[For a trip report of the previous day's climb of Desolation Peak click here.]
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Julian Simon and Dave Creeden showed up the night before around 10:00pm. In the morning we drove down to the ranger shack near the border and parked. At 5:40am we set out up the “Trail of the Obelisks.” After passing one border obelisk we shortly came to the highpoint of that loop trail and left it for the lair of the mosquito. We passed the swamp shown on the map on the left (north) probably a little bit into the Canuck side.
For the first 2,400 vertical feet or so we were treated to swarms of those pesky miniature mosquitoes. These buggers are more agile (i.e., faster) and make a more annoying higher-pitched whine. We took a break at 3,300 ft where we immediately sprayed our skin with skeeter-spayer to forfend the biting pain.
Fortunately for us there was a little bit of cloud cover keeping things “cooler” but I was worried these clouds might foreshadow more than just a lack of shadows. But maybe the clouds did lower the climbing temperature from 85F to 80F!
We crossed the border swathe at roughly 4,000 ft (this was the first time we had seen it as it is not evident at the road) then at about 4,400 ft we took our second break on a steep side hill. We were close to the basin that leads up to the notch. We hit the basin at 5,100 ft and this changed the nature and the pleasure of the hiking immensely. Soon we were at the 6,350-ft saddle. And in about 3.5 hours from the car we were in the north basin of our objective. It was only 3.5 hours but it felt like 6. Man that is one brutal approach. It is the exertion crux of the climb.
From the basin we eyed the rest of the mountain and had trouble reconciling what we saw with Mike Collins’ trip report. We couldn’t see the ledge and the little Class 4 step he talks about. A route up the majority of the Northeast Ridge looked viable as did something to the right of the NE Face. This right side has been designated the NNW Ridge by some. It’s not really a ridge in the usual spine sense but just a corner where the NE Face meets the West Face.
We figured the closer we got to the face the easier it would be to identify the correct route. We took heather to rock and morainal debris thence to snow until we finally hit the slabs below the face. Here Dave and I ditched our trekking poles and all three of us donned our harnesses.
Soon we were at the notch at the lowest point of the NNW Ridge. Man that West Face is spectacular and so large I couldn’t fit it into one photograph! Between the lower headwall of the NE Face and the West Face we scrambled up an initial section of completely unprotectable Class 4. We all knew downclimbing that later would be a sketchfest. Above that the climbing was a little easier but not without a few short Class 4 steps (sometimes wet or showery from the splatter of short waterfalls). Eventually we got up to the upper snowfield. It was now obvious Mike’s ledge route went left. But we liked the look of the final NNW Ridge so we crossed the short bit of snow to a minor notch/alcove in the ridge. Dave and Julian took an oblique line up and left from the alcove to gain the crest while I went all the way to the notch to get on the crest earlier. The first 100 feet for me was enjoyable Class 3+ and with big exposure to the West Face as it quickly rolled off into oblivion. The other two missed that chance at exposure fun (more like they waz scaared). Eventually, I met Dave just as he was making the crest through a minor chimney. Julian was right behind him. The remainder of the ridge was even easier and lower angle—which meant it was a Class 2 slog due to the the anticipation of “almost being there.”
The climb up took about 6.5 hours (but we took a few long breaks in the heat). We were the first to sign in since Mike and Jim B. in June 2005.
We did not use any technical gear for the entire climb up and only used our ice axes for the short 100 feet across the snow. But for the downclimb what would we do? Julian wanted to go down the up-route. I wanted to check out Mike’s up-route. Dave didn’t seem to care either way. So we went down the NE Ridge…all the way down it.
We stayed on the crest all the way down to about 6,000 ft. About a third of the way down the ridge it is exposed to both sides on a knife edge of rotten and unprotectable rock. Every horn was loose. And the lichen wasn’t helping. Since we had two 30m ropes, I had gone ahead to check for rap anchor possibilities knowing there was a wide ledge just below us on the north side. But I kept seeing nothing to rap from securely and eventually got to a point where I could see that “I think it goes all the way!” I got off the last bit on loose Class 3 as Julian and Dave hurried to catch up.
This put us on the large plateau at mid-ridge. There were a few cairns marking out a route that continued down the ridge. We came to a rap anchor in a chimney and did one rap on a 30m rope. There were then two more rap stations below this but we managed to downclimb these bits (Class 3/4).
We then got off the ridge and angled back to the upper basin (one or two more Class 3/4 moves on the slabs). Dave and I climbed 200 vertical feet back up to retrieve our poles and we were off…off to Ross Lake for a nice dive off the boat dock...but not before running back into those oh so mean Hozomeen mosquitoes. I wonder if some of the same buggars from the morning got us again in the afternoon.
Roughly 5 miles round trip; 12.5 hours, 6,800 ft of gain (all told). I was back in Seattle by about midnight (about 200 miles from the Mountain).
"As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life - so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls."