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!

 

 

Golden Horn is becoming that obscure peak that is always just barely out of reach. My first attempt was in Oct 2014 with Marybeth. We bailed about 25 feet from the summit since the rock was dripping wet and more bad weather seemed to be coming in. My next try was last summer with Damien in July. We had good weather all day until we were 20 feet below the summit block trying to figure out where the route was for about 45 minutes when a cold snap and sudden heavy clouds moved in leaving us both too hypodermic to continue searching for the way up the final few feet. Both attempts of Golden Horn were supposed to be couple with a go at Tower Mountain next door, but the sudden bad weather foiled any attempt at that peak. Thus, we still had unfinished business and decided to give things another try last weekend. Party sunny on Sat and clear skies on Sunday. Not a drop of rain in the forecast and we would bring a bigger puffys in case another cold snap came in.

We left the trailhead for the PCT North from Rainy Pass at about 8am. It was a nice, crisp autumn day that felt much more like mid-October than late September. There was heavy mist, but it was slowly lifting and when we reached Cutthroat Pass at five miles most of it had burned off affording us with some brilliant views. We continued on the PCT another 2.5 miles to Granite Pass where we got our first look at Tower and Golden Horn. Clouds were coming and going, but that’s what the weather called for. So far so good. Things looked promising. We continued on our journey admiring the larches that were beginning to turn golden, but not yet in their prime. Another 2.5 miles and we reached an open meadow camp, the unsigned Meathow Pass. Here we turned off the PCT and headed right up the unsigned but very obvious trail to Snowy Lakes about 600ft higher. From Lower Snowy Lake we could see that Tower Mountain had some fresh snow plastered on it. This caused us some concern as a thin layer of snow and wet rock would make things dicey. Another team was just about to head up and passed us as we were setting up camp on the lower lake. We figured we’d get some beta from them when they got back. In the meantime we had another mountain to climb.

We camp set up we departed for Golden Horn at roughly 2pm. It was more cloudy than sunny, but no cause for alarm or concern. We followed the trail to Upper Snow Lake and then turned right and walked cross country to the base of the lower golden scree slopes of Golden Horn. There are various trail going up the scree, but you kind of just go up and hope to eventually stumble across one. We went up to the far right of the mountain and stayed in the trees while slowly working our way left as we ascended to the ridge. We did eventually come across a boot path which helped in the scree.

We reached the ridge and first notch affording a view of the other side of the mountain and a sobering drop off. We followed the obvious boot trail along the ridge heading toward the summit block on the left. A little ways after the second notch with dizzying views down the gully on the other side we climbed up an easy rock formation marked by a carin and then followed more carins around the back of the summit block. There are actually a few big towers and its hard to tell which one is the top. There was some snow here that was up to 2 inches in some places and we had to step carefully. Once we were on the other side of the rock towers we took the first gully up which appeared well traveled to a trio of towers. The one on the right is clearly shorter than the other two. But the others look similar. We kept looking for bolts and the mantle move that marks the route to the top. we even went under a big chockstone to examine options. All the while we were grabbing on snow/icy handholds.

After 45 minutes of looking around and coming up with no route that resembled our description or pictures we were feeling very frustrated. But at least this time we had a big puffies. Once again the temperature was dropping quickly and the wind was picking up. For some reach I scrambled up a class three ledge on the right at the base of the left most tower to make sure we weren’t missing something. Alas, there was another gully which also looked well traveled. had we been in the wrong gully the entire time? We descended down to the base of the first gully and traversed left to the second gully (which we found was marked by a carin). We climbed up this more narrow gully which featured a few class 3/4 moves to the base of what we recognized to be the summit block on the right complete with bolts. However, rime ice was plastered onto the route and snow was piled up as well. Still we roped up and I left over to the mantle move 10 feet from the summit. The snow made things slippery and the rime ice was not making me feel very good about my hand hold… and then i discovered that all the cracks were icy. I was just 3 or four moves away, but I just couldn’t risk it. Once again mountain weather foiled the attempt.

We packed up our gear and descended the route in the fading light reaching the camp just as full darkness fell. We talked to the Tower Mountain climbers by Upper Snowy Lake. They had summited, but described the route as slimy, dripping wet and icy. I don’t really fancy when i route is described in that fashion. Still we planned to make a final decision in the morning. Perhaps the sun predicted for the next day would dry the route off.

No such thing. I;m not sure when it began, but i woke up at night to the sound of rain battering the tent walls. RAIN?! It was supposed to be clear! It pounded on all night and it the morning everything was very misty, wet and cloudy. Tower was shrouded in heavy fog, but we did not need to see the mountain to know it was wet and icy. We didn’t see a reason to take a closer look. Instead we packed up and enjoyed the autumn colors on the way back to the TH. The sun did not show up the entire ten mile walk out. In fact light rain fell most of the time! Welcome to the mountain where anything is possible! still we had a fun weekend. We figured out how to get to the right gully to Golden Horn and made it ten feet closer to the summit. Maybe next time. But until then we’ll enjoy the yellows, red and oranges of fall!

On August 16 Damien and I packing up our camp in the South Fork after climbing South and Middle Teton. Our next objective was The Grand. We descended down the talus of the South Fork, cut above the meadow at 9,300 feet to meet with the creek flowing below Spalding Falls. We crossed the creek and met up with the Trail being careful not to step on any alpine flora and remain on the rocks. The route up the North Fork is not a boot path like the South Fork. It is actully a trail completely with switchbacks, albeit steep at times. We hardly noticed though even with our heavy packs. We were distracted by a chance meeting with Jimmy Chin on his way to solo The Grand Teton via Owen Spalding with his friend. we were wondering if we would run into him! Its always great to run into your heroes in the backcountry.

After the switchbacks the trail curved deep into the North Fork passing over a creek below the Ranger tents. The tread then vanishes in some large boulders. We climbed through the boulders and easily regained the trail which had a sign indicating the start of the moraines camp. We decided to take a nearby camp with a windbreak at 10,800 feet. There was  a nearby “cave” in the boulders as well that we toyed with staying in. It had multiple rooms and had some work done on it for sleeping. However, after by bear spray fell into a crack and I had to borrow deep in the “basement” of the cave to retrieve it and Damien contemplated the possible presence of spiders, we decided to stay in the tent unless the weather got bad. At this pint we had no idea what the forecast was since we hadn’t been in the front country in three days. Jimmy had said it was supposed to be nice though. We figured he knew what he was talking about!

