An APB on ABP...This is a route with a little bit of everything and a lot of bits of loose rock. But don’t let a little Cascade looseness dissuade you from visiting American Border Peak. It’s no different than your standard Cascade choss pile.
By doing the Southeast Route, you will be able to climb on different sides of the mountain. There are meadows and talus, notches and basins, flatness and steepness, foliation and exfoliation. There are bees on thistles and winds that whistle. And that concludes the poetry portion of this route description.
As an alpine “rock” climb, I found this route and mountain to be a pleasure. All the stories of looseness—especially on the traverse—seemed overblown. Besides, it seems to me the climb would be much harder (and certainly more exposed to short runouts) if it were still snow covered.
Part of the reason the mountain isn’t climbed all that often is that you have to contour around the west side of Mt. Larrabee just to get to it. I’m ignoring the fact that you can also approach this mountain from Slesse/Silesia Creek on the east. This is an approach starting in Canada and I don’t know much about it other than there are logging roads in the valley (right up to the border, no less) and there will be a glacier to negotiate.
Note that Beckey calls this the Southeast Face Route. But if you look at the map, there is no Southeast Face except for the portion crossing the red rock. But this isn’t the major part of the route and it certainly isn’t the crux. The ridge connecting American Border to Mt. Larrabee trends southeastward and American Border’s main faces are the West, East, and Southwest. I chose to simply call it the Southeast Route to avoid the ambiguity of calling it a face route. Even the climbing itself doesn’t involve any “face climbing” in the rock climbing sense.
Traverse to the camp basinNote that it would be possible to climb this peak car-to-car in a day, especially if you are a fast traveler. If that’s your plan, it’s not an unreasonable one. Just leave early in the morning (maybe before sun-up) and be prepared for a long day.
From Twin Lakes (5200 ft), take the Winchester Mountain Trail for a few hundred yards to a junction (5400 ft). Take the High Pass Trail northward at this junction. The HP Trail initially goes over the east shoulder of Winchester then promptly descends to get around the mountain’s cliffy northeast face. The trail loses about 300 vertical feet then gains it back to arrive at Low Pass (5640+ ft) and about a half-mile later High Pass (5920+ ft).
The total distance from trailhead to pass is about 2 miles. Allow most of an hour to get there.
At the pass find the trail leading down (northward from the pass) to the basin on the west. The trail goes to Gargett Mine (flooded). Leave the trail at the creek crossing and proceed westward. Cross the creek and aim for the timbered lower southwest shoulder of Mt. Larrabee. This shoulder is steeper than it looks from a distance. The lower down you go the less steep it is but the more out of the way you will be going. The best bet is to contour onto the shoulder at 5400 ft. Don’t try and stay high as there is a very steep, unscarifiable slope to contend with. You’ll know it by its gray appearance with minimal foliage to grab on to. And what you can grab, you’ll grab onto for dear life. Just stay at least 100 feet below it. There are some minor rock outcrops/cliffs to deal with too. But all in all the shoulder shouldn’t be an impediment to you.
Once on the shoulder, cross it. It might help to ascend 100 vertical feet first before getting off of it. When the timber ends on the shoulder’s north, look across and up a bit to spot the only viable notch in the next shoulder over (Larrabee’s WNW shoulder). If you can see it (assuming it’s not a whiteout), you’ll know it by the red scree slope leading up to it flanked by greenery. The notch is at 6300 ft. Make a diagonal ascent toward the notch, but stay below the small band of trees before making the final, steep grind to the notch.
(Beckey describes a route around the base of the WNW shoulder at 5000 ft. My opinion is this low route isn’t worth it. You’ll run into brush [I’ve read a horror story about this brush; you can read it too here], steep duff, and uncertainty as to where exactly you are in the woods. The high notch alternative described above is completely open the whole time and really entails the same amount of loss-gain as the low route. I could see from the other side of the WNW shoulder that the low route would be brushy and steep. I’m glad we didn’t go that way.)
