What to climb...After Chico (cascadian) moved back up here to Washington from California, we decided it was time for a climb. We had lofty ideas of what a good climb would be, but a small weather window allowed us only part of a day. So, we decided on the SW face of the tooth... close to home, quick approach and a route we hadn't done yet. Throw in the fact that it's winter and we figured the route would provide an interesting outing!
5:45 amIt is far too early to get up and my body tells me to go back to bed. Somehow I get up (having slept maybe 2 hours) and put on some clothes and drive to meet Chico in Issaquah. We meet and head up to the pass talking about climbing and med school and more climbing. When we arrive at the trailhead, we pack our bags and head out quickly as we want to avoid afternoon avy danger. We leave the car and hit the trail at 8:00 am.
I haven't been on this approach since the summer, where you still have to walk around the north side of the valley. But it's winter now so the approach is a mile shorter and doesn't involve a mile of talus hopping. The only real difficulty we had was getting up the snow gully into Great Scott's Basin. The gully was full of soft snow and moats. But a tiring slog got us to the top within a half and hour and we were able to cruise up the basin to pineapple pass. From the basin to the base of the climb there were no difficulties and we made quick time.
There are 3 dihedrals that make up the SW face of the tooth and we originally planned on climbing the normal route that goes up the third and farthest north one. But when we got to the first dihedral we saw some gear on a sling up the first dihedral. We thought about rapping the SW face to get the gear but upon inspection of the third dihedral we realized there was enough snow that the first pitch would only be about 10 meters long. So we went back to first dihedral and started up towards the gear.
The climbBefore Chico started climbing, he pulled out of his pack the wonderful ski suit we designated as his "winter alpine suite." As soon as it came out of his pack I knew today could only be a great day!
Chico started up the first pitch while I belayed off a solid nut and a picket. He made quick progress up the open book until it split into two more dihedrals, one goes left and one right. He took the right option as it led to the gear. This turned out to be a tough climb since he stayed in the corner clipping a fixed pin (I climbed right onto the face before the fixed pin and it was easy climbing 5.2 at most). When Chico got to the gear, he hollered down with joy, "WOOO HOOO!!!" As It turned out, the gear we had seen was a fully equalized 3 point anchor with a #1 camalot, a#2 camalot, a #6 hex, a brand new cordelette and 5 large lockers in perfect condition. It looked like someone had just left the gear right before we got there. Excited, I took down the belay and climbed up to see what we found. Upon arrival at the belay station, I looked down and realized that 15' below us, and to the left, was the gear we had originally seen when first looking up the dihedral! There were 2 more large lockers, another cordelette and a quickdraw clipped onto a bolt someone had placed for some unknown reason. We decided we'd finish the climb and come back around, scramble up and clean that gear later.
Excited about our find, I led out on the second pitch climbing directly above the belay into sketchy and almost unprotectable climbing. 10' off the belay I had to aid on a #4 nut to get to a stance were I could place my first piece of weight bearing gear. All the climbing up to the aid piece was very tenuous and exposed! Above my first good piece of gear I clawed my way up unprotectable and mossy slabs and corners until I reached a tree with slings around it to belay off. I would rate this section of the climb nothing more than awkward 5.6 (especially with boots) but very dirty and loose. Chico quickly came up commenting on how much he loved the pitch because it was so sketchy.
I said I hated it.
The next pitch was Chico's and we decided that we should traverse under a big roof to where the normal route goes. He took the gear and led out on a 50 meter traverse pitch that involved great exposure and fun climbing with a crux in the middle of a 15' leftward trending crack. He climbed into an nice looking dihedral with pitons and slings going up it, but retreated as the climbing was much too tough to go free. Instead he climbed a ramp down and left traversing even farther and making one sketchy move to a solid belay. This was the best climbing of the day. I'd say the leftward trending crack was 5.6, the rest 4th class to maybe 5.2 with great exposure and solid rock. The downclimb at the end was exciting as there was no way to protect it, so seconding added some spice! At the end of this pitch we were still not all the way over to the normal route.
I led out on the fourth pitch inspired by Chico's fun lead, directly into strenuous and unprotectable climbing. For the first 30' off the belay the climbing was considerably more sustained and hard to protect.
I Was able to get a crappy cam in 6' off the belay, in lose rock, and that was it. After 30' the difficulties ended and 4th class scrambling led me up towards an overhanging corner (below the catwalk) with a blank slab (or so I thought it was blank) on the right. After looking at my options 50' below the overhang, I decided to examine the overhanging corner as the climbing up to it looked easy. Climbing up to the corner I could see a nice crack appearing that looked like it would go, possibly free, but maybe with some help if necessary. To make a long story short, I got in a sketchy cam right at the base of the overhang and was able to climb up about 8 feet easily with decent holds and stemming. The next part looked and was much more difficult. I was able to get a nut placement in, sling it with a long sling and stand in it. Above this stance, about 10' up was a big ledge before an easy scramble to the base of the catwalk. 4' above the piece I had aided off, I was stemming and reaching for a nice handjam when my left foot popped off the miniscule hold it was on.
