Peshastin in November

Gerry Chu & Jen Yu joined me on Saturday, Nov. 9th in an attempt to escape the gloomy gray drizzle that has taken over everything west of the Cascades.  ImageThe Eastern Washington forecasts had been very promising when last week began, starting out with 50°F and 0% chance of rain, but those numbers kept creeping in the wrong directions until we were faced with a 40% chance of rain by the eve of our trip.  We went for it anyway, leaving Seattle in the dark at 6:30am, driving towards the red horizon.  We picked up sandwiches to go at the Cle Elum Subway, and made final call there to go for Peshastin over Vantage, since the forecast was pretty similar, and the Pinnacles would be a new destination for both Gerry & Jen.  Apparently you’re not supposed to climb on sandstone for 36 hours after it’s been rained on, and we had confirmed beforehand that it had not rained there since Thursday evening, putting us in the clear.

Rob climbing A Crack on Orchard Rock

Rob climbing “A Crack”

We arrived around 10am to find blue skies (a welcome change!) but with wisps of clouds, and a very brisk start somewhere in the mid-30’s.  Also, upon pulling up to Peshastin Pinnacles State Park, we were bummed to find the gate locked & displaying a very prominent “Closed for Winter” sign.  Unwilling to be turned around so easily, I parked by the gate, put up my Discover Pass, and crossed my fingers.  We walked in and around to the east side of Orchard Rock, and set up shop.  I wanted to start out on the route called “A Crack” (5.7, 2″ gear,) but once I was up there my ambition scaled back a bit, and I continued to the top via “The Gully” (the book says 5.-, but I’d call it at least an outdoor 5.5.)  Coming from the back, I got to the high horn above “A Crack” and hung two single runners with a rap ring for later use (doubles would have been better, but singles were fine.)  I beefed it up for top-roping by adding locker, and adding a taught downward anchor by stuffing a #0.75 into a crack at the base of the horn, and connecting it with a double runner.  Gerry & Jen top-roped “The Gully,” and then we all top-roped “A Crack.”  Concerned that we might opt the down-climb the whole route rather than rappel, we left a lot of the gear placements in while top-roping.  The book suggests slinging a stalactite if you’re leading “A Crack,” but this makes no sense to me, wouldn’t a sling just fall off?  The stalactite was a handy road-sign letting you know it’s time to step out of The Gully if you want to climb A Crack, though.  The crack is worth a little protection on the back of your hands, I did a little damage to mine without it.  I went last, and rapped off of my original anchor on the horn.

Jen in The Tunnel

Jen in The Tunnel

Moving counter-clockwise around Orchard Rock, we tackled “The Tunnel” (5.6, 2″ gear.)  This bizarre and entertaining route means what it says, you actually climb through a tunnel, come out the other side, and then you have your pick of various high points to continue and finish the route.  I think I chose the most difficult one, inspired by the line in the book heading for Orchard Rock’s summit rather than to the easy-looking horn above “The Tunnel’s” start.  It requires a step around an arete with only one half-decent hand hold (feel around the corner, lower than your right shoulder) and a lot of faith in the friction of your feet, but it’s not that bad.  Above that, I began to worry about what would be usable for a top anchor.  Gerry climbing The TunnelA large flake pointing up had a single, scary loop of damaged webbing that was not so much behind the flake, but pinched between the rock at the top of the flake.  I sunk a #8 nut and a #0.3 cam in a crack to the right of the flake, and went to work untying one of my double runners, threading it behind the flake and hooking it from the other side with my nut tool.  I managed to do all of that while on the sharp end, but had Jen take and hold my weight when it came time to retie the water knot.  Like before, I added a rap ring for later, and a locker for lowering & top-roping, leaving in the gear for the top-roping.  Since there were two people top-roping it after me, I had to crawl back through the tunnel mid-lower, but that proved much easier than I had feared it might be.  Jen went last, and had no problems rappelling off the side rather than having to go through the tunnel.Gerry stepping across above The Tunnel

We browsed the book looking for a moderate route that would open up more top-rope opportunities, and we set out to find “Porpoise” (5.6, 1″ gear) half way up up Martian Slab.  The book showed it as sharing a rappel anchor with a handful of other friction slab routes.  I took off up the little dihederal, clipping a rusty piton as my first piece, then stepping out to the easier face on the right.  The climbing was moderate and fun, if you don’t mind friction moves.  I eventually veered far left towards a shiny silver carabiner we could see hanging from a bolt, which we assumed would be the rappel anchor.

