ProloguePromissory note: I won’t be putting identical versions of this trip report up on other climbing sites. I’m just not cool enough for that. And I just don’t get it anyway.
Notable note: Strangely, there did not seem to be any trip reports for this route on the mountain online. Haley, Wallace, and Bunker obviously climbed this route during their Southern Pickets enchainment in July 2003. Further, Beckey gives a brief description of it, however vague or misinforming. So I am posting this report so there could be at least one online (if someone knows of a prior online report, please provide a link to it).
Weather note: Yes, the weathermen got it wrong last weekend. But that’s nothing new. And yes, I had it wrong too, despite being a weatherman’s son. I thought there would be thundershowers on Saturday the 31st, but I was thinking they would be east or on the Cascade crest, as they had been the last few days before that. On the day of our climb, I did have it right, though, because I know what altocumulus castellanus means for weather later in the day.
And so it was that Dave Creeden, Jeff Rodgers, and I headed into the Southern Pickets to climb Mt. Terror.
This is the long story…because I felt like writing a long story.
The Hike In (and Up)As we walked the old road up Goodell Creek I could not help but wonder how long this road had been around and how long it had been in disuse. It seemed kind of improbable to me that a road would have gone up this valley at all, but it only made it four miles to Terror Creek. The Goodell Creek valley extends northward into some of the meanest Cascades around and for a lot farther than where tributary Terror Creek comes in. I asked John Roper what he remembers about the road from his Newhalem childhood and he said it existed* when he was a kid (in the 1950s). In the winters he used to sled down its initial incline out of town. And he also would fish (generally unsuccessfully) in Goodell Creek up the road a ways at fishing spots they called “Little Hole” and “Big Hole.” In the 1960s you could drive to “Straight Shot Creek” about two miles up the valley. After that the road was overgrown back then (already in the span of 20 years). But today this road facilitates easy access to the footings of the Southern Pickets because, although it starts out brush-encroached, it has a good trail along it. Without the road, it would be a horrid nightmare trying to hike the denseness of it. I suppose a trail might have been built instead. Or a route up and over Mt. Ross and “The Roost” might have been the standardized approach.
At Terror Creek we crossed on a high log a few yards downstream of this one, which is still there but now water runs over the top of it (I think rubble has dammed the under side of it). The log we crossed on was about two feet in diameter and very slightly inclined to the north bank. It was perfectly shimmy-able. But did I mention it was high? Yes, it was a good 12 feet off the deck with the rushing torrent below flowing wildly around big head-splitting boulders. We shimmied, we crossed. End of story. Apparently, this threesome that arrived at Terror Creek at the same time as us chose to do the 10-minute ’shwack upstream to the Pullen-Brisbine log from the weekend before.
In about eight hours my out of shape posterior made it to Stump Col with Jeff and his out of shape posterior closely in front of me. Dave had made it with hi in-shape posterior some dozens of minutes before. You see, I had a kid, well, my wife had the kid, and said kid caused me to build a small front porch, and said front porch is not muscle mass.
At the col I was greeted by someone I knew: the one and only Julian Simon of Engadi Boot fame. I hadn’t been in contact with him for over three years. It only took me 45 minutes to bring up the Engadi incident. He had guessed it would take me much less time, like 30 seconds. But maybe I was aware that he was guessing and so purposely held back. He and his climbing partner Julie were camped right next to us—their tent nearly touching ours. They were to be going for Mt. Terror’s North Ridge and so had to get up at 3:00am. We could sleep in until 6:00am. Except me. I couldn’t sleep at all, and I couldn’t especially sleep between 3:00 and 4:45am because two people chose to talk and talk and talk while they were getting ready. (I didn’t say “whisper and whisper and whisper”.)
* More information about the road after further research
From an email from Roper:
"The 1949 Climber’s Guide to the Cascade and Olympic Mountains of Washington by Fred Beckey states, 'The Goodell Creek trail begins at the east side of the road bridge, going 4 miles along the creek until it disappears. There is a cabin [Gasper Petta’s cabin] 3½ miles up the trail. On the opposite side (west side) the trail goes 2 miles further, if you wish to ford the creek.'