After setting up camp we headed up the trail to check out the lower Saddle and Scout the Owen Spalding route. Enroute Damien turned off the trail about ten minutes from camp to where water was visibly running on the glacier to the left to filter. There is no water access further down as it flows under the rocks. Here the water run funneled down the track in the glacier ice. We continued up the easy to follow trail to a headwall. There was an orange handline with knots to ascend this class 4/5 rock. About 2/3 of the way up one must move to the second handline outside of the chimney and out onto the wall. There is a blue bandline when one tops out for extra safety until the trail moves away from the thin ledge. We ran into Jimmy and his friend again as they came down from climbing the Grand.

From the top of the headwall there are several different paths intertwining, but they all lead to the Lower  Saddle. The Lower saddle is at 11,600 feet and is rather broad. Middle Teton is on the left and the Grand rises up on the right. There are several camps, a trickling water source and two guide tents. We could see that the couloir to the Upper Saddle would be complicated as it appeared to be a huge maze of rumble. We would have to study tge route hard that night before turning in. Ascending the couloir to the upper saddle was known to be a route finding challenge.

We descended back down to camp and went to bed way before the sun went down. We planned on an early start… and at 1:38am, Aug 17,  we were on our way back to the Lower Saddle once more.

Once on the lower Saddle we followed good trail on the right until about 12,250 feet to the base of what known as the Black Dike. There is descent trail to follow here and a few cairns. Stay to the left of the small tower known as The Needle. The real difficulty occurs when the trail seems to just run out and a wall rears up in front of you. This is the crux. At this point you will see a rock with a 2 foot horizontal black “ribbon” across is. This left here and traverse right over some class 4 terrain  (you may need to crawl a bit) to a small ridge. Then descend a bit and find “The Eye of the Needle” which is a little tunnel under some boulders. There seems to be nowhere to go after coming out the other end, but look left and you will see a short but scary class 4 hand traverse called “the half belly roll” From here one can ascend straight up over one of the various trails to the Upper Saddle at 13,100. As you near the Saddle though be sure to aim for the right side of the saddle. If you go left, like we did, you will end up on top of this hump that cannot be down climbed easily to reach the start of the Owen Route. We had to downclimb about 250 feet and then climb back up to the right. Our route finding was not exactly easy as the couloir is a maze. We did a fair amount of asking for directions from the guides and took a few wrong turns. The real crux is getting from the traverse to the Eye of the Needle. Once through the Eye of the Needle and half belly roll its pretty straight forward.

Damien and I tied up at the base of the Owen Spalding in some light snow that didn’t last long. We used two 37 meter twin ropes which worked out great. Less length to manage, good rappel length and less weight. We simul-climbed the first pitch. Though on the route there really are no formal pitches. Its kind of do as you wish. Damien led the entire route since speed was of the essence in case of an afternoon storm and switching would take too much time. The OS begins be traversing left past the prayer flags. There is an airy step over a flack on the ledge followed by the famous  Belly Roll. Basically the ledge system is blocked by an overhanging rock with a squeeze space just big enough for the climber to shimmy through on their belly with half their body.. the other half is off the ledge fully exposed to a shear drop off. Airy!

After that there is some straight forward class 5 moves. Damien built an anchor on a flat area just below the “crux” 5.5 move called the Double Chimney. Thw name is no longer accurate as this used to be two chimneys, but the divider flake has fell over about 60 years ago so now it is more of an open book kind of chimney. About this time some clouds rolled in and it began to hail. The temperature also dropped quite a lot. Multiple hail cells would pass over us as we climbed the rest the route.Luckily, we like climbing is less than optimal weather. Its kind of our trademark.  It was difficult for Damien to jump into the chimney, but easy for him to climb out. it was the opposite for me. I’m small and can scramble into anything, but climbing out requiring some awkward stemming moves and pulling up on less then bomber handholds. Good pro though for this move.

The route continues to be exposed, but still relatively low fifth class. Damien belayed me in from the beginning fo the catwalk, which is an exposed ledge that circles around right to the base of Sargent’s Chimney. Sargent’s Chimney is low class five, but not really protectable. We stayed roped up for it, but it really didn;t matter since there was no pro placed. There are definitely some exposed moves. At the top of Sargent’s we untied. From here we scramble up the path of least resistance veering left over brown rock and slabs to the summit. A trail runner who stopped his watch at 2.15 hours came up shortly after us. I have no idea where he timed it from but it was impressive regardless. It was 10am and we’d been climbing for 8.5 hours! But we we had made it. we’d made it through hail, snow and wind! We had trained all summer and it had led to success at 13,776 feet! Words cannot describe how happy we were to be on the summit of the Grand. But of course we were only halfway done.

We reversed route back down which unfortunately meant we had to down climb the class 5 Sargent’s chimney unprotected. It was somehow fun though. At the base of the chimney we walked skiers left  along the wide ledge and down a few steps to where there is a cord wrap station (protected bye a fire hose oddly enough) and a bolted wrap station right next to it. We used the cord rap station since it was slightly lower. We would not be able to see the bottom of the rappel which made things a bit intimidating. I went first and found, to my delight, that this was the most fun rappel I had ever done!. There are lots of overhangs, the last one be particularly long as you lower yourself in mid air. Of course this is along where the ropes chose to get tangled and it was tedious getting out the twists as a hing in space. Still the best rappel I’ve ever done!

We coiled up our ropes and prepared to descend to the Lower Saddle. The sky was getting more menacing looking and sure enoguh we heard a clap of thunder halfway down the couloir. Some rain began to fall as we traverse the half belly roll, but it didn’t last long. We managed to find our way to the Eye of the Needle, but discovered there were two tunnels. we took the wrong one, note that the  correct tunnel is the the right as you come down. Down go through the tiny squeeze hole on the left like we did! We had to climb back down the the right tunnel. A guide pointed us in the safest way down to avoid rock fall from above climbers. Basically the idea is after doing the traverse following the needle stay to skier’s left.

Thunder was heard in the distance, but it never arrived at the Grand. We descended back to our camp and crawled into our tent just as a steady rain began to fall. We’d done it. We’d climbed all three of the Tetons: South, Middle and Grand!

We hiked out of the moraines the next day. It was a sunny day and it seemed like all the little critters were out on the trail feeding. They didn’t move at all as we passed! However, an hour after we arrive back at Lupine Meadows Trailhead thunder rolled over the Teton Range and the mountain were engulfed in lightning, clouds and rain. The weather window was over. We had somehow timed everything perfectly!

 

Video

 

Another attempt at a rest weekend that resulted in being, well, comparatively restful. We decided that our main objective was to climb North Ingalls Peak via The 5.7 East Ridge. If time and energy allowed we would also climb the S Ridge, South Peak and East Peak.

