Skookum Falls

I’m so stoked that I finally got to actually climb an ice route!! It’s been just shy of 3 years. And not for lack of trying, I’ve just had so many turn-arounds and cancellations. Anyway, with Seattle itself being below freezing since Sunday, I was very optimistic about the chances of finding Skookum Falls in shape for climbing. I got Chris to go out there with me yesterday, Wednesday Dec. 29th, and the ice did indeed deliver!

Scoping it out

It’s worth driving to the Skookum Falls Viewpoint (47.05290, -121.57210) on Hwy 410 first and taking a look at the ice routes from there. I had packed binoculars for this, but they weren’t that necessary after all, the things you’re looking at are only a half-mile away, and fairly big. The true Skookum Falls waterfall, which people take pictures of in the summer months, is the one on the far-left, in a bit of a recess in the cliff. About 200 or 300 feet right of that, hidden in even more of a recess, is another flow that I’ve heard referred to as either “Skookum Right” or “Skookum Central” in various other descriptions. A full 1000 feet right of the namesake Skookum Falls, another lower-volume flow of water on a more broad and openly visible rock face creates a much more eye-catching wall of ice, which we’ll call “Skookum Far Right”, even though I feel like it almost deserves it’s own name. Anyway, it looks like the majority of the trip reports on CascadeClimbers.com, as well as the current single description on Mountain Project, are all referring to only this “Skookum Far Right” wall. The photo of Skookum Falls in the “Washington Ice” climbing guidebook by Krawarik and Martin is of one of the other flows: either the original Skookum Falls on the left, or its neighboring “Skookum Central” gully.

Approach

We’d heard plenty about people parking at the Skookum Falls Viewpoint on Hwy 410, and finding a way to cross the river from there. However, the alternative is parking 2 miles north, on Forest Road 73, at the “Skookum Flats North Trailhead,” and walking a flat and easy trail through the forest. (47.07796, -121.58586. Requires NW Forest Pass.) We opted to just accept the slightly longer distance to avoid any shenanigans or questionability of trying to cross the river. We also didn’t see any logs across anywhere within eyesight from the Skookum Fall Viewpoint, but admittedly we weren’t looking very hard since we had already mentally settled on taking the trail. Compared to what I’m used to hiking on for alpine climbs, the trail felt incredibly civilized: flat, straight, easy to follow, with a mere 2″ of snow, and even that had already been packed down by someone else. Luxurious.

After 40 minutes on the trail, (and one army-crawl under a blowdown,) Chris & I arrived at some very prominent flagging tape hanging from tree bough. We were directly underneath “Skookum Far Right”, with a wide-open swath through the forest giving us a perfect view up at it. Getting up that open swath was a bit trickier though, especially after we had been lulled by the nice trail until then. It took us another 25 minutes to gain that 200′ up through snow-covered rocks, logs, & devils club. We stopped at the last big tree on the right to transition and gear up for the actual ice climb! (47.05237, -121.57610)

Pitch 1

It took 40 minutes at our transition spot to eat, drink, change layers, put on harnesses, crampons, rack up the screws, stuff some essentials in a smaller climbing pack, and flake the ropes. I asked Chris to let me have the first lead, and he agreed. I started right up the middle of the wall, which looked the easiest, consistent and fun WI3 where you could always keep your weight on your feet. 16cm screws worked most places if chosen carefully to keep them from bottoming out. The crux of this pitch was about 70′ up when I found myself needing to traverse back to the right, through a section of ice that was slightly steeper, and was hollow with quite a bit of water flowing behind it, but it all worked out.

Above, I moved left onto an inviting big sloping ledge that made a great spot to belay from, with nice deep ice where I was able to bury two 22cm screws for a comfortable anchor, ending this pitch at 150′ long. Only downside was that it was out of sight from Chris, but we could just barely shout to each other, and I belayed him up to me.

Pitch 2

Above us, there were two options for our second pitch. We could either go straight up, which looked like more of the same consistent WI3 climbing. Or, there was a bit of an ice ramp going off to the left, which looked a bit lower angle and easier.

I really appreciated Chris coming out and doing this with me, and wanted to give him a chance to lead if he wanted it. The ramp to the left looked like it was more his cup of tea, so that’s the way we went! Unfortunately, what we couldn’t tell before we were on it is that left ice ramp actually had pretty shallow ice the whole way up. Even with 13cm screws, Chris’s screw placements would often bottom out, so he’d have to pull them and try placing again in a different spot.

Despite the pro, his climbing looked great, and he made solid work of the pitch, disappearing up and right out of sight and earshot, ultimately using every foot of the 60 meter ropes. I tried yelling to him about being out of rope, but there was no response, and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t have heard me. I figured he’d be searching for a belay anchor, and since I was a on a relatively comfortable ledge, I broke down my anchor and simuled a bit along with any further rope movement, in case he needed a little more. I only moved about 10′ from where my anchor had previously been when the ropes stopped moving all together for quite a long time, much longer than normal anchor-building time. I stood and waited, and began to get rather chilly, and kept wishing for the ropes to get moving again. Eventually, I heard a distant climbing command yelled by Chris, it was really good to hear that he was anchored and that I was on belay so that I could get climbing. Body heat came back quickly as I cruised up the pitch, and when I joined him at the top, I could see what all the delay was about: there really was no good option for a belay anchor anywhere around. A lot of the ice was still much thinner than it looked, but he did a great job working something out anyway, combining three shallow screw placements.

After Pitch 2…

Once we were up here and could see it better, it became clear that this was as far up as we were climbing on this side. The ice above us would soon become disjoint, interrupted too often with just open water over bare rock, and the ice that was there was too thin. So, we needed to go back down. We certainly weren’t going to get a V-thread made in any of the ice here, so we needed something else to rap off of. Another 20-something feet beyond Chris were some trees up on the rock buttress, we agreed that a short pitch could be done to reach those. I led that and got us to our target tree, which unsurprisingly had faded white/yellow webbing already on it, so I built a new rap anchor and cut away the old stuff.

From there, we rappelled back to the ledge where I had ended the first pitch. I was too hasty throwing the rappel ropes, didn’t coil them neatly before throwing, and paid for that time many times over trying to untangle the rats-nest of twin ropes throughout most of my rappel. We didn’t quite reach the spot I had belayed from before, but we did manage to find a place with good ice where a V-thread was possible. As we were pulling our rappel rope, I brought up the idea of possibly doing a third pitch of the day from here, climbing the WI3 that was straight up from this point. However, when we checked our watches, it turned out it was later in the day than we realized, and we agreed it was time to be going down. Unfortunately, during this, the untieing of one stopper-knot in the rappel rope was forgotten, and it turns out the rappel rope wasn’t coming down anyway. So, for better or for worse, I got to lead one more pitch anyway, repeating our pitch 2, and once again at the top rapping of the same tree.

This time we were very careful pulling the rope, and everything went smoothly. We set up V-thread with one screw backing it up, Chris rapped first, with me going second without the backup screw, since I’m the shorter & slightly lighter one out of the two of us. It was 4:15pm by the time we were all back on the ground. It took about a half hour to transition, coiling the ropes and packing away all of the sharp things. It took us just shy of an hour to descend the forest clearing and hike back to the car, which did mean we did have to break out the headlamps for the last half an hour.

All and all, what an incredibly fun day!!! I’m so thankful that we got to do this, and take advantage of this rare opportunity for Washington ice!!

Gear Notes

We had been worried about screw lengths. We both owned a lot of long screws, which are appropriate for summer glacial ice, but we knew the ice here would be thinner and we didn’t want to be constantly bottoming out screws against the rock. Fortunately, between the two of us, we had a decent number of medium screws: 4x 16cm, 2x 13cm, and one stubby 10cm. We also had 3x 19cm and 4x 22cm screws, but those didn’t get used as much, the ice was rarely thick enough for them. The 16cm screws were definitely what we used the most. It would have been nice to have a few more of our screws be shorter. It would have really helped to have a second or maybe even third 10cm stubby.

Eldorado, NW Couloir

Ugh, this route!  I’m 0 for 3 on it.  This past weekend, Nov. 20th & 21st, was my third attempt, and third turnaround.

tl;dr

At least as of Nov. 21st, the Cascade River Road is indeed drivable to milepost 20, the normal summer trailhead for Eldo. (And gated after that.) The log crossing has changed again already (at least since this past April.) We used a smaller log that’s about 150′ downstream from where the river is closest to the road, which worked out just fine. (Not that you need coordinates for it, but if it makes you feel better: 48.493061, -121.123988) It’ll probably be different again by next spring.