Gerry testing out the beginning of Harpoonist, the too-hard-for-today friction moves left of Porpoise

Gerry testing out the beginning of Harpoonist, the too-hard-for-today friction moves left of Porpoise

I suppose it was someone’s rappel anchor, but it was just one bolt, and the carabiner was the non-climbing hardware store variety, so I wanted to look for something better.  I kept going and going, up and rightward so I’d get back to the original vertical I had been on.  The rope drag was awful, because I figured it “couldn’t hurt” to clip that “rappel” bolt.  The rock got a little more crumbly than usual, but it was still doable if you were careful.  Eventually, I topped out on the ridge and found a bunch of old slings on a feature.  I added some 7mm cord, but I was out of rap rings and I didn’t notice any already on the slings.  I extended that to make a top rope anchor, but wisely thought to ask Gerry if he had seen the middle mark go by while I was climbing.  He said yes, it was about 20 feet above him.  Oh goody.  As he lowered me, I cleaned nearly all the pieces I had placed, especially that bolt far to the left.  That bought us just enough rope length to stretch it to the ground, thankfully.  Gerry & Jen top roped, and Jen kindly sacrificed a cheap carabiner with the gate taped shut in order to rappel.  During Jen’s climb, we started feeling drops from the sky, which had completely clouded over as the day progressed.  We packed up and headed out as soon as she was down.  It was 3:30pm, and even if it hadn’t rained, we would have had to pack up before 5pm due to the early sunset.  I feel very successful and satisfied about our day!  We each got to climb 4 routes, and it was really interesting going to this less travelled area.  No parking ticket to boot, though YMMV.  Since it was too early for a dinner in Leavenworth, we stopped at a Korean restaurant once we were back in Seattle.

Out of the rack I had brought, I only ended up using BD C4 cam sizes #0.3 through #1, with doubles of the #0.75 and the #1 proving quite handy.  I also used tricams liberally, and nuts sparingly.  I always bring a little webbing to leave behind, and a cheap rap ring or two, but next time I visit Peshastin I’ll definitely bring more of both.  We only spotted one proper pair of rappel chains all day, and it wasn’t on route we climbed, so go with the expectation that you’ll need to create your own rappel stations.

My pictures: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/mdv6ffdh6b7v45r/GWIEnqAkN9

Gerry’s pictures: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10102176984637412.1073741843.28123659&type=1&l=9acac6b7b6

Climbing Otter Falls

Every technical climbing route I’ve done up until this point has had a guidebook entry, a trip report from someone else online, or at the very least some terse words from Fred Beckey.  However, Gerry has had a dream of climbing the dry rock up the side of Otter Falls (WTA, WaterfallsNW) for three years now, but we could find absolutely zero trip reports from people who had done this before to give us beta beyond a vague reference that someone’s dad did it a long time ago and a photo of the upper falls.  So, on Sunday September 8th, we set out to tackle the unknown. See all photos.

Getting Started

Gerry picked me up in Queen Anne at 7:30am.  He has a bike rack, and we brought bikes to make the five miles of relatively-flat trail pass quickly.  The Middle Fork Road has developed quite a few potholes by this time of year, but Gerry handled them just fine in his Camry.  We were parked at the gate and unloading the bikes by 9am.  riding the trailThe bikes worked pretty well on the trail.  It was a really bumpy ride, and having shocks on the front tire helped tremendously, but there were many places where it was rough enough to necessitate walking the bikes a short distance.  Still, it made the 5 miles go by quicker and with less monotony than they otherwise would have.  We intentionally passed Otter Falls, arriving at Big Creek Falls at 10:20am.  Gerry says that scrambling up Big Creek Falls is pretty much his favorite thing to do in the Cascades.  Gerry scrambling up Big Creek FallsThe falls are a seemingly endless series of slabs and 15 foot waterfalls that each plunge into clear emerald pools, and can normally be done barefoot.  Today though, things were wetter than he had ever seen them, making the scrambling quite a challenge to pull off the friction moves at times, and sometimes necessitating a bushwhack bypass.  We continued up this until noon, turning back before the valley opens up in the interest of time.  Gerry wore Tevas and I wore Vibram Five Fingers.  The Five Fingers seemed to be the ideal footwear for this, they have excellent grip on wet rock, and fantastic sensitivity for feeling out tricky moves.  We were back at our bikes by 1:05pm, rode a short way back on the trail, locked up the bikes again, and headed up the Otter Creek side trail, arriving at Lipsy Lake at 1:20pm. Continue reading