The 1961 edition of the guide reads, 'On the east side of Goodell Creek, just west of Newhalem, drive 2 miles to where the road is blocked by a big boulder slide. Cross the slide, diagonaling upward 100 ft, to the upper of 2 roads. Follow the road, overgrown in places, 2½ miles to its end. A trail leads to a stream, which is crossed, and on to a logged area with a tall spar tree. Thirty yards south of the spar tree cairns mark the beginning of a blazed trail (1650).'
So sometime in those 12 years the Goodell road was built, abandoned, and then bushed in. Pretty fast disintegration."
From an email from Jerry Huddle:
"The 1953 Mt. Baker Forest Service map shows a road reaching less than 2 miles up Goodell Creek to the boundary of the North Cascades Primitive Area, then a trail to near Terror Creek which briefly crosses Goodell Creek to a cabin then returns to the other side and continues up Goodell Creek beyond Terror Creek This might be FS fantasy. A USGS map dated 1953 (it could a later updated version without the correct date) shows the road all the way to Terror Creek pretty much spot on to where it is today."
Crossing the CrescentJeff, Dave, and I headed out from Stump Col at 7:00am and quickly descended from there into Crescent Creek basin.
The night before we had discussed logistics for the climb. We would take two packs so that whoever was leading a pitch could climb without a pack. This seemed like a good plan considering the route is apparently only about 5.6 for its crux.
Now the weather the day before had been darned good. The only cloud in the sky, really, was a towering cumulus off toward Stehekin. This cumulus was the result of the forest fire near there.
But the weather on this particular morning was not darned good. It was very foreboding. With the “ACCAS” floating in the sky—west of us, no less—I was justifiably concerned at the prospect of showers (or worse) later in the day. I can’t count the number of times my dad pointed out altocumulus castellanus to me when I was a kid. We lived in Illinois where we experienced plenty of inclement weather. And yet, we pushed on for the east side of Mt. Terror.
We booted up the snow finger that lies under the Southeast Face. In about two hours from camp we were there at the base of the East Ridge. Now, it should be noted that it might be a misnomer to call this a ridge climb. There is an East Ridge, but it’s really more of a broad corner. The southwest half of the Southeast Face faces southeast. But the northeast half, or maybe third, sort of bends northward almost to form a mini-face. This is was what might be considered the East Ridge. To us, it seemed like face climbing—at least for the first two pitches.
The Rock ClimbingTo get to the start of the technical climbing, it is necessary to scramble up to a flat area above a large boulder/gendarme. The flat area abuts the face proper.
At the flat area we donned rock shoes (okay, I waited until as long as possible) and packed six boots and three sets of crampons, and three ice axes in two packs, along with food, water, clothing, and miscellaneous other items. Needless to say, this made the two packs quite heavy. The intent was to climb up and over and come down the easier West Ridge.
There appear to be two start options for this route: a 3-inch wide wavy crack directly above a flake/pedestal or a start about 15 feet to the right on the other side of a small indentation in the face. We chose the former partially because it looked more fun.
Dave set out to lead Pitch 1 while I belayed. Jeff was then to prusik up the rope with one pack once Dave set up a fixed line at the top of the pitch. I would then follow this pitch on belay to bring up the second pack.
The pitch starts with a step up some loose blocks to the tiny notch behind the flake. You can then stand on top of the flake to get a little higher.
Now Dave is a taller fellow (than me or Jeff) with an ample reach. He got a piece in as high as he could while standing on the pedestal flake and then commenced climbing the crack. There is a narrower crack to the right of the wider crack that takes more pro, and will take your hands and feet. Dave was able to reach a high finger jam in the narrower crack and then scratch his way up. Soon he was climbing more efficiently up and slightly right. I paid about 40m of rope (out of 60) and he set up an anchor.
It was then Jeff’s turn to climb the pitch on a prusik. Well, as I have my back turned while seated on a rock to put on my rock shoes, I hear Jeff cursing and grumbling. It takes me a few minutes to get my shoes on, and in that time Jeff must have been failing miserably. He complained that he just couldn’t do it with the 20-lb pack on his back. The weight of the pack was pulling him off the wall.
So I gave it a go, first with the other pack on; but I too could not climb the initial crack with a pack on. So I took it off with the idea that I would pull up the pack once above the crack.
