Austera Day Trip

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Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Aug 20, 2004
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Created On: Aug 25, 2004
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On Thursday night I car-camped at the Eldorado trailhead with the goal to climb Austera Peak in a day. I kept being wakened by some critter walking on the roof of my car (a squirrel?). It was bothersome, but banging on the ceiling usually did the trick. The next morning (8/20/04) I got going by 5:40AM and was across the river by 5:50AM. The crossing is the same as April on the road side but the other side now requires more log walking due to higher water. I realized that one of the logs in that jumble is the historical log--the one with the roots on the road side everyone either had to maneuver around or scramble over the top of. There used to be a long step across a side-water stream between the log and the woody embankment then a 70-ft trail walk to the road. Now, with last October's flood, there is no longer the 70 feet of woods between the log roots and the road. Now, that span is comprised of river alluvium (boulder and pebble stream bars). So essentially this means the flood widened the river through there by about 70 ft. Amazing!

At any rate, I made quick work of the trail. I was up in Eldo Basin in 2 hours, to the ridge saddle in 2:15, and to the lower fringe of the Eldorado Glacier in 2:45. I stopped there to put on aluminum crampons just as the father of a father-son team slid (fell) 40 ft down a slab next to the glacier. He also narrowly missed clobbering his son with a 2-ft diameter boulder. Why they were climbing that slab, I have no clue. I blasted up the icy glacier remnant left of this and met up with them putting on crampons above the slab. The father had a few bloody marks on his legs but was otherwise unhurt.

I was soon at the Eldorado snow dome and subsequently crossing the Inspiration Glacier. Eldorado Peak was temporarily in clouds, but Klawatti was visible. It looked much more barren than it had in early April. I'd say by about 4 hours I was at the lower East Ridge of Eldorado. I had recent information from GreenT on for Austera and the crossing of the glacier, but as it is I didn't need to go as high up toward Tepeh Towers as he had. I simply contoured around staying mostly at 7,600 ft, weaving my way past crevasses as necessary. No problems. There was a steep, icier bit near a melted out rock slope before Klawatti Col that was problematic, but it was soon dispatched. I was at Klawatti Col in about 5 hours, 45 minutes. There were no signs (remnants) of April's Klub Klawatti Kamp.

The upper McAllister Glacier crossing was straightforward. I chose to traverse below a seemingly harmless crevasse en route. When I got to it, I was amazed just how deep it was. It must have been 100 feet deep and probably even more so. It was the deepest crevasse I'd ever seen--including volcano crevasses! And to think we were skiing over or right past this beastly man-swallower in April!

GreenT made mention of the dubious notch crossing between the McAllister and the Klawatti glaciers, so I approached it with some trepidation (I had not taken any special gear). As it turned out, he had painted an uglier picture than what I discovered. I walked the snow ramp right of the lowest notch as we had done back in April. The place where we had managed to ski over the top of the rocks had now receded to a bouldery wall. I easily spotted GreenT's route over (12 feet of Class 4) but I didn't see much moat issue with it. The snow butted up with the rock there quite snugly. He says another few weeks and it will no longer be manageable. I wouldn't say that. I think it will last the remainder of the season and into fall. I chose a loose gully right (SE) of his crossing. My gully was easier for getting up to the bouldery crest but I had to do a mid-5th step-around to get to the other side--to his crossing--so his way was probably better anyway. The downclimb on the other side was Class 4 for 20 ft to blocky snow. I re-placed my crampons on my boots and stepped up onto the snow blocks. There was a moat/crevasse just below the snow blocks but I found a way to the left and glissaded the last 50 feet.

The remaining crossing to Austera went without incident. That square turret of rock south of Austera: I wonder if it has ever been climbed. It's pretty cool looking and is steep 5th-Class on all sides. By about 6 hours, 30 minutes I was at the South Ridge of Austera peering over into the mind-numbingly outlandish McAllister Cirque. The blue ice was really showing down low. From this ridge, I could also see the summit tower of Austera. I definitely recommend going to this rocky ridge first before going to Austera so you can see what you're in for. It looked quite a bit different than in April. There was now no snow in the chockstone gully.

