The technique Damien and I are refining this year is the fine art of the “carryover”. We have several projects coming up that will involve this technique (weather gods willing). Our mission on this trip was begin the process of refining this strategy. We climbed Shasta at 14,168 feet last May using the Standard Avalanche Gulch Route. Luckily we caught the route just before the Memorial Day masses and avoided crowds. This year our goal was the ascend the much more technical Casaval Ridge and then descend via Avalanche Gulch. Since we would not return to the ridge, this would necessitate carrying all 45lbs of our gear over the top of the mountain. This is not a requirement for climbing Casaval, but it is what we wanted to accomplish.

Luckily, we did not have to park a mile down the road like folks that would arrive later on Saturday would have to do at the Bunny Flat TH. We ended up pulling in from the long, 580 mile drive at 3am. I took a minute to grab our permits and pay of $25 fee per person. Then we drifted off to a deep sleep in our car until about 7am. We were on the well packed down trail at 8am along with a ton of other folks, most heading the Helen Lake camp for the Avalanche Gulch Route.

We broke away from the well packed trail at about 7500 feet and headed left into the trees and heading in the general direction of Casaval Ridge which is a rather obvious, gnarly looking ridge on the left. We paused by Horse Camp, which is owned my the Sierra Club. The hut was almost completely buried in snow and the well was several meters down. Last year the hut was melted out! We pressed on half following tracks and half making own own trail through the trees traversing up until we finally reached the tow of Casaval Ridge. From here the general idea is to simply head upward. We managed to join up with a good bootpack at about 8500 feet. The flat area above by the first set of gendarmes seems very close, but it is about 1500feet from the bottom of the toe. Upon finally reaching this flat area with a few short towers and melted out rock bivy sites (9500 ft) we were greeted with a marvelous view of the next slope we had to ascend. We found that in general that each steep section of Casaval was followed by a short flattish section. We again head upward and gained the ridge proper. The ridge is wide and flat here and is called Giddy Giddy Gulch. At 9800 feet is is where most folks camp for Casaval. We continued up the next steep slope to high camp which is known to be windy, hence it unpopularity.

Once reaching high camp on the flat bench at 10300 feet we gratefully dropped out packs. We dug a bivvy spot near the crest of the ridge, but offset to avoid the big cornice. From camp we had a great view of the first crux of the route at 10,400 feet. A traverse just beneath Gothic looking, volcanic pinnacles on an exposed 50-60 degree slope. We studied the route the best we could from our vantage point (it was a pretty great view of the ridge actually) and made some mental notes. The wind did pick up a bit as evening camp we were cozy and wind free in our deep bivvy hole and windbreak. Two teams passed through, but both decided turn back and camp lower, so we had the bench to ourselves.

We packed up camp the following morning in the cover or darkness and set out by headlamp to tackle the first crux. There were several teams on the route, but we were all spaced out and the route accepts multiple teams well. Besides, the 10-15ish teams on Casaval did not compare to the masses heading up Avalanche Gulch. Their headlamps looked like an LA freeway! The first crux traverse was indeed very airy and a fall would be serious. Although we had our harnesses on we did not feel the need to rope up just yet. As it turned out the rope, harnesses, carabiners and 4 pickets we had brought along ended up being training weight. We never used them. Comfort with exposure is hard to determine in beta. After this lengthy crux we found ourselves ascending  broad slope which had some rocks and provided a nice rest area to enjoy the view and now blue sky. The next crux was ascending a very long and ever steepening slope. The final section was easily 50 degrees. We then passed through a notch in a rock band where there was small flat area before the slope reared up again to 60 degrees. There were 3 guided clients here waiting to be belayed up by their guides above. The guides shouted down that we could go ahead of the clients and climb beside the rope. I pressed ahead climbing the slope on the right on the edge of the rock band. Damien decided to climb behind the clients. It a good thing he did because one client popped a crampon. Damien was kind enough to spend a fair amount of time fixing the gear which the guides were very grateful for. We continued up the slightly less steep slope over some exposed rocks to the base of the catwalk, marked by a slightly overhung rock wall on the crest of the ridge. Reports where the with the collapsed pinnacle on the second part of this already spicy section, things were rather sporty and this variation was not recommended. Carrying 45lbs packs did not make something sporty feel very appeasing so we opted to take the bypass route. We headed left of the headway and pinnacles and onto the slopes of the West Face.