The day promised to me warm when we began to walk the road to the Esmeralda Basin Trailhead 9Ingalls N Fork Road is closed a mile short of the Th at Iron Mountain). Clear skies and fun sun. Not my favorite and I hoped higher elevations would be cooler. Luckily, it was early in the morning so the real heat of the day was not yet present. It took us three hours to get from the TH to the camping area a mile away from Ingalls Lake. Not bad considering that we’d brought 2 ropes for the rappel and had a full rack of trad gear. There were lots of people camped or on the slabs, but we found a nice flat slab relatively far away from the others and set up camp. There are lots of goats in the area and they are pretty relentless visitors. They weren’t aggressively persistent though like others I have encountered.

With the tent set up we hung the rest of our overnight gear out of the goats reach and headed off for the climb. We followed the trail to a junction With Ingalls way and Ingalls Way Alt. We found out by trial and error that the alternative did not go to Ingalls Lake. We turned back and took the right intersection which did lead to the Ingalls Lake. I hadn’t been there in 4 years and I;d forgotten how beautiful it was with Ingalls Peaks in the backdrop on one side and Stuart in the other. There were throngs of folks around on this bright summer day and we didn’t linger. We had a mountain to climb away from the crowds!

We went up the easy to navigate slabs toward the 3 peaks. We then followed carins in a short, rocky gully with a few tricky stops on a 5ft headwall and access up the upper talus. Here we left the carins which headed up the the S Ridge Route and instead aimed for the Notch between the North and East Peaks. We crossed a few small snowfields and then entered the gully staying to left basically in a wide moat until we reached a small flatish area where we geared up. From here we scrambled up left  the obvious rock gully to the start of the first pitch of both SW Face of the East Peak and East Ridge of South Peak.

We really didn’t have a plan yet as to what summit(s) we would go for as I began to lead the first pitch. It is mostly class 3-4 which one or two easy class five moves. I think I placed 2 pieces and clipped into a small tree with a sling already on it. The Pitch end at a large and obvious chockstone and there of fixed slings on the big horn as well. It is advisable to extend the clove hitch though for belay as the anchor is around the corner which creates rope drag.

Once Damien joined me we had a decision to make. He belayed me out to take a look at  the SW Face Route of east Peak which is rarely done. It didn;t seem very clean. Due to this and the fact that it was already mid-afternoon we opted to go right to climbing the East Ridge of North Peak. Damien took the lead and I kiwi coiled the rope to 30 Meters for long simul-climb ahead.

We simul-climbed 3 pitches in total. These pitches were clas 3-low 5th class and stay on the ridge. I followed Damien up class 4 rock to a short class 5 hand traverse with only smearing for feet. Fun! Then we climbed onto the knife edge and around the right side of a pillar before down climbing another exposed edge. This was my least favorite part of the climb. The climb continues on fun class 4 very exposed rock along the ridge. Damien could have continued to lead to the bottom of the crux 5.7 move. But he stopped on a big ledge and belayed me in so I could lead another pitch. I traverse across some more class 4 exposed rock to the next belay spot under the crux. I might as well free soloed it since I found no place to out in pro. I felt secure though the whole time. After I belayed in Damien from a gear anchor I headed up the crux 5.7 move. It is marked by and awkward offwidth crack, no feet and a reachy move to a good hand hold more suited for a taller than my 5.5″. I spend a good amount of time trying to work out the sequence and tried to french free the move as well, but needed a second #4 silver camp for the offwidth crack which I did not have. I ended up passing the lead off to Damien who managed to free the move beautifully!

The climb to the summit after the crux is once again class 4-3. We unroped at the base of the summit block and climbed the final easy few feet solo. We didn;t stay too long though as it was early evening and we didn’t want to rappel in the dark. We walked around to the south side and easily found the two rap bolts a little off the left on the easy ledge. Here came the tricky part. We’d read that a double rope rappel was required so we tossed two ropes down. One was twin rope that always turns into a bird’s nest when tossed. In the havoc of untangling the mess as I rappelled I ended up taking an alternate more direct route to the base of the climb. However, there was no doubt the ropes would have gotten hung up once pulled and I still have to scramble a few yards to truly get to the bottom. Damien saw a few intermediate raps on the slab as he rappelled and re-tossed the ropes from there. He did one additional rappel to reach the bottom (single rope).

After meeting back up we packed up our gear and headed back down the talus and snow enjoying spectacular views of Mt Stuart in a orange evening glow. We didn’t get back to camp until after dark. The goats hadn’t disturbed anything to our relief. Watching headlamps of climbers on the routes of Mt Stuart we did our camp chores and had dinner. As we were preparing to turn in for the night the moon popped out from the horizon and it was red. I’d never seen something like that before. I did some research and found no explanation.

We decided that night that we would give the South Ridge of N Peak and South Peak a try the next morning since we were in the area. Hey why not? However, the S Ridge is a very popular and often crowded route so we had to rise early and beat everyone else there. We were walking by 4:00am.

Unlike the day before were were the only people resent when we passed Ingalls Lake and began to climb the talus as the sun illuminated the world of rock that surrounded us. We climbed through the talus and a snow field to reach the notch between North and South Ingalls Peak and roped up at the base of the climb on the lake side of Dog Crags. I lead the first pitch which begins as an easy class 4/5 joint to the upper slaps. There the class 5 climbing begins. The route takes the crack in the middle of the slab which seems tame at first glace. It does protect well, but the climbing is dicey. The key thing to remember on Ingalls is red/beige rock= grippy and greenish rock=slippery. This crack was basically made the the green/blue slippery rock and sometimes it was like climbing on glass. At least it protected well. I belayed Damien up from a huge boulder with multiple slings. From here there is some more easy class 4 to an optional anchor on another boulder before the start of another slab with a few crack options. The cracks looked intimidating from where we stood freezing in the surpriasing frigid weather even with every layer on. I decided to go up to the next anchor and get a closer look. As expected, upon closer inspection the middle 5.6 crack was clean and good, however, I’m not confident leading 5.6 pure crack yet. The left crack 5.4 option was made of the same glossy, glassy, slippery green rock, only steeper than what I’d just done. And to top it off on the top of the crack was a nice bulge. Ugh… not something I was hoping to see when I was freezing and on 4 hours of sleep and Damien was too tired to lead safely. I belayed him up to me and after some discussion we decided to rappel. We’d gotten the summit the day before and in our condition we couldn’t justify moving forward. But it had been fun playing on the mountain that morning. We did a single rope rappel to the bottom.