The Pickets

The Plan

Pickets 2013 Route Overview Three of us (myself, Abby Hunt, and Ben Fox) would make a 7 day trip traversing the Northern Picket range of the North Cascades with attempts to summit Whatcom, Challenger, Fury via its North Buttress, and Luna.  That nicely ordered the technical difficulty of the climbs as easy, medium, then hard, and then Luna as an easy dessert on the end.  This is very similar to the first half of one of Steph Abegg’s trips, and we pulled a ton of useful beta from her trip report.  We aimed to go light & fast, but anyone who’s hiked with me knows I don’t cut corners on safety-related gear, and on a trip like this all gear is safety-related gear.  (Yes, I know speed is safety too, but I’m often not the slowest member of the group.  Except for this time.)

Gear Details

Our main concern was Fury’s North Buttress, but we also had some glaciers to cross.  We brought one skinny 60m rope, BD cams #0.3 through #3 each with a biner, a set of nuts, 3 pickets, 10 slings with a biner on each (more doubles than singles,) a few spare biners for the nut placements, and two cordelettes.  We each brought our own harness, belay device, texas prusiks, and about 4 lockers.  We each brought two mountaineering axes to deal with the steep snow pitches on Fury (I had a 70cm BD Raven and a 50cm CAMP Nanotech, a combination that proved incredibly versatile and I’d happily use again.)  We all had steel crampons, which I was thankful for since there were a lot of places we crossed rock, and as always my faithful Asolo 520’s successfully pretended to be mountaineering boots.  I packed rock shoes, but they ended up only being dead-weight in my pack.  We shared an MSR Whisperlight and started with a liter of fuel.  A steripen was our go-to water treatment, though we carried a little iodine as a backup.  A Big Agnes Fly Creek sheltered Ben & I, while Abby brought a bivy.  If the weather got nasty, the plan was to scoot the head of her bivy under the vestibule of our tent.  Ben & I both brought substantial first aid kits (he’s a W-EMT and I’m a WFR,) and he even had a satellite phone, which made me feel a lot better.  The real kicker in terms of pack weight for me was the amount of food I brought.  A previous off-trail experience had overly convinced me of the need to bring extra food, in case we ended up having to go back the way we came near the end of the traverse, so I had packed a whopping 18 lbs of food providing a total of 29,300 calories to divide over the 7 days.  That put my initial fully-loaded pack weight (including 2 liters of water) at 59.5 lbs.  That was definitely too much, but I was unwilling to cut any corners before starting out.