On Thursday, Nov. 18th, fresh snow fell that exceeded what was forecast, managed to stick as low as 3000′, and has draped the boulder field in a 6″ to 12″ blanket of unsupportive fluffy powder, turning it into a rocky posthole nightmare that took 3 hours to cross. Above that, snowshoes could be used, but mostly deep fresh snow still made for tiring trail-breaking, limiting average pace to about 500′ of gain per hour. Despite leaving the trailhead at 7am, we made camp where dusk forced us to at 4:45pm, at only 6700′. (Testing with an avy probe indicated snow was just shy of 5′ deep there.) The math no longer made sense for our summit-day schedule: we were too far below our planned camp, and travel times were clearly taking longer than our planned schedule accounted for. Most of all, we feared that the NW Couloir itself would be full of this same unconsolidated snow, potentially turning it into a sketchy 55°-60° wallow with no good holds, no good sticks, and no good pro.

Even Starting An Attempt is Hard

It’s already been a long history of unsuccessful endeavors chasing technical winter alpine climbs for me.  It’s just so challenging to get everything to line up correctly.  Just the basic conditions to allow a winter alpine ice climb to even be possible already requires hitting the bullseye of a 3-way venn diagram: 

  1. a reasonable weather-window, 
  2. pretty good avy conditions,
  3. a hope that some ice has formed on your route and that there’ll actually be a thing to climb when you get there.

Beyond that already-rare line up of things you cannot control, it’s still kinda challenging to also line up your personal details, all those things you (theoretically) can control:

  • You have to be physically ready.  Let’s be realistic, staying in tip-top physical condition for big days in the alpine is not as easy during the wetter & grayer months.  You don’t get the “free” conditioning of summer where you’re naturally active every weekend, so you have to be more deliberate about doing less-fun exercises in less-fun conditions.  And to succeed at a winter route, with shorter days and more trail breaking, you have to be more fit.
  • You have to have partners lined up who both have the necessary skills/experience/fitness for winter technical (which is naturally a smaller pool of partners than I’m willing to draw from for summer objectives, due to the harder requirements,) and who actually want to do this sufferfest that is winter alpine climbing, with it’s chilly belays, spindrift, and just generally everything being harder.
  • You and your partners have to be available when the opportunity happens.  Not everyone can take off days from work anytime at the drop of a hat.  Those of us who mostly can are privileged, and even then, the odds that someone will have an unmissable commitment in the front-country are high.  So, you gotta have enough people interested that if one person can’t make it, it doesn’t sink your attempt.

I think one of the biggest challenges to winter alpine climbing is:   It’s a lot harder to build & maintain the planning-stoke for a thing that is unknown, and un-guaranteed.  Maybe the trip will happen, maybe it won’t.  What dates do we expect to go?  Who knows.  If we obsessively check weather forecasts every day for months, maybe we’ll get a one-week heads up before it’s suddenly go-time, end even then the forecast could shift last minute and cancel things on us.  In the meantime, let’s make sure we’re all exercising long in advance as if this trip will happen, even though it might not.  And don’t make too many other hard commitments on your calendar.  All of that makes working to keep the stoke full feel like ladling water into a leaky bucket over a long period of time.  It affects my recruitment of partners somewhat, but even more so, I find it’s a mental struggle for myself, to make sure that I keep myself engaged & diligent about exercising & checking the weather week after week after week, in the face of so many doubts about when or even if it will pay off.

My History On Eldorado

I’ve summitted Eldorado 4 times before, all via the Basic Route (walking up the east ridge.)  My very first time up the mountain was a winter overnight ascent, during February 2015, a memorable trip with Sherrie, Greg L, and Evan B.  (However, the 2015 winter was a very weird low-snow year, and the majority of the boulder field was snow-free making it notably easier, very uncharacteristic of February.)  I’ve led two Mountaineers Basic climbs up it, a group of 7 in July 2018, and a group of 9 in September 2019, both with car-to-car times that were 13 hours and change, which I’d say is pretty good for that group size and with some students for whom it was their very first time on a glacier.  Finally, in April 2021, just Jessica and I did it in a day on skis, plus some bonus road-walk with the gate closed at milepost 18.  (Our April timing proved perfect, with no snow until maybe 200’ before the boulder field, and then pretty good coverage & compactness on the boulder field that we could actually skin across.)

I’ve also made two attempts at Eldorado’s NW Couloir, prior to this recent one.  Both were with an excellent climbing partner and friend, Jacob W, in the 2018-2019 winter season.  We already understood that you couldn’t plan dates ahead of time for winter alpine climbs, so long before winter started, we made a pact that when good conditions appeared to line up for it on a weekend, we’d drop everything and go for it.  The first weekend that lined up for it was December 1st & 2nd, 2018.  We knew that the Cascade River Road was gated at milepost 18, and we thought that arriving there at 8am would be an earlier enough start.  However, that meant it was 9am when we reached milepost 20 (the traditional Eldorado TH,) then 11am by the time we reached the start of the boulder field (i.e. we gained that 1800’ in the forest in 2 hours, which I felt was decent considering we had 52lb & 53lb packs.)  However, the boulder field was that worst-case scenario of snow cover: enough to hide the gaps, but not enough to support you, so picking our way up it was slow going and painful (sometimes literally, when a leg would post-hole 3+ feet deep into a snow-obscured gap between the boulders, which led to some minor blood & scrapes on our shins.)  Although we had been moving at just shy of the benchmark 1000’ per hour before the boulder field, it suddenly took us a full 3 hours to gain the next 1000’ in the boulder field.  By the time we got to the small waterfall that marks the upper end of the boulder field, it was 2:15pm.  Knowing that sunset was about 2 hours away, and that there was no chance we’d get anywhere near our planned camp spot up at 7600’ (at the toe of the east ridge) in that kind of time, we opted to throw in the towel and turn around at that point.  We knew our chances of still getting to climb the couloir were pretty much nil by that point, so we might as well go home to warm beds rather than endure a winter overnight for no payoff.  It took us 1h45m to walk in our own fresh tracks back down to base of the boulder field, 1h15m to descend the 1800’ in the forest, and 45m to walk the 2 miles of closed road back to my car at milepost 18, arriving there at 6pm.  In our retrospective of that trip, we identified the short daylight hours as one of the main things working against us.  Within a month of winter solstice, the sun is only up for 10 hours, and down for 14.  The days were just so short that there wasn’t any forgiveness at all in schedules for things like the boulder field taking 3 hours to cross because of difficult partial snow cover.  And on mountaineering trips, there’s nearly always something that causes an unexpected delay somewhere, that eats up more time than it ideally should.  We decided we needed to wait to try again sometime when there were more than 10 hours between sunrise and sunset, which meant waiting until at least the end of February.

The weekend of March 2nd & 3rd 2019 showed a high-pressure system in the forecast, with promise of delivering both stable avalanche conditions and bluebird days on the weekend itself, so Jacob and I were on for a second attempt of the NW Couloir!  We were especially stoked that dawn was 6:20am and dusk was 6:20pm, giving us an even 12 hours of no-headlamp-time, which we felt would really up our chances.  However, we couldn’t get clear beta about where Cascade River Road was drivable to.  When we got out there, we found that there was snow on the road itself.  We put chains on my Forester at milepost 10, and got the car stuck entirely a little past milepost 16.  After some shenanigans, we managed to back it out and return to a pullout by the Mineral Park Campground entrance to more properly “park” the car.  Unfortunately, by then it was 9am.  We still went ahead and booted the 4 miles of closed snow-covered road, reaching milepost 20 & Eldorado’s summer-trailhead by 11am.  This time the thicker snow cover made the climbers trail through the forest much harder, it was fully buried and we lost it constantly, ended up full-on bushwhacking instead.  Realizing that we were going to be even worse off than our previous attempt, we made the call to turn around.  At the embarrassing low elevation of 3000’, at 12:30pm.  Again, nothing we could do then would salvage our chances of climbing the couloir the next day, so again we opted to shed the sunk cost, and return to Seattle and warm beds for the night.