This slope is steep, endless and completely in the sun. It was my least favorite section. We knew that the top if West Face/Casaval deposited the climbing on the west side of Misery Hill. We did not know if it was the lower or upper part of the hill… I cannot tell you how much we wanted it to be the upper section. But of course when we crested the top and reached the upper mountain we were greeted with a view of Misery Hill about .25 miles away and we were very much going to climb from the base.

We trudged to the base of Misery Hill aptly named since it is the final miserable and endless steep hill one has to climb to each the crater. We plodded upward though the hill wasn’t as bad as I remembered from last year. Once at the top we crossed the nearly flat crater and deposited out packs at 3900 feet with everyone else’s at the base of the final ascent. There is a good ramp leading up to the summit ridge and finally the summit throne. In fact the final ascent is ridiculously easy and short. We did it! We carried all our stuff up the mountain and not, as we hoisted our packs once again, it was time to haul them down the other side. We descended the Red Banks on Avalanche Guch and gratefully plopped down in the glissade track and took off on a giant slide down to 10600 feet. Unfortunately, many inexperienced folks climb Shasta. A climbing ranger even commented to Damien how surprised he was to see someone holding their ice axe correctly. About halfway down the four glissade tracks there was a traffic jam. Folks were either sitting in the track and taking a liasurely break or moving at about a quarter mile per hour. A requested a person sitting in my track to please move to the side if he was resting. He slide forward several yards and stopped again to rest. I again requested him to move to the side. He did the same thing. After the third time this happened I gave up and made my own track weaving in and down of the resters and slow movers until I was ahead and had a clear path to Helen Lake. Ugh, it can be frustrating sometimes descending a standard route. Last year we ran into folks who had never even used an ice axe and though just carrying it along meant they were good to go.

The snow became too soft to glissade soon after passing Helen Lake. We descended on the left side of the lake because we saw a glissade track there. But once we had to walk again we wondered how to rejoin the main route which had been on the right of the lake. Exhausted we stopped for a break and to melt some snow for water. Then we decided to cross over to the right and find a camp. We ended up finding a nice, secluded bivvy on a hill just above the main route up/down. We settled in for the night wondering how achy we’d be the next morning.

To our great surprise Damien and I didn’t feel the tiniest hint of aches and pains the next day. In fact we felt energetic and limber. The snow did not freeze overnight even at our 9000 foot camp so we did not need crampons to descend and the snow was very forgiving on our knees. Hard pack ice/snow descends always cause my joints to protest. We made it back to Bunny Flat in less than 2 hours. Carryover success!

NWAC posted an avalanche advisory in big, red, bold letters for this past weekend. High solar radiation was expected to release copious large slides in the mountains. This prediction thwarted our plan A + B alpine objectives. Thus we decided to do something completely out of the ordinary for us: sport climb. That is we decided to climb Prime Rib of Goat 5.9 III+ in Mazama. The route is 11 pitches and 1300 feet of technical, airy sport climbing. And if that isn’t dizzying enough, there are 15 rappels to round out the day. Damien and I swung leads. The rock was extremely enjoyable and solid with fun moves that tested our limits. For both of us it was the longest route we’d ever done, the most pitches we’ve ever led and the hardest rating we’ve accomplished. A great description and topo of the route can be found in Bryan Burdo’s book Mazama Rock. I have also included some notes below:

  • Damien and I made the mistake of spiting the 2nd pitch into two due to a rap anchor being in the middle of the pitch. study the topo and note where there will be rap anchors so that you don’t end climbing only part way up a pitch. Luckily we only made this error once and probably for the better because this prevented what probably would have been bad rope drag in that area.
  • The route is pretty generous with the bolts sometimes a bit to generous. I skipped 1 or 2 of them. Mostly though I was happy to have the bolts there as they were strategically placed after difficult moves.
  • 5.9 sections feature mono-pockets
  • In general the route in very crimpy
  • Pitch 6 has some very bouldery moves
  • Pitch is the longest and is extremely sustained at 5.8+ (mostly slab face climb)
  • The scramble between pitch 6 & 7 has some spicy moves that can been intimidating to down-climb between raps
  • Start early to stay the the shade as long as possible and avoid getting behind slow groups. Also its a LONG route. We were the 2nd team on the route which worked out well. On our way down we discovered that only one team from the original 6 teams behind us were actually still climbing. The others bailed.
  • This probably goes without saying, but check yourself and your partner multiple times on the many rappels. You’ll be tired at this point and more prone to errors.