I had a few false starts. I just couldn’t commit to the wider crack on the left because I feared falling awkwardly onto the pedestal flake or notch behind it. Eventually, I moved rightward off the flake to position myself under the narrow crack and, with a little bit of fancy layback-stemming technique, hauled myself up the crux move and on to more face climbing above. This took some effort and my feeble, out-of-shape fingers were getting pumped. It didn’t help that I had to continually move the prusik up the rope while I climbed. For such steep climbing, this is not something I like to do (does anyone?). I had the prusik on a single-runner, which was in turn clipped to my pearbiner, meaning I could slide the prusik up to just about arm’s reach above my head and this was nice for limiting the damage of a fall after rope stretch. But the problem is every time I did a sequence of moves, the top of the prusik would be down at my waist, sometimes in an awkward spot to reach with one hand, and I had to grab it and move it up, often with resistance from the rope it was wrapped around, making it even harder to slide. It’s easy to slide a prusik up when either the rope is extremely taut or you have two hands to do it with. But my other hand was holding on to the mountain. I suppose this is why I was getting pumped. It was not so much the climbing itself but the strenuous nature of moving a prusik up a rope with one hand while engaging many muscles at once just to stay attached with my three other appendages to the mountain (and maybe a knee or elbow or two).
Okay, so eventually my gumby ass got ’er done. Once above the crack I just couldn’t find a good place to pause to pull up my pack. And I didn’t have any pieces to build a good temporary anchor to keep me on the mountain. You see, I had dropped Dave’s first three pieces down to Jeff to get them out of my way. So I climbed on up to Dave, who was about 100 vertical feet above the start of the pitch. I kept thinking the wall is steep enough that we could haul the pack up on a bite all the way to the belay. That’s why I kept climbing.
Once at the belay it was now time to haul packs. Uh oh! Wait a minute! We better think about this. Could we even manage to haul the packs up 100 ft of steep rock? Would we have the strength for it given the probable resistance little features on the wall would impart to the process? And then, once we haul a pack, Jeff would be at the bottom without a rope to climb up on. We’d have to throw the rope back down to him. Dave wasn’t so sure we could do that without the rope getting hung up, no matter how many times we re-coiled it and tossed it down.
In the span of a few minutes, other options came to us: Jeff could climb up and haul a pack behind him. Or we could haul a pack past the crux at the bottom while Jeff followed closely behind it, pushing it up if necessary. The problem with the former is Jeff would have to haul an even heavier pack (now one pack with six boots, three crampon sets, and three ice axes, clothing, food, and water, instead of two packs) but probably over a shorter distance if he hauls it to himself just above the crux. And the problem with the latter is Dave and I would have to pull up the pack, while one of us belays, all while hoping it doesn’t get hung up while Jeff is doing the hard climbing (not to mention if any slack builds up above the pack, it could release onto him and knock him off). The potential issues with hauling packs were too risky. So we came up with yet another plan…
Instead of Jeff following us up the wall, he would take one pack with the required gear down and around the mountain and up the west couloir to meet Dave and me on the other side. Then, we could leave a fixed line for him to get up from that col up the pitch or two of Class 5 rock and he could run up and tag the summit from that side (the mountain is soloable from that side). Jeff agreed to do this, even though I am sure it was a bit deflating for him.
With that plan agreed to, Dave and I began climbing Pitch 2. Beckey’s route description implies that the middle pitch (of the four or five) is easier climbing but with looser rock. In the interest of time since Dave had the rack on him and I was still a tad pumped, and because I figured this next pitch would be easy, I allowed Dave to lead it. He went up to the right to look around the corner (to the North Face). Seeing nothing to climb around the corner, he set a piece there then proceeded to traversse up and left over bulges. So this meant the rope went up and right to a piece on a double runner then sharply back left to directly above me but 20 feet up and then out of sight farther left with no apparent intermediate pro placed in between. Yep, I could tell Dave was setting me up for a potential follower pendulum situation.
And then it started to rain.
When you’re standing at a belay for a long duration, you have the time to observe things around you—like the weather. In the course of that half-hour belay, I watched a rain cloud build out to the east over Elephant Butte. Soon the butte was obscured by the haze of a curtain of rain. Then the McMillan Spires became hazy in the rain. Next to be hazed was Mt. Degenhardt. Degenhardt is not very far away.
The rain first came in random drops widely dispersed. I figured as long as it doesn’t rain any harder, I should have no trouble following this pitch. It’s supposed to be easy, right?