Since then, Jacob ended up moving to Colorado.  A good move for him, but it did create a bit of a barrier to us making future Pacific Northwest weekend plans together.  I stayed in Seattle, but also had a move of my own to a new place in December 2019, after seven years living in my previous apartment.  Even though I didn’t go far, actually accomplishing the move took my full bandwidth, and climbing was off my radar for at least a month before & after it.  It seems that led me to miss an unusually perfect weather opportunity for snagging the NW Couloir during November 2019.  Before I started recruiting new potential partners who’d be capable of this route for spring 2020…..  well, we all know what happened in spring 2020.  With a new virus sweeping the world, my girlfriend and I more or less didn’t leave our house for 2 months straight.  It was hard to watch a lot of beautiful weather spring weekends go by while we stayed indoors, but there was so much that no one knew back then, including how transmission worked, so we didn’t want to in any way risk being part of the problem.  So we did nothing, and hung out with no one.  Until May, when we formed a bubble with one other couple and finally started venturing outside again, although we stuck to hiking & backcountry skiing as our only sports.  We did do some cool glacier travel and scramble alpine objectives during summer of 2020.  As far as technical climbing though, I did next to none.  I didn’t feel that the risk of climbing indoors at my old regular gym, Vertical World, was worth it until we were finally able to get vaccinated, in April 2021.  And during that time of not having the base-fitness of gym climbing every week, my arms were pretty weak and any outdoor climbing quickly proved demoralizing, so I didn’t do much.  After getting vaccinated, I was back to the gym, and within a month or so I was climbing stronger than ever on outside rock, finally feeling comfortable on old-school 5.9 trad routes, which is a lot for me.  But by then it was mid-June, with talk of a “once in a 1000 years” heat-dome phenomenon coming in the forecast; not exactly the season for the NW Couloir, so I mentally filed away any plans of returning for the coming November.

This Trip

Coming in to November 2021, Eldorado NW Couloir was high on my mind, with dreams of finally pulling off a trip similar to those CascadeClimber trip reports from Nov. 2019.  However, this November was hit with atmospheric river after atmospheric river, and the rain was relentless for weeks.  I believed sooner or later an opportunity would come, and I forced myself to train, doing I-90 hikes in the rain, and really struggled to not let my spirits dampen.  Finally, hope for a weather window appeared, with long term forecasts suggesting there might be 5 days with minimal or no precip, from Wednesday Nov. 17th through Sunday Nov. 21st.  Perfect, that lines up with a weekend, simplifying things a bit.  It was on Thursday the 11th when I first realized that window might be coming, so started emailing a few potential partners here and there, but couldn’t get any takers.  Finally, late at night on Tuesday the 16th, I decided to just cast a wider net and post about it on the Mountaineers website and on Facebook.  I got a lot of different responses, the usual mix of “Don’t do it!” and “Do do it!” and “I have no climbing experience but can I come?”  (No.)  The first person to reach out with both legitimate interest and a solid climbing resume for this was Ryan C, followed a bit later by Brian H. I was stoked to find some good partners, and we made plans to go as a party of 3. Another friend of mine reached out too, but she was a bit later, and had another climbing partner that she wanted to include too, and I couldn’t quite stomach turning us into an official party of 5, so I reluctantly told her no. Separately, I also heard rumors that a friend of a friend, named Grant, had been inspired by my facebook post and was likely going to organize his own attempt for the same weekend, so we might see him out there, but didn’t need to coordinate on anything. So Ryan, Brian, & I worked out the details of our own plan and watched the weather.

Hitting the right window for weather and conditions is everything for winter technical climbs like this, so to recap what had been happening with the weather: For a solid month, I don’t think we had gotten more than a 24 hour break from the rain, it seemed interminable. The weekend of Nov. 13th & 14th was no exception, with oddly warm temperatures, pushing freezing levels all the way up to 9000′, very unusual for mid-November. So much rain fell that it led to tragic & devastating flooding in northern Washington and in British Columbia (my heart goes out to anyone affected.) I wasn’t sure that Cascade River Road would still be there for us to drive on or not, but if it was, at least those crazy-high freezing levels should have eliminated any trace of low-elevation snow on Eldorado, likely making the lower half of the approach easy, while likely making the ice formations at higher elevations all the fatter; all good news for a potential climb. We just needed enough of a precip-free window for avy conditions to settle down, then allow us to actually climb. Going into the week of Nov. 15th, the forecast looked like it would give us exactly that on Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday the 17th indeed turned out to be dry and sunny. Thursday the 18th was overcast, and I knew some snow would fall in the mountains, but earlier forecasts had suggested that it would be just a dusting, nothing significant. Unfortunately, day-of on Thursday, updated weather forecasts were now saying around 6 inches of snow were falling that day for Eldorado (no longer just a dusting,) and with a freezing level that dropped way back down to 3000′ or maybe lower. Not what I had planned on, and I knew that it would make things less ideal, especially for the boulder field, but you never know exactly what conditions you’ll get unless you go out there and experience them first hand, and it’s not like we were going to get another weather window for this route this year anyway, it was this or nothing, so we stuck with the plan to give it a try. Friday was overcast, but at least no more precip came.

Finally, Saturday morning (Nov. 20th,) we met up at 65th St. P&R at 4am. This time I wasn’t wasting any minute of daylight, having learned that lesson from prior attempts. (Like my first attempt with Jacob, we were facing 10 hours of daylight, and 14 hours of darkness.) I was thankful that the Forest Service now lets you file for a winter camping permit in the North Cascades over email, so we didn’t need to stop in person at the Marbelmount Ranger station, helping us save time on the drive. Even better, by some miracle, Cascade River Road actually was drivable all the way to milepost 20, the summer Eldorado trailhead, getting us there by 6:45am, 15 minutes before dawn, perfect!! Definitely the best start I’ve had yet to an Eldo NW Couloir attempt. We circled around the tailgate of Ryan’s truck, sorted out some last minute details about the pieces in the rack by headlamp, and got our packs together (50.2lbs for mine this time, including one of the twin-ropes,) and were on the move by 7:10am with full daylight.

Back in April, seven months prior, there had been a giant log held in place by steel cables that made an ideal footlog over the river. This time, I was quite surprised to see that artificially-secured log gone already, but we soon found a smaller one about 150′ further downstream, and we were fully across the river and into the forest on the other side by 7:25. We moved really well on the trail up through the forest for the next 1800′, knocking it out in a quick 1h30m, with patchy bits of snow starting to appear here and there on the ground about half way up, around 3000′. By the time we reached the boulder field at 8:50am at 4000′, it was draped in a blanket of fluffy unsupportive powder 6″ to 12″ deep. It made the boulder field a rocky posthole nightmare that took more than 3 hours to gain the next 1000′. Helmets felt purdent given how slippery everything was, and rubber gloves and a trekking pole were very useful through here, since it was constantly uneven trailbreaking, often keeping my balance by with my hands all over the snowy rocks around me, quickly soaking any glove that wasn’t rubber. Unfortunately, both of my gaiters had their stirrup straps break while working through this section, thanks to blind postholing into powder-obscured gaps between boulders, with the sides of my legs scuffing against the rocks a ton. This led to snow working it’s way up my gaiters from the bottom, then down into the boots over the course of the day, leading to some soggy socks & toes later that night. On the bright side though, we were getting to observe quite a few icicles and thin ice curtains formed on visible cliffsides nearby, which boded very well for the presence of ice 4000 feet higher where we’d actually care about it, so it kept us excited. Plus, I was feeling a lot of emotions from my long history of not-yet getting to climb this route already, which really lit a fire in me for breaking trail up the boulder field. Still, it was 12:30pm by the time we finally reached the landmark little waterfall at 5200′ that marks the end of the boulder field. There, Grant and his partner, Chris, caught up to us. They had started an hour later than we had, and had really benefited from the trail we packed down through the boulderfield. We stopped to collect some liquid water from that waterfall and Aquamira it, both so we could carry a bit less water from the start, and so we’d need to melt a bit less once we reached camp that night. Grant & Chris went ahead, taking over the trailbreaking job for little bit.

We completed our water refill by 12:50pm, moved up a little bit from that waterfall at 5200′, and finally could put our snowshoes on, thanks to being out of the boulder field. We caught up with Grant & Chris again at 1:30pm, and at 2:00pm (5700′) I took a turn at trailbreaking again, pushing on up to the ridgetop at 6200′ by 2:50pm. Finally up here and looking down the gulley into Roush Basin, I had my team take off snowshoes for the downclimb, and get out one ice axe to have in hand. Grant & Chris opted to rappel. The little gulley may have looked a bit intimidating from the top, but it was actually easier/safer than it was in the summer, since the bottom runnout had a ton of powdery snow, so if you somehow fell you’d have a much softer landing than the summer. My group of three were all at the bottom by 3:15pm, right as Grant & Chris were ready to throw their ropes. Ryan, Brian, & I continued taking turns at the trailbreaking while Grant & Chris rappelled and dealt with their gear. They caught up to us again at 4:00 at 6400′, and they opted to make camp there given the late hour. At this time of year, headlamps would be required by 5pm. I kept pushing, really hoping we could get higher, but by 4:30pm and at only 6700′, I had to concede that it was time to make camp, at a somewhat arbitrary point mid-slope well before reaching the Eldorado Glacier’s flat “football field.” This was a long way from the 7600′ toe of the East Ridge where I had hoped to make it to that night.

