PrefaceI’ve been eyeing Chair Peak ever since I took avy level 1 and our stand-in guide, Seth Waterfall, told us about soloing its north face, last weekend I finally got the chance. After giving serious consideration to a couple technical routes on Hood both us were, in the end, too scared to try, Ryan and I settled on the Northeast Buttress of Chair and figured it would be a fairly moderate day. We were right and we were wrong.
Special note: as should be pretty obvious, as they are good and I am in most of them, these are mostly Ryan’s photos.
ApproachIt was just getting light when we left the Alpental parking-lot, eager to get ahead of the two other groups we saw going for the same objective after hearing about the lines that formed several weeks ago. The route into Source Lake was, as usual, a well packed skin trail, and we amused ourselves by not even putting on our snowshoes until the lake and imagining the scathing looks the backcountry skiers would give us if they had seen us.
It was my impression was that the route simply headed up the ridge from the pass above Snow Lake, which, as I pointed out to Ryan as we traversed down and over to the bowl below the east face, made it a route-researching error, not a route-finding error. This put the two other groups ahead of us, although we ended up heading up the snow slope to the beginning of the route behind only a group of two that ended up doing a different variation on the NE Buttress, the other group of four was headed for the North Face.
ClimbAt the base of the first pitch of the Northeast Buttress visibility was very low, a stiff wind was blowing from the north, spindrift was billowing down the route, so we tried not the think about it headed right up. Ryan and I had agreed that I would take the 1st and 3rd alpine ice pitches and he would get the waterfall step, which meant I had the first lead, something of a rarity for us.
The first half of the pitch consisted of steep snow abutting mostly unprotectable rock, I say mostly because if I persisted I could, finally, find a couple piton cracks. I managed to clip one fixed piton and place two knifeblades before the crux, a mixed step that involving trusting an layer of ice over rock about an inch thick for a foot placement, ice that I had mostly removed without about one thwack of my adze a couple minutes earlier looking for a protectable crack. It was scary - I didn’t know if I’d be able to find pick placements above it. I’m recounting it in detail because it was probably the hairiest lead I’ve done yet and I’m probably more proud of it than I should be. From there I ran out about 50 feet of rotten alpine ice to the tree anchor.The slope to the waterfall was basically just snow, so we ran together the 2 pitches using some simulclimbing. I think Ryan threw a sling around a tree at one point, and that was the only protection. The waterfall itself was a little anti-climactic - 10 feet tall at the most and a little slushy and rotten, the trick was finding a way to top out because there weren’t any good sticks more than 6 inches from the top of the thing. At the top of that pitch Ryan dug out his dead-man picket anchor and we coiled the rope for the final trudge up to the summit, which was shorter than both of us were expecting.