Sean, Nathan, and I planned on meeting at the P&R at 4am to drive out to the Marblemount Ranger Station and be there when it opened at 7am to get our permit. After grabbing our permit we planned on hiking out Thorton Lakes trail and up to the col, cross the glacier and bivy at the ledge two pitches up the NE ridge of Mt Triumph. We would start climbing the ridge the next morning at sunrise, hopefully summit by one, descend the ridge and cross the snowfield back to the col where we would make the call on whether to spend an additional night or push to the TH.
Day 1 (Permit & Approach):
It turned out that it only took us about 1.75 hrs to get to the RS, so we napped for an hour waiting for them to open the doors. The parking lot was crowded with people all vying for the coveted climbing/hiking permits for the fantastic sunny Labor Day weekend. After grabbing the last permit for the weekend (the limit is two) we ran down to Marblemount to grab some breakfast. At 9:45am we were at the TH and set to go. Just before hitting the trail a ranger pulled up and asked us for our permit, then we were on our way. The trail is in great shape and for the first couple miles is a very easy, flat path with a couple stream crossings. At about noon we came over the pass to Lower Thorton Lake and got our first view of the peak that was our objective. Framed like a gunsight, Mt Triumph rose high above the col we would now aim at. We descended the roughly 500' down to the lake, already aware that this climb back up would be brutal on the way back. Once past the camps and onto the climber's path we briefly stopped to have some lunch and try to fight off the swarming mosquitos & flies. We got on the move again, following the mostly easily navigable path up to the stream connecting the Middle and Lower lakes. We made the easy crossing and began to follow the boulder field on the right (east) side of the lake. It didn't take long before the slope we had to take steepened drasticly. The path was hot & steep with loose spots, but eventually we were on the snow near the top of the col.
The snow was soft, good for kicking steps, so we left the crampons in our packs for this bit. When the grade finally eased off we stood atop the col with the western skyline now dominated by Mt Triumph and the northern by the Pickets. It was about 2:30pm and the shadows were getting long. The snowfield was still largely in tact relative to other TRs from the time of year, but noticably melted out from just two weeks ago when some friends did this climb. We threw our packs down and discussed how we wanted to cross. There were some openings in the field, but rock was clearly not too deep so we decided not to rope up. Crampons & ice axes would be enough. Apart from a slightly precarious steep section about 100' under the col the crossing was easy and uneventful. We stopped midway at some running water and drank and filled all our vessels. We knew there would be no water on the ridge so we needed to load up. In the end I think we took 8-9 liters for the three of us. I would not take any less. While filling here we noticed that there was another team of two at the far end of the snowfield making their final climb up the snow to the gully that lead to the notch giving access to the NE ridge.
The bivy ledge was reportedly big enough for 5 people, so it would be a cozy night on the ledge. Continuing on we came the the edge of the snow at 4pm, stashed our axes & crampons, roped up, and simul-climbed the two-ish short pitches up to the bivy ledge. As soon as we got there it was obvious that this was the only way to do the climb. The views were nothing short of spectacular! Hard to imagine a better bivy: the Pickets crowded the skyline to the north, while Mt Despair beckoned to the west. The ledge worked great for the two parties. The other two shared a sandy section, and we used the rock slab. There is plenty of room for three on this rock platform, but be careful of sharp rocks. I punctured my sleeping mattress and had to make a 2am repair. We talked with the other group about theirplans for the morning and decided that we would let them move first, assuming that it would take the 3 of us more time to move than them. We boiled water and cooked up some Mountain House before crawling into our bivys to watch the sunset. Amazing.
