West Ridge of West Garfield TRTLDR version
On the 9th, 10th of October 2012, Colin B. and I climbed the West peak of Garfield via the West ridge. The West Garfield group consists of 5 peaks total with the highest peak being Garfield West itself which is situated in the center of the group. Four of these peaks lie along this East/West trending mountain ridge with the Infinite Bliss Summit the Eastern most of the group. One of the peaks is on a spur ridge Northwards from Garfield West.
This was the culmination of an off and on 3 year project. The Garfield West summit was first climbed in 1940 via the West ridge. Virtually no route information was available so it was an exploratory climb. We approached and gained the ridge from a different direction and location than the first ascensionists. We simuled most of the way and bivied on a flat spot on a bench to the North of the I.B. summit. We only took 3 quarts of water each and ran out by the morning of the 2nd day. There was no water or snow anywhere on the route.
We were unsure of which summit was actually Garfield West and we only had time to summit the tallest peak. We thought at the time that Garfield West was the next one on the ridge, which meant we had failed to summit. Back at the house I looked again at the topo and determined that we had indeed climbed Garfield West.
It was a lot of scrambling, a lot of mid fifth with some 5.6, 5.7. and lots of big exposure. Very little bushwack on the approach and most of the trees on the ridge were avoidable. Remarkably clean rock if you stayed right on the crest but not much gear, mostly slinging trees. The plan was to descend south from the saddle between the I.B. Summit and Leaning Spire but with scary conditions and an arrested fall we retreated to the I.B. 60m rap line with our 50's and only the memory of looking at the topo a few years previous and never having climbed it.
two 50m twins,
5 camalots to #1,
16 single slings
2 dbl slings
2 quad slings
Camp Nano beaners
1 light axe per
ultra-light packs/bivy gear
Camera Sony NEX-5N
CLIMBING VIDEOCOLIN'S VIDEO OF THE CLIMB.
Put it on full screen, the Go-Pro lens really makes this climb look wild.
THE TREACHEROUS CONUNDRUM TRAVERSEL---O---N---G version. This alpine climbing tale is at least partially true, only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
He wasn't really sure exactly when the whole concept of an alpine climb to the lofty and remote Western summit had first coalesced. It could have been on the trip up to reconnoiter the start of the somewhat controversial bolted route, yes, Tandar reflected, that was probably it. There was some anticipation that had built up over a period of months nay longer, it really was years. A washed out bridge had delayed the reconnoiter of the longest "sport" route in North America, and most would agree an unanticipated delay commonly results in a commensurate increase of unmitigated desire. America's failing and neglected infrastructure, damaged by the forces of nature, combined with monetary resources stretched woefully thin. Wars and banker bailouts were far more important or at least supported by advocates more diabolical and/or with deeper pockets. Somehow though after a seemingly interminable period the cumbersome bureaucracy had managed to push its way through and fix the broken bridge. So Tandar had finally headed East and taken the long and ever rough dirt road, parked the car and proceeded to walk up to find the trail and then the base of the now long anticipated climb.
Being alone, as he unfortunately was so many times during these years prior to the internet bringing consistent and plentiful partners, he had resigned himself to just a recon on this first trip. Just locating the trailhead so it could be done in the dark, and soloing the first few pitches. Partly just to get some climbing in that day, but primarily in order to acquire a taste, to let the beast get its hooks firmly into him. And it did, it really really did. Even just the thought of it, twenty two pitches, nothing but bolts, a long and quick, maybe somewhat unaesthetic run for any climber that leaned more toward the trad end of the climbing spectrum as he did. But longer and higher had always been better in this climber's book. Ever since going from single pitch crags to the six pitches of Outer Space with a perm-a-grin affixed to a chalk smeared face. The higher the better, more exposure means more adrenaline. And ever since that natural drug had wrested priority from the external garbage that is foisted upon the youth of America, he had been on a more or less continual quest of actively searching it out. What better way to do so than out in the midst of mother nature's wildness? They say we have lived millions of years as hunter gatherers. We have been out in the wildness, exposed to and a part of nature for thousands of generations. You can not and should not deny that which is deeply ingrained into the human psyche, that which your very DNA are mapped out to and coincide with. The beautiful, vast, and untamed natural world.
