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, 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.


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.


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.



  • 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.


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)

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.


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


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:
  • 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:
  • 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

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


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.


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

Ride the Lightning

If you’re just reading this for the fun bit of the story (or if you want to avoid hearing too much beta about the route) skip ahead to “Going down.”

May 3, 2014

A plan falls into place.
A Mountaineers Crag field trip was happening in Tieton. Jarred was signed up as a student for Sunday, and suggested that I join him during his free Saturday to do some other climbing just for fun. He & I would drive out together, and I’d drive back alone Saturday night while he got a ride with Ben & Andrea at the end of Sunday. But what exactly should we climb out there? Having never been to Tieton before, and lacking the guidebook for the area, I turned to There’s a pie-chart of types of climbing with a sliver of color that supercharged my curiosity and desire. 131 rock routes, and 1 alpine route. What exactly do they mean by an alpine route in an area that’s mostly single-pitch cragging?? I had to find out. The answer is Ride the Lightning, a 7-pitch route with a mix of bolts and trad placements, 5.9 at the hardest, with most pitches being 5.8. There’s no way I could resist. There’s a fantastic route description & topo by the first ascensionist here: It’s on Goose Egg Mountain, which is a mountain in the sense that Tiger Mountain is a mountain, not like Mt Stuart or anything. I’d probably have to lead every pitch since Jarred is not quiet yet leading trad, but I was okay with that. I believe there’s other big multipitch routes in Tieton, but RTL is all lists at the moment.

I knew this route would be pushing my abilities a bit. After more than a year of being comfortable leading at-most 5.7 routes on trad gear, I had just begun to believe in myself as a 5.8 trad leader within the last month, after ticking off both Party In Your Pants and Crossing The Threshold back at Vantage, amongst some shorter routes. A couple of factors gave me confidence though: (1) The first ascent was in 2001, so that 5.9 rating is probably on a more sane scale than some 1950’s Fred Beckey first ascent. (2) Jarred had just bought twin-ropes, making full 60m rappels a possibility, and all the belays promised to be bolted, so in theory it would be easy give up and go back the way we came at any point if it proved too challenging. In fact, I’d rather intentionally climb only the first 6 pitches and rappel them rather than deal with the loose 7th pitch and the fourth class gully downclimb described by the guide. I really hate fourth class. (3) The 5.9 pitch wasn’t until the 5th pitch, so even if it was unclimbable for me, we could still feel like we made a solid accomplishment by climbing four challenging pitches.

Gearing up.

  • Two 60m Petzl Salsa 8.2mm ropes, orange & brown, used as twin-ropes.
  • 6 sport quickdraws
  • 10 alpine draws
  • 3 double runners
  • Black Diamond C4s #0.3 through #4, with doubles of #1, #2, & #3
  • set of stoppers
  • Crack gloves. (Singing Rock rubber ones for me, tape gloves for Jarred. Our hands would have been very bloody without these.)
  • Helmets. (As always, but especially here because occasionally a hold would flake off and fly away.)
  • Walkie-talkies, which were unnecessary because we were always in shouting distance on the way up, but they crapped out during the long rappels where they actually would have helped.
  • small backpack carried by Jarred with each of our sandwiches & water (REI Flash 18 pack)
  • a light rain shell (Jarred) and a light wind-breaker (me), which was meant as an emergency layer, but we ended up wearing them all day since you climb into an area of higher winds, making it chillier than it was on the ground

I know that’s a lot of draws, but we used every last one of them, I wouldn’t bring any less. I probably could have done without the stoppers, I only placed a single one all day (BD stopper #10, the silver one, for the first piece on pitch 3, where there’s no risk of zippering.) For the cams, I probably didn’t need anything smaller than the #0.75 after all, unless I wanted to use a #0.4 cam instead of the #10 stopper on pitch 3. Doubles of the #1, #2, & #3 were a good call. It’s not really necessary, but a third #1 cam (red) would have allowed me to overprotect the dihedral in pitch 2. The big silver #4 was only placed once (in the off-width in pitch 5,) and it was totally worth carrying it the whole day.

