Damien and I haven’t really come to terms with that fact that autumn has arrived in the mountains. I believe the fact that only 3 weeks ago we couldn’t even sleep inside the sleeping bag because of how warm it was has really thrown us off! Thus, we did not question the weekend weather forecast as much as we should have. It looked rainy on the west side of the crest of the Cascades, but Washington Pass seemed to have a nice weather window of sunny to partly sunny skies. We saw this as a great opportunity to get in the rock climbing we’ve been craving since our return from the PCT. On the menu was Poster Peak (Blue’s Buttress) and North Early Winters Spire (Chockstone Route). We anticipated frigid temps, but figured that was all we would have to contend with forecast-wise. Unfortunately, neglected to factor in that we were climbing in Washington and not Yosemite!

When Damien and I arrived at the Hairpin Turn approach for Poster Peak the sky was cloudy and a heavy mist hung low in the mountains. This is normal for the cascades in early morning and it was especially not surprising since there had been some light rain the night before. The talus was barely damp and we expected the remaining, moisture and mist to burn off as the sun got higher in the sky.

After some bushwhacking we found the climber’s trail heading up the valley from the Hairpin Turn under the Liberty Bell Group. Autumn colors are coming to their peak with golden larches and brilliant red blueberry leaves painting the landscape. The route is straightforward and cairns guided us through the talus patches with ease. We turned off the trail beneath  gully and stream that lead off to the right granting access to the lower talus slopes of Poster Peak. There was still a fair amount of mist, but as we anticipated, it was beginning to burn off and patches of blue sky gave promise for a pleasant, sunny, fall day.

The talus beneath Poster Peak is not the most stable and care must be taken to not create rockfall bombs. We ascended the gully, circled left toward an obvious roof and went around the corner to the Blue Buttress belay ledge. As we were scrambling up the talus a light, intermittent sprinkle began to fall from the sky. There was sunshine at the same time and we still saw some blue ski. It seemed to be a simple, short lived sun shower at best. However, as we racked up on the ledge clouds closed in, engulfing the mountains and a steady rain began to fall. At first, we shrugged it off, thinking again that this was a brief event. But then the rain turned to heavy, whiteout snow. This gave us pause.

Damien and I really did not want to bail off a technical route for the second weekend in a row due to weather. Maybe it would improve in 30 minutes or so. We sat on the ledge with our puffies and began to wait, certain it would pass. After all, it was supposed to be sunny! It did not pass. In fact, the snow began to stick! The rock was also now saturated and dripping. After 45 minutes we threw in the towel. Even if the sun did come out it would take at least an hour if not more for the route to dry. By then it would be too late to attempt a 17 pitch route. We played with the idea of climbing up the peak via the descent route, but abandoned that quickly once we realized how rotten the talus was. Instead we headed back down to the car contemplating our Plan B.

Damien and I have xc skied around the perimeter of Goat Peak near Mazama every winter twice. Nonetheless, we had never been to the summit. It is a quick 5-mile hike and, though we always wanted to hike to the top, it was not a priority since our focus is technical alpine objectives and long backpacks. However, we had used half the day attempting Poster Peak, so a short day hike seemed to be the perfect way to spend what remained of the day.

We arrived at the trailhead midafternoon. Fifteen miles away from Washington Pass the sun illuminated autumn hues of gold, orange and red. Not a snowflake in sight. We journey up the trail feeling the crisp chill of the autumn air brush against our cheeks. Views across the valley and into the Pasayten were nearly immediate. The tread is surprisingly steep after the first mile. Luckily, even though we were in thr forest the trees parted every now and then providing glimpses of the Cascades and Methow Valley far below. At about 2 miles the trail reaches the top of the ridge leading to the Lookout and summit. Here views pour forth in all directions. West toward Washington Pass we could see thick rain/snow clouds blanketing the mountains. Blue skies and puffy, white clouds dominated the east. Typical Washington! We followed the gentle ridge through brilliantly golden larches to the Lookout. The fire lookout, which was used during the height of the Diamond Creek Fire, is locked for the season. However, climbing up to the lookout is unnecessary to enjoy the expansive views! Again, we made note of how turbulent Washington Pass looked. It appeared bailing was the correct choice. Our decision to bail from Poster Peak was verified further the following day as we drove past the Liberty Bell Group. The peaks and lower slopes were covered with fresh powder and Poster Peak looked particularly white!

