Peter Croft says in his book about the North Buttress of Mt Goode that “you either love it or you fear it.” Wondering which description our experience would fall under, Chris and I arrived at the trailhead around 9pm for a trailhead bivy at 9800’ to help acclimatize before our early start the next morning. Packs were prepared and clothing set out before falling asleep under the stars.
4am. My watch alarm goes off signaling that it’s time to get up and get the day rolling. Tea and oatmeal for each of us wakes and warms us up. By 4:45 we’re headed off on the trail. The first hour goes by quickly, hiking by headlamp up the trail. We reach Long Lake by 5:45 and daylight is now bright enough to guide us, so we stuff our headlamps into our packs.
Just past Long Lake, we leave the trail and cross country through the trees to Margaret Lake. At Margaret, we take a few pictures, proceed to drop my camera in the lake (fortunately in the case), and fill our hydration bladders for the climb. The alpenglow on the peak is nothing short of spectacular.
Mt Goode and the North Buttress from below Margaret Lake
The last portion of the approach heads up the right-most gulley behind Margaret lake on grassy ledges and slabs to the beginning of the talus field. Staying right in the talus keeps you out of the nasty stuff for all but the last quarter of a mile to the base of the glacier. I fell on my ass once, stepping onto a “wet” rock that I didn’t realize had a 1/8” layer of ice covering it.
Talus hopping on the approach
The glacier was just soft enough to kick my shoe edges in and work my way up the suncups to the base of the 4th class slab. Watch for mini crevasses – I managed to step into a couple of them that were covered with a thin layer of soft snow.
Chris and I soloed our way to a nice ledge at the beginning of the 5.8 tight hands portion of the first pitch listed in the Supertopo guide. We changed shoes, roped up, and I led up the first pitch which protected nicely with nuts and small cams. Because of our starting point, I decided to pass up the first belay ledge and lead up the 5.8 hand-fist crack pitch before setting a belay. This wide crack in a corner protects well with small nuts on the right side of the dihedral. I ran out the easy ground above the crack in hopes of being able to traverse to a ledge I could see slightly below and to my left. With about 5 ft of rope left, I reached the ledge and belayed Chris up.
Chris in the tight hands section. The hand-fist crack sits in the dihedral above
We reracked, and I set off on the second pitch – the 5.9 traverse. To the left was a very blank looking face around a couple of arêtes. The guidebooks tell you to traverse down and left at the start of this pitch, so I downclimbed about 10 ft and began my traverse. Around one arête and into a corner, I found myself in a steep, chossy corner with no holds on the left side and only a few decent ones on the right. I placed a grey TCU in a thin crack and made one move up to a good hold. The climbing got even harder there and I knew I was off route. At that point, Chris saw the fixed piton above and to my left. Rather than downclimbing from our belay, I should have traversed directly left across the face. I placed a #3 camalot in a crack above my head, and backcleaned the TCU so Chris wouldn’t have to follow my mistake. Still, I figured it would be easier to climb up than to try to work my way back down. After all, I had a solid right hand hold and a #3 camalot above my head.
I tell Chris I’m climbing again and start to crank on my good right hand hold and it explodes in my hand. Fortunately my feet were set well and I was able to catch myself. Careful not to destroy any more holds, I made a couple of 5.10ish moves to get back on route and again, backcleaned the gear below me. Once back on route, the traverse moves were solid, clean, and not too difficult. The piton looks moderately solid, but can be easily backed up with a cam below and right of it about a foot in a small pocket.
From the piton, traverse around and a few moves up the arête to move down into the chimney. The chimney looks ugly and unprotectable, so I opted for the 5.9 face to the left of it. The guidebooks claim the face is not very protectable, but I found protection more than adequate with the small TCUs and Aliens we had. Again, I ran the rope out to the end to avoid having a belay at the top of the face and below an easy section of very loose rock. A good belay in the loose section can be found toward the left just below the big tower by slinging a big boulder.
From here, I led another short pitch to the base of the crux pitch. We took a quick break to eat, rehydrate, and rerack.
Chris resting and refueling before the crux pitch
Chris took off leading the thin, steep crack/stemming pitch. He was very happy to have brought the set of TCUs, placing most of them on this pitch along with a few nuts. Through the crux, he combined the next pitch and cruised up the crack system in the chimney above to a belay on the ridge. Mid sized cams and nuts easily protect this pitch. I followed and easily bootied a Wild Country nut that a previous part was unable to salvage.
Chris leading up the crux pitch
Chris led the next pitch as well, following easy 5th class terrain up the ridge to a belay just below the talus covered ledge listed in the topos. Verbal communication was impossible on this rope stretching ridgeline pitch.
Again, Chris led off on the short 6th pitch, up some cracks, into a squeeze chimney, and through a “tunnel through” to the left side of the ridge. I followed up, having a little trouble groveling my pack through the tight tunnel.
Up from the big 6th pitch belay ledge, easier cracks lead up and left, and a couple of steep cracks lead straight up the ridge. I chose to lead up the steeper cracks and followed the ridge directly toward the summit. The #3 camalot came in handy again in these wide cracks. A final 5.8 mantel move puts you within a few feet of the summit block – a spectacular finish to a fantastic climb.
Self portrait while on lead
Chris following the final pitch
After some summit photos, a little snack, and a few minutes of just taking in the views, we headed down the scree slopes to Bishop Lake and then on to the trail for the hike back to the car. Rumbling thunder as we hike down the trail told us our timing for this route was perfect.
Summit photo looking toward Dusy Basin
Our total times were 3 hrs for the approach, 6 hours on the route, and 2 hrs 45 min to return to the car for a total of just under 12 hours car-car. This is likely one of the easiest Sierra backcountry routes to do car-car in a day. The approach is easy, the climbing is fun, and the descent is a cake walk. I can’t imagine anyone not loving this route.
We geared up well for the route. We carried 10 nuts, 6 TCUs, 4 Aliens (Grn-Red), BD C4s .75, 1, 2, & 3, and hexcentrics #6 and #7. We also had 6 x 24” runners and 2 x 48” runners. We found the Nuts, 4 smallest TCUs, and .75 and #3 camalots to be essential gear. I’d carry those, along with #6, 7, and 8 hexcentrics if I were to do the route again. Though there are many bail slings on the route, it would be wise to carry extra just in case. Rapping the route directly is the safest way to bail. Do NOT rap into the gully to the left of the buttress – we saw and heard rockfall in that bowling alley many times during the day.
All in all a fun route, and highly recommended if you’re leading at the grade. It is a sustained route with many difficult pitches. Don’t take it lightly. As with all Sierra routes, beware of loose rock. If you’re ready for this route, you, as we did, will love it and not fear it.