in tears laughing. Yes, we won’t ever let him live it down. Between that and the moaning and groaning of climbers trying to do a wet 5.6 in mountaineering boots, I was right at home.
That pitch is wicked uncomfortable in slick boots, and it was covered in snow too so soon enough your hands are numb and you can’t feel where you’re stepping because you’re in boots so you just muscle up it and hope for the best. There were a bunch of old slings and it really is just a few moves. Above that, the rock ramp was covered in sloppy snow, which we stayed roped up for. I felt pretty fine on the snow. By the time I got there, everything was kicked so firm nothing was collapsing. Calvin had the opposite experience, f bombs flying in every direction. In a flash of brilliance, we had left our ice axes at the base of the rock pitch thinking the rest was a scramble. Funny joke. It’s snow. We topped out at the summit, sent some “hey gonna be late getting back” messages, had a beer, and ran into Colin, another Facebook acquaintance! Calvin was anxious about getting down the sloppy snow and I was anxious about getting down the runnels, so we got off of there pretty quickly.
Columbia looking like a monster (walk up from the other side)
We did the alpine butt scoot back to the rock pitch (“step glissade” is my friend Cheryl’s nice name for it) and rapped back to the snow. Cruised right back to the notch, and boom! It was wayyyy softer than on the way up! Easy plunge stepping for the first section, face in kick steps for the next couple hundred feet. It was a long ass way. I was just getting into the rhythm when I hear “SNOW!” and I hit the deck. Which means leaning like 20 degrees forward given how steep it was. “EVE, LOOK UP & GET RIGHT!” I look up and I’m in the perfect line of fire. I kicked ~10 steps right, slammed into self arrest, kicked huge buckets, and braced. The biggest pieces flew by to my left. Great, not getting back in those tracks. I kicked my own steps until they connected with Calvin’s, and we were able to cut to skiier’s right and plunge step the rest of the way down. I had a hockey game to get to. Calvin glissaded as I jogged next to him. We got back to camp where I changed back into running shoes and flopped on the ground while Calvin packed up his yard sale and I tried not to nag.
Columbia Glacier and Blanca Lake nestled between Kyes and Columbia
Ready to head down, Sloan giving us the side eye
We made good time back to Monte Cristo, where the bikes hadn’t been stolen! Woohoo! And I still remembered the lock combo, which Calvin had responsibly written down in case we didn’t get another miracle memory. I had been hoping we’d have time to explore the town on the way down, but again, that freaking hockey game. Priorities, guys. Calvin had dropped his helmet and ice axe somewhere on the trail, but we weren’t going back up (you know… hockey).* We hopped on bikes and enjoyed the loooong mostly downhill ride back to the river crossing. From there we had to carry the bikes up the single track trail, I passed a couple hiking with their cat, and then we faced the mild uphill ride back to the trailhead (ugh, my back). The game was starting and I wasn’t even back in cell service yet. Gah!
Yay, downclimbing! said no one ever
We left notes on everyone’s cars about the lost gear and who to call if they had found it and hauled ass back to Granite Falls, where we went to a local bar and caught the last 12 minutes of the game. I demolished a steak slathered in blue cheese They had steaks, the had blue cheese for salads, and I asked if they would be so kind and combine the two, and they did. It was unbelievable, and the Bruins won (but then lost in game 7, and I’m still sick about it and I don’t want to talk about it and don’t say oh there’s always next year oh Boston has enough championships oh it was a great series I WANTED TO WIN brb crying) and I got to drive home to a comfy bed and a great night of bear-free sleep and the satisfaction of a great first trip back out. It may not have gone exactly as planned, but we ended up using actual skills and making sure basic techniques, decision making, and mental game were right back on point. Turned into more of an improvisation climb than a basic snow climb, but that’s exactly what I like about climbing. Thanks to Calvin for getting my ass out of the house, hopefully there will be many more!
Oh, and when I got home, I joked with Surafel and Brad about how scared I was of bears. And what did Surafel tell me? He had gone up to the basin earlier Saturday (we passed him on the way in!) and THERE WAS A BEAR IN THE BASIN. I mean of course there was, I just like it better when I don’t see them and can pretend they do not exist. Surafel didn’t tell me when we passed each other. He knew I wouldn’t sleep. Stupid wildlife.
Looking down on Glacier Basin from the top!