Well, by the time Dave called down to me that I was ON BELAY, it was not only raining harder, but all of the rock around me had wetted. Dave had essentially been able to complete his lead (or the hardest part of it) when the rock was still dry.
Hmmm, but now it’s my turn to climb. Hmmmm, my turn to embrace the reality of the situation.
Now, I don’t know how many of you have rock climbed mid-Class 5 in the rain, but the first climbing technique to flush away is the ability to smear your feet. This means doing laybacks gets harder. It also means you will probably have to use your fingers more (and will therefore want stronger fingers because they too will slide off slopers more easily). Even ordinarily solid nubs for the feet become slippery.
So I climbed up and right to Dave’s first piece. (Boy I wish he had climbed straight up the loose, rock-filled indentation directly above the belay.) It wasn’t too hard for me to get to that first piece. But, upon removing it, I was now faced with a very real, and large, pendulum leftward and 5.improbable climbing up and left over two or three bulges. I tried a few starts and quickly realized the wet rock wouldn’t let me go that way. I briefly considered downclimbing a bit to reduce the pendulum factor and then purposely swinging over to what appeared to be a climbable section. But what if that section isn’t climbable? Dave would have to lower me. But what if he couldn’t hear me at that point?
Given these issues, I instead opted to downclimb almost all the way back to the belay, me asking for slack to get there. Once down a bit, I was able to find a respectable conduit (possibly 5.4 when dry; but 5.8 when wet) up to Dave’s next piece thence to a long narrow ledge with minor grass tufts.
Here above me I was faced with a steep mini-face right off the ledge. Dave had the joy of doing this part in dry conditions. It didn’t seem too hard and would only require about 15 feet of climbing. But it was raining. I amused myself with the thought that, with this wet lichenous rock, this must be what it’s like to climb sea stacks.
I began climbing the direct line to the piece Dave had placed but this proved futile on the wet rock. I backed off more than once after a foot or hand slipped. I then tried a fissure to the right but it was too awkward to get out of the feature and over to the piece. So I backed off again. I tried left of the direct line but found the pendulum back to under the piece too great for my liking—plus the sideways pull of the rope kept pulling me off my thin, wet holds. I tried the center and just-left-of-center lines again and fell on the rope each time. I was not hurt and called up to Dave to inform him as much. I had to constantly repeat “up rope” then “slack” and “up rope” then “slack” and so on as I made my way up then backed off and tried something new. I tried the awkward fissure a couple of different ways and each time got shut down
I have no idea how much time went by, but, with the rain and wind, it seemed like an hour but it was probably only 15 minutes for this face.
Finally, I spied a nearly horizontal horn sticking out of the face in a previously untried line a few feet left of center. I reasoned that if I could climb up to this horn about 12 feet above the ledge, I could match it with both hands and, in essence, do a pull-up to what might be easier holds above the horn. Since I had already fallen on the rope twice, what was one more time?
So I face climbed thin holds and cracks with some counter-pressure and managed to grip the horn. Indeed, I pulled up on it and then got my forearm onto it, then my hands. I practically mantled up onto the triangular, mouse-pad-sized top of the horn and then stood on it, all while praying it wouldn’t lever out. Once atop the horn, I was able to climb some more low 5th and get to Dave’s belay.
All told, I would say the mini-face above the ledge was mid 5th Class. But for me in the wet conditions it had to be closer to 5.10. I couldn’t have led that wet stuff, that’s for sure, and I expressly hoped the climbing still to come above us would be easier.
I would have liked to lead the next pitch but I was again pumped, with the added bruising of my psyche. Normally in that state I would prefer to take ten minutes to recover. But in the interest of expediency, I let Dave lead the next pitch too. It looked easier to us.
By this time Dave and I were quite drenched. He had a light wind-breaker on over a shirt. I had only a fleece jacket over a long-sleeve shirt. Basically, we were not dressed for the occasion. I wasn’t cold yet because I had been exerting myself scratching my way up the mountain. And probably more scratching was yet to come.
During one of the two falls on the rope where I slid down the rock a little ways, I had somehow cut the palm-side of my left pinky. I was so involved in the moment concentrating on how I was going to get up the pitch that I didn’t notice the wound. But as I handed Dave back his ’biners and runners, I noticed all of the ’biners were painted with blood—my blood. “Here’s your pro, Dave.”