We dug out a really nice shape for the inside of my floorless tent, creating a sleeping-bench for each of us along the three sides of the tent other than the fourth side with the door, with a small table of snow in the middle. It’s a lot of work to setup a winter camp, and it was 6:45pm by the time I could start to relax a bit and think about next steps in our plan. After downing our meal packs, it was time to discuss what to do about Sunday: do we still go for it? Or do we bail? Everyone was fairly on the fence. Points in favor of going for it included:

  • We’re here, we’ve come this far already, and we’re in better shape for potentially climbing the route than any of my previous attempts have been, even if that is just relatively speaking.
  • The weather was still supposed to be good for Sunday.
  • And there was an outstanding moon: full all night, making for stunning nighttime visibility, so if we did want to make an even earlier start, travelling through the night should be somewhat reasonable.

However, points against going included:

  • Obviously, we weren’t where we planned to be, we were camped almost 1000′ lower then planned. And given the travel times we were experience with the trailbreaking through all the snow, it would take 2 hours to cover that distance. So instead of the planned alarms at 5am (2 hours before dawn,) it would have required alarms at at least 3am (4 hours before dawn.)
  • On top of that, given that we were finding travel times to take longer than accounted for in our original schedule, what else about the day would end up taking longer than planned? Even if we changed that start to 3am, we’d have to be perfectly on schedule from then on out to not end up epic’ing.
  • The biggest discouraging thought of all: given how much fresh snow we’ve been encountering, what was the state of the NW Couloir itself? Would it be full of this same light, fresh, & deep powder, potentially burying all the things that make climbing secure (good rock or ice) under too much deep powder?

Ryan & Brian were both pretty medium on the idea of going for it, I think they were pretty equally open to either possibility: going or bailing. At first I wanted to go, just because it’s been such a long history for me already, and I knew it would be a long time before I got to try it again. However, the more I thought about it, the more all the little “yellow flags” about our situation ate at me. It didn’t help my mood that it had been an exhausting day, with mostly dreary gray cloud cover and not much sun, and that my toes were a bit uncomfortablely cold & wet thanks to my broken gaiters. The biggest real concern remained the possibility that the couloir would be too snowy to offer much in the way of security or pro placements while climbing. One person’s discouraging facebook comment to that effect echoed in my head, for better or for worse. Whether this saved us from a truly dangerous accident, or was the last straw that prevented us from seizing a rare opportunity to succeed at a hard route, we’ll never know, since once we made the decision to bail, we knew no one would touch the couloir this week to know it’s conditions. We went to sleep agreeing that there’d be no alarm in the morning, we’d just get up whenever, and pack up & hike out once we did.

Sometime after 7am I was lying awake in my sleeping bag, enjoying the dawn light shining through the tent walls, when I heard footsteps pass by outside the tent. Holy crap, Grant & Chris were actually going to go for it?? I took me a while to extricate myself from my sleeping bag, get my boots on, and get outside of the tent, and by then they were well beyond conversational distance away. We watched them slowly work their way up the slope beyond us, eventually crossing out of sight at 7400′ at 8:30am. We knew how hard that trailbreaking was, so we understood their current pace, but didn’t understand what they were thinking. They re-appeared at 9:20am, coming back down, which made more sense. They passed by our camp as we were finishing our packing up, and got to chat with them a bit, and comiserate a bit about just how hard all of this snow made everything. They reported that the football field was rather wind-swept and therefore more supportive to walk on, and made for quicker travelling. They got to the bottom of the east ridge, looked around the corner at the snowy Inspiration Glacier, and opted to call it & turn around there.

Anyway, my team of 3 was packs-on for the hike out at 9:45am after a leisurely morning & pack-up. Today was much sunnier than Saturday had been, making it a more pleasant day. We got to the base of the gully for the ridge-crossover at 10:15am (man, going back down is sooo much quicker,) were all on top of the ridge-crossover by 10:35, back to the waterfall / top-edge of the boulder field at 5200′ by 11:30am. We got to the bottom fo the boulder field at 4000′ by 1:15pm. We reached the river at the bottom of the descent at 2:30pm, and were back at Ryan’s truck at 2:40pm. We capped off the weekend with a stop for burgers at Nutty’s Junkyard Grill in Arlington on the drive home. Ryan & Brian were both fantastic partners, I really appreciate them both giving his a try with me.

Thoughts for the Future

With three turnarounds now, all despite having already selected for really good weather windows and strong partners in the first place, yet ending up as a turn-around anyway, and across more than three years of history trying for this route, one takeaway common to all of them stands out. There needs to be less (fresh) snow for this route to go. I think I need to adjust my attempt-dates even further away from the core of winter, and further into fall or spring than they have been already. IMHO, climbing this route only makes sense in one of the following scenarios. Either:

  • You catch it early enough in the late-fall that the boulder-field is completely snow-free. i.e. the ground is bare & dry up to at least 5200′. Probably by the middle of November most years that window has closed, and some years it’ll close even earlier. Even before this recent trip, I knew I had wanted to target early November, but with the continuous rain, there was no chance to this year. I wonder if late-October or maybe even mid-October could be feasible to aim for in future years? Though I’d be worried about the couloir at 8000′ sufficiently forming enough ice for reasonalbe climbing that early. It might be really dependent on some very specific weather history of precip and temps.
  • You wait late enough into the spring that the Cascade River Road has fully melted out, but the boulder field is completely filled in with consolidated and therefore supportive snow. Probably no earlier than mid-March, probably ideal during April up until early May, when the boulder field probably starts to melt out and you lose that ideal complete-coverage.
  • The two bullet points above suggest that this route simply does not go between mid-November and mid-March (without some really exceptional weather conditions occuring.) I think if you really want to climb this route during that true winter season, when the boulder field is anywhere in between perfectly-clear and perfectly-buried, you have to accept that overall it’ll be a 3-day climb, and plan for it as one. Though a 3-day climb would be rather unpleasant during most of that time, being so close to winter solstice, where the days are short and nights are long.

So note to self: don’t try again on dates that are after mid-November, or before mid-March. And even then, I was more excited for what I imagine the fall-character of this route to be (likely more of an ice & mixed climb,) as opposed to what I imagine the spring-character of this route to be (more of a snow-filled gulley, thus potentially less technical.)

I really do want to climb this route. For the rest of this, I’ll just post some info that I think will be useful for myself (and any others) next time I make an attempt on this route.

Weather

Elevations

  • Trailhead:  2200’
  • Boulder field begins:  4000’
  • Boulder field ends:  5200′   (a small waterfall here is likely a source of running water)
  • Cross ridgeline from Eldorado Basin to Roush Basin:  6200’
  • The “Football Field” (that giant flat area of the glacier)   7500’ 
  • cross the north ridge to access west side:  8000′
  • Summit:  8876’

A rack I keep packing & never testing

I’m torn on posting this. I prefer to post trip report rack recommendations based on my own personal experience on the route. However, on this route, more than three years on I still haven’t even gotten to rope-up for it yet, or heck even see it with my own eyes, so I certainly haven’t tested the rack. But, I’ve researched it and re-researched it enough times, I’ll at least write up what I’m pretty sure the rack should be at this point:

  • Set of nuts
  • 5 or 6 cams: BD Cam sizes #2 down to #0.4 or #0.3 (preferably ultralights)
  • 3 pitons: knifeblades and a bugaboo. Just a mix for cracks that are too small for nuts
  • 5 or 6 ice screws, preferably aluminum, like the Petzl Laser Speed Lights. Mix of sizes like 2x 13cm, 2x 17cm, and one or two 21cm
  • 2 pickets
  • Slings: 6 single-runners and 6 double-runners

Skis vs Snowshoes

I absolutely love backcountry skiing, and believe me, I’m happy to incorporate skis into a plan when I think they make sense. However, a lot of times for this route, I don’t honestly think skis make sense. Consider a few different parts of the climb:

  • The first 1800′ in the forest: Regardless of time of year, skis would definitely require A-frame carrying them on your pack for the first 1800′ of gain, both up and down. (I cannot imagine that low-elevation forest ever getting thick enough snow coverage to skin or ski. Even when there was enough snow to get my Subaru stuck on Cascade River Rd, there wasn’t enough snow inside the forest for skiing.) In this were the only part you had to carry your skis for, and your pack isn’t heavy already I’d say it’s worth it. Doing a day-trip to just ski Eldorado’s Basic Route in later winter or spring can be a fantasti day. But doing so with overnight gear, plus ice tools, rack, & rope, can be a bit much. Also, as the winter/spring goes by, there’ll be more uncleared blowdowns to negotiate during this section, which can be tricky with A-framed skis.
  • The boulder field. Ah, the boulder field. If the boulderfield is solidly snow-covered, then skis could be enjoyable through that section. But it’s a big if. If, instead, you have to keep A-framing the skis through the boulder field, it’s gonna be hell, and you should probably just turn around and go home before trying.
  • Climbing the couloir itself: Remember that you need to carry whatever floation you use up and over with you. The traverse out to Dean’s Spire is long enough that you are certainly going to keep wearing your floatation out to there. And by that point, it’s going up and over with you. Plus you’ll probably want that floation anyway for the 1200′ walk-off descent down the East Ridge before you pickup your path in again. So which would you prefer strapped to you pack while you climb the technical portion of the NE Couloir, small snowshoes or big A-framed skis? Certainly some people do climb it with A-frame skis, but since I have yet to get the first-hand experience of how easy or hard the climbing is, I’m going to play it safe and chose to climb with the lighter weight option: snowshoes.