*A woman posted on FB a few days later that she found some gear on the way down from Glacier Basin… and it’s Calvin’s! Great community 🙂
P.S. sorry i forgot how to take non-diagonal photos
I don’t usually write about trips that are mostly rock climbs (as opposed to hikes/glaciers/true peaks) but I figure I should start since it’ll hopefully be a solid chunk of my summer activity. So here is a spontaneous trip up Spontaneity Arete, an underrated climb I’ve had my eyes on since 2016. As many of you know I had a slow 2017 largely thanks to an abject lack of confidence following a friend’s climbing accident, and while it’s taken over a year, climbing is finally starting to feel good again.
We drove out Saturday afternoon so I had time to get house chores done. We went straight to Winthrop for food and two hours of me dreaming about a Mazama cabin after filling up gas at Marblemount (this is important later). We ran into our buddy Alexei in Winthrop, surprisingly the first time I’ve randomly run into someone I know out there. Robert destroyed a ribeye while I devoured a burger covered in pulled pork and oh how I wish they’d just have thrown the burger and pork in a trough for me it was so good.
Wish it was my den but I’d probably be evicted by a bear
We drove back out to WA pass to camp at the “trailhead” for Le Petit Cheval. The trailhead is more of a pullout on the side of the highway, but we set up our bivvies next to the car and got a solid night of sleep beneath the two stars that were occasionally not obscured by clouds. We got hit by a few raindrops, but not enough to make us worry.
Scrambling with the Needles in the back
We got up at 5 and headed up the approach at 5:30. It took us around 90min to get to the climb and we spent a lot of time looking for the route start. The approach is a pretty clear trail that has yellow blazes after you cross the snowfield (talus field in summer). It swings to the right of the talus field and then back left following ramps up to the start, where you cut further left in front of the large buttress you’re about to climb. It was much more pleasant than the gulley approach sounded, and finding blazes is like having a scavenger hunt and distracts from the uphill. The route start says something like “look for two corners and an old snag” and you’re standing there like there are 8 snags on this ledge and 5 corners?? But we found one that went.
Robert following the third pitch. Such a blast
I’m still not 100% convinced we were on the actual first and second pitch, but they went, and they were 5.7ish. I led the first pitch, which was a kitty litter corner (see, probably not the route) that we followed up to some rap tat. From that it was up another corner and around a small roof to a second set of tat. Maybe the pac man overhang is just dramatically photographed on Mountain Project but the mini roof wasn’t very pac man ish.
From there, and this is why I think the MP rating is so low (1.8 stars!), you need to scramble and hike another 15min. We eventually got impatient and said fuck it we’ll just climb to the ridge from here. So I started up and as soon as I pop up on the ridge maybe 25ft later boom we’re at the start of the 3rd pitch. I shouted back to Robert. I think I’m just gonna keep going. I dropped a big ass purple cowbell hex into a #3 crack. Save the #3 for later. Psh. Who needs cams when you have hexes.
Robert starts up the bomb ass fourth pitch
THE THIRD PITCH WAS AMAZING. I started laughing a few moves later and just said “oh my GOD” to which Robert shouted “everything okay?!” and I responded “it’s just so much FUN.” It was a fantastic mix of ledges and cracks with good pro and sharp holds. It could have gone on forever. I was having such a blast. I finally (sadly) found some tat and figured I couldn’t have had that much rope left anyway, so better stop here. Except the mantle to the left looks more fun than squeezing past a dead tree so I went that way and set up a gear anchor instead. I belayed Robert up, and heard him burst out laughing at the fat hex. It’s like leaving a joke behind for someone.
Come on guys they aren’t so bad. They make music as you climb!
Robert got up to the belay and continued on to the fourth pitch, where he followed a crack up to the right, faked me out and went left to duck under a roof which popped him out onto a beautiful short finger crack and dropped him off on a belay ledge (with more tat). He belayed me up and after fighting to retrieve a hex and a tricam he had placed I started up the fifth pitch. Oh and I made him move the belay so he’d have a better picture of me climbing.
Me starting up the fifth pitch (PC Robert)
We were worried about time, having taken like 4.5 hours for four pitches plus a 15min scramble. But we spent a lot of time looking for the start and figuring out the first two pitches and then looking for the 3rd pitch and at least now we were on a ridge where routefinding consists of “go up.” And I was thinking we had to be close. I cruised up these fantastic parallel cracks, scrambled a bit, wrapped around right and went up a juggy chimney sort of feature and set up my belay again nearly at the end of the rope. The rest to the top was just a scramble. So basically we did 5 pitches whereas MP says it’s 6 and the book says it’s 8. It’s a 600ft climb so if you do 8, they must be pretty short.