Day 1

Abby and Ben on the water taxiWe had a reservation at 8:30am for the Ross Lake water taxi to take us to the Little Beaver trailhead.  (Friday, July 26th.)  To make it there in time, we were meeting in Seattle at 5:00am to combine into one car.  After the final touch to my packing (printing & ziplocking copies of Fred Beckey’s pages and Steph Abegg’s website,) I set an early alarm and went to bed.  I woke up restlessly a few times during the dark & quiet night.  One of those times the digits on the clock read five-three-two.  Shit.  I scrambled, called Abby, grabbed a poptart, looked in puzzlement at my correctly-set-yet-silent alarm, and hit the road, arriving at the meet-up by 5:50am.  As we hastily piled our gear and ourselves into Ben’s Toyota, I asked Abby: “We have three pickets, right?” “Right.” So I left the spare picket I had brought just-in-case in the back of my parked car, and we drove off.  Abby tried to make up time on I-5.  Unfortunately, a Washington State Trooper disagreed with this strategy, and we earned ourselves a ticket.  Bummer.  Eventually we called the Ross Lake Resort to see about changing our water taxi reservation time.  They said the next time they could do was 10am.Little Beaver begins  So much for our early start, but that also wasn’t too bad either considering we were totally at their mercy to get to Little Beaver.  I was feeling super guilty, but also relieved that I hadn’t cost us a full day. At the Ross Lake parking lot, Abby divvied out group gear: Ben took the rope, she took the rack, and I took the stove & fuel.  It was at this point we realized how our earlier communication about the number of pickets was ambiguous: we were all on the same page about bringing three total, though I thought Abby was bringing all three and handing them out, whereas she thought I had brought mine so she only packed two, understandably thinking that made three total when she answered my earlier question.  Well, two pickets it’ll be then.  Fortunately, each of us carrying a second axe meant we’d have extra improvised snow anchors anyway. The trail from the parking lot to the edge of the lake was short & straight forward.  It’s a little less than a mile and drops about 500′ of elevation down to the lake.  It’s well-signed, and has outhouses at both top and bottom.  The phone to call the resort is easy to find.  After we let them know we where there, it was a long wait on the dock before the water taxi showed up.  In the mean time, tons of resort-goers came by and took the shorter ferry ride to that floating hotel.  Giagantic cedars along Little Beaver trailWe were amazed at the amount of luxury gear that travelled with them: giant coolers and Costco boxes of drinks.  Sure, there’s a time and place for both kinds of trips, but what we were doing was so different.  Finally our water taxi arrived, and we ended up sharing it with a couple headed to Lodgepole Camp with their two dogs.  That was great, because sharing the water taxi nearly cut the cost in half for us.  Finally, the boat dropped us off at the Little Beaver dock at 11am.  We confirmed our reservation with the boat driver to be picked up at the other end: 9am on Thursday August 1st at Big Beaver, and then he drove off and we were on our own. We had 14 miles to cover before we reached Twin Rocks camp, our goal for the first day.  I was surprised to find the trail switchbacking up hill right away, I had envisioned the gentle grade of a river-walk the whole way.  Fortunately, it was still really tame for an uphill and leveled off after a little while, and we maintained an amazingly brisk pace of slightly over 3 miles per hour while moving, even with our heavy packs.  We only took packs-off breaks at the major landmarks of the trail: the other official camps, and at the intersection with Big Beaver.  Thanks to all that speed and efficiency, we rolled into Twin Rocks at 5:10pm, amazingly putting us back on Schedule after all of the morning snafus.At Twin Rocks camp  Along the way, the trail was very well maintained, although a bit overgrown.  Every stream either had a crossing log or was easily rock-hopped.  We indulged on number of trailside thimble berries & salmon berries that could be grabbed without breaking stride.  There were some really impressive old-growth cedars along the way, and even a glimpse of Mt Prophet to the south. At camp we were treated to our last human contact for a few days.  We met Guillermo and his son Daniel, who camped near-by, doing a father/son backpacking trip.  They had spent the day hiking up to Whatcom Pass for the views and back down to here as their base camp.  After chatting with them for a bit, we hung our bear bag and called it a night.