Pictures: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/n17wis4dyl18vso/AABwwLwl_YMOhz5ZDzP5jt9va?dl=0

Chair Peak, NE Buttress, winter

February 26, 2016

At last!!  This was the 6th time I had blocked out a date on the calendar to climb this route in winter conditions, but it was the first time that I didn’t have to cancel it due to poor avalanche conditions or poor weather.  We finally did it, and we actually summited!  It helped that I had also done this route during the summer as a rock climb (Sept. 4, 2015) so I was already familiar with the route & approach.  This has also convinced me that if you want to do this route in the winter (or most any winter climb) scheduling it far in advance and crossing your fingers for good conditions is futile, don’t do it.  Instead, build a list of like-minded climbing partners you can call on, all of whom are interested enough in the route that they’ll take a vacation day on short notice to do it.  Wait for the good weather and safe avalanche conditions to come first, then schedule the climb opportunistically.  Personally, I wouldn’t do this climb unless NWAC predicts “Moderate” danger or lower.  If you see three consecutive days of no precipitation coming down the pipeline in the weather forecast, odds are you’ll have stable enough avy conditions to climb during that third day.  Still, confirm NWAC’s forecast before you go, and make good decisions for yourself.


Weather & Avy Forecasts
(for future trip planning)

http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lon=-121.46658&lat=47.45741
http://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Chair-Peak/forecasts/1901
http://www.nwac.us/avalanche-forecast/current/cascade-west-snoqualmie-pass/


The key points of our February 26th trip

  • party of 4 (myself and Nate as one rope team, Abby & John as the second rope team)
  • approached with snowshoes via Source Lake winter route
  • 5 pitches.  Cruxes were mixed climbing (thin snow over low 5th class rock) on our 1st pitch, and a short but very vertical 10 foot section of water ice on our 4th pitch.
  • Carried over (bringing everything but the snowshoes) and descended the rappel route south of the summit.  Just one 60m (double-rope) rap there, plus a fair bit of steep snow down-climbing.
  • To our surprise, it turns out Colin Haley and Alex Honnold climbed the route the day before us.  We quite literally walked in their footprints at times.


Elevations

  • parking lot:  3280’
  • Source Lake:  3750’
  • Thumbtack:  5100’
  • route base:  5600’
  • summit:  6238’
  • rap station:  roughly 6000’


Times

I would recommend 5:00am start at Alpental.  We intended that, but small snafus made us start closer to 6am.  Once we were going, we were fortunate to have everything go very smoothly for us, with almost zero needlessly-lost time, giving us a car-to-car time of 11h20m, broken down as follows:

  • 3 hours for approach  (50 minutes parking lot to Source Lake, 1h10m Source Lake to Thumbtack, 40min Thumbtack to route base, caching snowshoes near a tree on the way)
  • 20 minutes gearing up at the base
  • 4h10m for both of our rope teams to climb 5 pitches
  • 2h30m for descent  (30min to coil ropes and scramble down to rap station, another 30min at rap station replacing old tat, tying ropes together, and tossing them, then 40min for all 4 people to rappel, another 40min slowly plunge-stepping very steep snow to get back to our cached snowshoes)
  • 1h20m snowshoeing out from there


Gear notes

  • Snowshoes for approach  (Some kind of floatation is essential.  Skis would have been more fun for the descent, but would mean more weight, as I’d probably carry mountaineering boots in my pack, and cold toes trying to switch boots at the gear-cache point.)
  • avy beacon/probe/shovel  (as always, this philosophy:  http://avyupdates.blogspot.com/2012/03/in-case-im.html)
  • pair of ice tools  (I was glad to have two tools at the cruxes, even though a mountaineering axe would have plunged better in the snow on the rest of the climb.  I might recommend removing any finger-rests or protrusions from your ice tools’ shafts before going on this climb, if your tools allow it.)
  • crampons  (steel, very secure boot-fit, and horizontal front-points)
  • 60m rope
  • set of nuts (only used smaller to medium sizes)
  • cams: BD #1 and smaller.  The little blue BD #0.3 was especially useful for me.  Opportunities for rock pro were somewhat rare, and the few decent cracks that did exist were quite small.
  • 2 or 3 pitons:  knifeblades or bugaboos, for cracks that are too thin for nuts  (good advice on pitons: http://www.rescuedynamics.ca/articles/pdfs/Pitoncraft.pdf)
  • 3 or 4 ice screws (two for a belay anchor, plus one or two for leader-pro)
  • pickets:  we brought 4 per rope team, but the snow often wasn’t strong or deep enough to place them.  I’d bring 2 per rope team next time.
  • slings:  4 singles, 5 doubles, seemed about right
  • cordelette for rigging some anchors


GPS Track

Here’s my gps track from the day.  The GPS goes a bit crazy on the climbing/descending parts of the route, so ignore the squiggles there, and just use for info on the approach.
Chair Peak 2-26-2016 GPS track on map
Approach

Park at the very end of the Alpental Road so you can take the winter route directly to Source Lake.  No parking pass of any sort is needed here, since the ski resort owns this parking lot.  That route begins as a groomed cat track going past the ski resort’s explosive storage shed, and eventually becomes just a skier’s skin track, and stays on the west side of the valley’s bottom the whole time.  You do NOT want to park at the Snow Lake trailhead or use the Snow Lake trail for approach, it adds unnecessary distance in the winter.Chair approach 1

After passing Source Lake, head uphill, but not quite straight at Chair Peak.  Veer right and follow the path of least resistance (i.e. the least steep slope) to gain some elevation.  When it looks easy to turn left and head straight at Chair, do so (around 4500’-ish.)

Chair approach 2We passed by the Thumbtack, and picked a lonesome little “Charlie Brown” pine tree in the bowl that was roughly at the center of the Y that would be the intersection of our future paths up to the route base (looker’s right) and down from the rap route (looker’s left.)  We cached our snowshoes at that Charlie Brown tree, pulled out helmets and one axe each there, and booted up the remaining steeper snow slope.  Back in summer there had been a section of 3rd class rock to climb just before the route’s base, but this time that was entirely filled in with a big snow drift, so we could simply walk up.


The Climb

Chair NE Buttress route overviewOut of the pitches we climbed, only the 1st and 4th really required being roped up, but in my opinion it’s simplest/easiest/most-efficient here to just stay roped up and pitch the whole thing out.  You can move through the easy pitches really quickly anyway.  Taking time to transition to simul-climbing or even unroping early probably wouldn’t provide enough time-savings to be worth the hassle.

our P1:  (low 5th class mixed climbing, 60 meters, tree anchor at end)
Chair pitch 1This is the blocky S-shaped gully (aka open book) that every route description has a photo of.  It goes up, curves to the right, and straightens up again to end in a clump of trees.  For us it was mostly mixed climbing, with thin unreliable snow over low 5th class rock.  Doing it as a single pitch all the way to the trees is a rope-stretcher, a full 60m, but very doable.  Extend all your pieces with double runners.  Many other route descriptions encourage breaking this up into two 100’ pitches, so do whatever makes you happy.

our P2:  (moderate snow, 60 meters, tree or rock-horn anchor at end)
Chair pitch 2Continue up through the middle of the clump of trees, slinging at least one of them before you leave them behind.  After that, it’s an open snow slope with not really any pro, but not really any need for pro either.  End at either a lone pine tree, or the rock horn just beyond/above it.

our P3:  (moderate snow, 60 meters, use ice screws for anchor at end)
Chair pitch 3From the top of P2, above you and slightly left you’ll be able to see the rock band that adds a more vertical step to the otherwise consistently sloped snow, with a short pillar of water ice formed right in the middle of it.  Climb P3 by angling up and towards that ice step, you should be able to get fairly close to it.  Down-slope of the visible ice, I found that if I brushed away the snow I was kick-stepping up, there was thick ice buried there too, so I used a pair of screws as a belay anchor there.

