On the last weekend of October 1980 Eric Sandbo, Larry Rasmussen and I left the Kulshan Cabin trailhead early Saturday morning and hiked in the couple mile approach to the Coleman Glacier. The weather forecast for the weekend was for clear and cool days and nights. Our plan was to bivy below and to the South of the Headwall, hopefully avoiding any rock-fall, carry our minimal gear up the Headwall, summit and then back down the standard route and out to the car.
We found a stable serac field above the terminus of the glacier and played in the seracs until lunch. After our break we decided we should start our climb up the Coleman Glacier to find a bivouac site. This late in the year the snow cover over the crevasses was mostly gone and finding a route through the crevasse fields proved problematic.
After many end runs around the crevasses we finally reached a promising looking bivy site at around 7,800'. The wind started to increase in the late afternoon with the waning of the sun so we dug out and walled in a small platform for our sleeping area. All three of us were poor climbing bums so our bivouac gear wasn't elaborate. Eric had a short sleeping bag and bivy sac, Larry had a North Face Blue Kazoo and I had a down jacket, my Lowe pack and a garbage sack. We'd brought no stove to cook on so we had dried food and water for dinner. The nights in late October are considerably longer than in June, so much of the evening was spent staring at the stars and looking out at the lights of humanity below us.
The temperature kept dropping during the night so Eric's and my sleep was somewhat fitful, but Larry snored softly next to us. My backpack with sleeve came up to my mid torso so to provide extra protection for my upper body I used a "Hefty" garbage sack pulled over my head, with a hole for my face to breath through it provided reasonable wind protection. I was able to fall asleep for around an hour at a time but after an hour my grip on the garbage sack would loosen and the wind would start it flapping and wake me up. I'm not sure how much Eric slept during the night because every time I woke up he seemed to be awake and watching the Aurora Borealis in the northern skies.
Dawn finally arrived and we choked down our meager breakfast of FGBs and dried Bananas. Fortunately most of our water had froze, during the night, so we split what little was left. Putting on frozen boots and crampon straps required quite a bit of time but packing up our gear didn't. We roped up and ascended North towards the route looking for a break in the ice-cliffs.
The bergschrund cut clear across the face of the route with 40 to 50 foot high overhanging ice above the moat. Towards the left side of the face we found a break through the steepest section where Eric was able to lead through the ice-cliffs.
Above the crux lay perhaps 1500' of steep, between 40 and 60 degrees, hard snow. We paused above the crux on a small platform and decided to continue climbing, roped up with a running belay, at a rightward angle towards the summit. In some places we would front point only and in others we would sidestep and flatfoot up. Wearing rigid boots and crampons provided plenty of security on the ice but little flex for our ankles so we kept changing our footwork in order to relieve the stress on our calves and joints.
The position of the face away from the sun prevented the rocks in the cliff bands on either side from melting out and clobbering us. Hard breathing of the cold air freeze dried our throats and drinking what little water we had left was painful. We eventually reached the summit plateau, which was the most calm I had experienced, but we didn't hang around long to enjoy it but instead we headed down quickly for a hot meal and someplace warm to eat it in.
Note: Photos provided by Eric Sandbo.