Four years ago Eric and I climbed the NE Ridge of Black Peak. We had just started leading a few months prior and had about one year of climbing experience and little to no knowledge on simual-climbing. This taking on this route was probably not our best decision. We pitched out most of it which resulted in an extremely long day (over 20 pitches) and  lack of experience made us most slowly on top of that. We topped out on what I know know was the false summit just as the light was fading from the sky and began to pick our way down  the South Ridge via headlamp… eventually we ended up deciding to spend a very uncomfortable night in a 3x2x4 foot slot/cave formation. I’m sure now I would have had no problem descending the scramble route in the dark, but back then lack of experience resulted in my first unplanned bivy.

Four years have passed since then. I am a much more seasoned climber now and it was time to take on the NE Ridge again; this time doing it right and Damien had yet to climb the peak. With sun promised all weekend we departed the Maple Pass TH Saturday morning reveling at the novelty of walking on patches of melted out trail and wearing our summer mountaineering boots for the first time this year. The trail is mostly melted out until the first basin. Then it is mostly snow with small patches of dirt all the way to Maple Pass, then there is no more dirt. Crossing to the other side of Maple Pass and traversing the steep slope to Lewis Lake is tricky business. The run out id very consequential and an ice axe and possibly crampons (depending on snow softness) is a good idea. About 300 feet of elevation is lost traversing to Lewis Lake. From Lewis Lake we began to climb again following the tracks of Nick and Jonah. As it turned out on of the climbers we shared our wedding cake with, Nick, once again had the same objective! He and his partner were doing the NE Ridge in a day and were ahead of us leaving a nice bootpack through the rolling slopes to Wing Lake at 6900 feet. It’s a decently long trek, but the views were pretty amazing providing a good distraction.

We sent up camp on the shore of frozen Wing Lake. We saw two figured on the summit of Black Peak and thought they were Nick and Jonah. It turned out to be two skiers. Through my camera viewfinder I zoomed in and was surprisingly able to locate Nick and Jonah about 2/3 of the way up the NE Ridge. We watched them trucking a long for a bit before taking a nap.

Clouds began to move in that evening as we ate diner on a melted rock. We watched the summit for Nick and Jonah, but saw nothing. Chances were they were on their way down we figured. We scurried back into the tent as the temps dropped. Probably an our passed before we heard voices and peaked out of the tent to see two figures plunge stepping down the snow slopes from the South Ridge. We were relived they had made it down the mountain, especially since some unpredicted bad weather seemed to be moving and and even a few small snowflakes fell randomly from the sky. The summit of Black Peak was partly obscured by a cloud. We met up with Nick and Jonah swapping beta, stories and gear info. They had quite a long day on the NE Ridge which turned out to be more demanding than they had expected. But like us, they enjoy type 2 fun and a good adventure! Nick’s detailed account of the NE Ridge can be found on his eloquently written blog SPOKALPINE. Damien and I huddled back into the tent as Nick and Jonah began their journey back to the car.

The clouds that we figured were just passing through did not pass through… they lingered. They lingers and dropped rain. About an inch of rain fell overnight and it was still pitter pattering against the tent walls when we woke up at 2:45am to get ready to climb. We thought maybe it would pass as it was supposed to be a partly sunny day. So we waited 30 minutes… then another 30 minutes… we kept hoping it would stop. But it drizzled or rained moderately continuously and to top that off there was heavy mist providing only ten feet of visibility. There was one longish stint of no rain and we began to get ready. We figured if the rock was damp it would be fine as we’d climbed in light rain. Plus, if the weather kept improving and became partly sunny like it was supposed to the hardest parts of the route would be dry when we got to it… but then the rain fell again. We discussed going anyway and climbing through the rain at length, but in the end we decided it was too risky a move on an extremely long route with  no bail out option. At 7:30 we began to climb the steep snow slopes to the South Ridge, the 3rd and 4th class scramble route.

The route climbed the snow slopes left of Black Peak for about 1100 feet. There is varying steepness. We wore helmet and used ice axes for the last 150ish feet. Although the snow was pretty soft from the rain we still wore crampons approaching the ridge for extra security. Once we crested the ridge were blasted by a frigid wind and pelted with tiny droplets of freezing rain. Visibility had improved, but a heavy fog still hung thick in the air as we ascended the climbers trail uo the melted out lower section of the South Ridge. The trail was easy to follow, mostly class 2 and marked by carins. We passed over a few snow patches, but did not hit a major snow slope until about 8,500 feet just below the first gully. We used an ice axe and front pointed up the steep slope (probably 50 degrees) aiming for the Pillar guarding the right side of the gully. At the pillar we climbed into the shallow moat and once again followed dry rock up the gully until things opened up again. Then we took a very short 8 foot gully with 3rd class steps up to the top of the ridge. There are several “blocks” at the top of the ridge. We followed carins around the right side of the towers looking for the summit block. We found the summit block pretty easily, but finding the way up the rock was difficult. We had a few false starts before finally located a carin that guided us up a short snow slope. Then we circled nearly tot he back the summit block and finally located a hidden gully with 3rd and 4th class moves to the summit. There were no views of course, but that didn’t matter. Even in the srummy weather we had manged to make the best of things and still climb the peak even if it wasn’t the way we originally planned. The the rain and mist make the scramble route much more challenging and interesting.