 

After some heavy smoke days and terrible air quality in Tuolumne Meadows, it seemed like the winds were changing the skies clearing. Damien and I set our alarm to 2am for the climb we had been thinking about since last November: Matthes Crest. Matthes Crest is rarely seen by anyone other than climbers. It is off the beaten path and obscured from view by Echo Peaks. The Crest is a lengthy summit and it allure lies in the ridge. The standard South to North Route climbs 2-3 pitches (5.5) up the South end of the mountain and then traverses for a mile across an exceedingly airy knife-edge ridge (ranging from class 3 to 5.4) to the South Summit. It is possible to continue on to the North Summit (5.7) and cross the rest of the ridge-line down to the other side, but this section involves little pro and down-climbing sketch 5.8 so it was not in our agenda. In fact, it is uncommonly done by anyone. The route is somewhat popular despite its longer approach hence our highly early start to the day.

We pulled onto the shoulder at the Cathedral Lakes TH and began walking at about 2:45am. We knew the first part of the approach since it is the same as Cathedral Peak. We took the trail toward Cathedral Lakes for about a half mile until we reached an obvious side trail on the left blocked off by some logs. We followed this trail along Budd Creek and then over slabs with rocks forming a walkway for about 1.75 miles. At this point the beta is to journey cross country so Damien took a bearing and we headed into the forest. Bushwhacking in the Sierra is not nearly as wretched as it is in WA. Basically, all you are dealing with is a meadow with some pine trees poking out and they don’t even have lower branches! No understory. In the dark, it was difficult to keep our bearing just right and we fumbled around for a while getting to the open slabs. Once on the slabs we continued toward Matthes eventually stubbing upon carins and then a well-trodden sandy, gravelly trail. We followed this track through the slabs and under the striking rocky summits of Echo Peaks. Then we rounded a corner and received our first view of Matthes as darkness began to lift from the sky.

It was HUGE! We stood awe-struck at the intimidating formation in front of us, letting the scale of the mountain sink in. It may have been intimidating but it was also intoxicating. Drawn forward by the Crest we descended about 300 feet through and forest and then across an green meadow with streams to the base of the mountain. We traversed right along the base slowly angling upward toward the start of the route on the far side of the mountain. The going was not difficult and we made quick work of the roughly 500-600 feet of gravel, grass and talus.

At the base of the route there was a single team just starting to climb. They spoke briefly to us mentioning that bad weather was going to move in somewhere between 11am-5pm.  There was a 30% chance of thunderstorms. This was news to us as we had been unable to check the forecast since Saturday just before entering the park nds back then it had been fine. Damien and I had a brief discussion and decided to go for it. We are fast simul-climbers and also knew that storms rarely started before 3pm. Plus it was only 30%.

Damien led up the first pitch, 5.3. It was about 120 feet and topped out at a good belay ledge. We decided to combine the next two pitches making for a long 200 foot, full rope length pitch. I led this section which climbed up some easy blocks before entering a crack system dihedral with knobs. I placed moderate protection as I went along until several feet up the dihedral. The crack would only take cams and I was simply out of the size I needed. I could not downclimb back to the ledge confidently, so I made a conscious decision to run it out. I don’t know how I held it together. The climbing was not difficult, but with your last piece of protection 25 feet below you suddenly the game changes. I remembered how high ball boulderers and free solo climbers took steady deep breathes. I copied them and focused carefully on each move, making sure every simple movement my body made was precise. Speed was sacrificed as errors could not be afforded. I think I placed about 4 pieces in over 100 feet. On my way up I wondered what I would find when I reached the ledge. I had no gear for an anchor. I needed natural pro and I hoped I would pull over the ledge to find a big horn or massive boulder. Thoughts like this, thinking ahead, kept me sane I a climbed high above my distant protection.

It seemed like an eternity on the wall, but I did eventually pull over the ledge. To my delight I was greeted by a giant boulder. I slung the boulder and set up my belay to bring Damien up to join me. When he arrived Damien prepared to lead the Simul-climb section and racked the gear. We folded our 60 meter rope in half to shorten it without the hassle of a kiwi coil.  A climber joined us on the ledge as Damien took off. Things were still much quieter here than on Cathodal Peak. With ten feet of slack in the rope I disassembled the anchor in preparation to follow. When the rope went tight against my harness I climbed up a few feet and pulled over to the ridge.

I was greeted by a true knife-edge. It was spectacular in both airy exposure and in sheer wild beauty. Ahead of me I could see Damien making his way up and over the first hump in the ridge. Enthralled I followed, cleaning gear along the way.

The climbing was not especially difficult. The exposure was heady though and any mistake even on the class 3 sections would result in a long fall. But luckily, exposure is awesome too us so we didn’t mind.  The rock is excellent quality with knobs, cracks and blocks. Nothing was loose on the ridge. Between the class 3 and 4 sections were areas of low class 5 mostly where there was a hump in the ridge. Often these features were intimidating from afar, but not difficult to climb. There were a few tricky moves though sprinkled throughout. Of course, 360 degree views of Yosemite engulfed us as we made our way along the knife-edge. It was glorious, but I did note building clouds.