 

Hail? Snow? Clouds? Pea Soup fog? A touch of sun? Of course this is the best time to go out climbing! Damien and parked at the bottom of snowbound Smithbrook Road near Stevens Pass Saturday morning. Huge, fluffy, Christmas flakes fell heavily from the sky as we began to AT ski up the road. Our goal was to ski Lichtenberg Mountain and Mount McCausland; and break in our new Helios 88 skis.

At the firsy switchback we cut left directly into the forest. We crossed a creek shortly thereafter using a questionable snow bridge (it had some old tracks on it) and then broke trail uphill in the general direction of Lichtenwasser Lake. Most of the route was general switchbacks though the forest, but we did boot-pack a particularly steep section of trail for about 10-15 minutes. Upon reach the frozen lake the beta describes to choices. The first option is to the  skier to go directly to the base of the Saddle between West Summit and True Lichtenberg and ascent straight up to the saddle. However, if this saddle is shrouded in cornices the best alternative is to climb up to the ridge a few feet to the right of the lake an ascend gradually to the summit block. A clear view of the saddle was blocked by the trees so we opted to follow the ridge. The ridge is pretty forested at first but begins to open as was elevation is gained. The snow stopped and clouds lifted from time to time affording us views of the summits around us and all the way down to Smithbrook Road. We were also eventually able to get a view of the saddle, which did, indeed, have a huge overhanging cornice on it. We were able to easily switch back up most of the ridge, however, the first half of it did have about 3 head-walls what required us to remove our skis and kick-step up.

As we neared the rocky summit block on the end of the ridge we were able to make out that this way up was unfeasible due to cornices. We decided to traverse to the right about 100 feet below the summit. We found that the ridge on the other side directly next to the peak did not have a cornice. We removed our skis and began to kick step up the slope. Unfortunately, as Damien above me neared the summit the slope angle increased and snow began to sluff off down the slope to a concerning degree. We decided that it was unsafe to continue. We continued our traverse coming to a small flat basin 200 feet below the summit and ridgeline. The ridge here was again guarded by a substantial cornice. There was a high rocky high point in the ridge that did not have a cornice. Maybe we could find a way around that area? Our minds were getting jumbled and it was getting on to late afternoon. We elected to make camp in some tree in a high place away from the cornice collapse run-out. The we set off in the evening to attempt Lichtenberg again. We climbed up the to cornice free rock face and poked around to see if we could get around the right of it but there was a cliff. There was a small area to the left of it that did not have a cornice and some tree provided stability even though the slope was steep. We tired this way and found the snow to be more stable at this aspect. Finally we gained the ridge! We from we simple walked along the ridge staying away from the corniced edge to the summit block. Of course where we arrived there was pea soup from and hail pelted us! But after several tries and some route finding we finally gained the summit!

About 2 more inches of snow fell overnight and we woke to flurries early the next morning along with thick fog. We carried studies several pictures of the the descents from Lichtenberg and our topos and discussed our observations. We needed to get to the saddle between Lichtenberg and McCausland. However, the direct line looked to be a cliff from the maps (we could not see the actual line). Descending in the Lake Valhalla direction is very steep and had some terrain trap cliffs that Damien recalled from the summer. Descending to the valley just below where were camping seemed like the best bet, but which line? The photo was unclear as to which way presented the fewest terrain traps and we were unfamiliar with the slope. In the end we settled on a wide gully that seemed to have the lowest slope angle int he picture and map. As it turned out we took the only way down that did not come to a narrow 50 degree chute or massive cliff headwall. Planning and discussion pays off. We put our skins back on in the valley and headed through the open forest to the saddle between Lichtenberg and McCausland. Gaining the saddle was pretty straightforward and were even have bits of sunshine. From there we headed straight up the broad mostly open ridge to the summit of McCausland. And as luck would have it the sun came out as we prepared to descend eliminating the white light. We skied down to the saddle and then back down into the valley. The snow was difficult to manage as we lost elevation and it became heavy and saturated. But ti was great for Damien to build a snowman! We reached Smithbrook Road near the Lake Valhalla summer TH and skied the road back down the the car. Two more summits!