We descended the route somehow taking a slightly different variation on the ridge down, but with no issues. The clouds never lifted and the rain never stopped as we packed up and began the long walk out. We made the right call.

 

After both of our volcano objectives got foiled due to inclement weather… the possibility of going out again to try Argonaut via the NE Couloir camp into play. To recap, in our first attempt (performed as a carryover) we climbed successfully to the top of the couloir, but were forced to retreat when a blast of unforecasted snow, wind and cold set in providing us with a nice dose of hypothermia. This attempt resulted in an unplanned bivy. The next attempt was foiled before we reached the couloir at 6600 feet due top extremely high wind and avalanche danger. We ended up deciding to try again. Eightmile Road was now open which took 8 miles off of the total trip and the couloir seemed to be in good shape as seem some recent pictures of it from nearby peaks. So off we went again to Leavenworth… and once again we began walking up the Stuart Lake Trail. At least this time the trail was snow free so it looked different.

We made fast progress at first. However, about .25 miles after Stuart Meadows we had to break away from the nice, clean, maintained track and duck into the3 dense forest. The rlute requires the traveler to cross the two branches of Mountaineers Creek and then follow the creek more or less to the base of Argonaut. Previously this has been a snow covered venture, and though we had to deal with some low hanging branches and logs, traveling cross cuntry was fairly easy. Without everything melted or with snow patches only a few inches deep, the tangled nature of the forest was completely revealed. We navigated over and under copious dead-fall, battled through dense shrubs and broke free of branches that tried to grab our packs. Luckily, crossing the roaring creeks was easy as we found descent logs. However, both required crawling as there were slippery. We finally made it to the lower slopes of Argonaut. Damien and I wanted to camp at about 5500 feet. Of course we couldn’t see if there was enough snow that high to build platform so we began to climb in the same area we had always began climbing up the mountain…

Terrain during times of snow and times of melt are extremely different. What was once a nice open snow slope with a few branches sticking out was now a thicket of slide alder from hell. We fought through the entwined, tangled mess of branches. There is no more heinous experience in the backcountry then going to war with alder. It stabs, slaps, grabs and punches you as you go. It also causes me to release a string of profanities and also irrational demands like “LET GO OF ME!”

We ended up accepting defeat. Damien seemed to recall that there was a talus slope further right so we battled ur way downward and right causing me to cuss some more until we finally found ourselves in a boulder field. At last we had a view of the mountain. There were plenty of snow fingers and patches for us to follow up the next morning, but none of the snow patches looked deep enough to create a platform at a higher elevation. We also took note of the bergschrund which was much more open than in early season. Normally we had bypassed it on the steep slopes on the left of it, but the slope had melted out to reveal steep slabs and waterfalls. Luckily, there seemed to be a snow bridge across and also a snow finger on the slabs, so we had options.As for camp, we decided that our best option was to set up our tent in the boulder field on a massive flat rock which had the added benefit of having a stream sunning beneath it. It took us 4 hours of bushwhacking to get to camp and travel 1.75 miles.

We began our upward progress at 3am the next morning. We aimed to stay on the snow as much as possible, but we had to travel a but on talus as well in-between. Almost immediately we had to put on crampons. The snow was solid. This was bit concerning. We knew the couloir t be relentlessly steep and with snow this firm it would be an insane calf burner. Still we pressed on into the morning alpine glow of sunrise until reaching the slabs near the bergschrund. Here we came to an impasse. The snow finger on the slabs to the right of the massive crack was really just a thin layer of snow and running under it was a small cascade. What appeared to be a bridge from a distance was actually an illusion. There was simply a “bump” in the snow that blocked the view of park of the bergschrund. We would not access the upper basin and thus we could no get to the couloir. Once again we were shut down, this time at 6300 feet.

Once again defeated by the mountain we returned to camp and took a long nap in preparation for our impending bushwhack battle with the forest. It took us 4 hours of acrobatics to fight our way back through the forest back to the trail which was a most welcome and beautiful sight after getting smashed smacked in the face with branches one to many times.

Once again Jimmy Chin was right “The best Alpinists are the ones with the worst memories” …. and thus I’m sure that is will not be my last trip report on this route.