The traverse to the South Summit took us exactly three hours, which is the estimated speed for someone soloing the route! We swapped gear once about 2/3 of a mile in. As we enjoyed the splendid views of the South Summit we observed the sky. It was blue with fluffy clouds, but the distant mountains seemed to have, at the very least, some rain. We lingered a bit before setting off for the descent. It was difficult to pull away. We had the summit to ourselves! But the next team was getting closer and we knew the weather could change in an instant.

To descend we needed to access the Notch between the South and North summit. Damien down-climbed the South summit and followed a 5.2 ramp system down to a tree as described in the beta. We switched leads at the tree because of rope drag. I led out following the ramp, but it led to a gully not a notch and it was on the wrong side of the mountain. I tried a different path with the same result before climbing back to Damien. Damien took a go at finding the notch and discovered that the topo beta we had neglected to mention that the ramp leads into a gully and then you must climb back up to the notch!

The temperature dropped and more clouds moved in as we unroped at the notch and descended several yards to the rap shrub. I rapped first and made it to another rap tree with a questionable mess of slings. However, I was not at the ends of my rope. We ended up doing a single rap down instead of the 2 in the beta, opting to downclimb a few feet of low class 5 rock. No sooner than we had pulled the rope and put on our approach shoes did the sky grow grey and the distant sound of thunder echoed of the rocky cliffs. Swiftly we scrambled down the easy talus and sand to the cover of trees. The team behind us? They decided to stay up on the mountain and climb the North Summit!

We ran into another team in the forest. They had bailed on questionable trees and shrubs partway down the ridge when they saw the weather moving in. We chatted for a bit as light rain began to fall. We needed to cross open slabs to return to the trailhead which didn’t sound all that appealing. They took off after some time. Damien and I lingered a bit more to see if the thunder would move off. It didn’t and the rain grew a bit harder. We decided to a least climb the 300 feet through the trees to the slabs and then decide how to proceed.

The thunder claps were not overhead when we reached the tree, nor were they loud cracks. No lightning thus far. We opted to move quickly through the slabs. About ten minutes in there was a flash of lightning and we hid in a small “canyon” in the slabs by a tree. Fifteen minutes later we began moving again. The storm passed us leaving nothing by lingering rain and distant rolls of thunder as we reached the Cathedral Peak Trail. It was still a long walk back, but having Jimmy Chin pass us on the trail made things go a lot quicker. We had seen him a year ago on the same exact date climbing the Grand Teton. What are the odds!? He and his team had also bailed on Matthes when the weather moved in.

 

Cathedral Peak is the most popular climb in Tuloumne Meadows of Yosemite and for good reason. The moderate climb features stellar rock quality, fun pitches and has a short approach. There are several variations of the climb which help with handling the masses to an extent, but all routes funnel to the Chimney pitch which effectively negates this. Damien and I were well aware of this alpine summit’s reputation for crowds so we opted to get a very early start to beat the rush. The book stated that arriving before 8:00 would put a team in a good place to avoid hold-ups.

We arrived at the Cathedral Lakes TH at about 3:30am and headed up the trail. Around this time Damien discovered that he forgotten his helmet, but we decided to keep going knowing that rockfall was not common on this climb. There were several junctions and we took a wrong turn causing us to loose time. Back on the main trail we followed the path by headlamp to a clear, marked off side trail on the left. We took this trail and followed Budd Creek for about 30 minutes. The tread then turned away from the creek and crossed over slabs. There was a “path” bordered by small rocks through the slabs which was handy. We reentered a dirt path through the forest, but after some time it seemed to peter out. We decided to just go directly uphill toward the peak. After some wretched, steep scrambling through talus, dirt and sand we reached the base of the peak and followed what appeared to be  a boot path up and to the right. However, as we looked at the topo and the wall of rock in front of us things just didn’t seem to match. We were taking the descent path up and were much too high! We backtracked down, again loosing time and finally made it to the start of the SE Buttress at 6:30am.

There was a team of 3 young women in front of us. They had 2 full width and length ropes and rope management was already an issue for them as they belayed the leader. As we prepared to climb more teams arrived and soon there was a t least 6 or 8 separate parties waiting to get on the route. Finally, the women were high enough so that Damien could begin leading. Meanwhile at the belay station the women were having a hell of a time untangling a bird’s nest of ropes and swapping gear inefficiently. Damien tried to offer advice to them when he got to the belay tree, but they just giggled and paid no attention. They moved slow even for a team of three so anything would have helped. It was frustrating for everyone waiting. There are other route variations as I mentioned before, but they are higher rated with 5.8 and 5.9 moves and some sections rated R. So not many teams were willing to start somewhere else. Bythe time I left the ground there were about ten teams in line.