The twin-rope setup was new to both of us, but it was straight forward and worked out well. We both brought a Reverso 4, which gripped the skinny rope just enough with it’s breaking grooves, but since it was just-enough, we were keen to always use belay gloves, and maintain good autoblock habits when rappelling. Those ropes are also rated as half-ropes, but I didn’t want to add the complication of moving separate strands through the belay device at different rates. I intentionally brought the Reverso instead of my beloved Mammut Smart Alpine, because the Smart says it’s only meant for ropes 8.9mm and wider. Someday I’ll buy the other Smart model that’s specced for skinnier ropes so I have both options.

The Approach.
I picked up Jarred at his apartment in Seattle at 4am. We didn’t rush much, we made a stop for gas & gas-station food, another bathroom stop, and a stop very near Tieton to say “Hi” when we spotted Ben & Andrea’s car at a campsite off Hwy 12. They were helping teach at the Mountaineers Crag field trip both Saturday & Sunday, and were getting ready to head to the Royal Columns.  I ran into my friend Doug there too.  After hanging out for a bit, Jarred & I continued on our way and eventually parked at the pull-off clearly described here at 8am. We put on harnesses, gear, and sunscreen at the car, and did the 15 minute approach hike in tennis shoes while carrying our ropes & rock shoes. The weather called for temps just below 70°, sunny, and a 10% chance of rain. Given the south-facing aspect of our route and the fact that we were in Eastern Washington, I had expected to get completely baked, so I had worked during the entire drive to drink a whopping 3.5 liters of water by this point so I’d be okay carrying a single liter of water on the actual climb. (That day I peed from a semi-hanging belay, and later while on lead from a ledge above my last clip, both for the first time in my life. Don’t worry, I kept it off the route!) By 9am we were finally tied in, checked out, and ready for me to get off the ground.

Going up.
I started up the first pitch at 9am. Even though it’s reachable by some easy 3rd class terrain then one friction move, I didn’t like how high off the deck that first bolt was. I think the first ascensionists did a stellar job putting together an amazing route in Ride the Lightning, and I understand the desire to not over-protect the hell out of things with too many bolts, but I do think a bolt before that first friction move would be a responsible safety addition given that the leader has 30 or 40 feet of 3rd class terrain to tumble down if they don’t get that first move right. Anyway, the rest of the pitch is fun, with small but plentiful crimps for hands and tiny-but-good nubs for rock shoes to stick to. It’s stuff that you can keep moving up slowly but surely, and I’d say the 5.8+ rating is about right. Since that first pitch is entirely bolted, I made Jarred carry all the heavier cams so that I’d get to warm up my lead-head without the full rack weight on my harness. It’s a solid full rope length too, with the chains not quite 60 meters above the ground. It’s a lot windier up here on the wall than it was down amongst the trees, so even though it felt like a jacket-free day before climbing, I needed to put my windbreaker on to keep from shivering while belaying, and I kept it on the rest of the day.

The 2nd pitch starts out very much like more of the first pitch, climbing the face and feeling pretty good about it. Eventually it gets over to that big dihedral that’s the hallmark of the route, and the climbing there is really interesting! The crack eats up red & yellow cams and provides a number of awesome hand jams while you stem between the two faces. I reached the roof, and traversed under the roof by continuing to get solid hand-jams in the crack at the back of the roof. There’s a pair of chains below the left edge of the roof, thus ending the 2nd pitch.

The 3rd pitch goes up the corner around left of the roof, then turns right out-of-sight onto the first comfortable-to-stand-on ledge in a while. It turns out this is the end of the pitch, it’s surprisingly short compared to the first two we just did. I couldn’t figure out the mixed-pro anchor that the guide described, but the rap-chains that are there worked really well as a belay anchor. After Jarred was up on the ledge too, we extended the lengths of our rope tie-ins to the anchor so we could sit around on the ledge and take a lunch break without disconnecting from the rope. By this time it was around 12:45pm, which indicated we had been moving a bit slowly, but that was expected since the pitches were long and the climbing moves so close to our skill limits.