 

 

09. June 2017 · Enter your password to view comments. · Categories: Trip Reports · Tags: , ,

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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!

The intention for the weekend was to climb Devil’s Peak, traverse the ridge halfway and camp in the flat area and then continue on the ridge and tag Devil’s Thumb the next day. We found that Deer Creek Rd was open so we were able to drive the 1 mile to Coal Creek Road #4054. This road is closed to traffic and is horrifically overgrown. It must have been at least ten years since someone had last driven on it. There was no snow at 1900 feet so we carried our skis. Coal Creek Rd is littered with deadfall and low hanging branches that had an affinity for grabbing out our skis. It was pretty frustrating to say the least. After 2 mile we reached snow and we were able to skin a bit. However, this was short lived as we cut away from the road and begin to make our own way up through the forest cutting the switchback. We skied for a bit  but in got too steep and the trees too tightly woven that we ended up boot-packing our skis up the slope to the upper section of the road. We skinned this section over a bridge to the next switchback and once again cut into the forest. Once again we had to remove our skis for a front pointing steep section. But them we were more or less able to traverse upward through forest and open slopes. We noticed that the snow was very heavy and saturated. The skins seemed to also have a difficult time grabbed onto surface and we slide backwards and sideways down-slope constantly which was troublesome being that we were above to steep cliffy areas at points. We made a mental note of this. NWAC had called to moderate avalanches, but things seemed prime for the unpredictable loose wet slides.

Finally, we arrived in Devil’s Basin. Due to the loose/wet so conditions we decided to abandon the traverse idea and camp by the creek in the basin. We would do to separate ascents if the snow was safe. Looking up at the slopes around Devil’s Peak though it looked scary. Most visible trees in the areas were bent over and avalanche debris seemed everywhere… and it all seemed to be fresh loose/wet slides. Not exactly the type of things that give you the warm fuzzies.

No sooner than we had set up camp did the sky open up with rain. It was falling pretty heavily so we decided to wait it out a bit since it was still early in the afternoon. Luckily, it completely stopped after 45 minutes. We snapped into out skis and began to contour the slope following a weakness to the summit block. The snow was extremely saturated and heavy. Again we slide not only downhill, but sideways. Snow fell down-slope from our edges. Still we pressed on hoping for an improvement i suppose, but as we got higher it only got steeper and the snow only sketchier. At 4200 feet we examined all our observations and decided that continuing on was simply asking for trouble. Our experience descending back to camp proved our decision correct. It was like skiing through wet cement making it impossible to turn and mini avalanches consistently tumbled down slope as our skis slide sideways sometimes bringing with them substantial balls of snow. Luckily, it didn’t bring us with the slide. We were relieved to be back at camp and a bit unnerved so we move dour tent even further back from the in the basin hillside just to be doubly safe. And of course the rain started up again.

Damien dug a big hole down to the creek so we could access water. It was the first time this year we didn’t need to melt snow. Summer is coming I suppose. We discussed our plan for the next morning. If it got cold overnight and things froze up and got stable we would tray again on Sunday… but we knew our chances weren’t good. In fact it rained all night and will still raining on and off when we woke up. Loose/wet potential certainly had not gone down. It was was enough that we had some open slopes to ski down during our descent back to the car, but at least there were more trees and brush anchors.

The ski out was troublesome as once again we had to deal with concrete snow making it difficult if not dangerous to make tight turns around trees. I think we ended up carrying our skis more than actually skiing for fear of being unable to avoid the many forest traps and steep cliffs since our skis continued to slide down on their own accord. We made it own safety though, not with summits, but with new knowledge how to cope with with loose/wet conditions.

This ended up being a Plan C trip. Originally we were going to go for Garibaldi, but solar radiation boosted avy danger to considerable on the aspect we planned to climb. So we opted for Reid Headwall on Mt Hood. Avalanche danger was predicted to be moderate and we were excited to get in a technical alpine ice climb after avalanche danger pushed us off so many summit attempts this year. At least avalanche danger was moderate right up until we pulled into the Timberline Parking lot Friday night. We checked the forecast one last time and it had been updated to considerable an hour beforehand. We had our normal discussion and it was decided that Reid Headwall would be fine if we finished the route before any major radiation from the sun hit. However, the climb is more or less a maze through towers of rim ice and route-finding delay was not entirely impossible which could leave us exposed to falling ice once the sun warmed things up. Since we had already driven the 5 hours we settled on the South Spur/Hogsback route. This is the easiest route up Mount Hood and it attracts throngs of people, most of which are inexperienced and minimal climbing knowledge to the point of endangering themselves and others around them. It is normally a conga line of folks trying to get through the bottleneck of the crux of the pearly gates to the summit. However, it seemed like the only safe option and if we were stragicgic we could avoid the circus. Besides, although not the technical Ice climb we were hoping for, it was a climb nonetheless. Plus it meant a higher camp and we really needed to start acclimating for the season.