The Lake was still deserted when we reached it so we hung out there for a bit. While high on Ingalls it had been arctic, the day was getting rather hot down below. In fact, the entire hike out reminded me of last summer’s sweltering weather. I hope it cools down again soon!

 

 

The climb of Sherpa Peak via the West Ridge would come to signify several milestones. One, this would break my personal record for longest active day (19 hours on Sunday). Two, this is the longest mileage alpine rock climb I’ve ever done (20 miles). And finally, three, this is the first alpine rock climb that I’ve done since the accident that resulted in the death Eric, my then husband. I haven’t really been avoiding alpine rock. The accident happened at the end of climbing season. Then it just so happened that last year was so hotttttttttttttt that climbing on rock that felt more like a frying pan just didn’t sound appealing… and then another year slipped by and its been almost two years since I touched alpine rock.

Not too many folks do Sherpa, probably because is the intimidating approach. It is normally 9 miles long and includes going up Longs Pass, then almost all the way back down the other side to the next valley… and then back up again to through thick brush and talus to the camp… then of course on the way back you have to go back up and over Longs Pass. Of course, the possibility of all such a sufferfest is what caused this climb to be so appealing to us. Some folks even do Sherpa in three days to deal with the approach, but we would go to a two day climb.

We encountered a small issue before we even got to the TH when we discovered that the road was closed at Iron Mountain TH and did not proceed to the Esmeralda Basin Trailheads. This was luckily not a huge deal since it only added 1.13 miles each way. But still, it added mileage. Turns out that the road is washed out in places.

The Longs Pass Trail turnoff is to the right about 1/3 of a mile from the TH. There is no sign, but someone marked the turn with a sharpie written on a fallen tree. Its a bit washed out so keep an eye out! The trail ascends in easy switchback up from 4400ft to 6200 at the top of Longs Pass. where were were greeted by a goat and some misty views of the Stuart Range. From here we descended down a steep snow slope (trail was covered) by both plunge steps and glissading about 400 ft to the trees. The trail here is not on maps, but is is called the Tape Worm Trail and it leads down to Ingalls Creek. Since we were coming out of a snow field we ended up just following on of the many creek drainage steeply down until about 5400 ft when we stumbled upon some folks camping. They pointed us in the direct of the true Tapeworm Trail which is pretty much a straight plunge down with a few switchbacks. The rocky parts are marked by visible cairns to help with navigation. We found ourselves at Ingalls Creek about an hour after leaving Longs Pass where there is a convenient log to cross (Waypoint coordinates N47°27.3767’W120°54.6599’).

After a break in the shade of the trees by the creek we followed the trail several yards to its junction with Ingalls Creek Trail and turned right. There is conflicting beta regarding when to turn off this trail and start heading up Sherpa. We followed a trip report using waypoint N47°.45402’W120°.89633′. The turnoff is in the second meadow you pass about .6 miles from the junction. There is a narrow climbers trail to the left going up into the meadows near a big rock. We did not hit the Beverly Turnpike Trail Junction as some guides suggest. The climbs trail going up through pleasantly green, fragrant meadows toward a hump or ridge above and veering to the right. At about 5000-5100 ft the trail begins to slowly peter out and is completely gone after it crosses over the stream. Make sure you are on the trail here to avoid cutting through thick overgrowth. From here with bushwhacked up about 100 ft through the trees before reemerging into the meadow. We tried to follow the beta here, but kind of found our own way in the end. I think its kind of a “choose your ow adventure” kind of thing. We followed the creek along a steep bank on the right side for about 200 ft, before crossing over to the left (N47°27.5447’W120°53.6687′)and climbing up the left steep bank which was more appealing since it had less brush. I should mention these areas were a combination of dust and small rocks. So it was kind of a case of 1 step forward 1/2 step back a lot. At 5800 feet we crossed back to the other side of the creek (N47°275447’W120°53.6687′ and then clawed our way up the steep embankment to the top of the hump we had seen earlier from below reaching 6100ft. From here we then descended to me dismay down to a talus field at 5900ft. There was some water running here which was great news in the heat of the day.

From here we basically stayed in this huge gully and went straight up toward the visible summit of Sherpa. We crossed over talus, snow patches, thin forest, mazes of drainage trails, pretty much anything and everything mountain slopes can offer. At 6200 ft there are supposed to be camps int he basin near the waterfall. We saw a few flattish rocks, but not many. We continued up to the right of the waterfall and up more talus and a final 300 ft of heather, grass and small tree benches to the upper basin and the location fo the famous Table Rock Camp at 7400ft.

Table Rock is the only suitable flat place to camp in the basin. It is exactly what it sounds like, a huge flat rock. You could probably squeeze ten climbers comfortably in bivys, but we had it all to ourselves! we used a small tent instead of a bivy, using large rocks which worked rather well. I cannot put into words how beautiful this camp was. A huge rock just beneath Stuart and Sherpa overlooking the surrounding mountains including Rainier and Adams. A purely magical  alpine setting. we savored every moment of the early evening overlooking the mountains as we filtered water and had a marvelous freeze dried dinner. We turned in before sunset, but it never actually got dark since the stars and moon were so bring. We slept with the tent fly off and the brightness kept me fro getting into a deep sleep, but it was worth it!

We began walking up the final approach at about 5am the next morning. The snow was like Styrofoam and perfect for crampons. We ascended the snow field until into end. Then we crossed over some talus on to the rightmost snow steep snow finger aiming for the rightmost notch leading up to the saddle just before Sherpa. We left our crampons and poles at the top of the snow-finger and climbed the final class 3 moves to the saddle and base of the climb. By the time we were geared up it was about 6am. There are 6 pitches on the climb. The first pitches are mostly class 4 and low class 5. Rope drag is often an issues due to the weaving nature of the route especially before the sandy bench area. Therefore, we decided shorten the rope with a kiwi coil (which I, the follow held) making the rope about 35 Meters. Like this with with simul-climb as much as possible with belays as needed to reduce and drag and make better time over the easier terrain. This also meant that we split up the pitches non-traditionally. But it worked out rather well. The best way to describe the climb is that it followed a series of weakness in the rock. Mostly in the form of ramps. There are plenty of great belay spots and horns to sling. We used a small to medium size wrack of nuts, cams, offset cam and one yellow hex. The rock took gear very well and for the most part was pretty sound except for one loose area I had to inconveniently mantle up on. There are lots of variations of the route too to makes things harder or easier. For example, at one point Damien took a low angle fun crack, and the group behind us took a dirty gully around the left (I would take the crack).