 

 

Two weeks ago Damien and I tried this very same trip. Only we had skis that we carted with us mostly on our packs (and thus kept getting hung up in low brush) and in the end the snow was prime for loose wet avalanches. We ended up spending a night in the basin below Devil’s Peak. We tried again this weekend but planned thing out a bit differently.  We went ultra light bringing a floor-less tent, only the top part of our sleeping bag (basically this was a down blanket) and snowshoes. I must admit that although I don’t like snowshoeing I was pretty okay with them in this case since they would be much less heavy and bulky to cart around on my pack!

Again the plan was to climb Devil’s Peak, camp on the ridge and then ascend Devil’s Thumb. We moved much faster without out skis getting caught up in all the branches this time. The trail begins on an abandoned road just off of Deer Creek Road. It is very overgrown with plenty of blowdown and overhanging branches to make thing interesting. At the first switchback we left the “road” and up straightupward for maybe 150 feet or so (mostly snow free) until reaching the upper section of the road. Here we crossed a bridge and continued on the road until the next switchback. From here we once again left the road and traveled cross country angling climbers right and upward more or less following the creek as best we could and avoiding the cliffs and other terrain features. All the while we were waiting for the rain/snow/hail to dwindle as it was supposed to and give way to clear skies. This didn’t seem to ever happen. Near the creek waterfall we broke out of the forest and traveled up a snow debris field to the entrance of Devil’s Basin where we had camped a few weeks ago. Here we finally put on our snowshoes.

Originally we were going to follow the creek to Devil’s Lake and then ascend straight up to the ridge. However, we found the terrain further down the creek to be full of terrain traps (headwalls, watefalls, etc). We thus backtracked the entrance of the basin and headed diagonally upward on snow slope was sparse trees. The mist was thick in the air and we couldn’t see very far ahead of us. Be we recalled where the summit block had been from our first attempt. Also, briefly the ski was turn stark blue and we’d have to shed all our layers in the hot sun…. but clouds always came back and with them wet snow after 15 minutes. Finally we crested the ridge at about 5053 feet. There was a small flat depression and left our overnight gear there just below the summit block. Luckily the weather was clearing ever so slightly and visibility was much better. We slipped into our harnesses and took out our ice axes for the final approach.

We walked to the left of the summit block and ascended about 250 feet up a steep slope to the notch. We found we did not need crampons or rope here. There is a sling tied to a huge horn at the notch. We used this as our anchor and tied into the rope. The rock portion of the climb is about 1/2 a pitch of exposed class 4 climbing. It would probably no even require a rope in sunny dry conditions and climbing shoes. However, in the moist weather and wearing huge spantiks the route was more intimidating. Damien led the pitch following an obvious weakness in the rock. He placed a black and red tricam along with a red cam. The handholds were not as secure as advertised in the beta (he did not wear gloves). The pitch ends on the ledge at headwall and he scrambled carefully on the class 3 ledge to the tree anchor (also the wrap anchor) which already had several slings. From there we belayed me up. The final section to the summit was supposed to be class 2/3, but in the wet and exposed conditions we decided to belay. The route followed the ledge, sometimes mossy, sometimes brushy, sometimes angled down around a corner. Here there are a few rock steps which were drenched from the dripping trees bordering it. The steps also featured saturated moss. We clawed and tree belayed up that section to a short,  steep snow finger. From here the slope mellows and its a quick walk to the true summit. Of course there was no view as the mist was back. But that gave it an alpine feel.

