North Twin Sister West Ridge Trip Report:
No sorry, that’s wrong. I meant ravenous and gorging.
The bent knees were mine and the females were of the blood-sucking gender of the genus Anopheles clustered thickly on each kneecap where the fabric of my pants was stretched tightest and thinnest thus enabling the easiest route to their supper. But, hey, at my age, you take female attention where you can get it right?
This all took place at a camp that Don (74), Tony (65) and I, Martin (the baby at 60) had placed at the top of the highest road giving access to the west ridge of North Twin Sister, our objective for the following morning.
We had left Victoria, BC on the 9 am ferry earlier that day, had endured the now normal but fortunately brief encounter with US border paranoia and arrived at the gated bridge over the Nooksack Middle Fork at exactly 1.10 pm. Judging by the number and type of vehicles parked there, there were obviously quite a few people making the more usual bike-approach day-trip out of the climb than planning an overnighter. None of us creakier types much fancied pushing heavy bikes up 850 vertical metres of logging road, so we had opted to haul even heavier packs up there instead. I’m still not sure if this was the right decision and it’s too late now anyway.
For the most part the roads are in very good shape and all you have to do is put your head down, your brain in neutral and grunt away steadily for 4 hours or so. The only distraction of note that I can remember was fording the Galbraith River at 3.30 and at an elevation of 880 metres. The approach directions Tony had printed out from Matt Gunn’s “Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia” (I love the way Matt has annexed Washington) were impeccable and without putting a foot wrong, 5.30 pm saw us at the bottom of the trail that leads through recent new growth, nice open old growth and finally onto the west ridge itself. The afternoon had been clear and hot and after pitching camp all we really wanted to do was drink, drink and drink some more. Having re-hydrated we finally did feel more like supper and eventually got round to fueling up for the next day’s effort.
If anyone is planning on camping at this spot note that unless there’s snow on the ground the nearest water is 5 minutes back down the road you came up on at the last switchback that turns right. Fill up here before carrying on to camp where we did. Or, for the sake of 5 minutes, put your tent up right by the road. There’s no-one coming this way but folk mountain biking down the road and they’re all long gone by 6 pm or so.
By 8 pm we’d eaten, cleared away, organised packs for the morning, fed the dense clouds of mosquitoes many times over and were pretty well driven into the blessed relief of the tents by 8.30. The night was warm and I didn’t even get into my sleeping bag until the early hours of the following morning.
As usual before a climb, I slept fitfully and was already up when my alarm went off at 5 am the next day. After the usual morning ablutions and oblations to the local mountain gods – and giving the mozzies their breakfast of course - we were off up the trail in smart order at 6.10 am.
It takes only about 45 minutes of easy walking before the ridge narrows, the first easy scrambling starts and its time to put the pole away and the helmet on.
The route goes very gently at first at barely Class 2 but then Class 3 passages begin to present themselves more frequently and of longer duration. By the time the “obelisk” was reached at about 8 am, the ridge is solid Class 3 climbing and you’re beginning to wonder if that last 20 metres or so wouldn’t have been more accurately described as easy 4th. Eschewing MountaingirlBC’s and others’ heroics on the obelisk as the domain of those who have not yet discovered the meaning of mortality, we down-climbed a little to the right and made progress up towards the false summit mostly on this side of the ridge crest.
A few false leads followed to be sure but, as all the books say, the olivine rock makes you feel like Spiderman and a huge hold presents itself almost every time you need one. I can only remember once stepping up to find I had to use a crimper for my next handhold rather than a huge velcro jug. Not bad at all in 800 metres of vertical gain.
Once the base of the false summit was reached we down-climbed a bit to the right – following Becky’s route now rather than Gunn’s - until we could see the “comb” above us on the skyline. This a distinctive set of rooster’s comb-like pinnacles on the ridgeline approximately midway between the false and main summits. We then traversed to the right to a chossy gully directly below an obvious notch in the ridge to climber’s right of the comb. Rather than the gully we went up Class 4 slabs and blocky faces to its left and arrived in the target notch little more ten minutes later.
From the notch we squeezed through a narrow cleft that gave easy access to the ridge once again, walked across a flat snowfield and then up to a small sub-summit from which the main summit was in full view.
From this point it was only a matter of walking down a gentle snow slope to the narrow snow saddle above the north face and a further minute of easy Class 3 to the top of North Twin. We summited at 10.55 precisely.
Now began the summit photo ritual. The only problem is that there’s barely room for 3 people up there and stepping back sufficiently to get subject plus Baker or South Twin in shot results in becoming gravitationally challenged in short order, followed quite soon thereafter by death. So we made do with close ups of two days of stubble and maybe-that’s-Baker-peeping-over-his-shoulder stuff before returning to the snow saddle at the top of the north face for real photos and lunch.
It’s hard to wax eloquent enough about the views, at least on the day we climbed North Twin. Perhaps it was a little too hot to deliver the right clarity for that perfect photo but who cares. It felt like you could almost reach out and touch Baker and in spite of the haze, we could still see as far as Rainier.
The north face is steep. We set off down it at 10 minute intervals at about 11.30. Tony first, then Don, and then me. We all faced in for at least the first 150 vertical metres. Judging by the angle of my axe relative to the snow, I would estimate the slope to be at least 60° and maybe even more right where you drop off the saddle. Take this bit seriously! Don’t start to glissade too soon – or at all. I did and, to my shame, lost control. All ended well but let me just say thanks to “Dave” in the group that followed us down and retrieved the bits that fell off!
Once the initial steep bit was behind us the return to camp became a pleasant walk traversing under the NW face to intersect the west ridge just before the point where we had put the poles away that morning.
We arrived back at the tents at 2.15, a quick brew, pack up (why is one’s pack always heavier and fuller on the way out?) and we were heading down about 3.15. Just over two and a half hours of I-don’t-think-my-knees-were-made-to-do-this later and the Nooksack hove once more into view.
Thanks to my patented (and highly secret) border approach methodology, we negotiated a more than half-mile long traffic queue at Customs in just under 15 minutes and made the 9 pm sailing with ease. We got our $17 worth out of BC Ferries “Pacific Buffet” that night I can tell you.
A few notes about gear. We carried a rope and some rock pro but never got anything out of the packs. We also schlepped crampons and a couple of pickets up to our camp but, based on the reports of people coming down and the temperatures during the night, left all that at the tents. Axes, however, were essential to downclimb the north face. Work gloves for the west ridge save cuts and scrapes on the super abrasive rock and make the climb that much more pleasant.
Many thanks to Don and Tony. Great companions both and a privilege to share this experience with. Thanks a million guys!