The other side of the notch can be descended easily (steep dirt down a short ramp) to get to the maniacally talused camp basin. Oh my goodness! I’ve never seen or trod on so much redness. At the base of the red talus there will be two snow patches (in late season). Descend to these patches. To their right butting up against the trees in the lower, middle of the basin, you will find an ancient stone-walled campsite at 5600 ft. The grass has taken over the campsite in uncomfortable clumps. Unless you want to do some landscaping/excavating, you will find this site unsuitable for a tent. Even a bivy sack has to be positioned just right for maximum sleep comfort.
The distance from High Pass to the camp basin is about 1.7 miles. Allow 1.5-2.0 hours to make this traverse.
A note about water availability in the basin
In early season water will probably be available in this basin. Later in the season something strange happens (or at least it happened while we were there). Directly below the snow patches the ground and talus give way to a ravine. About 30 feet below the lip of this ravine water may be flowing out of the ground. It might depend on the type of day (cold, hot, rainy, etc.). When we arrived there at 4:30pm the day before the climb, water sprung out of the ground rather vigorously. However, upon return to camp at 1:45 the next day the ravine was bone dry and looked as if water hadn’t flowed down it for weeks. It was still dry at 2:30 when we left. My guess is snowmelt percolates through the talus throughout the day and when it finally gets to a certain pressure or level, it bursts out of the ground. But don’t count on that. I’m just guessing here. Note that there is a gully a few hundred yards to the north that might also have snow in it and hence some running water. And again, we found water flowing in it at 4:30pm but not in the early morning at 6:00am (we didn’t go past this gully on the way back). If you intend to camp in this basin (a logical choice for a camp), you can assure yourself of water if you’re willing to melt snow.
Camp basin to chimneyFrom camp your objective is the lowest saddle on the ridgeline above. The saddle is at 6840+ ft. To get there, go north in the basin to a gully (may be snowfilled) and cross it to gain the steep trees. Climb up through the trees. The ground is semi-open and vegetated with many green belays. Climb up several hundred feet but no more than 600 vertical feet before veering left. If you don’t veer left you will probably find yourself scrambling through two steep upper ravines of slabby gray rock. The upper left part of the slope is largely steep heather and grasses that blend into plain old talus near the saddle. One hour to the saddle.
It is possible to avoid the steep trees all together by instead going diagonally up from camp so as to cross at the head of the gully (the one that will probably be snowfilled) on steep undulating slopes directly below cliffs. This is at about 5800 ft. It looks ledgy from camp and it is to a degree. Note that if you were not intending to camp in the basin there would be no need to descend from the 6300-ft notch to the 5600-ft camp. You can instead cut straight across red talus without losing that extra 200 vertical feet.
Once at the saddle the real climbing begins…
Note the red face above and to the right. On the right skyline of this face is a lighter-colored rock nose at ~7300 ft (John Roper’s “de Gaulle’s Nose”). To the left of this nose is a gully. That is where you’re heading next. To get there, climb NNW up the crest for 150 vertical feet, staying on the right slope of a ridge bump. Look for a trace trail. On the other side of the bump is a higher notch. Keep climbing up the crest to where it begins to steepen. On the right look for one of several thin ledge weaknesses to cross the red face. We took one just below a light-gray rock outcrop. There are other traverse possibilities. Cross the face to the aforementioned gully left of the nose. The traverse is Class 2/3 but I wouldn’t want to do this if it were snowcovered!
Climb up the rocky gully. It is Class 3 mostly except for a brief Class 4 step through a groove. The upper gully is sandy. From the minor rib (now left of the nose) a good portion of the rest of the route will be visible. On the left is a rock wall below which is a scree apron fringed by heather extending several hundred feet to the north. The apron leads to a bench. About halfway to the bench there is a gully going up and left to a notch. This gully may have a snow block in it.
To get to the apron scramble up the rib left of the nose (Class 3) to its upper end where it abuts the rock wall. Here an easy dirt traverse leads to the apron.
Walk along the steep apron as close to the wall as possible. Stay near the wall all the way to the mouth of the gully. Scramble up the gully, passing the snow block in either the left or right moat if they exist (we found the left moat easier). The last part of the gully goes up very steep, unscarifiable dirt. This dirt is the crux of the gully (Class 3 but awkward edging and/or stemming).