After what is considered the third Pitch we reached the sandy bench area which is pretty level. We didn’t both unroping, but lots of people do here to get the the base of the next section and final two pitches. The pitch off the benches is the crux of the climb. And it is the lead that Damien offered me. I admit that I was 100% terrified. I’ve led lots of rock since the accident, but the alpine setting made things different. Still though, I’m not one to just back down. I accepted the lead and we swapped gear. Around this time two young men showed up. They were doing a traverse of Stuart, Sherpa, Argonaut and Colchuck in a Day. They only had a 30 meter rope and were soloing most of the climb. They chose to take a 5.7 crack variation (they reported it as a pretty stout 5.7). The stayed the the right and ascended a more blocky, but pretty steep face.

I froze up here on the lower part of the pitch. I wanted to turn around I didn’t want to lead. Memories flashed through my mind of my last alpine climb and the turmoil that followed in its wake. Here I was again on the rock and in the wilderness. Could I do this? Self doubt was smothering me and I turned and looked at Damien telling me I didn’t know if I could do it. But he kept telling me to try again. And I tried and tried… until finally I forced myself to make the high step move that had stopped me… and suddenly it all fell back into place. The rocks were no longer a symbol of fear, but a simple puzzle that needed to be solved. It all happened so quickly… the feel of the rock, the cold air brushing, against my ankles, the mystery of the pitch in front of me; it went from menacing to addicting in a matter of seconds after i did the high step. And I moved up the way, probably more cautiously than i once did, but fluidly.

Fluidly until I reached the cave. I let the other team by (wearing approach shoes, wow). This was the crux move which combined a bear hug on twin cracks, and friction moves to a high shelf. That’s how i would describe it anyway. I french freed it since my height seemed limiting and I was on lead. From there was going with pretty easy through an open book to the next rap station/anchor. We decided to save time by not moving the anchor. Instead Damien belayed me to the summit which is an exposed friction slab traverse with two airy step-overs. I placed no pro. Then i climbed back to the anchor and belayed Damien up and past em to the summit. We then rapped back down to the next anchor right above the crux and let a team of two pass us.

We did 3 rappels to slung horns. Two get the best rap station on the third rap you have to kind of aim climbers right halfway down the rap and scramble up a to a ledge. A bit dicey. From there it is a clean double rope rappel (we joined ropes with the team behind us) to the bottom. I highly doubt you can do two single rope rappel here without creating your own new anchor. Damien measured the distance to the intermediate anchor as he rapped down with our bi-weave and it didn’t reach.

We packed up our gear at the saddle and headed back down to camp through the talus and a short glissade. We wished more than anything that we could stay at Table Rock and enjoy the rest of the day, but it was Sunday and time to head out. As we were packing up camp Everett SAR Helicopter flew above us slowly and circle Mt Stuart several times before hovering near the top of Sherpa Glacier on the saddle. We watched a rescuer get lowered from the hoist and then lifted several minutes later. Be careful out there.

We began the horrendous never ending climb down. Since we did not want to climb up and over the hump again we just went straight down beneath it and slightly skiers right. I’m not sure if this was any better. The bush whacking was atrocious! Dense brush, branches that reach out and grab you… EKKKK! But we slowly made our way down. The funny thing was that ascending Longs Pass  which was the part we were really dreading ended up being super straightforward and easy since we managed to stay on the trail the entire time (waypoint where Tapeworm trail reaches snowfield is N47°27.0563’W120°55.4098’).

The goat was waiting for us at the top of the pass, but we didn’t linger. It was 8:30. And by the time we had climbed down the pass, through the valley and down the road to the car it was 11:00pm…this breaks my personal record of longer alpine day (previously 17 hours with Mt Maud). Sherpa was 19 hours (4am-11pm)! And an electrifyingly awesome 19 hours at that!

This was a climb where absolutely nothing went as planned. Lemah Mountain is a rarely climbed cluster of 5 peaks: Lemah One, Two, Main, Four and Five. We planned to climb up to basecamp at remote Chikamin Lake n Saturday, Summit all five peaks on Sunday and hike out Sunday. Alas this is not what came to be.

All started well on Saturday. It was a cloudy day was few drop here and there falling fro the Sky. We left the Pete Lake TH at about 9am. The way is flat for 4 miles to Pete Lake. From there the trail continues on for another mile or so of level trail to a Junction. The trail to the right goes to Lemah Meadows (an alternate approach) and the right goes to Spectacle Lake. We went right and followed the trail to another junction with the PCT and headed North (left). Here the trail heads up switchbacks through a burn with underbrush already showing autumn colors. The turn off for Spectacle Lake is about one mile from the bridge over the waterfall. The trai to the lake descends about 500 feet for a 1/2 mile to the shoreline. Our beta said to cut around the North (right) side of the lake to the creek outlet on the far side of the Lake. This a a bushwack in every sense of the term. We followed the trail around the lake until it ended near a rocky cliff by the shore. We then found our way through thick trees and brush and I mean THICK brush and on game trails were we could over the cliff and ended up a few hundred feet above the lake. Then we trekked through lower brush to a talus slope. We crossed the slope until we were able to work our way carefully down the the creek outlet.

By then it was 5:00pm. A light rain was falling and mist completely concealed most of the route to Chikamin Lake and Lemah. We opted to camp at the outlet. From what we could see the route further up as class 3-4 scrambling over wet rock and heather. Not safe. It was decided that Lemah was too ambitious since we were now staged at Spectacle Lake. Instead we would continue hiking around the Spectecle Lake in the morning (the other side appeared to be a tamer bushwack. We could then link up to the 3rd creek outlet and take that up to Glacier Lake. Then we could attempt Chikamin Mountain which was smaller.

Just when we finished dinner the rain turned from light to pounding. By morning it was still heavy and when we peakout out at the mountains we saw a fresh layer of light snow 1000ft feet higher than us. Conditions would be slippery, but we decided to try to make it to Glacier Lake. We packed up camp in a short lull in the rain and continued around the lake.

The conditions were easy at first and we were able to hug the shoreline. But then some cliffs appeared again. It was easier to get over these cliffs than the ones from the day before. But above we began to run into slabs and ultimately ended up getting cliffed out with no passage. Frustrated we knew the only option was to get back to the PCT the way we came. The scattered showers  and sunshine that had been forecasted for the day had ended up being just a pure downpour instead. Conditions would be unsafe to climb anything especially with a slick layer of thin snow on the rock.

We headed back the way we came. The talus field was harder to navigate through on the way back and we got cliffed out a few times before we finally found the way through. We saw two large bucks in the brush. they were unafraid of us… probably because they knew we were not nearly as swift as them in the dense thicket. When we finally made it back to the trail it was decided that with the current conditions it would be best to just hike out and do a day scramble on Monday to salvage at least one day of the long weekend. Drenched we began the 11 mile journey back to the car… a different type of adventure than expected indeed!