I “ate” a GU (one of two in my pocket). Humorous aside: note on the GU packet how it says “to be consumed with a glass of water.” “Consumed” is the neutral word here. For, does one eat GU or does one drink GU? Is it a solid or is it a liquid?
It was about this time that I heard Jeff yell my name from below, from >600 ft down on the snow at the south foot of the peak. I yelled back, “We’re up here!” I heard no more from him and the climbing resumed.
Pitch 3 went left up a ramp weakness then rightward out of sight from the belay. I cautioned Dave that he should not go too far lest we get out of voice range. And with that he set up a belay to make it a short pitch. I followed it rather easily (comparatively speaking). It was probably just Class 4.
Now Dave’s belay was at a minor exposed corner (a spur corner, if you will). The wind was really howling here but we were semi-sheltered by a minor overhang from the wind and rain coming from the McMillan Creek side.
Again I let Dave lead. At this point I was content to let him lead it all to get us up the damn thing. Plus, I figured the hard lead was still to come (Beckey’s “strenuous” finish) and Dave is probably a better rock climber than me anyway.
The rain died down a bit.
For Pitch 4 Dave immediately went around the exposed corner into the teeth of the wind. He had to do a sharp left to get into an alcove. He complained that there was too much rope drag and so he wanted me to move out from my sheltered spot to ease up the rope. I did so but my dander was immediately smacked by the wind and rain. I explained to him without pause that I simply could not belay him from there for more than a couple of minutes. This gave Dave the impetus to set up yet another belay. So Pitch 4 was also short. I followed it. It was pretty easy (Class 4).
Now at this belay point we were faced with a dilemma. We were on another ledge, at its end, in fact. We could explore down the ledge a few dozen feet at multiple options but each looked to entail face climbing akin to the mini-face I had flailed on earlier. Further, above those options were slabby finishes of uncertain pro and uncertain features for feet and hands. While to the right of our belay an exposed, narrow ramp led up and away to a blind corner. What was around the corner?
Dave began by going part way up the ramp but saw something he didn’t care for and backed up to the belay. He then explored along the ledge and again didn’t care for what he saw. So back to the ramp he went.
The rain picked up again.
Pitch 5 was to be the ramp and whatever lay in wait around the corner. It really looked like a dead end from the belay. Dave set an intermediate piece for the pendulum factor then disappeared around the corner. Next thing I know he pops up directly above me 20 feet up at the apex of the small face the ramp went around.
I watched Dave fiddle with his rack. And then I watched him let out a demonstrative exhale, the kind one makes a with lips forming a circle to accentuate the breath. It was the type of exhale that foreshadows difficulty.
And then Dave is crawling. I can’t quite see what he’s crawling on due to the curvature of the face up high, but I can clearly see his feet up in the air, his rock shoe soles supinating the heavens. Dave is crawling. Dave is groveling. Dave is inching his way up whatever he’s inching his way up. And then he goes out of sight and I pay out rope. I’m paying and I’m paying.
After a long silence Dave calls out to inform me he’s at the summit. Wooohoooo, I exclaimed to myself.
“So what do I have to look forward to,” I asked, obviously referring to whatever he was doing directly above me minutes earlier.
“You’re not going to like it,” Dave replied. “It’s a cheval.”
And so it was.
I scampered up the ramp and turned the corner headlong into the wind and rain. Turning about leftward, I was on the termination of the ramp on a flattish rock that inclined upward to a broad fin, more like a peaked bulge. I peeked up past a buttressing rock on the left and there was Dave at the belay a couple of dozen feet away. “Get ready to grovel,” he said, or something like that. The cheval would be at the beginning of a prow of rock. Think of humping directly up the very exposed end of a prow to an immediate fin that one must cheval to continue on. It would like straddling a whale’s wet back while it breaches. Could you stay on the its back or would you slide off toward the tail? The angle of repose of the bulgy fin was just steep enough that you couldn’t shimmy it on your fanny with your palms in opposition in front of you. No, you would have to lay down onto it and scoot yourself forward (thus the reason why I saw Dave’s feet in the air). If the fin had been any steeper, you wouldn’t be able to cheval it at all because you’d slide off its end—especially while it was wet.