We slung a hung horn near the summit and rappelled back down to the ledge. Then we rappelled sideways along the exposed, wet ledge back to the rappel tree. We did a single rappel with a 40 meter rope which made it down with room to spare on the snow just below the notch. Note, it is a very airy rappel. We retrieved our packs from the notch and plunge stepped back to our overnight gear. The saddle between the  Devil’s Peak and Devil’s Thumb looked more knarly in person than on google Earth. Not a good camp, but the depression we were in on the ridge was perfect. We set uo our new pyramid tent with no floor as the clouds finally broke and we were granted a full view of the surrounding peaks and valleys. We studied Devil’s Thumb while we had a god vantage point and could not for the life of us figure out the route. The two snow gullies we extremely steep (ok to go up, but not to descend). Both gullies also had rock headwall interruptions. The beta we had did not match what we were seeing either. We agreed to revisit our plan in the morning.

After spending an experimental might with just the top part of our sleeping bag for warmth we decided that the ground cloth might be worth the weight. Our pad kept sliding apart causing us to end up sleeping partly on the snow and having to rearrange things all night. The morning greeted us with pink fast-moving mist. We inspected the Devil’s Thumb Beta again and observed the route from our camp. We decided it looked to sketch and opted to descend. On the way down we found that a bear had followed our snowshoe tracks for several yards…. however we did not run into him personally!

 

 

Words cannot come close to describing how incredible this weekend was! I remember 2 years ago when Damien and I had climbed Colchuck Peak via the glacier, we met all these climbers coming down from the Triple on Dragontail. When i asked about this route I had never heard of Damien said we were ready yet… but 2 years later we felt like it was time to out our alpine abilities to the test. Triple Couloirs was the mountain that tested all our mountaineering skills and partnership since we began climbing. To call it an adventure is an understatement.

We started the day on a bit of a nerve-racking note. Someone walking down Eightmile Rd told us there that were already 12 people stationed at Colchuck Lake to climb the Triple Sunday. This freaked us out a bit and we contemplated doing NBC as a backup. And… I would like to point out that once again for the 6th time this year the approach included yet another trek up Eightmile Road. It was a bit different this time since we walked the road instead of skiing it which provided a bit of diversity. The last 1/3 or so mile is snow covered however with some gaps.The trail is Colchuck Lake is all snow, but it is pretty well hardened and no flotation was needed. On our way up we talked to a fair amount of folks who said there were no other climbers they knew of planning to do the route on Sunday though folks had been on it that day. We also ran into an old climbing partner from Mount Maud on his way down from the Triple who gave us some beta. apparently, everyone had gone the wrong way at the Runnels that day.

Luckily the lake is still solid enough to walk on so we didn’t have to fight our way across the shoreline to get to camp on the other side. As it turned out we ended up camping next door to the random climbers we had shared our wedding cake with a few weeks back! They had just done to Triple and gave us beta on the route. They too had missed the Runnels. Apparently, at the end of first Couloir you begin to wonder where to go. The couloir on the right is inviting and easy looking, while the Runnels and the right look gnarly. Everyone ended up on the “hidden couloir” and had to rappel back down into the Triple. We made a mental note to not make that mistake.  Our plan was to start up to the base of the route called “The Fan”  in the dark around 3:00am just in case there was a crowd. But we didn’t see any evidence of large amounts of people going to the route the next day. Just one other team of 2 camped nearby.

We camped the the edge of the lake building a small windbreak around our ultra-light 2lb tent. We filtered water from a small hole we made in the ice which saved us some time and allowed us to get to bed early for our alpine start. However, at 11am we were awakened by wind whipping across the lake at 45mph threatening to shred our ultra-light tent. I had never see a tent shack and bend like that before. We quickly got out of our warm sleeping bag and built a tall snow windbreak which stopped the threat. Luckily, that stopped most of the blunt form of the wind so it wouldn’t shred. But the wind was boisterous and the tent still shuttered wildly making a annoying flapping noise. It was damn near impossible t fall back into a deep sleep… And it was still howling at 2:30am when we were supposed to get ready. After some discussion, we pushed our start time back an hour. Then another hour… the wind just didn’t let up. We discussed going to do Colchuck via the glacier, or NBC which has less commitment. But in the end we decided that we couldn’t live with ourselves is we didn’t finish what we had come set to do. We had the gear to deal with wind and felt confident we could make it work. The couloir might even be protected a bit.