The 4th pitch starts out really easy, up a few bolts on small face holds that you’re very used to by now on this route. After the last bolt you have to make a step around an edge and into another corner. I found that step to be quite challenging on lead, even though a fall there probably wouldn’t have been that bad. I somehow managed to pull through it, with some colorful vocals. After that step the next belay anchor is easily reached. This is the first belay anchor we’ve reached that had just bolts, no chains. Some crispy bleached-white webbing indicated someone had rapped from here in the past, as we planned to do, but not before trying the 5th pitch!

The 5th pitch is described as having a scary runout to the first bolt. Once I got to actually see the terrain from the 4th pitch belay anchor, I thought it didn’t look that bad, and I wanted to give it a try. Here’s another place where I think one more bolt would be a responsible addition to the climb. An added bolt 10 feet above the belay anchor would at least prevent a fall from being factor-2. Since there were three bolts at the belay, I clipped one of them as my first piece, and gained some modicum of comfort knowing I was now looking at a factor-1.9 fall. With careful balance, I was able to get that distant bolt without falling, and had no shame about pulling on the draw while I clipped the rope. One more bolt, and then I was faced with a tiny overhang (the crux that makes the darn thing a 5.9) followed by an off-width crack. I tried and backed off a bunch of times. I finally reached up and plugged in a #2 yellow cam, grabbed the cam sling, and French-freed my way up over that overhang. I guess I’m still not a 5.9 trad leader 🙂 After that, I found myself with my left side wedged into the off-width crack. I badly wanted to get more pro in it, but I had hung all of medium to large cams from my left gear loop. I wiggled like a worm in that crack for a while, barely balancing & hanging on, and somehow managed to retrieve a necessary cam from my left side. After that, I made good progress up the off-width. Yellows, blues, and one silver cam where handy up this section, and then you start getting some bolts to follow again. It’s a long pitch, but it continues in a straight line, and eventually you get a pair of bolts (again no chains) to your left as a belay anchor.

After bringing Jarred up to the top of this 5th pitch, it was 2:45pm. I felt great about everything we had accomplished, and figured it was about time to turn around to make sure we could rappel the entire 610 feet of vertical we had just gained before getting close to the dinner hour. The 6th pitch didn’t sound that interesting compared to everything else we’d climbed so far, and I had never intended the climb the 7th pitch anyway since it was described as an awful & dangerous hanging pile of loose boulders. Here at the top of pitch 5 was a great place to call it day and turn around.

Going down.
There’s a diagram of the route on this page, it might help you follow what happens next:

At the chainless 5th pitch belay bolts, Jarred provided a rappel ring, and I provided 10ft of 7mm cord, and with a few fancy knots we had perfectly SERENE rap anchor hanging from those two bolts. We threaded through a rope end, then tied the ropes together with my preferred flemish-bend with double-fisherman’s backup knots. It’s a mighty burly way to connect two ropes, which I feel better about than the alternative Euro-Death-Knot, even one with over a foot of tails. I’d be especially uneasy about the EDK in these brand new super-slippery and skinny ropes. We stacked the rope for a saddle-bag rappel, but that proved to be a waste of time since the slippery rope was quick to fall out of my saddlebags. I rapped first, making sure to traverse climber’s-right so I’d hit the belay bolts at the top of the 4th pitch. Along this rappel, on two occasions I clipped an alpine draw to a bolt so the ropes would continue to be held in the direction I had been angling so far. That would prevent me from penduluming too far left if I slipped, and I would tie the bottoms of the rope to the next anchor so Jarred could retrieve those draws without having major pendulum concerns himself. Just before reaching the 4th pitch belay bolts, I passed the middle-markers on the twin ropes. Knowing that the 4th pitch was only 50 feet, I was sure I could skip it and make it to the chains at the top of pitch #3. I did so, got off the rappel, and though it was nearly impossible to yell back and forth with Jarred at that point, managed to explain the situation and tell him he could safely rappel now. (The radios had crapped out, even though their batteries weren’t dead, and we had successfully tested them earlier in the day. Weird.) Jarred paused his rappel by the 4th pitch belay bolts, and told me that during his rappel he saw the ropes above him fall into that off-width crack just above the small overhang. I told him don’t worry about it, keep coming down to me and get off the rappel. (In hind sight, I still can’t think of anything safe for him to do to fix this without first finishing his rappel.)