The first pitch has some slabby moves followed by what appears to be a low angle hand crack. However, it is much steeper and harder than it looks. I was impressed by Damien’s lead. Damien continued to lead on the second pitch which was blocky with cracks. A fun, clean pitch for sure. We swapped gear at the next belay tree as we waited once again for the women. It took forever. Finally I lead out following a 5.7 corner and making an airy mantle move out onto the face. The hardest trad pitch I have ever led! From there I followed easy knobs to a ledge and belayed Damien up. It was not the end of the pitch but I was held up behind converging teams. I led up the 2nd half of Pitch 3 to a large ledge . Here is where everyone was bottle-necking. There are 3 options: far left was a class 4/ low 5 “escape to summit”, in the middle a scary looking steep face and to the right a tight chimney. Everyone was lined up at the Chimney. We first opted to skip the line and do the “escape”, but I discovered as I led that there was little protection and the rock was loose. I downclimbed and we ended up waiting in the now long line to climb the Chimney.

Damien led this section as I had issues getting into the feature. It requires climbing up either side of the walls just outside the chimney which are rather polished and then shoving oneself inside an extremely tight space via an exposed step-over. Getting inside is difficult on its own, add a pack and it’s downright gnarly. Damien managed to squish himself into the Chimney and slither up inch by inch. Then it was my turn. After wrestling myself inside the narrow slot I found myself mostly stemming up unlike everyone else I had watched climb it. It seemed to work well for me though.

Damien belayed me from the top of the Chimney and I took over leading the rest of the pitch, though I ended up stopping to belay him once more due to other teams in front of me. Finally, I pulled over a flake and descended a few feet to the base of the summit block. There was an easy crack system for the final few meters to the top where I built a gear anchor in the cracks. Damien joined me on the summit shortly after along with a few other teams. We didn’t linger as it was getting late. I lowered Damien down the summit block and he then walked around the 4th class corner placing gear. I followed him to a small alcove where we untied and made our way on third class terrain to a rappel tree. After re-tying a sling, which had a dangerous overhand knot, with a proper water knot we did two rappels to low angle terrain. Then we followed the ridge and crossed over to the same boot-path we had taken in the error that morning. When we arrived back at the base it was 6:30. We spent 12 hours on the route, but only 4 hours climbing! On the way out we discovered there was a good trail all the way to the base of the climb. We had somehow gotten off that path that morning in the darkness.

The moral of the story is to start this route in the dark. Also, we saw many folks using questionable anchor techniques and knots. Most teams treated this climb like a roadside crag and had no alpine experience. This was scary being that this is definitely an alpine summit. Something to keep in mind. The good news is that the route is indeed stellar and the views ridiculously awesome the whole way up. Just expect to share it with a lot of teams.

Let me start out by saying that Mount Torment is very aptly named! Climbing the Torment Forbidden Traverse has been on our agendas for several years. Over spring & early summer we did several carryover routes and long rock climbs in preparation for TFT, a climb that requires every alpine skill to be called on at some point. We felt as ready as we could be for the climb with the exception that there seemed to be a lack of very detailed beta on Torment. The South Ridge (5.4) had okay beta (though not very comprehensive). The SE Face had no beta that we could find, but was considered class 4. In the end we decided to do the South Ridge because it is the route that was most often used in TFT descriptions and there was some information on it.

We made excellent time up the steep trail to Boston Basin. The last time I had been on the rough trek up was approaching my very first technical climb: Sahale. I had vivid memories of the trail going straight up though dust and rock for 300 feet and my recollection did not disappoint. The creek crossings were not too bad and only the 2nd to last crossing as you enter the basin required us to remove our shoes. Once in Boston Basin we went left and traversed cross country toward Torment Basin. We ended up stumbling onto a good trail along the way which sped up our pace. The trail thins though after Forbidden Camp which is at 6,200 feet and finally terminates on the edge of some slabs with a waterfall. We filtered here and then climbed the side of the falls on class 2/3 rock and onto the Torment Basin Snowfield. We walked to a rock island that seemed to be at the edge of the Taboo Glacier and began to rope up. It was noon at this point and we felt like we were doing descent on time. We figured we would get to the ridge by 5pm at the latest.