Now the first complication was the piece he had set at the beginning of the cheval. It was my only protection against a pendulum fall off the left side and out onto the face. If I wasn’t injured by the pendulum swing, Dave could lower me back to the belay ledge and I’d have to start the pitch over again, like a contestant in that TV show called Wipe Out.
But not only was the piece a problem for the pendulum factor, it was also a problem for me to remove it. I would have to exaggeratingly lean out over the bulge just to reach it. It would be like that sensation of leaning to far over a balcony and getting that feeling your feet are losing contact with the ground. The piece was a larger nut. I couldn’t get to it from the runner side so I tried to get it from above by pulling on it backwards (i.e., by pulling on the nut itself). I didn’t have the means of leverage or grip to get it out. I told Dave it would have to be sacrificed.
At the same time, with that piece removed, I wasn’t willing to get onto the whale’s back at its terminus. Instead, I thought I could face climb the six-foot-high incline-face below the right side of the fin—like mounting a horse from its side instead of from its rump. To do this, given the wet rock reducing my smearing ability, I had to improvise an aid piece with one of the two pieces of pro I had on me. I slotted a tiny crack with a nut and pulled on it with my index and middle fingers. With my feet barely smearing the incline (I couldn’t walk my feet higher because they would begin to slip), and my right hand pulling on the nut, I managed to reach the crown of the fin to a good enough hold to squirm up and onto it. But I had to let go of the nut wire at the last moment to do this. This left the nut barely out of reach to retrieve. More booty left on the mountain. In hindsight, I should have attached a long runner to the nut and then to me so I could have just pulled on the runner to release the nut on an upward pull. As it was, that gnar-gnar fin took two nuts, one runner, and one carabiner (a carabiner I should have retrieved but didn’t because I was in a hurry…and because I am gumby).
Did I mention the buzzing yet? That’s one reason I was in a hurry.
It seems when I started the pitch, I heard that buzzing sound no one likes to hear in the mountains. No, I’m not talking about bees or flies or mosquitoes. I’m talking about static electricity. Mt. Terror is the highest point in the Southern Pickets. It might not be the sharpest point, but it is the highest point, and I didn’t want to loiter there. As I climbed up the ramp the buzz got louder and I initially thought the buzz might be the carabiner or cam at the corner vibrating in the wind. Nope, that wasn’t the cause.
It was the rock (or the air around it, anyway), that was abuzz. The rope was buzzing too. In fact, I could change the pitch of the buzz by moving the rope. Kind of cool, but I wasn’t there to make music with nature.
Anyway, back to the climbing…
Yes, I groveled up the cheval. I found the small foot holds on the left side. I flopped onto easier rock at the upper end of the fin. I hopped the final teetering rocks to Dave’s belay. I was happy.
SummitingDave gave me the rack for the lead for the simul-downclimb of the West Ridge. I walked a ledge around a block which turned out to be the summit jumble. I climbed up toward the top of the buzzing summit and touched the highest rock point like a boy touching the tip of a spinning top. No way in that electrically charged atmosphere was I going to stand on that summit! Dave asked if there was a register. I couldn’t find one upon initial search. Besides…No way in that electrically charged atmosphere was I going to pick up a metal cylinder.
Downclimbing the West RidgeWe carried on past the depression at the summit and down the other side. The immediate problem before us was the slabby upper West Face of the true summit. In dry conditions this might have been downclimbable with rock shoes on. I started it but quickly blenched on the proposition of it. But there was a rappel station right there. I said it would probably be quicker to rappel than to downclimb in these conditions. So we rappelled. At the second rappel station we felt comfortable with downclimbing the rest to the gully that trends southwest down the mountain. Down this gully a ways we walked heathery ledges to a minor corner on a southern spur of the false summit. I slipped here on heather forgetting that rock shoes and vegetation—especially wet vegetation—aren’t friends. No harm no foul on the slip.
After the minor corner things went smoothly. As we neared the West Couloir col, Jeff again was heard yelling out for us. I yelled back that we were 15 minutes away (it would be more like 45 minutes due to unforeseen complications).
