PrefaceWe had a plan. This was going to be it; we had done the cragging road trips, we had done the local alpine climbs, now we were going to break out of the Cascades and climb the world-class mountains of Canada. A week in the Battle Range, focusing on the Melville group – north face of Moby Dick would have been our biggest climb to date. Another week in the Bugaboos blasting out the classics – Sunshine Crack, the Beckey-Chouinard. Then Ryan was going back to work I was heading north to tackle one of my long-term goals, Mount Robson, preferably by the north face. Never mind the dimly sketched out approach details, the poorly understood descent techniques, the notable lack of big successful alpine climbs this season. And never mind that knot my gut went into whenever I so much as looked at a real mountain, the days of faint nausea before another failed attempt. Never mind all of that, we had a plan, and I was going to keep my commitment.
CanadaMercy. That is what I received. I wanted favor, I wanted strength, I wanted glory, and what I received was mercy.
Weather in the Selkirks looked bad, at least a 40% chance of rain every day, so we changed our plans, decided to go for a peak in the North Cascades and then spend the week in Squamish. Ryan was fixated the north face of Bear Mountain so that was where we headed, up to BC, past Lake Chilliwack and into the forest.
Eight hours later we thought maybe we could see the peak. Judging by the map we were halfway to our basecamp. The bushwhack had been hellacious: devil’s club seven feet tall, stands of alder so thick you fought your way through an inch at a time, then a stand of cedar and there, the clearly discernible trail disappearing entirely behind another mass of fallen trees. Somewhere along the way I got stung on the right thumb by a yellowjacket, it hurt but I’d had much worse on Sloan a few years before. Late afternoon we decided to call it a day and found a spot on a sandbar in the river. I wished I had brought a book (I had just started Game of Thrones), Ryan wished we had brought the tequila, I also wished we had brought the tequila. We made a campfire and tried to pretend we weren’t disappointed with ourselves, tequila would have helped. Around nightfall I noticed my hand getting swollen, my thumb had gotten stiff right after the sting but it had faded quickly, yet now my entire hand was becoming difficult to move. immersing it in the frigid river felt good but didn’t seem to help otherwise.
By morning I couldn’t make a fist and the swelling was well past my wrist, I drew a line on my arm with a ballpoint pen so we could track the advance of the reaction. There was no way in hell I could rock climb, I couldn’t even hold a trekking pole. I needed to get to a hospital before my throat closed up. On the way back we found more of the trail and cut our time down by several hours. At the hospital they gave me some pills and told me to ice it, keep it elevated, and take lots of antihistamines. We drove to Squamish and I think I slept about fifteen hours that night.
That next morning Ryan found some other guys to crag with and took off; I hung around the campground reading Game of Throne and trying to ignore the parade of yoga pants passing by our site. Some time after noon I got a text: rock fall on route, deep finger laceration, we were going to the hospital again, and then home. The trip was over.
My family’s summer vacations had all coordinated to the same two weeks, my mom was in Nebraska visiting family, my dad was backpacking in the Beartooths. I had the house to myself, all alone with piles of climbing food, several half-cases of beer, a bottle of benedryl, and my useless club-hand.
It was Friday before my hand was better, and Sunday before the weather cooperated.
Independence PeakThe plan was two shorter peak-bagging type climbs in the Mountain-Loop area, Independence came first because Josh was giving directions faster than Adam could verify them. The hike in was simple enough and we found where the route was supposed to go up without too much hassle, but between three buttresses and two gullies we had little idea where the line went. It was supposed to be class 4, as such we had two ropes, a 40m and a 30m, and a variety of slings for tree anchors, but no other protections, which was fine because the rock would not have taken any regardless.
I took the righthand gully, and when it petered out traversed to the central buttress, which involved about a 40m pitch of unprotectable 5.4. Our standing theory is that the left-hand buttress has an easier route, but from below it looked like it ended in a detached pillar. Some tree-climbing shenanigans led to a wide heather cirque and the final summit scramble. Getting to the summit ridge itself turned out to be no more than class 4, but we roped up anyways because after out experiences below we had little idea what we were going to find. Once on the ridge we found one of the more aesthetic little knife-edge traverses I’ve done; a very exposed class 3.
We wound up down climbing the summit ridge roped and then rappeling from tree anchors just below where my lead had ended, 30m is more than sufficient to reach the class 3 down-climb to the base of the route.
This was my first successful summit climb in more than a month.
Pearly GatesDespite the heat Adam and I headed to Leavenworth the next day for some cragging. I had been wanting to hit Value Village but decided against wasting the cool morning hours on an approach and decided on Pearly Gates instead.
We started on a strange 5.8 that didn’t seem to want to take gear, but the day improved from there. Cloud 9 was a memorable lead, with the crux of the upper pitch taking me some time to work out, and I briefly attempted Celestial Groove when it was one of the only climbs still in the shade (5.9 my ass!); several whips later we finished the day on a 5.7 around the corner and headed home. I would have liked to get in more pitches, we did 5 plus my CG bail, but around 1 in the afternoon the sun peaked over the ridge-line and our shade vanished, taking most of our motivation with it.
Index Town WallsVia CascadeClimbers I met Greg. Greg led mid 5.10s and was looking for someone to crag with for a couple days in Index. We had a great time knocking off the classics, climbing the GM route, the Libra crack, Roger’s Corner, Breakfast of Champions, Toxic Shock, Aries, Godzilla, Princely Ambitions, and Tatoosh. On GM we got off route and I did my first Index 5.10 lead, a 10a handcrack that is technically part of Heart of the Country.