Taboo Glacier is benign, though there were a few open cracks. We walked up to a shelf near the ridge connecting Torment and Forbidden and then contoured left toward the hidden notch. To access the rock leading up to the notch we had to climb a steep snow finger which was thin in places and hollow where the moat came into play. I belayed Damien up so he could keep climbing once he got onto the rock. The upper part of the snow finger cracked and shifted when he was on it, but no further complications. The rock is not the greatest in the gully leading up to the notch. We did okay with mountaineering boots since was class 4. At the Notch which was surrounded by large walls of snow (basically we were inside a moat), we changed to climbing shoes and examined the first pitch. All we knew was to go up on the right. Damien led out on a slightly overhung 5.4 rock. When I followed I quickly discovered that carryovers on rock are not the same as carryovers on ice. On snow and ice, you have a bit more of a say on your foot and tool placements. Rock dictates your moves and thus the pack becomes more cumbersome. Once easy moves become an ordeal. High steps for example are a tiresome process! Our packs could not have been more than 25lbs as we had cut out tons of weight when packing, but it was enough to be a nuance. Nevertheless, we got used to it relatively quickly.

The first pitch was short and Damien belayed me from a rap anchor in a somewhat gravely area at the bottom of a gnarly looking gully on the right and a dihedral on the left.  The beta said to take the gully on the left, but that looked to be more of an open book than a gully. Damien started up the dirty gully after some discussion as it could have been considered on the left depending on how you were facing. He quickly realized it didn’t go (lots of falling rock). Instead he moved over to the left dihedral and found great climbing to the upper ledge. After pitch 2 we simual-climbed. I understand now why the beta lacks detail. It’s hard to describe. The route meanders up and sideways across the mountain with no real landmarks for quite some time. I have no idea how many pitches there are and nor does anyone else I think. It is class 4/5 with descent protection, but on crappy rock. A lot of blocks were detached and care had to be taken with every step. There are rap stations everywhere which serve as an indicator that you are on route.

We finally rounded a corner at the small ledge with a fixed nut where the summit is finally visible. Here the route goes down about 50 feet to another sandy ledge. We belayed this section out. Then we continued to simual-climb up heather ledges and loose rock to the top of the wide notch in front of us. When crossed over the notch onto the other side of the mountain were promptly greeted by a blast of harsh, frigid wind that. Almost immediately we began to feel hypothermic. However, there was no flat place to stop so we kept moving. On this side of Torment we got our first view of the ridge leading to Forbidden. We knew this was a very serious ridge and fully expected it to be gnarly, but it still seemed more jagged than we anticipated. After traversing through a section that felt like a House of Card (loose blocks) Damien belayed me to a flattish place near the summit.  We put on all our layers and Damien belayed me toward the top.

Clouds were rolling in low now and the temperature kept dropping. We stood at a crossroads. It was 6pm. Climbing Torment had taken much longer than expected. The route was much lengthier than predicted and route-finding had a hung us up multiple times. The way down to the next notch to access the ridge looked pretty sketch and exposed. Doable, but not desirable. Once on the ridge we would have to take the first bivy option as it was too late to start climbing the ridge. We probably would not have time to climb Forbidden the next day. The ridge which already looked menacing was made worst by the incoming weather. Additionally, once on the ridge there would be no way out other than to climb to the base of Forbidden. It was unknown territory to us and the beta was, again, not exceedingly detailed. This was Option A.

Descending Torment was Option B. Throughout the day were had commented multiple times how happy we were that we wouldn’t have to descend Torment on TFT.  This would be an arduous task of route finding though a maze of downclimbing traverses and rappels. Easily this task would take 5+ hours and we didn’t fancy repeating the loose, dirty route. But it was a guaranteed way to exit. Of course, there was the dilemma of us not having 5+ hours of daylight left. Descending Torment would have to be completed the next day and we’d have to sleep on the route on one of the sandy ledges we had passed. There was no water or snow on those ledges, but we were conveniently standing next to two small snow patches near the summit. We could fill our hydration packs and then descend to the bivy ledge.

Damien and I discussed these two options at length. The decision felt critical and we would find out just how crucial the following morning. In the end, we decided that taking our chances on the ridge with no escape and with questionable weather was something we just couldn’t justify. We descended a few feet to one of the snow patches and began the tedious task of melting and filtering water on downhill, steep terrain.  With five liters of water we began the tedious traverse back to the notch through the House of Cards. From there we did one rap and then downclimbed back to the bivy ledge.