We downclimbed to a northwest-trending ramp that led to a rap station. We rapped from here to another rap station, the final one providing access to the notch. Only, access to the notch was impeded by a moat. We could see a small snow finger below us but we couldn’t see if it connected to the snow laying over the col. There was uncertainty as to how to complete this rappel. Can we rap toward the moat and then jump it to snow? How can one make that decision if they can’t even see the moat (we knew it was there based on Pullen & Brisbine’s reports from the weekend before and I had these reports on me, but they were now wadded messes of wet paper in my pocket and unreadable)? If the snow finger connects to the snow at the col, we could rappel to the finger then down it to the col. This seemed to be the better choice, even if there would be an awkwardness to it. So I set off on rappel first and when I got out far enough I could see the finger connected to the col snow alright, but the connection was via a wafer-thin snow bridge that would surely collapse while walking across it. So that option was out.
Where to rappel then? Jeff had appeared at the col a few minutes earlier (with our gear!!! yeah!) and he told us about a dirty gully on the other side of minor notch at the top of the snow finger. This gully would allow access down and to the right to very near the top of the couloir. So we went that way. It was interesting kicking steps up the snow finger in rock shoes. Then kicking steps down the moat-side of the finger in rock shoes to reach dirt. What’s worse for traction in rock shoes: vegetation or snow?
Apparently, earlier when Jeff had called up to us high on the route, he thought that I had called back from the east col (i.e., that we have bailed on the route). So he went back up there to meet us. When he arrived and we were nowhere to be found he got concerned. He went back over and up the west couloir to find us. He called out for us from that couloir and we heard him while descending the lower West Ridge. I called back that we were on our way. What a nice guy! He climbed up and down each couloir twice just to meet Dave and me to provide us with the equipment needed to get down the couloir, ergo off the mountain.
Ascent time (time on the face): 4.5 hours
Up and over time: 6 hours
Downclimbing the West CouloirThe “fun” was not over. We (Dave and I) still had the downclimb of the West Couloir to contend with. We knew there was a constriction about halfway down it and we could see it from camp. After some difficult rock climbing on the east side of the peak, you’d think the death-defying stuff would be behind us. But downclimbing this couloir unroped was probably the mortality crux of the day.
After futzing around with a change-over from rock shoes to boots and then putting on crampons on steep, cruddy scree just above the apex of the couloir snow, we set off down the couloir.
Now I will tell you that face-in downclimbing steep snow is my least favorite alpine activity. It’s not that I am clumsy doing it or have fallen. It’s just that I don’t feel comfortable with it, and this is especially going to be true if the runout is limited and/or likely to lead to injury or death. For this particular couloir, the top half runout was death while the bottom half was probably just injurious, unless you could self-arrest in time.
To add to my dyspepsia with the face-in downclimbing, I was without gloves, which meant I’d have to touch skin to snow…for a long time. I would have to block that coldness out and concentrate on my foot placements even more.
And so we set out down the couloir, its slope angle being about 40 degrees. Dave got down the quickest. Jeff and I kept pretty much the same pace. Jeff had already been down the couloir once before a couple of hours earlier, so one might say he had the hourglass snowfinger “dialed.”
Eventually we passed through the constriction. Whoa! Don’t look down (to the sides). The snow constriction necked down to a paltry five feet wide, with vertical drop-off on either side of about 30 feet. These were deathly drop-offs to rock. I imagined it being like climbing down a snowy ladder. So boy was I glad to be through it. And yet, I wasn’t really scared at all. If one concentrates on each step and makes good purchases with the axe, one shouldn’t have any accidents. (Once this constriction necks down to nothing I’m not sure how folks are going to get up this couloir.)
After completing the couloir we headed back to camp. I was famished and I ate well. I was thirsty for a slug of the whiskey I had brought. But that whiskey was not so great. I had purchased a cheaper bottle called Fighting Cocks and it went down a cockledoodledoo’ing all the way and then commenced to tear at the gut with its talons. (I wound up hiking out with 5 ounces left! Back at home I poured it back in the bottle; don’t want to waste that paint remover!)
Camp-to-Camp time: approximately 11.5 hours.
Hiking Out to More Civilized CountryIt took 6.5 hours. The descent off The Barrier down to Terror Creek sucked but went fast. It seemed cliffier on the way down. We recrossed the high-log to get to the other side. We did the annoying traverse back to the end of the road with the minimum of cuss words. We hiked out down the road with hamburgers in our boots. The Lhasa beer in the car was warm, but totally quaffable.
THE END. This spate of longueurs is finished. It took so long your computer is now obsolete. Terrorable, isn’t it? …back to diaper duping.