 

I have been lagging on my trip reports lately and I apologize for my absence. A turn of events in my life has delayed me from adding news posts. On September 6, 2014, on our first anniversary, Eric and I set off to climb Le Petit Cheval. Though Eric summit with me he never did return. He was killed in a rappelling accident on the mountain. This post contains a full trip report of that day in my usual style, but also includes the story of the accident. It is my hope that everyone can learn from this tragedy…

Eric and I drove to the large pullout on Milepost 165 on Hwy 2 at about 4am aftering sleeping in our car at Washington Pass. The sun rose over the mountains as we ate a quick breakfast watching the silhouette of Le Petit Cheval take shape in front of us. Our goal was the climb the peak via Spontaneity Arete (5.7).

I think we began at about 6:30am. There is a trail in the middle of the pullout (hard to see at first but marked by carins) That leads down talus to the trail below. The trial is easy to follow at first an descends to Early Winters Creek. Log jams provide an easy crossing here. From the creek the trail begins to ascend crossing into some rocky terrain. Carins mark most of the scramble route yrails. At one point we lost the trail altogether, and then rejoined in just above the first handline. This was just as well since the handline looked kind of ratty. The second handline was even worse and featured some core shots. We climbed this steeper scramble (maybe class 4) terrain without using the line since it seemed sketchy.

We continued to follow the trail through the rock bands until we reached the base of the route near some trees. If you go too far right you’ll know it since you’ll con across the bottom of the dirty descent gulley. We dropped out packs here and geared up. The start of the route was supposed to have slings to mark it, but there weren’t any. We set up an anchor on a tree. Eric lead the first pitch. It began as a scramble which led to an upper ledge. This ledge had a tree and could have been used as a higher belay. From here there is an awesome crack with a perfect fist jam. The crack continues with awesome hands and classic crack moves at abut 5.7.

The second pitch looked amazing from the large tree belay. I led this pitch beneath the massive roof to the right using the horn to get over a very exposed but fun move. After this the going was easy to the tree belay. We simul-climbed the next pitch which was mostly a class 3 scramble. Then we reached a large tower and crux of the route. Eric led this since he was much better at cracks. The beginning the the pitch is a 5.7 hand crack over a bulge followed by delicate 5.4 fingers. Eric made it up the pitch though the going was rough on the crux.. I found out why when i took my turn. The crack was a bit wet. I fell about 4 times.

We next did some simul-climbing through some easier terrain to pitch 6. I led this one as I like off-widths. The off width crack take a chicken-wing move well. From here with again simul-climbed to the base of the final pitch which Eric led to the summit. The sky was clear and revealed the awesome splendor the the Liberty Bell group and other Washington Pass summits. We didn;t stay long though… we were very thirsty and wanted to rest a bit in the shade and get a drink before descending.

There are two options to descend… a whole bunch of raps or descend the dirty loose, gulley beside the arete. We decided to take the loose gulley. After resting and drinking under some trees we began to pick out way down. The ground was indeed loose and we had to be careful to stay close together or take different paths to prevent rockfall on each other. It got very tedious however and with found a way to cross back over to the climbing route at the bottom of pitch 4. From here we rappelled and things went much smoother.

Finally we reached the base. It much have been around 6:30pm by then. We drank a whole bunch of water, had some snacks and packed up our gear. We left on our harnesses. We noticed some rappel stations above the sketchy handlines on our approach earlier and planned on using those instead of the ratty handlines.

Eric was moving faster than me at this point  and already had the rope strung through the first rappel station at the top of the first hand-line by the time I arrived. He went first. I asked him twice if he had on his auto-block which he confirmed twice. We mentioned a few words about being hungry and looking forward to dinner. Then he began his rappel. I hate watching rappels. Usually i turn away and sing so i don’t have to listen to the rope creak. For some reason this time I was watching. It was 7:15pm.

Warning… the following contains content that may be disturbing.

I’m an not sure which event I saw first. All i know is that suddenly the rope was whipping through the rap rings and Eric was falling. He had only tied one knot at the ends. I watched him bounce on the rock like a toy. Like he wasn’t even real. Like this wasn’t even real. And then he was out of sight. I don’t remember when I began screaming. During or the fall or after I could no longer see him. But I yelled his name over and over asking him to please respond. He didn’t. So I switched to yelling “Help”.

The core shots to the handline no longer mattered. The fact that I hated down climbing no longer mattered. I descended the first handline yelling for help the whole way. Climbers below began to ascend. They called up to me asking what was wrong. I told them my husband fell. They began searching for him. I descending the second ratty handline. They found him. I could see a climber leaning over a figure laying in a heap against some trees below me.

“There’s a pulse, but its faint.” He called up to me. “Stay where you are”.

I didn’t listen. I kept descending. “I know wilderness first aid” I said again and again. I saw his water bottle  in the rocks. And then I saw blood splatters. And more blood splatters. And then I was there.

It wasn’t him. It wasn’t us. I was outside of my body looking at a scene in a movie. So much blood. Blood pouring our of his mouth, ears and nose in volumes I never dreamed possible. His shoulder was not right. His neck was contorted. Everything about his body was all wrong. But I was in rescue mode.

“We need to do C-spine” I said.

There were two men. One named Paul and the other named James. We studied his neck and evaluated how we could get him into C Spine without causing more damage. We decided to shove much backpack under his head as best we could and elevate him a bit. We could not do  C-spine. I closed his beautiful green eyes that stared blankly. We clover him with sleeping bags and down jackets.  Carefully, I cleared Eric’s nose of blood. I put my fingers down into his throat and scooped out blood. I pulled his tongue out and held his mouth open removing blood as more pooled. If he was indeed alive I wanted to make sure he could breathe. But I knew. I looked for the shallow pulse. I never found it.

Meanwhile the other climbers were coordinating a rescue effort. Two climbers had driven to Mazama to call 911. Two others watched at the roadside. James’s wife waited halfway down the trail. James and Paul put up some orange flagging on the trees to show mountain rescue our position. They out up some the headlamps on blinking mode and lite up some orange glow-stick type rescue flares. Everyone had a walkie-talkie to communicate. I told them they had to call Jeff, one of our friends who is in Everett Mountain Rescue. The Sheriff’s office got a hold of him. Jeff was on his way…

I talked a bunch of James and Paul. I think they were unsure what to make of my calm demeanor. But Eric always showed me that panicing never solved anything. I had to be logical. I had to make good decisions. I had to take care of him and be calm. I asked them to check for his pulse a few more times. At one point Austin, a climber on the road, asked me for info regarding age, weight , height… and if his pupils dilated in the light. I opened his eyes with one hand (the other still holding open his mouth) and James shined his headlamp. No response.