When we arrived at the ledge thick clouds engulfed the entire mountain, the wind picked up and temperatures plummeted. Luckily, the ledge was situated in such a way that it somehow avoided being hit by the strong updrafts created within the towering walls of Torment.  As darkness swiftly fell, Damien placed two cams on either side of the wall behind the bivy ledge and strung a cordelette anchor between the two anchor points. We clipped into the cord and stayed that way for the entire duration of our stay. The ledge was narrow and the mountain fell away from the edge at a severe, vertical 1000+ foot drop. It was similar to a big wall setup. We unloaded our gear, put it a on convenient rock shelf and clipped everything in as well. We did not have proper bivy sacks, but we did have light weight sleeping bag covers. We set those up and snugged into our bags while we heated water for dinner in the darkness on the wall. This was AWESOME! We had the most amazing camp over 1000 feet off the deck with the clouds swirling around us! We couldn’t stop smiling. We hadn’t been able to get to the ridge, but the experience was still turning out to be absolutely incredible! We felt like expedition alpinist. This was our first time ever sleeping a route on the mountain itself and the sensation was intoxicating.

A mouse scampered up beside me while I was waiting for my beef stroganoff to become edible. I had to shoo it away several times before it finally disappeared down a tiny hole between the rocks. We were afraid that mice would bother us all night, but no other critters visited us. After dinner, we turned in for the night. Damien decided to sleep half propped up on the rock wall. I slept laying down forming a T formation with him. I’m not used to the confines of a one person sleeping bag and coupled with my PA whacking me in the face every time I rolled over I wouldn’t say I had a completely peaceful night. Plus, the cold woke me up a few times. Nevertheless, I’d say we had a great night on the wall considering the situation.

We woke up at 5am to find that it was too cold to begin the descent as we would barely stay out of our sleeping bags for more than five minutes and Torment was still blanketed in thick, swirling clouds. This all had not been in the forecast and at that moment we knew that our decision to descend Torment had been the right one. If we had been on the ridge things could have easily turned epic. Survivable, but certainly not an experience to seek out. We waited an hour. Then another. Conditions were not improving. Looked at the time-stamps on my photos from the day before it looked like the sun hit the mountain at about 8:30. Maybe then it would warm up and some mist would burn off. We decided that we would start packing by 9:30 regardless.

Damien led up to the fixed nut at 10:00am. The temperature was still cold, but not hypothermia inducing anymore and the clouds, though still low and encompassing, were not as thick. The descent was a series of downclimbing traverses to rappels. We assumed that all the rappel stations would bring us back to the notch we started in (no beta on descending Torment). However, we discovered to our dismay that rap stations were everywhere and they did all go to the notch. In fact, we found ourselves about 150-200 feet too low on the opposite side of the mountain of the Taboo Glacier. Below we could see more rap slings. It appears that folks have descended all the way down to the other side of the mountain in an attempt to bail. The moat was huge on that side and walking round the mountain to get back to Taboo Glacier was a big question mark. We resigned to climbing back up to the rap station above. I’m not sure how to describe how to stay on course other than to really pay attention to the route on the way up. More tedious downclimbing led to the correct rappel station. This was followed by a series of 3-4 additional raps down into the notch. Here we changed out of our climbing shoes and back into boots for the final rappel onto the glacier.

On the final rappel while leaning over to straighten out the rope I banged my knee on perfectly arrow shaped rock. The impact hurt like hell, but the pain dissipated quick and with no tear in my pants or visible blood I continued on rappel. Crossing back onto the snow finger proved tricky since the finger was hollower over the moat. As I down climbed the finger I noticed some red spots in the snow. That’s odd, I thought, then remembered my knee. Sure enough, there was plenty of blood soaking through my pants. I did a quick evaluation. Everything seemed to be working fine and there was still no pain, so I continued down to the glacier. Damien rappelled behind me and stayed on rappel until the bottom of the finger. I wasn’t sure if the rope ends reached which is why I had gotten out of the system. Staying on rappel was the better way to go. It had taken 6.5 hours to descend Torment.

We tied into the rope for glacier travel and walk through the sloppy snow to the rock island. Clouds still hung low in the sky concealing the peaks in Torment and Boston Basins. Everywhere else of was, of course, clear!

I took a moment to finally examine my injured knee when we untied and prepared for the walk out. The result of the impact as a deep cut. I assessed the damage and decided that standard first aid was all that was necessary. After cleaning and bandaging the wound I was good to go.

We booked it on the hike out and arrived back at the car at 9:08pm. I was kind of bummed because I knew it was too late to get ice cream at Cascade Farms. Aside for that slight hindrance, Damien and I both felt incredibly psyched. Already all the pain and “torment” of the climb had melted away and all that was left was thrill of the memory and a distinct need to get back into the alpine as soon as possible.

This summer our project was originally to master the art of the carryover. I think that goal was completed late spring. Instead I think our mission this season has morphed into mastering the complicated art of mental fortitude. So many times this summer we have been pushed to our mental limit on routes not often done where beta is scarce. We’ve had to make critical decisions based our own knowledge gained from previous alpine experience. We had to rely on ourselves, not on books or trip reports. We’ve had to learn to contend with not having all the answers and with countless question marks. In the process, we have been building resiliency of the mind and the ability to think and endure through the many complicated decisions one faces in the alpine environment.