Maybe that's why he had for some number of years now, eschewed the hit and run, smash and grab, speed climbing style that had become somewhat prevalent in this day and age. The going ultra light car to car does have undeniably positive aspects, but it's still fairly easy to forget some of the pitches or even which pitch was led by whom. He had traded that need for speed for the slightly heavier, night under the stars total immersion multi-day carryover. The full meal deal, the complete and utter absorption into the natural element. Just like an alpine mountain route of greater distance and elevation, the drawn out passage of time spent in that world also carried a distinctively positive appeal. While the young guns have run back to the car, the city, the house, and the mundane of everyday life in their quest for speed, he is still out in the thick of it. Feeling the weather on his face, the rock under his hands and feet and all of mother nature's glory laid out before his gaze. Of course the inexorable crush of time may also have come to be factored into the alpine survival equation. At some point in the cycle of it's advancing age the human machine merely becomes incapable of extreme sustained speed. Or at least pushes into a danger zone if one foolishly attempts to continue down that path of racing with the ticking passage of time.
But considering a tad bit longer term and a more sustained perspective it wasn't the long sport route that really and truly captivated his climbing imagination. No, in spite of the fact this climb was large, it resided on a much larger feature, a huge one to be exact. The Mount Garfield massif itself. The path made out of bolts was indeed big, bigger than any other, but it was dwarfed in comparison by the rock that contained it, and by the mountain group that encompassed all that rock. A long series of summits connected by rock ridges honed sharp by geological time. Rising up steeply on all sides, vertical in many places. Thousands of feet of sheer mind numbing alpine terror, breaking hard and dangerous out of the surrounding thick dark forest.
For these were truly alpine diamonds in the rough. Found, conceived, and explored long ago but then inexplicably neglected, ignored, and discarded. Down and past the cold dark halls of an alpine lore long since forgotten. Hidden in the metaphorical rough of a perceived loose-and-dirty-rock-bushwack travail of uncertainty, danger, and undesirability. Cast away and abandoned for seventy some odd years. Waiting, biding their time to be re-reconnoitered, re-explored, re-discovered. Painstakingly researched, then measured cut and polished with great care, into the beautiful and true alpine gems that they really were. The best that they could be, the best that they had always secretly been.
Maybe it sometimes takes a certain eye to see that which is hidden in this seemingly diabolical way by the dusty and rusty hinged doors of time? An eye that once might have rivaled a lightning strike has now at certain times been relegated down to a distinctly glacial crawl. A patient eye just looking long and carefully enough, taking the measure of time required to discern that there really is something there hidden in the literal and metaphorical mist. Something frozen, trapped... snared and constrained by time's long and bony fingers. Waiting to be broken from these cloying bonds, wanting and waiting to be released... to be set free.
So somewhere along the way this climber's attention was shifted to the alpine objective. A much larger animal had brought him within it's sharp taloned grasp. The long sport route would have to wait until optimum weather, long days, and a reluctant partner coincided. He could solo only the first few pitches of bolts but it was possible the alpine choice would go completely within that mode of solitary ascent. Specifically the Western ridge culminating in the West summit of Garfield. For this was the first thing that struck the eye as you reached near the end of the rutted road. Briefly and tantalizingly peeking from the tops of the near all encompassing greenery of the valley floor.The Becky guide consulted showed a curious and maybe, from the more masochistic end of the alpine persuasion, a somewhat attractive set of circumstances. For this climb, and pretty much every other peak in the Garfield group, there was very little associated specific information. A quick internet search revealed not much more than that either. So it would be a voyage more of new discovery than many of the other climbs in the area, a beta-minimum or beta-min climb if you will, a challenge to re-discover the frontier of the unknown.