I don’t recall every detail and things are out of order in my head. I know mountain rescue and the Sheriff showed up at the road. They had a meeting for over an hour deciding what to do. In the meantime i noticed that Eric’s body was getting cold. But I also noticed that his mouth was still warm.. and then I realized that it was probably only because of my warm fingers heating the small space. I began to realize what I already knew… but still clung to a tiny bit of hope. Someone passed by with a headlamp.. the light shown briefly on Eric’s bloody face. I was taken aback. I asked whoever it way to shine the light again in our direction. I hoped i was wrong. But i was not. Eric’s skin was ghost white. So pale. And I knew that he was no longer there. Beside me was only emptiness. I took my fingers out of his mouth and shut it. I turned away. Moments later a voice on the radio said there would be a body recovery in the morning verifying what I had already concluded.

I was given the option of staying and waiting for the morning choper. I didn’t see the need to stay on the mountain. I carried Eric in my memories. He was not in the body that laid in a heap on the slopes of Le Petit Chavel. James, Paula  I descended. They had created handlines out of my rope to guide the rescuers to us. We used them to aid in the descent. I even rappelled off of one of them… it was all unreal.

The sheriff deputy was the only one waiting for us at the road. He too was shocked by my calm. He asked me to fill out an accident report. When I took the pen he handed me he saw my hands, burgundy with dried blood. He gave me to wet wipes, but i couldn’t get it all off. Besides, blood covered me everywhere. James and his wife drove me to Mazama. Paul followed in Eric’s car. Together we took out our sleeping bags and slept on the dirt in the Mazama Store Parking lot. It was Midnight. Jeff had left at 11:30… he said he would be there in two hours with a friend so he could take Eric’s car back. Afraid he would be speeding we set up blinking headlamps around us before turning in.

I didn’t sleep. I just laid there looking at the stars. I sat up at the sound of every car that passed. It wasn’t Jeff until 4:00am. Only then did I finally cry.

Epilogue:

Eric was my best friend for 12 years. He was my boyfriend for 2 years. My husband for one year. During that time he made me a better person. He taught me not to whine, but to solve my problems. To think logically. To always be blunt and never flowery. To follow no one rules but my own. To go against society’s standards. To take chances even though you might also make a mistake. To be honest with not only others, but with yourself. To find happiness not only in the things that make you smile, but by making someone else smile. To always ask questions and not always accept the answer. To fight for whatever you are passionate about and that persistence pays off. And he taught me that I could love someone more purely and perfectly than I ever thought possible. Eric made me better.

And now his memory will continue to make me better. I was working on some things for him before he died… I will continue do so. I will be a better crack climber. I will have more climbing partners. I will project more at the gym. I will take more time to rest my muscles. I will fare better with change. I will get a job. I will not become dependent solely on one person for everything. I will control my stress. I will think more steps ahead in BJJ. I will be the person I was trying to be for him.

And I will go all the places we planned to trek. I will climb every mountain, crag and waterfall we intended to climb together. Eric and I planned a lifetime of adventure in the wilderness and far reaches of this world. My mission now in life is to make sure that each of these goals is met. I don’t care how long it takes to touch every part of Earth we talked about, but I will indeed stand on every peak and hike every track. And I will continue to hear him whisper “breathe” whenever I get struck on a rough move and “it’s been three hours. You better put on sunblock” every time it’s a sunny day. Though his body is no longer here, his words will always remain with me and they will make me a better alpinist.

And perhaps it is all of this that brings me solace. I know that my behavior since Eric’s death is not reflective of a wife who watched her husband plummet 80 feet down a rocky face to his death. But there are no questions in my head. Eric told me what to do. He was blunt with me. He told me he wanted a direct cremation. He told me to take the ashes to every mountain and trek I went. He told me he would want me to keep climbing. To keep traveling. To find happiness with someone. To keep grappling. To think logically. To never ever give up.

He told me all of this on several occasions. So I do not have to wonder about what he wanted for me. I simply have to carry out his instructions. Knowing that I can and will do everything that he asked of me gives me happiness. There are no questions. I know what I need to do for Eric.

Eric is part of the mountains now. His ashes already scattered on three summits… and more will be scattered in the years to come. But more than just the ashes remain. I remain. And with me I carry his memory. The memory of Eric, who he was and what he stood for, will never die. And that is my mission now. To be better for him and for me so that I can move forward with his memory close beside me.

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

 

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

 

“The Beckey Route” (also called South West Face) on Liberty Bell is the most famous climb in the Liberty Bell Group and a alpine classic. It is a well sustained 5.7 climb and, as the name suggests, pioneered by climber Fred Beckey. There ares till some pitons from his ascent on the route! Start early on this climb to avoid crowds or come early season.

Eric and I began the approach from Blue Lake Trailhead along Highway 20 at 4:00am to get ahead of the crowds. We climbed North Early Winters Spire the day before so finding our way through the snowy forest went much quicker. The trail was covered in snow with tracks that zigzagged everywhere. Generally you have to head south until reaching a clearing where the spires become fully visible.

At the clearing one can not simply ascend straight up the slopes to Liberty Bell. There are huge slabs in the way of reaching the gulley (between Liberty Bell and Concord) directly. Instead we had to begin ascending further right bast there slabs and then cut across when we got above them. We wore crampons since the snow was hard in the early morning. Later season when the snow melts out there is a climbers trail through talus and boulders. We think the snow approach is easier.

The final gulley ascent to the notch between Liberty Bell and Concord Tower is very steep, but we did not feel to warranted roping up. Near the top we had to do a bit a light mixed climbing across some exposed rock, but nothing to technical. 50 feet below the notch the snow was melted out. We anchored our mountaineering packs on the rocks here using a picket as a stopper and geared up taking our food with us in summit packs (chipmunks). We contemplated where the route was located for some time. It is not at the top of the notch but below it along a narrow ledge beside a small snag. The area is a wind tunnel and is fully shaded most of the day. Bring layers!

Eric led the first pitch up finger cracks. The way is easy to find and fun. I would have enjoyed following up to the tree belay if my handed were freezing so badly!

Just below the tree belay the sound pitch begin at a chimney. This is the crux of the climb. There is a chockstone wedge in about teen feet up. If you do not get your left foot out on the obvious ledge to climbers left as quickly as possible your head will get wedge beneath the chockstone. There is some fixed sling on the chockstone here, but I wouldn’t trust them. I found this section difficult to do with a backpack and rack. Above this section the chimney continues. The going is easier, but having a rack on my harness made some of the squeezes more difficult for me. After the chimney ended I reached some low angle slabs. I anchored the the second highest snag and belayed Eric up.

