We arrived at the Goldmine TH (#707) along the Mountain Loop Highway Friday night and began our trek at 5:30am Saturday Morning. Our main objective was to climb the technical North Face of Vesper Peak. We would then climb Sperry and Morning Star Peak (both scrambles) as time allowed over the weekend. The peaks all in the vicinity of Headlee Pass known for its steep grade and 30 switchbacks. We expected the pass to be the most torturous section of the 3.5 mile approach to Vesper Lake with our 40-50lb packs. The trail began easily enough cutting through forest for .5 miles and crossing several creeks. At .5 miles the final creek crossing is not obvious as the trail seems to turn left and walk along the creek before dumping you into a thicket of shrubbery with the faintest glimmer of a trail. If you come to this you have gone the wrong way (like us). The trail goes down the bank and crossing the creek on a few logs tired together with questionable string. The forest vanishes here as you climb over long switchbacks over a rocky and root covered trail to the head of the basin above. The unpleasant footing continues in the basin and includes a few talus crossings. Luckily there are blueberries everywhere to snack on! You cannot see Headlee Pass as you cross the basin pretty much in a long straight line. Then suddenly the trail turns sharply right and after several switchbacks through a small forest and talus Headlee Pass looms in front of you.
The switchbacks are not terribly long as the Pass is relatively narrow. I did not find it very steep and a decent amount of the trail is pretty good condition. In fact, it was the easiest part of the approach so far for me! However, there is rock fall danger galore. Tread carefully to prevent rock fall on the hikers below you and keep on eye from rocks from above.
When we reached the top of the pass at 4600 Feet we shuttered looking out over the talus field we would have to cross. It was in direct sun. The basin we had just crossed was completely shaded spoiling us. The crossing is on a pretty good trail though and we made good time to the outlet creek. At the creek you can turn right and walk amount the shore to Vesper Lake or cross the creek and begin the scramble route up Vesper Peak. At first we headed to the lake in search of camps on the suggestion of a hiker nearby. The lake is a scenic camp area for sure with frozen Vesper Lake and Vesper & Sperry Peaks looming above. However, this is a popular camp spot, plus we decided we’d rather be closer to the route. So we doubled back and crossed the creek. On the grassy bunch just above the flowing water are several good camps. We dropped a bunch of our backpacking gear here and slimmed down to our alpine equipment.
There is a very obvious trail that heads up the ridge scramble route for Vesper Peak. We followed this route which offered good tread, though steep in places, to the upper slopes of Vesper Peak about 2/3 of the way up. We turned right at a large carin and distinct rock (see photo) and traversed off trail across the slopes cutting through some snow patches and easy slab scrambling to small notch (not the big notch) of the shoulder of Vesper.
The notch offers great views of Cooper Lake and Big Four Mountain. Just below a large glacial mass of ice (with several crevasses) sits on the North Side of Vesper Peak. Some folks scramble down to the glacier, cross the moat, and then climb the lower walls of the North Face for a longer climb. Eric and I had no desire to cross what appeared to be a dangerous 30 foot moat. Instead we scampered to the left to an obvious ledge of heather and on the side of the mountain. There is a faint, but obvious trail here to follow most of the way. However, about ¾ of the way a blocky rock wall seems to end the ledge. Some class 3 & 4 scramble moves over the rock leads to an upper ledge to the start of belay for Pitch 1 (see photo). We roped up here and began the climb.
I was told that Pitch 1 was 65 meters… thus Eric would begin simul- climbing when he ran out of rope. I knew I was looking for a dihedral as I headed up the slab. There are various ways one could take on this pitch to archive the same end result. I followed the weaknesses in the rock and managed to find places for 3 pieces of protection. Not ideal… but placements were almost non-existent! After Zig-Zagging up way up I came to a flat area and looked for a place to build an anchor. There was none. So I plopped down and braced my food again some rocks. This would have to do… and I through the climbing was more like class 4 than 5 so I wasn’t too worried about a fall from Eric.
We swung leads and Eric headed up the dihedral. However, he ended up climbing on the slab about 85% of the time; barely using he dihedral. The pitch is 60 meters long and requires a “hanging belay” of sorts. There is a decent ledge to stand on, but you basically have to build an anchor. Eric used a pink and black tri-cam, size 3 or 2 mastercam and a medium nut. During the route he managed about 4 placements. We were told to bring lots of small gear. However, it would have been nice to have a few cams from 2-3 inches. We saw a number of places for this type of gear, but didn’t have that size.
I took the final lead up a steep slab (there is a cracky system to the right which makes for more secure climbing). I was able to place only a single along the 20 or so meters. Once on top of the glassy flat area I slung a boulder with a two triple runners and belayed Eric up.
We left our gear and scrambled up the final few feet to the blocky summit. The views are 360 degrees. Sperry, Morning Star and Big Four are right in front of you. Beyond numerous craggy summits spread out before you. Glacier Peak stands tall in the distance.
We descended the scramble trail which is rather obvious and well-traveled heading in the opposite direction of the North Face. After some rock scrambling we completed a quick glissade down some snowfields to the place we had turned off for the traverse earlier in the day. From here it was about 30 minutes back to camp.

 

Gear: full nut set (though you can leave the 2-3 biggest behind), cams .5-3 inches, black, pink and red tri-cams
Note: ice ax required. Crampons were not needed in our case

 

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