Being that the approach to the West Face was pretty mild we met up in Lynnwood at 9am. No one forgot anything, but somehow from the P&R to the TH a sandwich disappeared and Brando would pine over this for the rest of the weekend. To get to the Bedal Creek TH be sure to follow FSR 4081. Some maps show the road from Elliott Creek connecting, but this is really a trail that adds 2+ miles and 1000' of elevation gain. We got to the Bedal Creek TH (~2800') at noon where we met a Mountaineers group that was intending to do the Corkscrew route by traversing from the south. We didn't meet up with this party again, but based on our descent we could not figure out how they intended to ascend from that aspect. The well maintaned trail took us into the basin directly below the NW face of Sloan giving us our first glimpse at the imposing wall. We continued up the creek bed which turned to a snowfield at about 4800'. The snow has definately started to retreat after the warm patch we have had recently, but there was still a lot for this time of year. This made gaining the saddle at ~5800' where we would make camp a bit easier, not to mention the convenience of having snow next to camp to melt. We dropped our bags at 3pm and took in the view of Mt. Baker to the north and the Monte Cristo group to the south. The day was gorgeous, but hot so it felt good to be done moving. Scouting the route from below we decerned three green ledges underneath and to the left of the gulley we would am for. Between the first and second was a large roof with a white face. We decided that we would need to stay right until we could find a way onto the second green ledge. On the second ledge a dark crack under a tree looked like the best way up to the third ledge. We relaxed, had dinner, and were all in our bivy sacks by 8:30pm. The stars were fantastic during the night, a common occurance for an August climb.
The West Face reportedly runs at about 5.7 (class II or III) however one could make variations to almost any difficulty if they desired to. Our plan was to get up at 4am and be climbing by 5am, but it was pitch black out until about 530am so we waited for twilight and were on the face at about 610am. Route finding on this route can be dicey, but by staying near or in the prominent gulley located atop the ridge we camped on parties shouldn't have to much difficulty. The first bit (wouldn't really call it a pitch) was up a wet chimney that slanted to the left, there weren't good places to place pro so I jetted up it hoping that my feet didn't slip and slung a boulder at the top to belay Jason up. Looking north we felt this must be the second ledge we had seen from camp, so from the top of this chimney we made the easy traverse on one of the many heather-covered ledges. Brando and Ryan made up the second half of our team and followed shortly. About 200' along the ledge we came to the wide crack underneath the tree that we had seen from camp. This was where we started pitching the route.
This pitch was fairly short (maybe 30-40 feet) and was dirty, which is why I found it un pleasant. The three behind me all moved out more to the face about half way up which they said made it more enjoyable. At the top there is a good tree to belay from, or you can continue on this ledge to the right to the next tree. Jason and I did the latter an found that it was a little cramped with both of us there, but relatively comfortable after one left. I would recommend this as the belay for the next pitch because it reduces the rope drag for the corner that leads to the gulley.
Once around the corner and into the base of the gulley it is mostly an easy scramble up with a couple low fifth class moves. It is probably possible to go right for the base of the gulley, but there is a more enjoyable (and most likely drier) variation to the left. There is also a great belay spot with a large flat rock. To get here stay left after rounding the corner and follow the left side up instead of traversing toward the base of the gulley that is now visible. Half way up this ramp you will be able to see the right slanting dihedral.
This dihedral up onto another ledge is the best climbing of the route. Whereas most of the climb is difficult to protect, this pitch has a nice crack system and a fixed chock-stone. I would rate this around 5.7, definately the most technical of the climb, but also the most protectable. Jason lead this pitch out, leaving me to haul the pack. There is an interesting step to get into the seam, but then good feet and hands (in and outside the crack) take you up.
The rock is great here, a nice burley section to spice up a pretty straight forward ascent to this point. Belay from the top on another nice ledge system and traverse climber's right to the gulley proper.
Another highly enjoyable pitch, but hard to protect. The gulley ramps up and left on little steps, but by now the rock is solid and smearing is great. When the gulley opens up move right up to a nice belay ledge in front of a large flake that makes a great anchor. At this point you are at about 7000'. You now have two options ahead of you: continue up the gulley or move out onto a ramp to climber's left. We took the latter.
This is a pretty simple traverse out and around a slightly over-hanging face. Protection is good, but the angle is low so it is possible to simulclimb this section. Once around the corner the grade eases off and you can either unrope or simul for another 200' (there is one other section with a low fifth class move). It is also a good idea to change from rock shoes to hiking boots at this point.
Scramble pretty much straight up the face negotiating through the gulleys. We had read that you should meet up with the Corksrew route soon after topping out from pitch 5, but we didn't find it until about 200' below the summit.
There is a well worn path upto the ridge, where you get your first look at Glacier Peak. What a view! We pounded some gummy worms, signed the register, and tried to name all the peaks. It was an incredibly clear day. The Olympics and the Puget Sound were visible; the Stewart range to the south east; Eldorado & Forbidden to the south; the Pickets to the north. Looking at the time it was just after 1pm, not great time but not bad.
Here's where we had to get creative. Our understanding was that the Corkscrew route (our planned descent to the SE face) left the summit to the north, but we had come up from the south along a ridge. Looking SW we could see an obvious trail and decided that we would downclimb our final 200' then traverse south toward this trail. As we moved down we kept an eye out for where the Corkscrew route would loop around, but never saw anything that looked like it would go. I guess we were off on that bit of beta. We followed the nice trail down past the SW face, that may have been a decsent rap route (there were some slings visible from the trail), to the SE face that overlooked a snowfield. About halfway to the south face we turned right and downclimbed a gulley with a worn trail. After descendin about 150' we found a rappell anchor that was set in a little stream. There were three slings on it, including one that looked pretty new, so we slid the rope through for a single rope rappell. On this rappell you want to stay to climber's right to stay on the rock. At the base of this rappell is another large ledge, but now it's not so obvious on where to go.
It is hard to get close to the edge to look down and get an idea of how far the drop is, but the snowfield looks like a couple hundred feet. We searched around for a bit, hoping to find some old slings to direct us, but in the end had to pick a spot and hope our double rope rappell would get us to the snow. We slung a rock, connected the ropes with a Euro Death-Knot, and Brando edged out over to get a better look. He thought it would just make it and so he continued and we waited to hear a yell of "Off Rappell." Luckily it came and we all made it down with about 10-15' to spare. Don't know how you would get down without a second rope. (Note: Considering the amount of route rfinding we had to use to get off this face I don't know how the other party we saw the day before intended on getting up.) Once on the snow all that was left was to traverse back around to camp, pack up, and hike out. It was 410pm when we had the ropes coiled. By 5pm we were back at camp. We took a chance to lay down and drink some water before hiking out. We left camp at 545pm and arrived back at the car at 730pm.
Additional GPS map lay-overs of our climb are in images.
Thanks to Ryan for putting these together.
We took a full set of nuts; probably would have been fine with a half.
Four tri-cams worked well.
We had BD C4 cams .3-3; probably would only take the .4, 1, & 2.
Two 60m ropes for double rope rap.
Helmets; lots of loose stuff in gulley.
Ice axes & boots for traverse back.
One pair of crampons in case the snow was hard (it was pretty soft for us).