A fun and moderate ridge route in the Cascades
Our route from the trailhead to the summit.
Hey Steph, it’s your cousin Lisa. Let’s get together and do some climbing! Let’s climb Tomyhoi. No, actually, I was just at Yellow Aster Butte, so how about we go to Washington Pass and do something on Concord Tower. But, it’s Labor Day weekend so maybe we should do something more alpine to avoid the crowds. Mt. Challenger looks like fun. But it has such a horrendous approach. Oh, I’ve got it now! Something on Snow Creek Wall. No, oops, forgot, Labor Day crowds. Oh, we could just do that Ruth/Icy traverse we have been talking about, but that seems too easy. Or, I’ve actually never climbed at Squamish so I am up for that too! Oops, forgot again, Labor Day crowds. We want alpine. Okay, now I’ve found one: How about Sloan Peak--the West Face looks fun. Oh, I just found a trip report about an unsuccessful attempt of the West Face, so how about we do the standard Corkscrew route instead. But, no, too much of an easy snow slog--I feel like doing some actual rock climbing. I don’t know. I want to climb Glacier Peak at some point, but there is no rock climbing on that. Sherpa Peak and Dragontail look like fun. But I have been to the Enchantments too much this summer. Or cragging at Snoqualmie Pass—no, scratch that, Labor Day crowds. Let me look at my Beckey guides. Mt. Formidable—that’s a cool name. Oh, but Beckey says there is loose rock. Okay, I’ll just start at page 1…
My cousin Lisa’s typical pre-trip indecision and armchair-mountaineering had begun. (Not to say I was not a part of this indecision too; Lisa reminds me of am email I sent proposing Yak Peak as an option, and 2 minutes later sending "oh wait, no...after I sent that, I realized that we probably shouldn't climb that..." Indecision--it’s a family trait, on my mother’s side.)
So, I asked my dad for suggestions of moderate alpine climbing in the area. How about the NE ridge of Mt. Triumph, he suggested. My dad had climbed Triumph 25 years ago. I shot Lisa an email.
Great! she replied. Let’s plan for three days and scramble Trapper Peak on the way in and Thornton Peak on the way out!
Ah, the hardest part of the climb was over. I breathed a sigh of relief and began to put together my climbing rack and pack my backpack.
We decided to hike in Friday and do the climb Saturday since, being Labor Day weekend, we were a bit worried about getting a permit if we hiked in Saturday. They only allow 2 parties each night to stay at the col to the south of Triumph, and we knew there was a Seattle Mountaineer group planning to climb Triumph on Sunday. We wanted to enjoy the area and not have to rush the climb, so we planned to stay two nights and hike out Sunday.
Here is a photo of our weekend’s goal: the NE ridge of Triumph.
Getting to the campsite at the col (5,760 ft).
The best way to get to the NE ridge route is the come in via the Thornton Lakes trail off the Thornton Creek Road. The trail gains 2,200 ft and 5.3 miles to Thornton Lakes (4,400 ft). From the outlet of the Lower Lake (descend 500 ft on a trail), it is only a couple of miles to the campsite at the col, but it is rather strenuous and took us a couple of hours. There is a brushy but defined trail around the left (west) side of the Lower Lake to the outlet between the two lakes. (We chose to do a fun Bushwack Variation on the way to the outlet.) From the outlet between the lakes, a steep, brushy trail climbs up to the right (east), leading to a boulder field traverse around the right (east) side of the Upper Lake. Then, there is 1,200 ft of loose and steep talus and grass (faint climber's trail) to get to the col (5,760 ft) north of Upper Thornton Lake. Lisa and I agreed that steep talus and grass is one of our least favorite things to climb, especially with heavy packs (well, I guess I didn’t need the 6 apples, 2 cans of soup, and 2 Celebration Pepsis…)! Fortunately, our campsite on the knoll just north of the col was not too much further. From there, we had a great view of the NE ridge of Triumph as well as the Pickets. In all, it took us about 5.5 hours to get from the trailhead (2,700 ft) to our campsite (5,700 ft).
(Also at our campsite we found little pools of water, which we drank from since we didn’t feel like melting snow or descending to the stream at the base of the nearby snowfield. Lisa filtered, but I continued my now-two-year experiment to discover giardia in the North Cascades. At the campsites at the nearby col, I think you have to melt snow for water.)
The photos below show (1) the route around the lakes to the col, (2) our campsite at the knoll just north of the col, (3) the view of the Pickets from our campsite, and (4) the Big Dipper over Triumph from our camp.