Day 2

Whatcom on the right, part of Challenger on the leftWe got up early, packed up surprisingly quickly, and were on the trail by 6am.  The trail is a little rougher and more overgrown than the day before, but fortunately the rumors of devils club never materialize for us.  It isn’t long before we start getting glimpses of Whatcom Peak, and part of the Challenger Glacier.  Half a dozen waterfalls streak down the sides of our valley. what you get for staying low and going left Twin Rocks is at 2700′ elevation, and Whatcom Pass is at 5200′, so the switchbacks begin soon, and I fall behind my two companions in terms of speed.  One section of switchbacks is held together with wooden retaining walls, which is more trail maintenance than I expected to see this far in.  Shortly afterward, forest gives way to alpine meadow, and things level out.  This was a good time for us to top up our water supply before going higher. We kept left at all trail intersections up in the pass area, including a left onto a trail that looks like it’ll take you around Point 6230 without having to go up and over, but instead peters out to nothing in the meadow. scrambling above Whatcom Pass Abby had wanted to go up and over that rise off trail before then, and I should have listened to her, since curving around the left side of this rise put us in a steep treed slope that was slow going and more difficult to traverse than just gaining a few hundred more feet of elevation would have been.  Eventually a clearing with a talus field let us gain the ridge after all, and we followed the ridgeline as it started to climb Whatcom itself. the non-trivial class 3 scrambleWe stayed right of the snowfields clinging to that north ridge of Whatcom, and soon we naturally ended up on the exposed 3rd class scramble up the northwest face of Whatcom.  It was about noon when we started the 3rd class scramble, and 2:30pm by the time we got off it by reaching the summit via skinny ridge that shoots out its western side.  Meanwhile, during the scramble, many of the rocks were loose, the exposure was a little crazy, so it was mainly an art of finding the most solid thing you could trust for a hand or foot hold. uncomfortable exposure Both going up and from the summit, the views of Baker and Shuksan were phenomenal.  We signed the summit register, and we were stoked to see that Steph Abegg had signed it only a few lines above us!  (Her trip was last summer, so that’s a testament to how few people actually do this.)  I’ve never met her, but her website and trip reports have been a crucial source of information for us.  From the summit, Perfect Pass is visible as the first major low spot on the ridgeline continuing on towards Challenger.  Whatcom’s summit is also a fantastic vantage point to scope our Challenger, it’s glacier, and the little rock wall you have to descent to get on the glacier from Perfect Pass. Baker, Shuksan, and the Cozi Duck from the summit of Whatcom We lingered on the summit until 3:10, then scrambled our way back down that skinny ridge onto the nice plunge-stepping snow down to Perfect Pass.  After stops to fill up water, and time to scope the area for the best camping spot, we eventually laid down our load for the day by 4:30pm.

 

 

Unfortunately, I never did finish this trip report 😦  Email me if you’d like the rest of the story, maybe it’ll inspire me to write more.

Motivations

I always like to think about my motivations for doing things. Reading Your Best Vacation is Someone’s Worst Nightmare triggered me to consider my climbing and mountaineering motivations again. I’d also recommend reading this essay on the behavioral economics/psychology of mountaineering http://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/sds/docs/loewenstein/mountaineering.pdf. The author says that classical economics is premised on rational people wanting to maximize pleasure and consumption. But this model is insufficient because people climb mountains, and mountaineering “tends to be unrelenting misery from beginning to end”. (If nothing else, the essay is worth reading for pithy observations such as “mountaineering suffers from the worst possible combination of long periods of stultifying boredom punctuated by brief periods of terror”). He sets out to examine why people are motivated to climb mountains and finds four reasons:
  1. To define themselves as mountaineers and gain the pride and prestige that comes with it
  2. To achieve the summit / a goal
  3. To master a difficult skill
  4. To get a new perspective on life / to search for meaning
As a recreational climber, and not the hardcore first ascensionist that the essay focuses on, I find my motivations to be much more diverse:

  1. Mountaineering sounded like an interesting skill to learn, I wanted to improve my outdoor skills
  2. I was looking for something new to do after work
  3. Meet people
  4. Consumerism / gear (sadly)
  5. Being outdoors is better than being indoors
  6. I am in awe of big things, and mountains are pretty much the biggest thing there is
  7. Enjoy going new places
  8. Like the feeling of going to work Monday morning and thinking about the unlikely places I’d been the past two days
  9. Scenery, beauty, photography
  10. Skiing is fun
I’ve always been somewhat proud that summitting Rainier wasn’t the reason I took the basic climbing class: I’ve always favored doing things for pleasure in the moment over doing things to achieve long-term goals. Thinking about this and the rest of my motivations makes me wonder whether both my tolerance for risk and what I think of as “normal” will continue to be pushed. I hope I won’t end up like my former dentist (who, btw if you’re concerned, I didn’t know very well at all). Or maybe I’ll be forever content doing basic climbs. Time will tell!