our P4:  (10 feet of vertical water ice, roughly 40 meters overall, challenging to find a good anchor to end at)
Chair pitch 4Ah, the crux ice step at last!  Having just come back from 4 days of top-rope ice practice in Ouray, it was up to me to lead this, and even then I still freaked out a bit.  Stupidly, I had only brought two screws total in my rack, since I knew the ice step would be short.  I had not foreseen that the belay anchor before it would be in ice, using up both screws and leaving no pro for myself as the leader.  Lacking other options, I tried to place a bugaboo piton in the rock to the right of the ice pillar’s top.  It was an awkward position, and the piton placement ended up being just slightly less than terrible.  Pulling myself up over the top of the ice pillar was the hardest part for me, but I took it slowly and carefully, and managed to get through it.  Above that, I kicked steps up moderate snow for probably 35 meters until I found a place in the rock on my left that wasn’t complete shit, and built a 3-piece anchor consisting of 1 micro-cam, 1 better-placed piton of mine, and 1 vertical picket in nearby snow.  I belayed off my harness instead of the anchor, with my butt firmly in a bucket of snow, in an attempt to protect the anchor from ever having to hold load.  This worked out just fine.  An alternative way to end this pitch might have been to turn left immediately after getting over the ice, there’s a gnarly tree buried under the snow somewhere over there.  If you can find it, slinging it would make for a better anchor, and leave P5 to be 60m of moderate snow.

our P5:  (moderate snow, roughly 40 meters, tree anchor at end)
Chair pitch 5Simply kick steps up whatever’s left of the snow slope above you.  End the pitch at a tree just below the false summit.  Once you’re both up, you can unrope, leave the rope at that tree, and scramble the remainder to the summit.  You’ll come back to where you unroped when you descend.  Be mindful of significant cornicing on the summit!Chair summit scramble


Descent

Chair rappel approach

Chair rappel anchor location

When you’re done enjoying the views from the summit, return to where pitch 5 ended, and look south.  At the risk of writing like Fred Beckey, I’d say there’s an “obvious” gully descending due south, passing between high rock walls.  Scramble down this.  As soon as the rock walls let you out, the rap station should be in sight.  (In other words, take the very first left the gully allows you to.)  I’ve heard of other parties having trouble by descending too far/too right when the gully opens up, but it must have been a low-visibility day for them to not notice the rap anchor they passed there.  The rap anchor is three old rusty pitons with a rainbow of webbing rigging it all together with a pair of aluminum rappel rings.  If you’re feeling generous, bring a knife and 20ft+ of 7mm cord; you could cut away all that webbing and rig it more like a cordelette anchor.

From the rap anchor (the three old pitons) one 60 meter rappel (so one double-rope rappel) will get you over the initial cornice at the top of the rap gulley, and deposit you where the rap gully opens up and ends, allowing you to take shelter off to the side of the gully’s mouth, just incase the next rappeller kicks down anything.  There’s still a lot of steep snow below you once you’re off rappel, but it is reasonable to either plunge step it gingerly, or down-climb facing in if that makes you more comfortable.  Grab your snowshoes, and hike on out.

East Ridge of Forbidden

We planned a two-day climb of Forbidden’s East Ridge Direct for August 22nd & 23rd.  The idea was to bivy high Saturday night, close to the Solitary Gendarme, then run up the East Ridge Sunday morning, descend via the East Ledges, pack up and head home Sunday night.  We had a very strong four person team:  Scott McAmis, David Wittstock, Sherrie Trecker, and myself (Rob Busack.)  Scott had very kindly gone up a day ahead of time to get a Boston Basin camping permit for us. Continue reading

The Tooth

I’ve been up The Tooth twice so far, first on Oct 10, 2013, and second on May 16, 2015.   In October 2013 we had clear blue skies, but it had freshly snowed on the route.  In May 2015 we were socked in with fog all day, but luckily the rock was bone dry.  Happily, both were successful summits.  As it’s probably the most popular alpine rock climb in Washington state, there’s no shortage of information out there.  That makes this overkill information on a pretty easy route, but here’s my notes on how to climb it, using a mix of pictures from both of my trips.

Overview

5.4, 4 short pitches
Trailhead at 3100′, leave trail at ~4100′, rope up at 5280′, summit at 5604′.
~3 hour approach at a moderate pace from Alpental
Early start highly recommended to beat the crowds.
Every belay anchor is either a tree or rock horn.
To descend, rappel the climbing route.  There are more established rap stations than necessary.
12 hours car-to-car is a pretty typical time if you’re doing this climb to give experience to new climbers.  Stay sharp on efficiency, for your sake and others.
Continue reading

SW Rib of SEWS

The Southwest Rib of South Early Winters Spire is supposedly at 10-pitch 5.8 rock climb. Erik Turner & I swung leads on it on Sunday, August 10, 2014. The climbing-specific parts of this trip report will make the most sense if you have Ian Nicholson’s “Washington Pass Climbing” book open to this route’s topo as you read this.

Super Moon setting at dawn

Super Moon setting at dawn

Blue Lake TH parking lot bivy. Asleep by 10pm, 3am alarm, hiking by 3:20, at the base of the climbing route by 5:20. With a super-moon up almost exactly opposite the hours of the sun, our approach was well-lit, and we didn’t even need headlamps for some of the more open parts. (Also, a sleep-mask & ear plugs were important since there were around 8 other vehicles of people camped in that same small parking lot.) You’ll be fine if you go when there’s no moon, just time it so that you’re identifying the route at dawn, which we did as well. A tall larch that forks at the top marks the entrance to the route. That’s a great place to don harness & rock shoes, gear up, hang your pack, but keep the rope coiled & carry it. We took our time, forced down extra fluids & calories to keep our climbing pack light, and tried to photograph the amazing moon through the strongly-scented smokey haze drifting from the Central Washington wildfires.

Continue reading

The Bugaboos

In researching the Bugaboos I read that it is notoriously rainy, so when deciding to stay at the hut versus the Applebee campground, I chose the hut, so if it rained we would have somewhere to dry gear and chill out. We got super lucky and on our 4 day trip it only sprinkled on us briefly on our hike in and out. We still really enjoyed the hut, but when deciding where to stay one should take into account that the hut adds about 1,000 extra feet of gain needed for all the climbs than from the campground.

Day 1 – Hike to the Kain Hut (3 miles, 2300ft)

The first thing that differentiates this area from any other area I have been to is the necessity to surround your car with chicken wire before leaving. Apparently there are animals in the area that like to chew the rubber hoses. Ekk.

Chicken wire around the car

Chicken wire around the car

So after meticulously wrapping Ralph (that’s my car) Ben and I set off around 5:15PM. We had planned on starting around 1 or 2, but between construction and a long boarder wait we got in way later than planned. The sign at the trail head warned of dangerous trail, but it turned out to be just fine. Actually it was the best trail I had been on in Canada, it even had switch backs! (I was starting to think Canadians did not believe in switchbacks). The trail starts off flat and then leads to switchbacks that are pretty steep. There are two sections of trail that are slightly exposed and have chains, probably necessary if it is icy, but not in the good weather we had, and one short ladder.

Chains

Chains

Trailhead warning

Trailhead warning

Up the ladder

Up the ladder

We got great views of the Bugaboo glacier going up the trail, and there were lots fo beautiful wildflowers. We eventually spotted the hut and arrived around 8PM. The hut is really nice, with a fully equipped kitchen (running water, gas stove, pots, pans, plates).

View from the hut

View from the hut

Kitchen

Kitchen

View on the hike up

View of the Bugaboo Glacier on the hike up

Day 2 – Eastpost Spire (Scramble)

After getting in way later than expected the previous night we scrapped our plans for an early start and woke up at the late hour of 8am. Since most of the climbs require an early start this put them off limits for our first full day. I asked the hut caretaker what could be done with a late start and she suggested scrambling Eastpost Spire, so that is what we did. While prepping that morning we made a new friend, Noelle, and she joined us on the scramble.

The approach to Eastpost goes through Applebee campground, which is about a 45min hike up from the hut. We poked around the campground for a bit and then continued our way. The trail up to the col was obvious and well marked with cairns. From the col we got views of the Rockies in the far distance.

Andrea approaching Eastpost Spire

Andrea approaching Eastpost Spire

Andrea and Ben at the Col

Andrea and Ben at the Col

View of the Rockies in the distance

View of the Rockies in the distance

Snowpatch Spire and Bugaboo Spire from the Col

Snowpatch Spire and Bugaboo Spire from the Col

From the col the scramble started and we followed the cairns up the ridgeline. We stopped right below the summit for some pictures. We then did the last 100 feet to the summit, which featured 1 or 2 low 5th class moves. From there we snapped some pictures and then down climbed back to the larger, less exposed, area to eat lunch. The down climb was a little scary, and there were rap rings, so most people must rappel that pitch.