The gully comes to a narrow notch beside a 50-ft tower. From this notch the famous chimney can be seen. It is the really narrow one to the left of a wider one. The wider one is really a gully transitioning to a chimney to another notch beside a tower.
An up-and-down ledge traverse is required to get to the chimney. The ledge starts out easy but narrows considerably in the last 30 feet, so much so that some may elect to belay it. Because of this, the notch might be a good place to gear up.
A 50m rope won’t quite make the base of the chimney where there is sufficient flat ground for a belay stance and sufficient anchors. A 60m rope will probably just about make it. No matter, simply do a running belay across the ledge. You can get a piece in (I used a hex) at about 40 meters out then a mid-size cam in a crack at your feet in the narrow spot where it descends a few feet. It’s then another 20 feet to the base of the chimney. To the right of the chimney are several vertical cracks that will take small cams.
Climbing the chimneyThe crux of the chimney is at its start. You sort of have to climb the left wall. There’s a good mid-size cam crack about 12 feet off the deck on the left but this will require you to do a sideways rock climb to get above the first chockstone. It could be done…but I didn’t do it.
What did I do? Why I bypassed it, of course. I don’t know if others have done this bypass but my guess is yes.
There is a sandy gully to the right of the chimney. Go around the corner in this gully to find an indentation in the wall. The indentation has a Class 4 start but eases up after that. The apex of the indentation corners at a pedestal just above the first chockstone. You can step into the chimney from there. This bypass takes the “5.4” crux and turns it into Class 4.
Once in the gully you can scramble up it to a rap anchor (the intermediate rap in the gully). From here it might be prudent to belay again to the top. Watch for rockfall from the leader. The rap anchor belay at least allows for a duck under an overhang because there is certainly nowhere to run in this vertical bowling lane.
Immediately above the anchor are two easy steps (one is the anchor rock itself). A little farther up is a larger chockstone with a small cave underneath it. This chockstone can be surmounted by the wall on the right. The wall features thin holds but isn’t particularly difficult (maybe it’s Class 5.2). There is a pinch spot on the left side of the chockstone one can sling to for protection. Other than that, there isn’t much.
Above this chockstone is the final chockstone, the one with the keyhole in it. If the keyhole didn’t exist, the chimney would not be climbable. The chockstone is huge! There are actually two keyholes. The one on the left is the one you want. If you’ve brought your pack with you, you’ll most likely have to take it off and push it up through the opening first. Likewise, if you’re really fat, you won’t fit. Even for a thin person there is some contortion required to get through. Once through the keyhole the chimney is finished. You will be standing in a small depression where the keyhole is like a drain for a bathtub.
Videos featuring the keyhole
Born Again on American Border Peak
Unborn Again on American Border Peak
The rest of itFrom the keyhole, climb north out of the depression then turn left and scramble up another loose gully to the South Ridge proper. The final twenty feet of gully goes up slabs then steep dirt (Class 3 but slippery).
Once on the ridge crest you are now only 15 minutes from the top. There is a nice two-person bivy inside a stone wall on the ridge at the top of the gully. But there is actually room for 20 bivies there.
Climb up the South Ridge to the summit tower. There are a few minor gendarmes on the ridge. Most of these we passed on the right (east).
The final tower looks harder from a distance than it is. There are two mantle moves with exposure to the sides (Class 3) that are harder to descend than to climb up.
Time = 4 hours from camp basin, 6 hours from High Pass, 7 hours from the car
Net gain= 2400 feet from camp basin, ~3000 from High Pass, ~3600 from the car
DescendingDescend the route. There are several places one can rappel:
1. At the top of the chimney – it’s probably best to rappel through the keyhole but doing so with a pack could be an awkward situation
2. Midway down the chimney – a 50m rope will reach the bottom
3. Down from the notch into the snow gully – a 50m rope may only reach to halfway down the moat or snow
4. Down the top of the gully at de Gaulle’s Nose
Essential GearIn early season crampons and ice axe are a must. In late season you probably won’t need them. The only place where you might need them would be for the little patch of snow in the gully.
Trekking poles – unless you like falling down (on foliage and talus)
A mid-size rack of small and mid-size cams and small nuts or hexes
A 50m or 60m rope