While we were both attached via PA (personal anchor) to the chains atop the 3rd pitch, we began pulling the orange end of the rope. It had a lot of resistance, but as we pulled, we could see our effort translated into the brown rope moving upward, and it eventually went out of sight. Shortly afterward, our pulls on the orange rope stopped making progress. We could see it’s middle-mark above us, we’d pull together, then let go and watched that middle mark travel right back up to the same spot it had been hanging at before, indicating our pulls were doing nothing but stretching the rope. We tried wrapping the rope around our feet and standing on it. We attached prusiks to it, clipped our belay loops to it, and bounced our full combined body weights on the rope. No progress. At that point, the worst thing I could imagine happened. It started raining.

Let me reiterate our situation when it started raining. It’s 4pm. We were hanging by our PA’s from a pair of chains 395 feet above the ground. It had been windy and a tad chillier all day than we expected, so we both were already wearing our emergency layers. Jarred’s was at least a rain shell, but mine was just a windbreaker. Getting wet would pose a very real risk of hypothermia. It’s not realistic to carry the weight of more than one emergency layer on a rock climb, and the chance of rain that day was 10%, which really is as low as you could hope for. We needed to get down off that route, right now. We had warm jackets and my car waiting for us not far from the bottom, so if we could at least keep moving down the wall we’d have ways of warming back up and be just fine. The only sane way down was to rappel, but nearly all of our rope was above us, out of reach, and not responding to our pulls. We could be stranded & immobile here for hours, slowly having our body heat sapped away by rain. I got legitimately scared at this point.

My mind raced with problem-solving attempts. What resources did we have to change our situation? I thought about building a 3-to-1 pulley system, and Jarred suggested other ways of increasing our pull on the rope, but I didn’t really believe this would be any more effective than the pulling we had already done, so I didn’t want to waste time on it. We had our cell phones, but there was no signal. In the bottom of the pack I made Jarred carry was my DeLorme InReach (which is like a Spot beacon, only better because it lets you type & send short text messages via satellite.) We could push the SOS button on that, but I’d be so intensely embarrassed about having needed official SAR help I was unwilling to cross that bridge yet. Since the InReach lets you send free-form text messages to anyone, we could text Ben & Andrea! Since they were nearby and had all the necessary equipment to reach us, having their help plus Loni and the rest of the Crag class would be quite the calvary to call in, probably mounting a more effective rescue for our needs than an official SAR response! Still, it’s far better to solve your own problems, especially if you can do so safely. They were probably outside of cell phone signal, like us. Even if they got our message, if it kept raining the rock would eventually get too slippery for them to climb to us anyway. We had one more resource: The roughly 60 feet of the orange half-rope we had successfully pulled down before the rope got stuck.

God took pity on us, and the rain stopped before it ever was more than just a sprinkle. Neither us nor the rock was really wet. I am so incredibly thankful for this. It had only sprayed us enough to create some fear. Still, I was afraid it would start again at any moment. I was going to make damn sure I got our rope back before that happened. I hastily grabbed some quickdraws and cams from Jarred, who still was still carrying everything from cleaning the 5th pitch. I tied into the end of that single orange half-rope, and had Jarred tie it to the chains and put me on belay. I slapped a prusik onto the orange rope on the untrustworthy side, and clipped my PA to that prusik. I re-led the 5th pitch, protecting it exactly as I had done before, but knowing that if I took a leader-fall it would be on a single half-rope strand rather than a rope system fully rated for leader-falls. I made sure a leader-fall didn’t happen by continuing to push the prusik higher on the untrustworthy strand. I also used that prusik as an extra hand-hold at times, greatly assisting with my balance on the harder moves so I didn’t waste time trying to free-climb them. I reached the belay bolts at the top of the 4th pitch. The off-width crack with the stuck ropes was within sight, but I was nearly out of rope to lead with, so I stopped and set up a belay.

