PrologueWhen Adam told me we were meeting in Arlington at three in the morning, and that I therefore needed to be at his house at two-thirty, I was skeptical: what 8 mile, 2830 foot, climb could possibly demand a start that early? I had no idea. Several years ago I had seen American Border Peak from our high point on a Tomyhoi attempt and I had remembered it was an impressive mountain, but I had little recollection of the specifics. If I had known that the day would comprise quite possibly my most intense climb to date, I certainly would have still gone, but I might have brought more water.
On the twenty-fifth of August, Adam (gimpilator), Robbin, Ryan and myself left Arlington at three in the morning to climb American Border Peak. After arriving at the Winchester Mountain trailhead at six we promptly set off in the wrong direction - down the road past the second lake. Fortunately we soon realized our mistake and bushwhacked back to the High Pass trail, which we reached just as it starts to descend. We covered the ground to Low Pass, up the ridge to High Pass, and then down the Gargett Mine fairly quickly and were soon side-hilling through wildflower covered talus.
Just short of the shoulder we hit a particularly steep portion of the slope that would take us the better part of an hour to navigate. Klenke’s route page says to stay low and some in our party were advocating for descending a couple hundred feet to where the angle of the slope was more shallow but we found that if you ascend to just below the cliff band, as in - within twenty feet of the cliff band, it was not too unreasonable. The first thirty feet were probably the hardest but after that there was enough brush to form natural steps. Although not quite the crux of the climb (as I naively thought it might be), it was probably the trickiest section below the saddle.
Once over the wooded shoulder we traversed easily across heather slopes to the scree field that led to the notch.
This section was frustrating, as the entire slope seems ready to slide at the slightest suggestion, but not all that difficult. In retrospect it may have been easier to stay to the sides and avoid the looser middle section entirely but I am not sure. On the opposite side of the notch we found slopes depressingly similar to what we had just ascended, but as if to make up for it we got our first view of the summit, as well as some rather unlikely-looking rock spires on the ridge to the south. As we started to descend Ryan realized that his gallon jug of water was leaking and we stashed it on a rock for our return. We were afraid that the gullies we had to cross to reach the saddle would be a repeat of the slope before the wooded shelter but were relieved when they turned out to be much easier and consisted mostly of a series of light grey steps that seemed much more solid than the usual reddish rock.
Around noon we reached the saddle and got our first good look at what the route would entail. At that point Robbin turned around Adam would do the same shortly thereafter. From the saddle the route follows the crest for a few hundred feet before traversing across some “shelves” (loose, down-sloping rock) and ascending a gully to near the first notch.
From Klenke’s the route description we were unsure which notch, we saw three, was the correct one but after checking out the middle one we determined that the route must follow the farthest north, snow-filled gully. It looked like it might be possible to climb through the moat to the left of the snow finger with minimal exposure but there was one rock step that didn’t look feasible, we therefore roped up, protected ourselves with an ice axe belay, and climbed about fifteen feet on the snow finger before returning to the moat. This section made us very glad we had hauled ice axes and crampons all that way. The ledges across to the chimney were nerve-rackingly narrow but not really problematic
The chimney itself was a bit of a surprise. Instead of a 5.4 rock climb what we found was a very difficult to protect 5.8. Or rather, four 5.8 crux section, where one climbs around the various chockstones, connected by stretched of easy class three. These were more awkward than difficult, but I was glad none-the-less to have a top rope (Ryan led both pitches). They keyhole was unique and fun in a way, although I felt a little like I was crawling out of the underworld like the first men of Pueblo legend.
At the belay point above the chimney we stashed the rope (a mistake we would regret) and scrambled up the the summit ridge, which, being loose, exposed class 4, was likely the most dangerous section of the climb. From there the climb was basically over, just fifteen minutes of class 2-3 over to the summit block where we found a register that had not been signed since 2009. I would be very surprised if other parties have not made the summit in those three years, but perhaps they did it earlier when it was snow-covered. As we had summited almost exactly at our turn-around time (we had been oscillating between 3:00 and 3:30 and summited at 3:15) we stayed for only a few minutes and then began the descent.
The DescentFrom the summit back to the saddle took us about three hours, almost as long as the ascent, which was not terribly surprising as route finding became rather difficult past the snow finger. We rappelled down both the chimney (over the highest chockstone) and the gully, both of which were a little dicey due to rock-fall, questionable anchors, and the rope being about five meters shorter than it needed to be, and we wished we had been able to rappel the class four above the chimney as well. Through the section between the snow finger and the ledges we were regularly sending down rockfall that reached the glacier a thousand feet below. Once at the saddle we descended quickly and reached our water stash in 45 minutes, the shoulder in another 45 minutes (we initially hit too high and had to descend to where we crossed on the approach), and then the trail below High Pass just as it was getting dark. This put us at the trailhead around 9:30, 15.5 hours after we had left that morning.
EvaluationMe and Ryan were basically in agreement, we are glad we did the peak, but we never want to come back again. What would otherwise be fun class three rock scrambling was some of the most dangerous climbing either of us have done, and the arduous approach made it all the more difficult.
More photos can be found here