Matt Lemke and I did this trip as a spur of the moment. Originally we planned on climbing Sherpa Peak via the North Ridge. Matt however did not want to have to hike once again along the Colchuck Lake trail and wasn't feeling in the mood for climbing Sherpa. So we settled for climbing Little Annapurna via the south face which is a 5.6 (or 5.5) rock climb. So both the trip and the destination came unexpectedly along with some other surprises along the way. This trip had a long approach, brushy terrain, class 4 scrambling, loose rocks, rock climbing, and boulder hopping in the evening. This was the beginning of one of the most epic weeks of the year.
I start running out the door with my heavy pack on. When you play the game of buses you either make the bus or fail the mission completely. As I pass the gate Tim yells to me "where are you going?". "I'm going on an adventure" I announce excitedly as I run with the climbing instructions in my hand. Kinda like the Hobbit.
Lucky for me I arrived early at the bus stop. It's not that I'm paranoid of catching the bus in time, but I've lost count of adventures that have failed because of the bus being early. It would often happen right in my face when I missed it. After taking a few buses I arrive in Monroe to meet Matt. Matt drove us over to the trailhead of Ingalls Creek which by this point it was night time.
In the morning we start the 8 mile approach up Ingalls Creek. We made good time and did it in the shaded hours. Right before Crystal Creek we went right (North) off the trail and into brushy terrain.
The woods were grassy with an occasional fallen over tree. As we got higher the sun came out and it became hot. As the trees faded and the slopes opened up more there was some scrambling. Passing by a creek I asked "should I fill up". Matt replied "it shouldn't be too long before we hit water again". As we kept going up I ran out of water and was getting a bit dehydrated. As I became fatigued I kept thinking to myself "why didn't I just go for the water when I saw it". At the tarn we set up camp.
The tarn near by was very dirty which concerned me. The creek appeared dried out. I knew that if I didn't find water soon I would have to turn around. Dehydration was already making me feel dizzy and exhausted. Fortunately after a few minutes of doing up the dry creek bed we found a nice water trickle. After filling up we had lunch and got ready for climbing the South Face of Little Annapurna.
As we approached the gully I was quite pleased to be re-hydrated again. Starting out the gully had a bit of loose rock but wasn't too bad. As we climbed I wasn't sure where exactly the route went. Fred Beckey described the route by saying "climb up the east gully". No surprise there. The terrain got spicier once we arrived at the cliffy section. I decided to do a class 4 variation by going right around the cliff section. Matt went right up the crack system. Once I was on top of the bypass I saw that Matt was below me. Between him and I was a class 5 move that would be sketchy to do unroped. After evaluating it he decided he wanted to be roped up to do the move. I found a solid looking bush and setup a belay.
After Matt climbed it we proceeded on with heading up the gully. Some spots were solid and others had some loose pieces. My approach shoes had less traction than your average city shoe making me a bit nervous as the exposure got higher and the moves became more demanding. Further up the gully the rock once again became crummier which required us to stay close to each other. It looked as if we could easily top out to the top of the gully. As we traversed over to the right side the exposure increased and the terrain was becoming dicier. Once we found a small platform I carefully changed into rock shoes.
The Sketchy Spot
I didn't like the feeling of the place, and I sure didn't want to have to climb back down what we came up. I certainly could, but it would have been tedious and dangerous. Matt lead the sketchiest section which was a unprotectable slab with bad holds and littered with loose rock. I was honestly worried for him and was tempted to yell out "do yourself a favor and don't climb things like this again". I know I wasn't about to climb it with no protection, no belay, and with a perilous fall waiting below. Matt kept having to shovel off rocks and kick in to make foot holds. According to Matt he said it was 5.6 slab. I can't disagree with that. As he climbed on, rocks kept going by me making me even more nervous. You could tell that he was very unpleased with the slope and that it took a lot of concentration. Once Matt was on better ground he announced "that was the sketchiest climb I've ever done".
Once he got to the top, a belay was set up and the rope was thrown down. I was pleased to see it didn't get caught on the loose rock. As I walked forward I couldn't help but think "Matt, stop knocking all those rocks down on me". What was actually happening was that the rocks were so loose that the slightest movement of the rope made them come down. Once the rocks slowed down I could finally get onto the slab section. The moves were few but enough to get by on. I would have to stop at spots to reduce the number of peddles coming down. Once I passed the slab I went through more sandy slopes with more loose rocks filling up my shoes. We were both happy to reach the col.
Climbing the South Face
After taking out the rocks in my shoes we hiked/scrambled on over to the south face of Little Annapurna. Matt led the first 5.4 pitch. I led the next pitch. I was amazed at what a difference the quality of the rock was. Clean climbing that was enjoyable. Matt led the final class 3 pitch. With a little bit more scrambling we arrived onto the summit of Little Annapurna. After a big snack break we could see that it was getting late. We started the hustle down racing the sun.
The views of the enchantment basin were lovely. Lakes, green larches, and a sunset atmosphere. After passing Crystal Lake the talus picked up again.
It probably wasn't much more than an hour of scrambling but heading over the dark talus just kept going on and on. As we get further down Matt is now ahead and I'm finding myself surrounded by house sized boulders. Sometimes one would roll from underneath of me which I'd catch myself just in time. The holes around where getting quite big and I could help but wonder if I would be found if I fell in one. Once I arrived in the woods I became very paranoid when I saw what looked like recent bear evidence. Or was I just so out of it that I couldn't tell what it was? Couldn't tell you. After calling out Matt shined his light which I could finally spot where he was. I was about 10 minutes later to camp than Matt. We had some dinner and went to bed.
Prusik Peak and the Temple sounded like a lot of work with how tired we both were. So we both decided to call it good with what we got. On the way down we managed to miss the cairn trail and did some extra bushwhacking. After what felt like hours we arrive at the Ingalls Creek trail.
8 miles later we were both happy to make it out. When I got home I seriously considered skipping Mount Shuksan. But I didn't want to let Excitableboy down and it's been a goal I've wanted to do for many years. The next day I went out to climb Mount Shuksan. I guess I just can't get enough.
Matt Lemke's version of the story is Little Annapurna...The Hard Way.