 

 

We woke up at 3am for an early start of the Beckey Route.  However, after venturing out of our tent we quickly decided that a slightly later start might be wiser. It was shockingly frigid outside even though daytime temps were hovering in the 80s that weekend and just the day before we had been sweating bullets on SEWS, South Arete. We woke to our second alarm at 4:15am. The air temp had gone up a bit and we were confident the rock would be warm enough to handle once we arrived at the base of Liberty Bell. We departed from camp 300 feet below SEWS saddle with our harnesses giggling in the cool, comfortable air of early morning. Damien and I traversed high above the slabs on mostly snow (no crampons needed) below the lofty spires until we reached the infamous Concord-Liberty Bell gully. I recalled this gully being pretty rotten last time I had the pleasure of ascending it 4 years ago. We moved upward first on steep snow and then on dryish loose rock and gritty sand. Then up another steep snow slope. We were able to kick good steps and did not break out our axes. I wished the entire gully was full of snow so were could have avoided the crummy loose rock, but it wasn’t as wretched as I remembered from last time. Maybe I’ve gotten used to such conditions over the years. We ran into a team descending the gully on our way up. They had topped out at 3am from Liberty Crack. Turns out they  saw our headlamps when we first woke up and were confused as to who could be down in the basin so early/late!

We stashed our boots, poles and axes in a tree near the top of the notch and made our way over to the bottom of pitch 1. Getting to the pitch is a bit cruxy within itself. After moving around narrow ledges toward trees around the corner of Liberty Bell there is a very exposed 4th class traverse section on slabs to the start of the gully start of the Tunnel Pitch. When I climbed this route with Eric a few years back we had used the alternate finger crack start thus avoiding the exposed 4th class section. The moves weren’t difficult, it was just exposed.

I led the first pitch through the actual “tunnel” formed by chock stones. The pitch is easy to protect with cams. The most  intimidating section is when you find yourself just above the tunnel with legs on either side. Lots of playful movement and I somehow managed a knee jam (probably not necessary, but ulta fun). The pitch ends just to the right of the crux chimney by the tree.

Last time I climbed the Beckey Route I led the crux chimney pitch. To me it had been a rite of passage or sorts, so I wanted Damien to experience the pitch on lead.  The most difficult part of the chimney is tendency to get sucked too high into the chimney and getting your head stuck under the chockstones above. Stepping out onto the left ledge as soon as possible to critical. Damien was pretty psyched for the pitch and made astoundingly quick work of the crux moves! I was so proud of him! After easily moving off the ledge on big horns above the chimney he moved into the easier chimney system above and out of sight. I could hear the friction of his backpack though as he squeezed through. Backpacks are always an issue in chimneys!

Upon rejoining Damien at the top of Pitch 2 we had a short discussion about the chimney crux. The most difficult part for Damien was getting his leg on the left ledge. The move was awkward for him probably because of his height. For me I found the most difficult part to be reaching the jugs above the ledge (in the end I had resorted to some stemming variation followed by a pull-up/mantle). Personal attributes change how we view cruxes.

I put Damien on Belay for pitch 3 as well since I wanted to lead pitch 4. Pitch 3 requires the most route finding. The key is to follow features trending right until you reach Beckey’s fixed piton. Then make a sharp left onto the delicate finger traverse. Reaching very far left on this traverse will get you onto a more secure hold. Rope drag is a very real issue and unavoidable on this pitch and it is imperative to extend gear properly to avoid making it even worse.

From the top of the third pitch we moved the belay over some 3rd class terrain a few yards to a big platform just below the start of Pitch 4: the 5.7 face. This 10 foot,  blank and unprotected face is the original crux. Apparently Beckey ascended it by standing on his partner’s shoulders. I wanted to climb it because it’s a boulder problem in the middle of a mountain. There are decent ledges on the bottom so the lack of handholds isn’t an issue until those ledges end. The jug top hold is just out of reach of course. The best handholds available are not secure and include a mono-pocket with small thumb catch on the left and a barely useful small slopper n the right. The strategy I came up with was to grab these holds, smear hard, trust my feet and commit. The terrain after the slab is low fifth class to the summit. We were joined by the youngest team I’d ever run into into the alpine: two teenagers aged 17.  I wish I had started that young!