I told Jarred to get ready to climb, and I put both strands of orange rope through my Reverso. Since he had a big U-shaped section of orange rope instead of a free end, he couldn’t do a rewoven figure-8 tie in, so I had him do a figure-8 on a bight to a locker on his belay loop. Looking back I suppose a bowline on a bight would have worked too, but I knew Jarred knew the figure-8 better, and I was in a hurry. As he reached that crux step-around move, he warned me that he’d need to hang on the rope to get through, which was no problem given the solid top-rope he was on. Instead he pulled through the move successfully, and happily exclaimed “I didn’t weight the rope!” With perfect timing after that his footing slipped and he fell, and the humor of it broke the tension a little. Shortly afterward he reached the anchor, put me on belay instead, and we now had over 100 feet of free orange rope for me to keep leading on, more than enough to reach the nearby off-width.

I led up the two bolts to the small overhang and off-width. I could see the rope wedged not in the off-width exactly, but in a small horizontal flake on it’s right side. It was not my bulky knot that had gotten stuck, I could see that hanging freely farther above. The two rope strands were crossed on top of each other, like when you cross your index and middle fingers for luck. The more we had pulled on orange, the more it had wedged brown into place. I didn’t have to go over the little overhang, I just had to switch our direction of pull from the right side of the crack to the left side of the crack, and I was able to yank the ropes free. I then gave them a flip so they landed outside of the off-width entirely. Awesome. Our ropes are free! Now, how do I get down?

I’m on lead, above the 2nd bolt. Both the orange and brown ends of the rope hanging from our top rappel anchor are within reach, but the brown rope ends before it would reach the anchor Jarred is at. We go with the first plan that comes to mind: Jarred keeps me on belay, and I rappel a short distance until I’m below that 2nd bolt, but careful not to go too far since there’s no stopper at the end of brown (we took out the stopper earlier when we first tried to pull it.) While on rappel, I replaced the quickdraw on that bolt with the oldest single carabiner currently on my harness. Then, I had Jarred “take,” and hold my weight. I got off rappel, and he lowered me back to him, which fortunately wasn’t far because I’m committing the faux-pas of lowering off a single bolt. I clipped into the anchor, and together we pulled the rope, which much to our relief comes down to us completely.

I produced a rap ring and a 10’ piece of water-knotted webbing, and got to work creating my cheap-yet-completely-SERENE rap anchor. Haste makes waste, and I forgot to tie one of the knots that would have made it fully redundant. Rather than undo it and fix it, I want to get on with the descent right away before the rain gets a chance to come back, so I make it redundant by sloppily adding a dyneema runner and carabiner, taping the carabiner gate closed so it now counts as a locker. It looked kinda dumb since it was unnecessarily wasteful with gear, but it was SERENE! I rappel first, going from these 4th pitch anchors all the way down to the anchors at the top of the 2nd pitch. I am happy to report that are no major cracks anywhere near the rope during this rappel. Jarred joins me at the 2nd pitch anchors, and we pull the rope. It moves a little, and then… resistance. No F’ing way.

Jarred & I are having none of this. We both yank hard together. At first the rope doesn’t move, then suddenly it pops and lunges at us, and we chuckle with relief like crazy people. I am pretty sure my bulky flemish bend got a little hung up pulling over an edge until we pulled hard enough for it to bump up and over, and a fresh bit of sheath abrasion at the knot supported that theory. Happily using chains now, we thread the rope, and both rap to the 1st pitch anchors. The rock is entirely face now, no crack to get stuck in, and I’m sure we both want to feel relieved, but we’re holding our breath until we’re really back on the ground. The rope pulls just fine, we set up the last rappel, do the rappel, pull the rope one last time (remembering to take out a stopper-knot just before it left the ground.) Finally, we are both on the ground, and so is the rope. It’s 6:30pm. That’s 9h30m after we first left the ground. We are very happy to be here, and very happy to get our feet out of rock shoes and back in sneakers. The rain never came back, but I’m still glad we didn’t dilly-dally at any point after it first threatened us.