Day 2 (Summit day):
We awoke naturally to the dawn just after 6am and were moving by 7am. The first ramp is a little loose, but beyond that the rock is generally solid. There are still some nice looking holds that should be used with caution. We simul-climbed the vast majority of the route, three people on a 60m rope, which allowed us to move quicker. Right from the bivy there is a short bit of 4th class climbing up a leftward gully that brings you to a long 3rd/4th class ramp. Here it gets a bit steeper, but protection is good. In general there are an abundance of horns and constricting cracks. Once on top of this steep section the grade seems to even out, but gets a little more tricky. Skirt the first gendarme to the right, then scramble over the second. All the moves here are 4th or low 5th class, but asthe exposure increases it feels like it's harder. As I came down the second gendarme I turned around and saw the knife edge. It looks pretty intimidating, but the really narrow part is probably only 10-15' long. I chevaled it on the way up, but on the descent noticed some good feet on the north side that made it a little easier. I set up a belay behind a large block just after the knife edge, pulled Nathan & Sean in, then Sean scrambled up the friction slab and belayed us up to the ledge just below the crux pitch. The right-leaning 5.7 pitch isn't long, and looks more intimidating than it actually is. We brought two #3 cams for this pitch, but I found that a #10 Hex fit better and protected the 5.7 move better. With a couple crimper hand holds I inched my feet up the face before reaching up and grabbing the top ledge. Turns out it goes as a nice face climb, I didn't even use a jam. Past the seemingly scariest part we moved down and right around a larger block and into the Great Notch. We followed the short trail to the left and set up our last belay, up a short step then across an exposed trail left (still nice to protect this traverse). From here it is a pretty easy scramble, but the ledges are sandy and vegetated which makes them a little slippery. At this point we saw the other party starting their descent from the summit. This was fortuitous because there were few places lower that would have easily accomodated five people. There is not a defined path, but move mostly up and right until meeting up with the summit ridge. There is a rappell anchor here and we left our rope to make the final scramble to the summit, the time was 11:45am. The views were again fantastic. Baker and Shuksan were enormous. To the east the peaks of Logan, Buckner, Goode, Boston, Sahale, Forbidden, Torment, and Eldorado ripped the horizon.
Day 2.1 (Descent):
After a brief session on the summit we got to the task of rappelling the route we had just ascended at 12:15pm. I had read a variety of reports describing the rappells as needing one, two, and in one case a 30m rope. We had just the 60m and it was all we needed. The rap anchors all the way down the route are well established and easy to find. From the summit ridge we did three rappells that brought us back to the last belay after the Great Notch. We down climbed around the block, did a few more successive rappells down to the knife edge (the last one was a little short and required one exposed move to the ledge in front of the knife edge). Here we roped up and simul-climbed back across the knife edge. After making it across we threaded the rope through the next achor and continued our descent. On this face we encountered one anchor where the sling was almost cut through. It was backed up with a piece of perlon tied to a piton, but we removed the damaged sling and added a new one (good catch). We got back to camp, drank the rest of the water we had there, and did the last 4 rappells to the snow (ended up being 16 total, but probably didn't need to rappell the last part; we did down climb steeper terrain above). After coiling the rope we located the gear we had stashed, strapped on the crampons and started heading back across the snowfield towards the col. We were back on the move at just before 5pm. The plan we had agreed on earlier was that if we made it back to the col by 6pm we would likely push for the trail because we believed we could get to it by 8pm. If we managed this it would be easy to follow the trail out in the dark by headlamp. So with the daylight waning we pushed toward the col, making it right at 6pm. We carried on and made it back to the car at 10pm, all very satisfied and happy to be heading home to a soft bed.
Final notes & times:
Breakfast in Marblemount 7:30 am.
Departed trail head 9:45 am. The Thorton Lakes Trail is in awesome shape.
Reached the col 2:30 am.
Reached the bivy 2 pitches up the NE Ridge 5 pm. Beautiful views of the Southern Pickets. Sunday
Woke up at 6 ish.
Departed the bivy at 7:00 am.
At the base of the crux at 10 am. I lead the crux, a number 10 HEX protects the crux like a champ.
At the Summit at 11:45 am.
Began Rappels at 12:15 pm. 13 single rope rappels back to camp. 3 more rappels from the camp to snow.
Off the Ridge and on the snow at 5:00 pm.
Back to the cars at 10:00 pm. (15 hour day, camp to summit to car)
Arrived in Seattle at 1:00 am. Back a day early, nice.