We hung out on the broad, spacious summit to enjoy the view for about 20 minutes. The sun wasn’t baking us yet (luckily we had the pleasure of climbing almost the entire route in the breezy shade) and we were in no big hurry. But we did eventually have to descend. Most people down-climb all of pitch 4 including the 5.7 slab. We opted to do the optional rappel. We down-climbed from the summit to descender’s left of the terrain/gear belay area just after the summit slabs and then turned left and down-climbed a few steps to a tree with slings. The key to this rappel is to not go straight down, Instead stay left and do not go directly down the face. You will end up on a small platform just around the corner from start of pitch 4.

From here we descended to the belay tree at the top of pitch 3 and then turned left moving down through the trees until our first chance to turn right. We walked onto a rock large rock ledge. There are chains on the wall here. We rapped down to a smaller ledge with chains (don’t miss them!) and made a final rappel to the notch. Make sure you direct yourself left on the final rappel or you will end up hoovering in space and not on the notch!

At the notch we gratefully removed our swollen, throbbing feet from the our tiny climbing shoes and savored the moment. A beautiful climb, on a glorious day in a spectacular setting! Plus, we were in the shade! Eventually we put on our boots and descended back to camp. The Beckey route was crowded and completely in the sun now. We had climbed it at just the right time!

Gear note: in addition to the standard Beckey Route rack (nut set, double cams  .4-3″) we found that a few mid-sized hexes proved to be very useful.

Damien has been climbing for nearly 10 years in the Cascades and somehow never got around to climbing the Liberty Bell Group. I am not sure how this happened, but this weekend we set out to remedy this situation by climbing 2 classics. The South Arete of SEWS was our first objective (the 2nd climb was the Becky Route on Liberty Bell). I climbed this route the summer of 2014 and have a trip report on it. My vision of climbing has changed since then and yearly conditions vary, so I feel that another write up is in order.

We left the Blue Lake TH at about 7:45am. There are big sections of snow on the lowest portion and after losing the boot track we decided to just push straight uphill and bypass all this lower, sweeping, annoying switchbacks. We linked up easily with the trail which was much more melted out about 250 feet up from the TH. Continuous snow began at the second clearing where the route turns away from the Blue Lake Trail and detours toward the Liberty Bell Group. There is a good bookpack from the steady steam of climbers heading into the basin. However, there are lots of creeks moving under the snow. Care should definitely be taken and there are hollow places where you can puncture through pretty deep. Damien and I cut off from the main track and set up camp in a flat area about 300 feet below the SEWS Saddle. We didn’t see much point to camping in the car like most people do. Then we re-joined the track and headed up the snow covered slope to the saddle.

The top of the saddle is melted out with plenty of space to prep for climbing.There were already a bunch of teams on the route. We knew the 5.6 moderate S Arete route is very popular and we were prepared to wait. Damien and I geared up and hung our shoes and poles in the trees out of reach from the goats. I wanted to lead the first pitch since I recalled it being kind of bouldery. The first pitch is the crux and has a move or two that is deemed to be much more difficult than the 5.6 it is rated. I’d have to agree. After some easy moves using a flake you have to step out onto the slab and smear hard on almost nothing while you hands are on awkward and insecure holds. Add the fact that the rock was sweating from the heat and no amount of chalk would help with friction made this section even more challenging. Once passed this part though climbing returned to mid-class 5. I belayed Damien up from the tree at the top of the pitch. There are also chains to the left if one prefers though those are really for rapping.

Damien led on pitch 2 which started in a blocky, low fifth class gully. At the end of the gully is a fun 5.4 chimney which can be awkward with a pack on. The top of the chimney is the end of pitch 2 and the start of easy climbing. Damien and I chose to Simaul-climb the remainder of the route. It is basically all class 3/4 with a few low class 5 moves sprinkled in here and there. Unfortunately the team of three in front of us pitched out nearly everything which slowed us down quite a lot. I think we might have made it to the summit an hour and a half earlier otherwise. Regardless, it was a great opportunity for us to practice efficiency and simaul-climbing skills. I remember that last time I did this route I was pretty disappointed due to all the low class climbing pitches, but this time I knew what to expect and was able to appreciate the climb as a fun, low-stress, warm up for the alpine rock season.

The summit block is a V0 slab boulder problem which delighted me as I didn’t recall that. Damien and I rested in the shade a bit as the day was growing grossly hot and increasingly uncomfortable. Eventually, we ventured back out into the sun for the descent. Since Damien led the simul-climb up, I led down. Basically to descend you reverse-route down-climbing until the top of Pitch 3. Then we did 3 rappels on trees or chains (all directly on the ascent route), back to to the saddle. Enroute another rappelling team recognized us from the summit of Mt Hood last year when we had climbed Leuthold! We had talked to them for some time, but I didn’t remember their faces. We were surprised they recognized us!

We plunge stepped easily back to camp to enjoy an evening beneath the spires.

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!