Ending the day.
Back at the car, I don’t put my gear away in an organized fashion like I usually do. I throw down a reusable shopping bag and tell Jarred to throw anything with my signature green & white tape in there, while I unload my harness in the same manner. We drive back to where we had seen Ben & Andrea that morning, pretty much exactly 12 hours ago. They had been back from the Royal Columns a while now, and had just begun to wonder where we were. I joined them and some other Mountaineers hanging out in camp just long enough for me to tell our story and have one can of cheap beer with them. Then, we moved Jarred’s gear from my car to theirs, and I hit the road back to Seattle so I can spend Sunday with my girlfriend.

Huge kudos to Jarred for keeping a level head through all of this, thinking resourcefully, and and being an excellent partner at both the normal climbing, and the bit of self-rescue we had to pull off near the end. I want Jarred around anytime the going gets tough! Also, a sincere big thanks to the first ascensionists who put up this route, I had a great time climbing it! On a five star system, I’d give it 4 stars. (The only downsides being some occasional loose rock, and my desire for an extra safety bolt here and there.)

My pictures:
Jarred’s pictures:

P.S.  An old cashmere sweater, a mylar blanket, and an emergency rain poncho have been permanently added to what I put in the little backpack the follower carries on my multipitch climbs.

Baring Mountain

Here’s someone elses trip report that gives a pretty good description of the route:

I set out with Andrea, Ben, Alex, & Gerry; and all five of us squeezed snuggly into my Forester at 5am on April 26th.  Unfortunately, it seemed unlikely that we would summit, as it rained heavily on us during the drive out there, and as we began the hike.  When we arrived at the trailhead parking lot at 6:30am, there was a group of 9 BoeAlps already there gearing up as well.  (In Seattle, the Mountaineers is the largest organized mountaineering club, but there are many smaller ones as well, one of which is BoeAlps, which is specifically for Boeing employees.)  I wasn’t expecting anyone else to be doing the same mountain as us since April is an unpopular time for mountaineering, but I was really glad when I realized they’d be ahead of us because I knew a lot of the way would be on snow, and we’d get some free steps kicked for us.

The BoeAlps were ahead of us just enough that we went hours without seeing them after they left the parking lot.  We started hiking at 7:05.  Before the snow, the route started out briefly along an abandoned road, then turned uphill walking in a creek for a few feet, then following a very rough bootpath through the woods gaining 2000′ by going nearly straight up the ridge-side.  The rain let up, leaving us with just a heavy fog.  We hit continuous snow, and were happy to follow in the recent footsteps of the BoeAlps group.  It takes a while, but eventually the slope ends with a ridgeline, still in trees, that you turn left and walk along.  Eventually the gradually rising ridgeline is interrupted by a sudden increase in steepness with a cliffy rock face visible on the left side, at which point you go right and follow your current topo line, traversing the south slope amongst the trees.  When there are no cliffs above you, you make a 90° left turn and ascend a very consistent slope until you break out of the trees at the edge of a snow bowl, with views of the big gully that runs to the notch between the north & south peaks.  When we reached this point, the cloud ceiling cut off both the north & south peaks, but we could see the big gully across the bowl from us, and we spotted the BoeAlps group halfway up it.  They must have been moving fast, because that was the first time we caught sight of them since the parking lot.  We noticed that if we stepped out of their tracks, we’d quickly sink into the snow up to our waist, and it was a bit of a swimming battle to get something solid to stand on again.  Even within their tracks, occasionally stepping down hard would cause us to posthole.