At 5:20am we were moving toward The Fan or entrance to the first couloir.  The plan was to solo this couloir to save time. The climb begin with a 10+ foot ice step that fun at first but then gets kind of sketchy. Then a giant wall of endless snow rears up. The first couloir was steeper than expected. Feet were pretty solid though. We did end up kicking in our own steps as the ones from the day were pretty much buried (mono-point crampons). The couloir gets hit with massive amounts of spin drift we would discover. We had BD cobra ice tools. Damien used the shaft of the tool most of the way up this first couloir while I used the pick. Most of my sticks were good, but some snow was sugary and I had to search for a solid placement. A Canadian soloist passed us wearing tights.  I’m pretty sure he started from the car that morning. He sped past us and wa probably back in Canada by the time we got back to our tent. Far below us there was one other team. No one else appeared that day.

It seemed like the first couloir took forever, but finally we arrived at a junction. To the right was a nice, mellow snow couloir. It was very tempting to go that way indeed. To the left were steep ice and snow chutes or  “runnels”. This is the crux of Dragontail. We roped up (Damien made a rock-pro  and picket anchor) and I led out. Our plan with to simul-climb the rest of the route. The Runnels is STEEP. And every time you think you’re about to reach a flat spot its just a slightly less steep area followed by an even more steep section. The first section winds up series of steep ramps at about 75 degrees. I found no rock pro except a fixed piton. After that I used three pickets.  The ice would not take screws. It was secure, but too soft to accept protection well. It wouldn’t have even provided me with mental pro. I ended up placing my final picket at the base of the crux of the runnels. Here there are two narrow waterfalls rated  W3+ at 80-85 degrees. I could see I saw no good place to build an anchor in the rock and figured there would be a least one good screw placement in the waterfall so I went up.  There was no pro. The ice was sot enough to be secure but too soft for a screw. with my final piece at the base of the falls i essentially ended up soloing the first narrow waterfall to a tiny angled snow ledge. The next waterfall or tier was even narrower… so narrow it would barely fit me and steeper. With no place to build and anchor I continued up climbing the steepest ice I have ever led… or in effect soloed. The climbing was solid and I felt confident, but accutedly aware of the consequences of all fall. It was with a huge sigh of relief that I crested the top of the runnels and continued up the 50-70 snow of the second couloir. Damien below me rope-soloed the waterfalls as well.

I belayed Damien in on an axe anchor a few meters into the second couloir. Damien was able to protect with pickets and some tri-cams. The team behind us passed us as they had opted to un-rope after the runnels. There is a short and steep ice step about 6 feet high at the top of this couloir, which is considered the 2nd crux, but it seemed tame after the runnels. Damien belayed me from rock pro at the base of the third couloir which also featured 50-70 degree snow. This is the most exposed couloir as things open up on the right revealing the lake far below. I led 2/3 up the couloir before running out of pickets. Another ice axe belay. It was right about now that the wind suddenly began to blast me howling down from over the ridge above. We had been lucky all day. Some sections had been gusty for short periods and there had been occasional light snow and lots of spin-drift. But overall the couloirs had been protected.  But now I  was instantly freezing and I’m sure the fact that I hadn’t eaten since 4am wasn’t helping either! Instead of swinging leads Damien gave me the pickets and then passed me to build and anchor several yards up on the rock wall on the left. I then practically ran to the top of the couloir where finally there was a flat spot to put on layers and eat! It ws rather blustery, but with puffys we were pretty comfortable.  We climbed the final 100 feet slope to the summit unroped, but looking back it was steep and exposed enough that a rope might have been nice. The entire climb base to summit took 6 hours.  The summit was pretty soaked in with snow and mist when we arrived, but it only added to the alpine feel of the climb. A climb that not only tested our abilities just as it was, but i climb we had completed in less than optimal weather!

We descended the scramble route and we comfortably were protected from the wind behind the mountain. It even cleared up a bit and were were able to see all the way into the Enchantment Basin. However, upon reaching Aasgard Pass we were greeted with winds that easily had sustained 50-55mph gusts. I was alle to lean all the way forward and not fall over! Lower on the descent things were calmed though. We descended via plunge steps and glissades back to camp at the Lake. We really didn’t want to leave, but we mustered up the will to pack up. It was 4:40ish by the time we left camp and 10pm when we got back to the car. An amazing 17.5 hour day on a beautiful and life-changing route!