While by strict definition the climb was not a first ascent, it had all the other characteristics of the same, a born again first ascent if you care to ponder long enough. The mystery of the unknown, taxing routefinding skills to the limit, finding the hidden path that avoids high danger and hopefully connects with summit success. Some excerpts from Becky included the description of Little Flat Top (a subsidiary summit just Northeast of the main Garfield summit), "Details are lacking, probably one class-5 pitch". Or the description of Courte Echelle (just North of Garfield main, the phrase meaning the maneuver of a climber standing on another's shoulders to reach a higher hold), "History is uncertain, but a route has been reported...probably class 5." And the description of this desired goal of the West ridge of Garfield West, "Route details are unknown...extensive brushy scrambling should be expected...This will be a taxing workout." Of course then, as anyone knows who has taken anything more than a cursory glance at this group of peaks, there is the primary descriptor presented by Becky. Garfield is the "Hazardous Enigma", maybe such a label applied by the consummate hardman himself should not be taken too lightly.
So it was with some trepidation that the first foray into reconnoitering the West ridge climb was begun. "Extensive brushy scrambling" sounded sort of off-putting but the view of the ridge from the road did not look all that bad. It was the first week in June and there was still some snow on the summits especially on the North sides. That year the Middle Fork River road was closed just past the bridge due to a washout. But the start of the approach was very close to that point anyway so this was not really an issue. He started out just before dawn and was pleasantly surprised that most of the early part of the approach was relatively brush free open forest. The slope was steep from right off the road and did not relent until the first cliff band where there was a small open area at the top of a lower cliff band. He went out onto this cliff top and was rewarded with a closer unobstructed view of the climb ahead, including the ridge and one of the Western peaks. Little did he know this view would be the last before the base of the final cliff was reached.
He had some experience routefinding in deep forest but only for short distances, and this was on a considerably higher level of difficulty. Consider deep forests without a view to be akin to a permanent white out, with visibility never more than about a hundred feet or so. A green sea of cloud that never lifts, conspiring to befog and befuddle the sometimes unsuspecting aspiring alpinist. Throwing a wooden wrench into the gears of alpine puzzle solving machinery.
And this approach involved several cliff bands that could only be navigated at specific points along them via fourth or easy fifth class climbing, the other sections being too steep loose and dirty to possibly surmount without gear. The surrounding forest meant that each cliff passage had to be located with minimum visibility. No easy general direction descent back to the road but a narrow specific path had to be followed to avoid the high levels of danger presented by these steep rocky escarpments. There were several places that had to be traversed to locate these passages, with some backtracking here and there involved. So with these losses of time it wasn't until near the designated turnaround time that the base of the final cliff was ultimately reached.
Again there was a partial view but it was not anything as revealing as the first clearing had been. It was up against the base of the final cliff in a sort of shallow gully, both these factors limiting visibility. He could see the way ahead was steep and difficult but not anything vertical or as sheer as the foreshortening of the view from the valley floor implied. Having only packed for the day and knowing difficult route finding would slow the descent back to the road he decided to make this the high point of this trip. He knew he was close to the ridge top where the difficulties would change. The routefinding problems would ease as the climbing and exposure difficulties increased. It was also now apparent that retreat from further on the route would require rappels, also something that he had not geared up for on this reconnoiter.
On the descent it soon became apparent just how difficult the forest routefinding could be. He had taken a few compass and altimeter readings, built some cairns and set out surveyors tape at key junctures, but these alpine tools afforded only limited assistance. Several times he had to backtrack and explore other avenues to find the specific places where the mossy cliffs could be safely descended. Temporarily lost more than once, and at one point even laboriously re-ascending a few hundred feet to find the one hidden passage that safely allowed egress. Sometimes in these types of scenarios he felt like he was tapping into the subconscious, the primal instinct to search and find the true path. Feeling and knowing the way ahead with a utilization of all the known senses and maybe some of the unknown.
This first trip gave just a taste of what the climb might be like, for it was not really a serious attempt to gain the summits. Merely a reconnoiter to check the viability of this climb even being a practical possibility. And in that goal it was a success. He now knew there was a relatively quick and brush free way to gain the upper cliff band that led to the main ridge, and that that final cliff was steep but not an impossible barrier to that ridge. This was pretty encouraging and plans were laid for the next trip, with the thoughts of seriously tackling the technical terrain that lay ahead and that the summit might also now be