The summit had been on Damien’s list for 6 years. The forecast for this Memorial Weekend was all over the place. Some websites said full sunshine, others clouds and still others thunderstorms in the Entiat Mountain Range. With such indecisive predictions it was decided that the team (Ivan, Stephan, Damien and me) would just go for it Memorial Day weekend and try to climb the North Face of Mount Maude.

We started out late on Saturday meeting at the end of a long dirt road at Phelps Creek Trailhead. The weather was bluebird skies… the kidn the required a bunch of sunscreen. The first part of the trail is flat with very little elevation gain for 2.5 miles. There are a number of creek crossings two of which led us to removing our boots and wading across. The water was not above mid-calf level though. We took a break to filter water at the trail Junction with Leory Creek Trail. This is where the climbing began. The Leory Creek Trail is described as  “character building” as it plunges steeply upward with only the slightest switchbacks gaining 2000 feet in less than two miles. We reached the snow after ascending ascending to about 5500 ft and began to intermittently loose the trail from there. Around this time the weather began to change to cloudy and a few raindrops fell.

We ended up scrambling down a steep embankment and crossing a deep creek via a teetering log to the steep bank on the other side. We later discovered that this was an unnecessary crossing. Stay on the left side of the creek and the trail will reappear. There were some great campsites that were melted out in the trees at 6100 ft in the shadow of Mt Maude and Seven-Fingered Jack. There is running water nearby and glorious 360 degree views. As we set up camp thunder rumbled faintly a few times and there was some light rain, but nothing significant. We noted that it was 4:30 when the thunder came. At our evening meeting we decided that we would get up at 2:15 and head out no later than 3am to ensure we were off the mountain by 4:30 the next day in case of more thunder… that was the plan. What happened was different of course.

We left camp on time. Four headlamps headed up the hill toward the Seven-Fingered Jack-Maude Col at about 8100 ft. We were the only ones on the approach except for a cougar who’s tracks we found. We climbed through sparse trees at first until we came to an open basin. From here we aimed slightly left and climbed a ramp stopping halfway up to put on our crampons. At 7600ft we began to bear right until we crested a large flat area. up a shot slope we climbed to a small notch on the far right between some short spires and had our first look at the traverse.

The route description for the North Face indicated that we should turn right toward Maude and gently descend across the steep slopes to the base of the route at 7300ft. We also read that many folks turn back because the traverse is not in and the cliff bans and rocks can be dangerous to navigate. We did have one piece of beta that suggested taking a high traverse instead to avoid this kind of issue. That is what we opted to do. We roped up here creating two teams. Stephen leading Ivan and Damien leading me. The slope was easily 50 degree snow. We steadily moved steeply downward and then across the slope toward Maude’s North Face which seemed very far away…because it was. Steven placed pickets along the way along with some rock pro in the exposed rock. It was tedious work. Each step had to be made with precision. And with each move i swing in the pick of my BD Cobra and the spike of my Petzel Sum-tec. This combo of a technical tool and aline axe ended up being a great mixture of gear. I was all alone on this traverse, in back of the line 40 meters away from Damien and Ivan who I would briefly see before they disappeared on the other side of a snow runnel. We did our best to avoid these runnels, but it was virtually impossible. As the hours passed the day began to warm up and I began to regret leaving on my hard shell. But I couldn’t take it off! The slope was too steep to stop! I longed to put on sunblock again too, but I could do that either. Just swing, stab, step…over and over and over. Removing pro provided a nice change of pace as did listening to avalanches and watching on fall from Seven Fingered Jack. Of course The North Face never did seem to get bigger.