From the top of Eastpost

From the top of Eastpost

Looking down on Applebee camp

Looking down on Applebee camp

After lunch we scrambled/hiked down to the lake just above Applebee camp. We stopped, soaked our feet, and napped for a while taking in the view. Then after an hour or so we headed back to the Kain hut to make dinner and go to bed early.

View from the lake

View from the lake of Bugaboo Spire and Crescent Towers

Day 3 – Lion’s Way on Crescent Towers (5.6)

We left the hut around 8am and headed up through Applebee, around the sides of the lakes and over the side of the Crescent glacier to get to the base of the Crescent towers. Lion’s Way tops out on the summit of the central tower, which wasn’t visible until we were on the glacier. We marched up a snowfield and then transitioned onto boulders to get to the base of the climb (which was luckily pretty obvious.) After snacking, gearing up and poking around the base Ben started the first pitch at 11:15.

Ben on the approach

Ben on the approach

Andrea on the edge of the Crescent Glacier about to transition onto the boulder feild

Andrea on the edge of the Crescent Glacier about to transition onto the boulder feild

Boulder field with the Crescent Glacier in the distance

Boulder field with the Crescent Glacier in the distance

We had been warned that this climb was notoriously hard to navigate, and that proved true. We thought we had totally done the climb correctly until we looked at a blog 2 days later and saw that our 5.6 corner was different than the one on route. The climb was supposed to be 6 pitches, but we ended up making it 8. We were on route for some of the pitches at least, but Ben ended up leading two 5.6+ cracks 🙂 All in all the climbing was super awesome though, the granite there was sticky with plenty of tiny features. Makes me want to go back and climb more! Here is the breakdown of the pitches we did:

Pitch 1: Easy 4th class blocky moves.

Pitch 2: 5.3, meandered right then straight up. Obviously I did this wrong as we didn’t end up in the right corner for the 3rd pitch. We did end up at an obviously much climbed crack/slight corner that looked 5.6-ish

Andrea leading up the 2nd pitch

Andrea leading up the 2nd pitch

 

Pitch 3: 5.6+ crack/ kind of a corner. This had obviously been climbed many times as the crack was clean. If climbed like a crack it was closer to a 5.8, but apparently if you reached in far enough there was good fingers. I was just glad Ben lead this pitch and not me!

Pitch 4: 5.6 at the top. Blocky moves then finished with a crack to a ledge then a flake.

On the top of the 4th pitch

On the top of the 4th pitch

Pitch 5: 5.6, slab that transitioned to a crack

Pitch 6: Easy low 5th slab (I love slab!!). Lots of horizontal cracks for gear

Pitch 7. 5.5-ish. An arête with a crack to the right that took gear well. Finsh was very blocky, 4th class.

Pitch 8: Easy 4th class to low 5th with one hard move to gain the summit at the end.

Climbers on the Donkey Ears

Climbers on the Donkey Ears

Andrea on the last pitch

Andrea on the last pitch

North tower in the background

North tower in the background

Andrea and Ben with Snowpatch in the background

Andrea and Ben with Snowpatch in the background

All in all we had a great time. We chilled out on the summit, ate lunch and took in the views. After we descended down via the gully trail, with one rap at the only rap station (obvious from the trail). The rap wasn’t entirely necessary, the party in front of us just went down  the trail, but we were not in a rush so why not just rap down?

Ben rapping down

Ben rapping down

On the way back to the hut we decided to make the trip a loop, so we crossed the Crescent Glacier, and made our way to under the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col since we wanted to get a look. This Col gives access to some of the Bugaboo Spire climbs (including the very popular Kain route) and Pigeon Spire (which is supposed to be one of the best 5.4 routes in the world.) The Col looked scary, we were very glad we decided to do Lion’s Way and not Pigeon (which had been our earlier plan.) We got back to the hut around 8pm, making it a 12 hour day. (To put this in context the book says Lions Way, hut to hut, should take 6-7 hours. We moved slow and took lots of breaks to enjoy the beautiful landscape since we were in no rush.)

Looking back across the Crescent Glacier at the Crescent Towers. Lion's way is on the central tower, the 2nd from the left.

Looking back across the Crescent Glacier at the Crescent Towers. Lion’s way is on the central tower, the 2nd from the left.

Close-up of the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col

Close-up of the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col

Day 4 – Hike out

Self explanatory. It took us 2 hours, and sprinkled a bit on the way down. We then drove north to Golden and had some much deserved pizza and beer 🙂

Skywalker

Andrea on the "Skywalker" Pitch

Andrea on the “Skywalker” Pitch

This past weekend Ben and I headed to Squamish, BC to do some climbing in the least hot place in the Pacific NW (and by least hot, I mean the only place that wasn’t triple digits!) Saturday we stuck to shady singly pitch routes, but on Sunday we climbed a route I’ve had my eye on for the past year, Skywalker! And it was brilliant.

At 5am on Sunday our alarms went off and we begrudgingly got out of bed. We had 2 motives to get up at this un-Godly hour. The first was we knew this is a super popular and busy route (last year we did Klahani crack, which is on the hike up to Skywalker, and saw several parties headed up there) so we wanted to be first on the route and be able to take our time. The second was that it was supposed to be in the mid-90s so we wanted to make sure we were on the route while it was still relatively cool and shaded. Well, we were the early birds who got the worms, and our early start ensured we were the first people on the route and were in the shade the whole time.

We got to Shannon Falls a little past 5:30 am and found the gate closed (it doesn’t open until 7am) so we had to park in the overflow lot across the street. We racked up in the lot and were on the approach trail a few minutes after 6. The approach took us about 15 min (would have been much faster, but I had to stop several times to throw up… because that’s what happens when I wake up early.) After some shuffling of gear, flaking of rope, and eating of snacks we were ready to start the first pitch shortly after 6:30.

Start of the first pitch

Start of the first pitch

Pitch 1 (5.7):

I lead this pitch and it was hard! Or maybe just hard for me, since the beginning of the climb is a crack, and cracks are not my strong point. It starts out with a slabby moves to a bolt (fun!) then you have to do a nice little step over to a crack. There wasn’t really a lot of places for gear between the bolt and the step-over so that was a but scary, but not too bad since once I stepped over I got some gear in ASAP. Then it was straight up an obvious hand crack. My style of climbing cracks is place 1-2 pieces of gear and then take, so it took me some time to get up it. The crack peters out and then you traverse right to a slab with 2 bolts. I could reach out and clip the first bolt before transitioning onto the slab, which was very reassuring. The second bolt was only about 2 moves past the first then there was 10-15 ft of unprotectable slab before another obvious diagonal crack. I went slightly up on the slab traverse, moving slowly and balancing. I noted that the next party went slightly down on the traverse to a ramp… so seems like you could do this multiple ways there. Following the traverse there was an easy crack (maybe 5.4) that lead straight up to the bolted belay station.

Pitch 2 (5.8): The Flume

This is the hardest pitch on the route, and somehow I convinced Ben to lead it (in all honesty I probably could not have lead it even if I tried). While we were exchanging gear we heard another party starting the 1st pitch and knew we no longer had the whole route to ourselves. The second pitch is a very hard finger crack, and its only saving grace is that it eats gear. The right side of the crack is about a 1.5 ft arête and the left is a more or less featureless steep slab. The arête really made this crack hard, as I could not center my weight over the crack and was forced to smear on the left slab for balance. Watching Ben do this on lead was scary, especially the one time his foot blew on the slab (which he was able to recover from without falling!) Ben, who usually climbs pretty cleanly, had to resort to the “Andrea” method of crack climbing, ie place a piece or 2 and then taking to recover. From the belay station it looked like the crack gave way to some more gentle angled terrain, but unfortunately that was not the case, it was a sustained 5.8. This was by far our most time consuming pitch, and took Ben about 45 min to lead up it. By the time Ben reached the top the next party was exchanging gear at the belay station I was at.

Looking up at the second pitch

Looking up at the second pitch

This pitch was still an ass-kicker on top-rope, and I had to take several times to be able to get gear out. By the time I reached the top I was super impressed by Ben’s lead. It took me about 20 minutes to follow.