There is a great route description detailing Triumph’s NE ridge posted on Summitpost.org (http://www.summitpost.org/route/159034/northeast-ridge.html). Below is a brief timeline of our climb and some photos. We took our time on the climb, since it was perfect weather and it was Lisa's first long alpine rock climb. We started just as the sun was rising and got back to camp just before the sun set. Even though it was Labor Day weekend, we had the mountain to ourselves, besides the swarm of flying ants we found at the summit. Lisa did great for this being her first long alpine rock climb!
- 6:00 am - leave camp.
- 7:30 am - arrive at notch at base of NE ridge (6,080 ft).
- 7:35 am – Lisa eats her traditional before-climb oatmeal raisin Luna bar and I mooch more of her peanut m&m’s.
- 1:15 pm - arrive at summit (7,270 ft). Triumph on Mt. Triumph!
- 1:45 pm - begin rappelling down the NE ridge.
- 5:35 pm - arrive back at notch at base of NE ridge.
- 7:35 pm - arrive back at camp.
My rack consisted of 6 cams (ranging from a #1 Metolius to a #3 Cam), a set of nuts, and 12 slings (6 short, 6 long). This was plenty sufficient. One could probably adequately protect the entire climb just using slings, since there are lots of boulders and flakes to sling. We had 1 60m rope. This was adequate for rappelling off existing slings/rings, although we had to do a bit of Class 4 downclimbing. I would not recommend bringing 2 ropes, though, since this would create a lot of problems with the rope catching on flakes and boulders. Also, although we set up static belays, most of the NE ridge could be simulclimbed (it's mostly Class 4, except for the occasional low 5th class and the 5.7 offwidth of the upper ridge).
Also, I would recommend climbing the route in comfortable boots or shoes. I did not and regretted it….
Okay, now for some photos:
The photo on the left shows my dad traversing the basin on the approach to the climb of the NE ridge, Sept 1981. The photo on the right shows Lisa in about the same location. There is much less snow now!
Route up to the notch at the base of the NE ridge.
Lisa on the "knife-edge" section of the NE ridge.
Looking up the NE ridge (5.7 offwidth is the slanting crack on upper right). The rock on Triumph is a blocky Skagit Gneiss.
Lisa on the trail below the final Class 4 to the summit (watch for loose rocks on rappel!).
Caterpillar doing 5.12 variation unprotected.
Lisa on the summit!
The glacier-polished basin between camp and the climb.
Lisa and I had a great time on this climb. The rock was a bit loose and there was more vegetation than I was used to, but overall it was a fun climb with spectacular views of the Pickets to the northeast and Baker and Shuksan to the northwest. Lisa and I had many memorable moments and discussions, including:
- The Yes-No question "Is this your sling? Should I leave it?" which led to an extra sling being added to the NE ridge.
- The continual debate over where to draw the line between Class 4 and 5 (okay, so my "Class 4" might be a bit steep and exposed…).
- Deciding that if a before-sunrise start is called an "Alpine Start" then an after-sunset finish should be termed an "Alpine Finish."
- Rappelling off complicated webs of 5-point sling anchors.
- Lisa's Algorithm of downclimbing: Foot down to Foothold Option #1; Foot back up; Foot down to Foothold Option #2; Foot back up; Repeat this sequence 2-3 times until finally going for the yet-untried Foothold Option #3 or deciding on Foothold Option #1. Never go for Foothold Option #2.
- Concluding that crampons are great on granite slabs. (My dad had once told me about how when he was just getting into mountaineering, he read Colin Fletcher’s then-popular The Complete Walker, in which my dad was stunned to find that crampons are the ideal footwear for granite slabs. Not sure if I would say "ideal," but crampons are surprisingly good at clinging to the rock and it avoids having to constantly be putting on and taking off the crampons when faced with intermittent snow fields.)
- Losing my smallest nut on the knife-edge section of the NE ridge, and spending the entire knee-jarring tumble back to Thornton Lakes bemoaning that, if we had to lose a nut on the climb, why did it have to be my smallest rather than my biggest and heaviest?
- Trying to justify bringing my 2 cameras, 2 lenses, tripod, and pile of batteries instead of that #6 cam we knew we could use in the crux offwidth on the upper part of the NE ridge.
- Getting to the car only to realize that we had forgotten to climb Trapper and Thornton.
Thanks Lisa for making this such a fun climb and for sharing her peanut m&m’s! Hope this route report was "more interesting and less boring facts" as you suggested I do to make "armchair mountaineering" more enjoyable. We'll have to do another climb in the future! How about a Pickets Traverse? Those mountains sure look cool….