The next few seconds were a blur to me. All I remember is yelling something, floating through the air, jerking to a semi-stop, hearing rock exploding, falling some more, finally hitting the slab below me and sliding down it 10-15 feet. I came to a stop with a hot sensation in my right ankle and quickly found something to stand on with my left foot, and making sure I could move my ankle. It moved in all direction, but didn't feel great. "Chico, I think I just sprained my ankle!" His response was what most people would probably say, "um... uh... ok. Are you alright?" I had him lower me 10' to a large flake that I slung and anchored into. We decided that I would bring Chico up so he could clean the 3.5 friend that held my fall and downclimb back to me. The nut I had aided off of made the rock explode when I fell onto it, braking completely out of the crack. As I was taking him up, I noticed that there was a small 4th class ledge system cutting across the slab to my right which would lead to easier terrain above. I had just taken a 20+ foot fall on a hard overhanging corner when I could have easily traversed right on easy terrain...
As Chico arrived at the belay, we re-racked and started looking at our options. My ankle didn't feel great but it also wasn't too bad. I could stand on the inside of my foot but not on the outside. The obvious first option was to rappel the route we had just climbed. Another option was to have Chico check out the 4th class ledges to see if they would lead to the normal south face route where were could rap off. And the final and obviously terrible option was to have chico attempt the overhanging crack. We went with the second option as I just wanted to get to a place were I could sit down and look at my ankle without having to be leaning off an anchor. Chico led out on the traverse and 50' later he was at a tree belaying me over. The climbing was SO easy I couldn't believe it. I had completely overlooked the ledge system because I couldn't see it from below. After arriving at the tree belay I took a seat and checked out my ankle which seemed to be doing just fine. We were halfway up the 3rd pitch scramble of the normal south face route.
The descentSince we'd both been to the summit so many times, we skipped making the climb to the top in favor of getting me down and out, just in case my ankle started to hurt more.
The downclimb to the rappel anchors was uneventful as I rappelled and Chico kicked steps down steep snow. From there it was 2 rappels to the base of the south face where we decided to go back around to the southwest face to pick up the other gear we had seen left on the face. Within a few minutes Chico had scrambled up to the gear and added to the booty collection from the day. All in all, the gear we collected totaled over $350!!!
Rappelling down the normal rappel gully was interesting as there was a large overhanging cornice to deal with. There was a space on the left to fit through so we attempted to rappel through it. Chico made it down and to a safe zone away from the path of any collapsing cornices. As he was rappelling the rope got caught in the snow and had cut in a few inches. Just in case, I had Chico try to pull part of the rope down to make sure we could recover it... it didn't budge. Just as I was about to let him pull the rope and walk around to the normal approach gully, I found a large horn I could sling with a humongous cordelette we found (25' of 9mm perlon). It called for an awkward start for a rappel, especially with a bum right foot, but worked well enough that I never had to actually climb under the overhanging cornice of doom (it was at least 5-7' overhung. After this, the downclimb and hike out was very uneventful except that I had "limp plunge step" steep snow. We reached the car at the trailhead and hour and a half after getting the last of the gear off the mountain.
2 days afterMy ankle has swollen up and hurts bad enough that I can't walk on it. I went into the doctor to have it examined and they don't think it is broken... so far. They said we'd really know in a week if it doesn't start getting better. It turns out I've sprained the deltoid ligament on my right foot. Unfortunately fractures often accompany sprains of the deltoid... :(
Anyway, I'm walking around with crutches and a leg brace for the time being.
I've had plenty of time to think about what happened. And I've replayed the incident in my head too many times. I'm lucky I didn't break it... that would have been a long and painful night of self rescue. Good thing I had spent the past month reviewing self rescue! I almost got to use those skills!
I plan on finishing the route I attempted in the summer or spring with rock shoes. I think that the overhanging corner would go at 5.9+... maybe a bit easier if dry, but definitely doable in rock shoes. We'll see when the time comes and my ankle heals. Until then, I'll spend a lot of time looking at EVERYTHING new on summitpost and dreaming of the day I can climb again.
3 days after the fall... Somehow I can put weight on my ankle and almost walk. I can't bend it inward or up too much, but it seems to be doing much better than myself, or the doctors would have expected. It feels good to use is and be somewhat mobile!
I created a SW face 1st dihedral variation page... but here is a quick rundown for those of you who want the quick version!
SW face variation ... P1- climbed the first dihedral (rather than the 3rd like most people do) 20m taking a right up a corner with a fixed pin to a good belay ledge 15 feet above, 5.5 if you move right onto the face after the fixed pin... harder if you stay in the corner. P2 - Climb directly above the belay on hard to protect and exposed moves to a dirty and hard to protect slab to a good belay tree 20m 5.6. P3 - Traverse left 50+ meters going over many ribs until you reach a vertical wall with a leftward slanting crack which protects well and is fun climbing. Climb the crack and keep traversing into a large open book with a fixed pin with a sling on it. Climb up high enough to access a ramp on the left wall you can downclimb to reach a belay around the rib 5' up, 5.6. P4 - climb up and left of the belay on strenuous hard to protect rock until you reach 4th class terrain trending slightly rightward until 30' below and overhanging corner. Before reaching the corner, move right across what looks like a featureless slab on thin 4th class ledges to a small tree just above a patch of trees, 5.7. P5 and 6 - follow the normal south face route to the summit, 4th class.
Friends 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5 (#3.5 was very useful in many situations)
Set of nuts
9 Single slings (less if you want to climb shorter pitches)
3 double slings (more if you tend to create rope drag but we didn't end up needing more)
helmet, harness etc.