There was old avalanche debris in the gully as we ascended, but it was clearly old and had refrozen solidly into place.  As we ascended it, the clouds began to break, giving us occasional patches of blue sky, some views far down the Highway 2 valley, and some teasing glimpses of other nearby mountains.  We caught up with the BoeAlps group at the notch where the gully ended.  Other route descriptions describe one pitch of very steep snow that must be climbed in order to go higher than the notch, and we had brought a 50-meter rope, three pickets, and one secondary ice axe so that I’d have two when leading the pitch.  We ended up not using any of it.  The BoeAlps leader had been concerned about snow stability on that pitch, so rather than go up it, he went sidewise to the left, setting his own fixed line to a tree over there.  After their entire group had used the fixed line to get to the next easy section, I heard them say that they were going to leave it in place while they tagged the summit, and use it on the descent as well.  I yelled to them, asking if they would mind if we clipped in and used their fixed line after them on the ascent.  He said yes, which saved us even more time, since we didn’t have to set up our own fixed line, as we had originally planned.  I thanked them, and told them we’d use our own rope to rappel back into the gully when it was time to descend so we wouldn’t delay them, but that later proved to be unnecessary too.  Our groups combined as we worked up the final alpine slope to the summit.

The rocky summit partially stuck out of the snow, and had quite of bit of rime-ice plastered to it.  We circled clockwise around it to find an easier side to scramble up, summiting at 1:00pm.  With 14 people up there total, we perched on every inch of rock that was showing, because we knew the snowier parts were probably hiding dangerous cornices.  We faced west and enjoyed some beautiful views through the cloud breaks, and everyone broke out some food that they had carried up and generously shared.  I got some delicious Swedish Fish and a maple-creme cookie from the BoeAlps people in exchange for some chocolate bits.  Index & Mt Persis were hazily visible on one side of our view, while Merchant and Gunn Peak came and went through the fog on the other side.  At 1:20pm we started our descent.  We were hiking along side the BoeAlps group, and got back to their fixed line at roughly the same time.  They said we were welcome to use their fixed line again, even though we hadn’t wanted to slow them down, so we accepted their generous offer.  It was almost unnecessary at that point because so many boots had made very solid, comfortable steps at the steep snow traverse.  We happily glissaded the entire gully, even though it was a tad bumpy.  We exited the snow bowl, and the BoeAlps group pulled ahead of us as we worked our way back down the ridgeline.  Our group really slowed down once got low enough to be off snow entirely, and back to the muddy bootpath on the lower slope.  It was a long day and we were tired.  It was a relief to finally break out on to the abandoned road at the bottom.  We hung out there for a little bit to regroup and wash our muddy boots/gaitors/pants in the small stream.  By then, the difference in weather was amazing.  Blue skies everywhere, and a stunning view of Baring’s summit through the thin tree branches above us.  Once we were all there, we walked the tiny remaining distance back to the parking lot, finishing out hike at 5:45pm.  It was a fantastic, full-value day!

If it hadn’t been for the BoeAlps, I’m sure it would have taken us much, much longer; probably requiring us to turn around before reaching the summit in order to get back at a reasonable hour.  We intentionally went to the same bar & grill as them on the way home, and bought them a token pitch of beer as thanks.

Here are just my pictures:

Pictures from everyone in the group our on facebook (need to add a link to that.)

Mount Persis Snowshoe

Mt Persis on Sunday April 6th was a lot of fun, and a decent pre-summer workout! Alex Johnson, Evan Severson, and Erik Chelstad joined me. The summer-stats on it are 2 miles from trailhead to summit, gaining 2650’ of elevation. Given that it’s still very much winter conditions out there, with the trailhead at 2800’ on an unmaintained logging road, I went with the expectation that we would have to park the car well before the trailhead & snowshoe to it, possibly doubling our distance for the day. That could have made for a very long snowshoeing day, so I had us start early, picking people up at 5am.