Pitch 3 (5.7): The Fork

After watching Ben make his way up the hard second pitch, the third pitch was on me. I’m not sure if it was because the climb was more suited to my strengths or because I had just come off the 5.8, but the this pitch seemed slightly easier than the first 5.7 pitch. The first few moves were rather scrambly and then I was able to clip a bolt. From there I was on what is called a “technical ramp”, which wasn’t that bad since I could treat it a bit like slab. There was a short easy section between the ramp and the next crack that went straight up to the anchors. The last few moves were the hardest of the pitch, and it was hard to find good gear placements in the crack. With some luck and Gumby like stretching I was able to place a piece high up in the crack and mostly protect the crux move. Even with my piece in it took me several tries to build up enough courage to do the last move! I couldn’t see the anchors until over the move, and sighed with relief when I got over and saw them 2 feet away.

Looking up at the 3rd pitch

Looking up at the 3rd pitch

Ben followed up, and when he got there he exclaimed that the pitch was much harder than it had looked below… I agreed.

Lukas (from the party behind us) coming up the crux of the 3rd pitch

Lukas (from the party behind us) coming up the crux of the 3rd pitch

Pitch 4 (5.4-5.6, depending on which book/website you look at): Skywalker

Skywalker Belay

Skywalker Belay

First things first, the belay station for Skywalker is awesome, mostly because of a plaque that reads “May The Force Be With You.” This route is a traverse with an amazing view, looking out from the belay station it looks like the climber is going to “walk” out into the sky. Ben had the honor of leading this pitch, and while he noted it was not technically hard it might be rated as a 5.6 in the book because it is fairly heady. He seemed to stay a bit higher on the slab and had to bend down to place his gear in the cracks and under-cling. Following him I went a little lower on the slab, so the crack was more at eye level when removing gear. Staying a bit lower was probably the way to go, I barely had to use my hands for the a majority of the traverse.

While belaying Ben across Skywalker the party behind us arrived, and they mentioned that some people actually do this pitch on their knees to get a better view for placing gear. I think that it might also be slabby enough to sit down and scoot across the whole traverse (not that I tried that).

Pitch 5 (5.4):

So, there are sections of the climbers trail that are probably harder than this pitch, I would say it is a really easy 5.4. The hardest move is getting from the belay station up to the slab, on what is basically a tree stump ladder. I got one move up and placed a piece, though I didn’t really need it, but that was one less piece to carry up. One 5- move over onto the slab and I exclaimed “Beautiful Slab!” An easy slab climb protected with 4 bolts and I was at the anchors. Ben was up to the top in less than 5 minutes (I could barely take up rope fast enough, that’s how easy this pitch was) and we stood back for a minute, high-fived and took in the amazing view. We looked down at the slab we just climbed and seeing it was just starting to get sun exclaimed how happy we were to have started early and have done the whole climb in the shade. Looking at our watch the time was 10:30, it had taken us just short of 4 hours to finish the route at a very leisurely pace.

 

Ben at the top of the walkoff

Ben at the top of the walkoff

There was an obvious trail off the route that meet back up with the main hiking trail. At the intersection of the main trail you go right (downhill) to leave or you can go left (uphill) for 5 minutes to reach some small pools and a stunning view of Shannon falls. We chose the later and it was worth the extra 5 minutes, we got some pictures and a the breeze coming off the falls was heavenly. We opted not to go in the pools as we just weren’t that hot and were ready to get down and eat some brunch, but they looked very inviting.

Waterfall Mist

Waterfall Mist

Following the steep trail down (I’m convinced Canadians don’t believe in switchbacks) we made it back to the car about an hour after finishing the route. By the time we reached the car the overflow lot, that had been empty in the morning, was full. There was a girl with a lemonade stand at the end of the lot and we each treated ourselves to a glass, which was probably the most perfect way to end a good climb.

Our Rack:

We took a double rack up (even thought he book only calls for a standard rack with doubles of 1-0.75) replacing 1 set of 1’s and 0.75 with our link cams of those sizes and we also brought our C3s. If I was to do this again we could probably leave the C3s at home, as well as the number 3’s. The route could easily be done as the book suggests, though if it were me I would bring the doubles at link cams, as I defiantly used doubles of some of the smaller cams, If I didn’t have link cams I would bring doubles of #1-0.4.

Resources:

If you plan on climbing this route then just print this description, that’s all you need to take with you.

Camp Muir Ski

(Does the world really need another trip report for the hike to Muir? Not really… but here is one anyway 🙂 )

This past Sunday, June 29th, 2014, Eric, Gerry, Jarred, Jon, Ben and I skinned up to Camp Muir on Mt Rainier and then skied down. We had originally planned on doing it on Saturday but weather reports on Friday were calling for rain/snow on Sat and cloudy skies on Sunday so we moved our date. Turns out it was a big mistake to listed to the weather report, as Sat ended up having no rain and Sunday turned out to by foggy and misty mixed with patches of rain. We left Seattle at 6am and started from Paradise (elevation 5,400 ft) around 9:30 am.

Setting Out at Paradise

Setting Out at Paradise

Since the snow reached the parking lot we were able to start out skinning from the very start and we were able to make some pretty good time until we reached Panorama Point (elevation 6,700 ft, distance from paradise 2.5 mi). At this point there were a series of 3 short ski carries, but each transition took some time. Once we were over all 3 transitions it was about noon and we were fully on the Muir Snowfeild. We were also very much ready for lunch. We were also a little over half way up at this point, so refueling was a good idea. Eric and Gerry found a good rock pile and we sat down to nom away. Lunch didn’t last too long, since it was misty and oh so cold, and we got moving after only 20 min. But not too soon for Gerry to not take a short nap 🙂 While eating lunch we saw one of the guided groups (which we had been leap-frogging with all day) slogging up.

Ben going though the first snow to rock transition

Ben going though the first snow to rock transition

Jarred in the fog

Jarred in the fog

Guided group chugging up the mountain

Guided group chugging up the mountain while we eat lunch

After lunch it was a pretty straight shot of about 2000 vertical feet up to Muir. We started running into the early birds who were already descending and kept hearing promises of blue skies at Muir, this was definitely the motivation we needed! Since it was easy going up from our lunch point the group broke up into the fast and slower folks, Gerry, Eric and Jarred reach Camp Muir (elevation 10080 ft) around 2:30, while Jon, Ben and I reach it around 3 (to find Gerry taking his 3rd? nap of the day). The clouds broke maybe 100ft before the camp and we got a few glorious views.

Andrea with Muir in the background

Andrea with Muir in the background

Gerry already napping as Ben arrives at Muir

Gerry already napping as Ben arrives at Muir

View from Muir

View from Muir

Eric had scouted out an additional add-on that that provided some steep skiing above Muir, and Gerry was up for scoping it out with him. They skinned up the side of the glacier and then dropped back down right below Muir, giving the rest of us about 30 extra minutes to take in the view, chat with climbers milling about, and have a rest. We were ready to roll once they got back down, the clouds were rolling in and the wind was picking up.

Heading down right below Camp Muir

Heading down right below Camp Muir

The first 200ft of skiing were fantastic, we were able to ski in some untouched snow before descending into the clouds and fog. The next 2000ft were near whiteout conditions, and we had to stop and regroup about every 100ft, sometimes calling out to one another when we could no longer see. We followed the flags down pretty closely, not wanting to get off route knowing there was a glacier to our right side. By this point the rain had really started to pick up and we stopped and put on rain pants and extra rain gear.

Shortly after while regrouping for maybe the 15th time we heard a voice calling out from the rocks to our left (the ones that are the barrier between the Muir snowfield and yet another glacier) but with the visibility so low we could not see the source of the voice. When we first heard his calls through the fog and rain we thought we heard him calling out that he had broken his leg. We stopped and Jarred and I took off our skis to boot back up to the rocks, then fortunately we heard the voice coming towards us. It turned out to be a solo hiker who had gotten off route and was very lost. We got him back onto the route, pointing out the flags and boot path to follow. We also took his name, details and cellphone number and agreed that we would turn this info over to the ranger station at Paradise and he would check in there when he got down (so they would know a solo hiker was out there.) He wasn’t disoriented and was carry emergency gear (from the size of his pack probably a lot of emergency gear) so we felt o.k. leaving him to hike down alone.

Shorty thereafter we hit the 3 rocky areas with the ski-boot-ski transitions, and at the end of the 3rd the lost hiker had caught up to us. We were all very relived to see him, and at this point the fog had lifted and visibility was much better. There was only about 1000ft to go, so we talked to him and agreed we would not stop at the ranger station.

The last 1000 feet of skiing was super fun, and to make it even more fun Eric broke out his GPS and we split from the trail to ski through the trees and all the way down to the lower parking lot (much more preferable that booting it down from the upper lot!) Once in the lot we changed into dry clothes and we headed to Copper Creek Inn for some dinner, beer, and pie. All in all it was a pretty awesome day with great snow conditions, the only thing that would have made it better was increased visibility… guess we will just have to do it again soon 🙂