Robert just below the summit
We admired the views (Robert convinced me to make what I consider an exposed slabby move to get the best views) and then figured we needed to get our asses down since I was supposed to be getting dinner with a Peaks of Life climbing team to plan a fundraising climb the following weekend. We scrambled back to the first set of tat and started rapping down.
The raps are perfectly spaced for a 60m rope. Maybe one or two 4′ downclimbs. Not sure how many we did, maybe 9 rappels? Didn’t feel like that many but I think it was a lot. BRING YOUR APPROACH SHOES. The scramble sections and the “second approach” between pitches 2 and 3 were brutal in climbing shoes. Funnels of gravel straight into my shoes. We found the blazed trail again on the way down and were back at the car by 3pm.
Spicy move getting back around the summit boulder
This is a seriously awesome climb for someone looking to build confidence in swinging leads and leading 5.7. Most of the pitches didn’t feel like 5.7 and only the second pitch got a bit run out (but like I said, not sure we were on the true second pitch). The upper pitches are just fantastically fun, solid climbing and somehow we only ran into two other parties. One bailed after the second pitch and the others were still hiking up as we hiked out. So we basically had the whole thing to ourselves, which is insane for a 5.7 climb at WA Pass with a 1hr approach.
Robert throwing ropes in trees
It brought all of my rock climbing stoke back into action. I hate downclimbing and I did a fair amount of it on the way down and felt pretty good and the entire climb was just so solid, I never had the the frantic clip-and-take or the slam-and-jam or the hug-and-cry or the stuff-and-pray. Finally starting to feel like my 2016 climbing self again and hopefully it is only up from here. I left that pullout feeling on top of the world.
Between pitches 2 and 4
…and then we almost immediately ran out of gas. Which made no sense. Because we filled up in Marblemount and had only driven 157 miles. Some good samaritan Canadiens saved us (on Canada Day!) driving all the way to Mazama and back to us with a can of gas, and those two gallons of gas took us the 50 miles to Marblemount. Which for the record is a small miracle given my car averages 18 miles per gallon. The cars behind me probably weren’t too happy with my coast-at-40-mph-in-neutral-for-as-long-as-possibly. Pulling into the Marblemount gas station was the best feeling ever.
Second best, after topping out on a sweet climb. Or maybe third best after alpine bedtime. But I’m sure my relief was palpable as I filled my “20 gallon” tank with 21 gallons of sweet, sweet gasoline.
P.S. I think “petit cheval” means “little horse” which is sooooo cute
Even the highway didn’t bother me too much (PC Robert)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Robert coming up the third pitch
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You know you’re in for a long night when this is the view while rappelling
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Johannesburg over wildflowers
Back on plain mellow snow we retraced our steps to the first slab before the glacier where we had stopped for water. Every patch of rocks Calvin would ask “is this the water?!” We had been out of water for hours. I don’t drink water like at all, so I was in my usual persistent state of dehydration. We finally found the slabs and drank so much water and I went to the bathroom for the first time all day and we set up our bivvies and made dinner (it’s 2am at this point) and I used my medical tape on my dehydrated meal because there was a hole in the bag 😦 The meal never cooked but I was so hungry I didn’t care. Crunchy salt dry risotto anyone?
Going to sleep those nights is amazing. You’re just so content and it’s so gorgeous and you’re so cozy. We slept in until like 9am. That’s the latest I’ve slept in literally years if you ignore when I go back to the east coast. Calvin made coffee, we discovered that we had cell service, he facetimed Tricia, we debated what to do. Head over to Sharkfin and do that Sunday? Calvin wanted to leave. I didn’t want to go home, I had taken a vaca day for this! He suggested WA Pass. Beckey route up Liberty Bell. I needed to get my lead brain fixed so I could stop this shit. Great, let’s do it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meadows and slabs and an awesome cloud
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Forbidden from the summit of Torment
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.*
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Views across the highway
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of my favorite pics of me ever taken. (Photo credit Andrea)
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.
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.
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.
#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.
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.
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.
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.