After spending a chilly night in the car parked in the Timberline parking lot (5800 ft) we began the long approach. Luckily, this was not as arduous for us since we had our skis and skinned up. The route begin as the ski resort and follows the right most cat track up open slopes. Don’t follow the groomers near the lifts unless you want to be stopped by ski a patrol. You’ll know you’re on the right path because the catt4rack is filled up bootprints and usually some semblance of a skin track. The first 1200ft of gain brings you parallel to the Silcox Hut. From here the slope gets a bit steeper until the cat track finally terminates at the top of the highest chair lift (8600 ft). From here there are normally multiples boot paths and a skin track to follow to the crater. The general idea is to stay to the right of Crater Rock and Left of Steel Cliffs aiming for the flat basin area. There is a flattish area at about 9200 feet where most folks camp even though the crater is flatter. However, the crater is a thermal area with fumroles and other aroma releasing formations. However, Damien and I passed this lower camp opting for the less crowded high camp since the smell of sulfur isn’t as issue for us. The final ascent to the crater is pretty steep and at times our skins didn’t catch completely. However, we were pretty overjoyed that with elevation came a breeze. Lower we had been baking in the blazing sun!

We set up camp well away from Devil’s Kitchen thermals in the crater at 10,100 feet. Mt Hood is known for high winds even when it isn’t in the forecast. Therefore, we dug a good sized hole to set up our tent along with a substantial windbreak. From there we had front row seats watching the conga line climb up the Hogsback to the Pearly Gates. We wanted no part of this steady line of people and the hazards of climbing in the throngs. Therefore, our plan was to climb in the dark and reach the summit exactly at sunrise. Hopefully, we would be the first to summit and avoid the bottleneck in the Pearly Gates.

We spent the rest of the day people watching. In the evening the clouds built and we couldn’t see the mountains below. The higher elevation was clear though and we had the rare experience of people the the only people on the upper flanks of the South Side. Not a soul on the Hogsback Route. It was quiet with only the sound of the wind and the pristine evening light. Solitude in a place where you can rarely be alone.

We were moving at 4:20am carrying our skis for the descent. A team of three were coming up from the bottom of the mountain as we walked to the nearby Hogsback, but they stopped to rest in the Crater so we climbed alone. The Hogsback is a spine of windblown snow creating a ridge of sorts from Crater Rock.  The well beat down path traverses the side of the tall spine until reaching the crest where there is a flattish area before the Hogsback rears up rather steeply to the Pearly Gates and towers of rime ice. I found myself front pointing parts of this section using both ice tools.

There was a small flat area stamped put at the base of the Pearly Gates, probably the result of people waiting in line. But in the darkness there was no waiting. The Pearly Gates is a short, steep and narrow chute big enough for climbers of only move in single file up ~60 degree slope. It is borders on either side by high rock towers covered in rim ice making them look like mystical castles. This is the area is possesses a rock and ice-fall hazard making it imperative to move quickly and preferably only in the early morning hours before things warm up. I front pointed and used both tool picks through the Pearly Gates.

After the chute it is basically a long gradual climb to horizon which never seems to get closer. It look to be just a few yards away, but really you need to ascend about another 250 feet. Eventually, we did indeed crest over the South Side and stand on the summit just in time to admire the fiery colors of sunrise. The wind was wicked and gusting at probably 30 mph, but we put on our down parkas and stayed plenty warm enjoying the perfect moment of solitude. We were the first to summit that day. We watch the sky go from bright pink to fluorescence orange as the sun finally peaked over the horizon and bathed the mountain snow soft corral glow. The perfect morning and we didn’t want to leave, but we had seen the headlamp coming up the mountain when we left camp we didn’t want to get stuck in the throngs. We passed the team of three as we descended to the Pearly Gates and front pointed down the chute. Only one climber was at the base of the gates politely waiting for us to descend. However, the Hogsback was getting crowded. We had timed things perfectly.

We down-climbed to the flat area of the Hogsback and from there skied back to camp. The Summit was looking pretty cloudy and once again we were pleased at our luck. We went back to sleep or tried to. The winds picked up and whistled around the tent waking us up. When we finally started to pack up the winds were worst in the Crater than they had been on the summit. Another bit of good fortune as I imagine summit winds were 40+ at that point.

We snapped back into our skis for the long run down. This is when I really appreciate being able to ski. The slog down the mountain on foot is excruciating, but on skis the descent of 4300ft from the crater is a highlight!