This climb would be part of a whirlwind tour of the northwest that included an Alice in Chains / Velvet Revolver concert in Vancouver, BC and the Boise State vs. Washington football game in Seattle. The climb was definitely the highlight of the trip. We found the corridor between Seattle and Vancouver, BC to be slow going with lots of traffic and sub par and unfriendly service at restaurants, stores etc., but downtown Bellingham was very cool and once on Route 20 and into the North Cascades it was great. Mid week September seemed to be an excellent time to visit the North Cascades as there weren't many people on the roads and just a few at the popular trailhead and climb. The scenery was stunning as we made our way to the trailhead, and the weather and terrain became dry as we progressed east.
We got a casual start as we passed one coffee place after another. It was nice not having to get up at 4am to do a climb for once. At the trailhead, we paid the $5 fee and made our way up the long switchbacks. About 1.5 miles in, we started looking for a climber's path. We saw several, but they were faint. When we found the true climber's path it was very obvious and well beaten. The scramble became steeper as it climbed in between two obvious towers: Liberty Bell on the left and Concord Tower on the right. The gulley was loose and mildly hazardous, but easy to stay on firm dirt or rock most of the way. After reading several of the trip reports on how brutal the approach was, I found it to be easy. This was perhaps because I was used to the more rugged and loose approaches in the Tetons, Sawtooths, and Lost River Range.
Once at the prominent saddle, we stashed our packs and traversed around a corner over Class 3 rock to the start of the climb. It was cold and windy at the saddle, but nice a warm at the belay spot in the sun. We started up at 1pm.
Pitch 1: I initially face climbed just right of the chimney, not realizing that the route was literally a chimney (think tunnel)- all 4 sides included, not just a 3 sided chimney. I realized the right side face was more than 5.3 and backed off and entered the chimney proper. The going was very easy and had a feeling of security because it was enclosed. I placed just 2 pieces on the first pitch. I brought up my partner to the base of pitch 2 and a much harder looking chimney.
Pitch 2: At the start you must decide to go up the smallish crack to the left, or up the deep chimney to the right that had several chockstone and aid slings hanging down. We opted for the deep chimney and it was awkward and tough with a pack on. A few moves also did not feel like 5.6 at all, but a little harder especially if you factor out the aid slings. Maybe that's no issue for a 5.10 climber, but you may agree if your in the 5.6-5.8 trad leader realm. Getting over the first small overhang / chockstone requires just a muscular pull up with no feet. Once above that, the second small overhang was easier and the last one near the top was challenging again. Above this there's Class 4 slabs that lead to the base of Pitch 3 and a good tree makes an excellent belay spot on a comfy slab. I placed about 10 pieces of gear here with some long slings, but I still got some rope drag through the slots.
Pitch 3: I found this pitch to be the most interesting and exposed on the climb. I climbed slabs to the base of a large rock where I traversed with fingers and no feet to the left to a prominent notch and boulder . The move after this was the hardest on the climb. The move was up on large holds, but no feet with great exposure. I was able to get a Hex in about half way up the move, but the top part didn't protect. After making a knee mantle (ugh) to get past this move, I followed a crack that protected up and to the right. The rope drag was extreme here, even with extra long slings because the rope goes right, then left, then right again and through a deep notch. I placed a lot of gear and ran out of slings (10) at the last point of protection, so I just clipped in directly to the piece. The rope drag nearly pulled me off at the top of the pitch.
Pitch 4: This pitch starts at a large belay area, just above a slope of Class 3 trees that go down to the major rappel anchors that get you off in 1 double rope rap. Pitch 4 is nothing more than 1 section of slab climbing for 10 feet which most call 5.6, but I actually found this to be easier than that. Class 3 to 4 boulder scrambling leads to the broad summit.
I didn't find a summit register anywhere on top. The views were impressive up top and we spied another group of climbers on the Concord Tower while we were on this route. To rappel off we scramble down to just above the "boulder problem" and did a single rap to the start of Pitch 4 where we scrambled down via class 3 to a large exposed ledge around a corner with two bomber hanging bolts and a series of slings. One long, steep, double rope rap led to the notch where our packs were and the scramble down was easy and straight forward.