Here’s a map I found on the Internet:

Here are my pictures from our day:

Erik’s pictures:

Finding Forest Road 62 from Hwy 2 is easy enough. Once on Forest Road 62, there are multiple unmarked side roads for logging, many of which aren’t shown on maps. My hiking GPS proved useful for differentiating between roads we did or did not care about. Ignore the first left, then take every left after that. The giant valley has many clear-cuts and shooting ranges I hadn’t been aware of before. The road is rough, we were thankful to have to ground clearance that my Subaru Forester provides, anything lower to the ground would have bottomed out. We found ourselves in between two cloud layers: heavy fog below us, and ceiling of the same gray above us, but where we were we could see across the valley to other slopes.

We arrived at the trailhead at 7:30am, and we were able to drive all the way to the summer-trailhead with no snow on the road at all. There’s no sign, just a wider section of road about a tenth of a mile before it dead-ends, and an unmaked dirt trail on the uphill bank going into the woods. We were hiking up this by 7:45am. It’s steep & narrow, pretty much a class 2 scramble right off the bat, but very well defined and easy to follow. Although it was not raining, brushing against wet branches made us look like we had been through a downpour only 5 minutes into the hike. I had worn my rain shell & pants from the get-go, but opted not to put on gaiters before reaching snow, which was a mistake. The wet foliage soaked my socks, which in turn soaked the inside of my otherwise-waterproof boots.

We exited dense trees, finding ourselves ascending in a recovering clear cut. We were in a heavy fog, making for a very moody landscape. Around 9am the snow-cover became continuous, and we had to gingerly cross a partially covered talus field, unsure if each step onto snow would be supported by a rock below, or plunge into an ankle-torquing gap. Soon after that, we put on our snowshoes. We could not have continued without them, our postholes were becoming waist deep. Around 10am we left the old clearcut by pushing through a brief wall of trees to find easily-travelled forest on the uphill side. Every now and then on this hike, we got a view some big craggy cliff of rock or another dropping off from the side of where we were heading. With the fog, we often couldn’t tell how far down they might drop, or if the edge was corniced, so we always kept a few trees between us and the edge.

One ridgeline gently melds into another, and the route bends a little more southeast. Along this ridge, there are some breaks in the trees that would definitely make for an avalanche path. We choose our routes carefully, often sticking to a medium band of trees right on the ridge, where there were cliffs to our left and potentially slide-prone slopes to our right. The tree branches were laden with beautiful rime ice. I’m afraid I took almost no pictures at this point though, since it was just too many steps to get my hands out of my wet gloves, get my camera out of it’s zip loc bag, etc.

As we got close to the summit, we began seeing larger & larger meadows without trees. Knowing there were tarns somewhere in the area, and not wanting to trust them to be well-frozen on this 40° day, we again hugged the edge of the trees. The problem came 200 vertical feet shy of the summit, a few minutes before noon. The line of trees we had chosen ended, and leaving it meant stepping out into the whitest whiteout I’ve ever been in in my life. We could see each other just fine, but the snowpack and the fog were so identically the same nondescript hazy color that I could not tell whether the snow ahead of me was angled uphill or down until I stepped on it and could feel it. We stopped and discussed for a bit, and decided it was best to turn around at this point.

We retraced our steps, pausing for 30 minutes for a lunch break once we found the shelter of more trees.  The snow had softened significantly since we had gone up, and we found many more of our foot steps sliding out from under us, but there was always a nearby tree branch to grab for support.  We were back down to the car by 3:15pm. It was a fun trip, a satisfying workout, provided a little route-finding practice, as well as practice for making good decisions about risk levels. I’m really glad we got out and tackled it, and I feel really successful about our almost-summit!

Gear notes: We had each packed snowshoes, beacon/probe/shovel, and an ice axe. The snowshoes proved essential. The avy gear I would not have wanted to be without even though we stayed out of danger by carefully choosing where on the terrain we travelled. The ice axe made a nice walking stick, but was not strictly necessary and a trekking pole could have worked just as well. You can stay within trees almost the entire way, so if you did slide you’d probably catch yourself on one of them rather than try to self arrest. Full rain gear was also essential. Sunglasses were important outside the trees at the top, even though it was foggy. Somehow you could still feel the sunshine, and things were a little too white to be comfortable on the eyes.