Pitch 3 requires the most route finding. Afetr making a few wrong turns Eric made his way left over an easy face and delicate finger traverse. He belayed me from a nice tree ledge. Be sure to study the topo well before doing this pitch. We memorized it and still got confused. the key is to head left over the slabs.

Eric and I short roped a few yards on easy terrain to pitch 4, the former crux (before there were climbing shoes) of the route. Fred Becky did a famous shoulder stand to clear a 5.7 face known as a 12ft unprotected boulder problem. I led this pitch. I didn’t find the face very difficult… but i like friction climbing. After that the way was low fifth class. I anchored to a tree just below the summit and brought Eric up.

The summit is a 20ft scramble away over easy terrain. Again we were graced with some awesome views on this clear day! We were joined by two other parties a few minutes later… a quiet day on Liberty Bell.

The descent can be a bit tricky. We reverse route down-climbing to the top of pitch 3 (we down-climbed the boulder problem, but it would have been wiser to lower the first person and have the second shoulder stand to get down). We them headed left following a clear boot path through tree until we could walk right to a sloping ledge. We rappelled off fixed chains to another small ledge (will fit 4 people snugly) with chains. It is important on the second rappel that you aim more left as you come down or you will miss the notch and end up having to ascend the rope. Knot your ends!

We gathered our gear and headed out. We easily plunge stepped down the gulley did several glissades. Be sure aim left as you descend to avoid running into the slabs below. We reached the clearing and headed into the forest again. This time where were clear tracks to follow back to the car.

This route is rated five stars for a reason. Inspiring, sustained and fun climbing to an awesome summit!

Gear Notes:

1 set of nuts, Cams .5-3 inches (some doubles if you want, but not required), mid sized hexes, lots of slings (long pitches)

 

 

After sleeping in my car Thursday night  we woke up at 3am at the Blue Lake Trailhead along highway 20. The sun’s light was already illuminating the outline of the surrounding mountains of the North Cascades. Groggily we ate breakfast, shouldered our packs and started out on the day’s adventures at 4:00am . Our objective was South Early Winters Spire also knows simply as SEWS. It is the tallest formation of the chain of  massive rock spires near Washington Pass known at the Liberty Bell Group. You can also approach the group via the “Hairpin” turn further down the road, but our sources hinted that Blue Lake Trail was a bit shorter.

The Blue Lake trail was hidden beneath snow this early in the season making it impossible to actually follow a trail. Old and barely visibly footprints zigzagged through the forest in various directions. We made out own way through the tree as the sun rose in the sky heading in the general direction of the spires that we could see every now and then through gaps in the forest (south). We were supposed to end up in a clearing eventually.

We did enter a clearing with many steams running beneath the snow. Careful here as the snow bridges don’t always hold and you can fall into the running water beneath. We were a little further down the clearing than we needed to be and closer to Blue Mountain than the Liberty Bell Group. We could see a wide and mostly clear avalanche gulley leading up to the ridge between SEWS and Blue Mountain. We turned and began to slowly make our way up the steep snow slope to the ridge. Later in the season there is a climbers trail weaving through talus and boulders during this section. The presence of s snow probably made the approach easier as were were able to go straight up and not twist our ankles on rocks. We did wear crampons through as the snow was hard so early in the morning.

Finally we gained the ridge. We geared up here and tied our mountaineering packs to one of the many scrub trees. There are goats in the area that love to explore backpacks! We brought our summit packs with some layers and all our food with up on the climb however (chipmunks were running around waiting for a meal).

We were climbing the “South Arete” 5.6 route. This is the easiest route on SEWS and the second most popular route of the entire group (hence us starting early). The first pitch is the crux of the route containing the only 5.6 part of the climb. The start is described as a crack behind a flake. It was hard to figure out which crack behind a flake our beta was referring to as there seemed to e many features that fit that description. I was leading this pitch and in the end I ended up doing what I thought resembled some reachy boulder moves along a line where I was able to place only two pieces of protects (a cam omni and tree sling). As it turned out I took the what is referred to as the “reach variation” (left of traditional route) which as almost no pro. The pitch is 90ft long with a tree to belay off of at the top.

Eric lead pitch 2 which was mostly a gulley 4th class scramble until the very end where you have to climb out of the gulley via a 5.4 chimney. A few tricky moves here, but not that challenging. At this point a soloist passed us. he said he had downclimbed the route any times in the past and thus didn’t feel he needed a rope.

Pitches 3-6 are low 5th class. Eric and a kiwi coiled 1/3 of the rope at this point and simul-climbed quickly through this blocky section. The toughest move was a 5.3 over a bulge.

Pitch 7 begins with a section know as “White Camel”. It is a knife edge block that is not difficult to cross, but very exposed. There is a bolt in the center to protect the crossing. The group behind us unroped and dropped there gear here. They crossed without protection. Eric belayed me over the section. Most people cross on the right side of the edge, some straddle the top and very few cross on the left which is more shear. I crossed on the right Then I belayed Eric in.

We untied at this point and scrambled over massive blocks and boulders (class 4 & 5.0) to the summit. There was plenty of space for the five of us up there. The day was clear with sweeping views of Kangaroo Ridge, Wine Spires, Cutthroat Peak, Glacier Peak, Black Peak… everything! The sun was very strong and refection off the snow. Bring lots of sunblock and sunglasses!

To descend we reversed route and down climbed back to the top of Pitch 2 (we did belay across the white camel however). From there we did two rappels off the trees. It is recommended that you do not use a double rope rappel since it will most likely get stuck.

We were greeted by some climbers that were just arriving to the route and a goat inspecting the packs when we arrived back at the ridge. We desended via several glissade chute on the now softened snow down the steepest part of the gulley. We then decided to traverse across beneath the spires to scout out the the next days approach to Liberty Bell before continuing back to the car. We glissaded several more times. However, there are some massive slabs beneath the spires. Be very careful not to glissade into the rocks. As you descend aim more to the left to avoid them.

We arrived at the clearing and made our way again through the forest. When we finally arrived back at the car were were exhausted and ready for our freeze dried dinner. The South Arete is not a route for someone looking to do some “real” rock climbing. It is not all that inspiring a route in my opinion, but it did offer excellent views.

Gear Notes:

We were over prepared. You really just need a light rack. Full set of nuts, 3 mid sized hexes, Cams .5-2.5 inches. Two double runners to sling trees