About four hours later  I finally getting to for 6 pickets on your hip isn’t easy! I also returned several medium nuts, two small cams and a medium hex. We took a short break here finally eating and putting on suncreen… and taking off my jacket! It was 11:30 and the sun was cooking us and softening the snow quickly. We could clearly see our route now to the summit. There was a narrow area up the face where it was clear debris was often funneled. We bgan to discuss that we should stay on the side of that chute when the massive cornice on the up slope began to fail and released some giant snowballs which quickly gained moment and brought a fair amount of debris down the chute. We hadn’t wanted to climb this late. We were supposed to be heading back to camp by now. But going back across the traverse would be more dangerous. We had to climb. Damien took charge at this point and pointed out a large rock near the top of the face on the left side of the chute. This rock would divert debris away from us if we climbed under it. When were were most of the way up we would shorten the rope and run across the chute to the other side. It was agreed that this was the safest way to mitigate the risk.

Damien told me to take the sharp end of our rope this time which was welcoming since I got to chat with Ivan about how much his head hurt from looking down at his footing all day! We climbed the final traverse section and began to climb up. At the designated spot we shortened our ropes to ten ft. Ivan and Steven crossed first and then lengthened their rope. Damien and I waited for a while on the other side as there rope was stretched out again. We decided it would be safer to cross a little higher instead of waiting so we began to climb up. Ivan saw it first, the cornice was collapsing some more. We called out a warning as giant snowball hurdled down the chute beside us. I ducked my head and dug in my axes. I got grazed by a bit of snow. Ivan got hit by a pretty big snowball. Stephan and Damien were untouched.

We kept moving a bit more upward and then ran across the chute. We opted to keep the rope short. There was no protect being placed away. The snow was so soft it was hard to place effective pickets. Above Stephan was slowing down and we soon discovered why. The snow was growing softer by the minute and now he was potholing on 50 degree snow! One step forward two steps back as our kick steps collapsed from under us. We clawed our way to the top. We lengthen the rope at a mixed climbing move on a rock so I could place a deadman for Damien. It took forever but we crested the steep sleep, crossed a small flat area and scrambled to the summit for abounding views! We had made it! It was 2:30.

We didn’t spend too long at the summit. It was windy and we wanted to get to a protected area to eat since most of us were on the verge of bonking. Stephen got his foot caught in a posthole and had to dig himself out on our way to the protected area which provided a some entertainment for us weary climbers. But the adventure wasn’t over.

We thought he scramble route down would be direct. It seemed all we had to do was follow the scramble ridge down. We were even excited to do this because it was a snow free ridge. No more postholing! All was going just delightful until we got cliffed out at a notch. We searched for a good hour trying to figure out how to get around it. We could see the place on the other side were were were supposed to drop down. But  we couldn’t get to it. Flustered we backtracked to the only carin we’d seen. Looking down at a dirty gulley. But it looked like the gulley led to snow slopes. We went back to the notch and looked again. No go. We took the gulley which was loose class three and kind of sketch. But it lead down to snow and we began to traverse AGAIN. Stephan and I broke trail now while Ivan struggled to hold up his head. We were trying to find a safe place to plunge step down to the bottom and go back to camp. But when we tried to plunge step on the slope we triggered a loose wet avalanche below us. So it was decided that we’d have to traverse the entire way down the mountain which wasn’t hard… we even got in a good glissade. But it was still long and when we finally got down we were very far from camp.

We used GPS and compass to cross the broad valley over little slopes and spare forest. Damien and I were finally able to look down at our camp at 7:30pm. The others caught up ten minutes later and we descended reaching camp at exactly 8pm… 17 hours later!

Ivan and Stephen were supposed to walk out the same day but decided to stay the night for obvious reasons. Damien and I decided to wake up at 4:00am and see how we felt about climbing Seven Fingered Jack. Damien couldn’t regulate his body temp all night though and was very dehydrated so we ended up sleeping in until 6am. Stephen and Ivan broke camp at 7. We left an hour later crossing to right side of the creek near camp and following it down until the trail appeared beside it.

And then after 6 hours of Memorial Day traffic we got home!

This was one of the best adventures I’ve ever had in my life!!! I need more type two fun!

 

 

 

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