Robin LakesAfter leaving Index I headed south for the some hand-skin recovery and backpacking, hiking up to Robin Lakes hoping to spend three days (two nights) scrambling up Trico and Granite and generally relaxing. The first two days went as planned, I summited Trico and Granite and read a fair amount of A Clash of Kings. Then the hugest thunderstorm I have ever seen moved in and I freaked out and ran back to the trailhead at three in the morning. It was not one of my finer moments. Should I have moved my tent? Yes, where I was camped I was the tallest thing for 100 feet in every direction. Did I need to almost get lost descending to Tuck Lake? No, that was stupid and dangerous. End result: I broke my glasses, severally waterdamaged a novel, and got completely covered with mud.
EnchantmentsMe and Matt’s schedules didn’t end up lining up for the Canadian Rockies, so I joined a friend of Ryan’s for an Enchantments trip. They, Ryan’s friend Dan and his friend Greg, had quite the itinerary lined up, hoping to link together Stuart and Sherpa and Argonaut and Colchuck in two one day trips from Stuart Lake and then hike over to Snow Lake and climb Dragontail, Prusik, and others.
After some early morning, which-day-are-we-leaving confusion, Dan and I spent the first day in Leavenworth, climbing at Castle Rock and then hiking in to Stuart Lake, to meet Greg the next morning. Arriving early, we linked up Catapult and Midway and then headed into town for a late breakfast before making our way to the trailhead. The hike went well enough, and we had the better part of the afternoon to hang out at the lake, which I had not visited before.
The next morning the fun began, we met Greg at the turn off for Mountaineers Creek and made fairly good time through the brush and boulder fields to the basin beneath the Sherpa Glacier. From there the talus steepened and when we toped out on a small moraine ridge we transitioned right to a slabby, class 4 buttress that offered a more difficult, but safer from rockfall, route. At the base of the glacier proper we roped up, although from where we started it looked like a bergschrund had completely closed off the route. If only. It turned out that it was just barely possible to go around it to the left and we continued upward, maintaining a running belay with a single (! - stupid choice on my part) picket and rock gear in the adjoining wall. What I needed were about 4 pickets, my two longest ice screws, and my Triolet boots w/ step-in crampons. What I had were hiking boots, 10-point strap-on crampons, and a small rock rack designed for the west ridge of Prusik. Because of the bergschrund between the snow and the rock, placements were difficult when possible at all, and most of the time there was not more than 1 piece somewhere between the three of us spaced along the 60m rope. I pulled a mixed step (M4-ish) with no pro. Greg, who was using leather belay gloves, got the screaming barfies while trying to clean a piece. Dan slipped just as Greg was about to clean the next piece. I decided to ditch the couloir and head up the wall to our right, from the opposite side it had looked like above was a ledge system that would take us to the col on class 3-4. Two 30m pitches (5.6-ish) proved me mostly right, class 4 and low 5th are basically the same right?
Unfortunately we topped out on the col between Sherpa and Stuart too late to summit either, and with the descent back down the glacier sure to take longer than the daylight that remained to us, we opted to descend the Cascadian Couloir and hike around via Stuart and Goat Pass, with a bivy somewhere along the way. Night fell soon after we entered the couloir. It was dark, we were tired. I remain unsure what happened or why but the route, despite showing signs of traffic, seemed to bear little resemblance to my memories of it from last year. With relief we arrived at the Ingalls Creek trail and, in the intermittent drizzle, curled up in our emergency bivy sacks and slept.
The hike around was long, and we had little food. My knowledge of the route consisted of having read a North Ridge trip report or two about a week previously. As we made our way up the ridge from Stuart Pass Greg remarked that if not for the general shittyness of the situation it would really be a fine hike. We finally reached Stuart Lake around mid-afternoon and I collapsed into my tent, determined to not emerge until I had drank, ate, and slept as much as was humanly possible.
For reasons that are complicated, Greg headed back that night (with what remaining stamina I know not) while Dan and I spent the entire next day hanging out, re-hydrating, drying our gear, and chasing chipmunks away from our food. The next day, this was Saturday, it was time for another marathon - up over Asgard Pass, down to the Lower Enchantments, brief side-trip to Prusik Peak, and then down to Snow Lakes. We arrived very late that night, tired but not as mentally wiped as we had been after the Stuart-Sherpa debacle, which is the difference between things going well and things going shitty. It is also the difference between having food and not having food.
The west ridge of Prusik was fun and simple until the last pitch, where my lack of a route description finally became an issue. It was still easy enough, I just had little idea where to go and was wishing I had brought rock shoes and more pro so I could try out some of the better looking variations. As it was, I climbed a series of short, steep, hand cracks and lie-backs with large ledges in between before finally mantling onto a sloping ledge below the final squeeze chimney.
ConclusionsThe whole three weeks was a bit of a learning experience, the lessons that were impressed upon me include:
- One should always bring a ziplock bag large enough to actually zip closed around one’s paperback.
- I can lead 5.7 slab in hiking boots much more confidently than I can climb 50 degree neve in them.
- Any skill I ever had at Warcraft III is long gone.
- Leading trad is a mental game, if you think you can do it, you can.
- Never read George Martin novels if you want to be ok with how epic and meaningful your life is not.
- Sheldon Vanauken grasped a truth far more broad than he probably realized.