In another 10-15 minutes I had come to the notch before the final summit problem. GreenT had mentioned there is a "Class 4" bypass around the backside, but just for kicks I went and had a look at the chockstone problem. First of all, there are definitely chockstones (about 3 of them) jumbled in there, so I'm not sure what Roper means when he says he kicked the chockstone out. Second of all, to get over the chockstones requires mid-5th climbing (stemming and face climbing on the left wall). I was about to do it but realized I'd have to use the uppermost chockstone for a hoick move. This chockstone looked like it would peel off and flatten me, so I backed off. (I later kicked at the chockstone from above and found it to be extremely solid.) There was also a good break 10 ft to the right of the chockstone gully that looked as if it'd go, so I took a look. The first 20 feet of this break was Class 4 but the upper part trended toward overhanging Class 5. The rock was loose and downsloping, so I again backed off and retreated to GreenT's backside bypass.

The backside bypass is found by taking a narrow Class-3 ledge to the right of the notch to the east side of the summit tower. I rounded the corner and then began climbing upward. The climbing was Class 3+ and exposed. I was soon above the chockstones notch after a 10-ft arête downclimb. I confiscated a loose-lying sling with rappel ring attached to it (the sling had the letter Y written on it; yours?). I knew I could make better use of the sling and ring given the Class 3+ bypass. The bypass should be the standard route. There is absolutely no reason to climb in the chockstone gully unless you like that sort of thing.

Probably the funnest part of the climb was the nearly featureless lower face of rock between the notch and the summit. The exposure's not so bad, so it can be managed with the minimum of pucker-factor. I'd rate the first move or two 5.7 on very thin holds. Once above that, it's Class 4 for a few feet then you're there: Austera Peak (8,334 ft, 414P). I found no summit register. Time up = 7 hours.

Once again, the views from Austera were crème de la crème. The view SSW toward Eldorado Peak with serrated spines running in multiple directions and the severely broken up and blue-iced McAllister cleaved by a rock buttress: to me this is the quintessential Washington alpine view. And it therefore makes sense why Nelson & Potterfield put this in their Select Climbs book (Volume 2, I think) even though the peak is not really all that technical.

I left the summit just after 1:00PM. On the return to the Klawatti-McAllister notch, I noted that it would be feasible to climb up to the low point of the notch by way of a mid-5th break (the McAllister side of the notch low-point is a walk-off). I wouldn't want to downclimb it but it didn't look too bad for an upclimb. I contemplated exploring the level of difficulty but decided instead to climb back over where I had come up. I climbed up and over GreenT's block and was soon on the McAllister Glacier.

Coincidentally, I met the father-son duo at the exact same spot low down on the Eldorado Glacier. They had apparently successfully climbed Eldorado from a camp in Eldorado Basin.

In the lame-ass boulderfield (c. 4,500 ft) I passed a party of 12 women on a 9-day outing. They had humongous packs on that all looked the same (definitely pointing to an affiliation with an outdoor group--in this case they were with NOLS). Some of them were cute. At least one of them had perfume on. I got this sense I was going the wrong way, ha ha! At about 6:20PM I strolled back into the parking lot. Time round-trip = 12.5 hours.. Gain round-trip = approx. 7,500 ft (5,500 ft of it you do in the first 4 hours).

Note 1: There is just no point in camping (hauling up that heavy gear) to do Eldorado Peak. Even if you're slow, you can do it in a day from the car in about 6 hours (11 hours round trip). Also, a trip to Austera Peak and Klawatti Peak (and maybe even Eldorado) can also be done in a very long day. Basically, from Klawatti Col, you'd need an extra 2 hours roundtrip to climb Klawatti Peak.
Note 2: I wonder if Austera Peak is actually higher than 8,334 ft. If you look at a USGS map, the 8334 label is placed at the southeast crag (8,320-ft closed contour) on the summit spine. The true summit is the northwestern one. The summit crag is ~20 feet higher than the southeast crag. Hmmm? Food for thought.
Note 3: A sign at the Middle Fork Cascade River Road junction says the road/trail up that valley is closed as of 2003 due to damage from the Mineral Fire. This affects those of us who might like to peakbag in there.


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seano - Dec 27, 2014 4:13 pm - Hasn't voted

"Wrong way"

Hah! I know that "doin' it wrong" feeling all to well, having experienced it on a couple of outings this past season. Nice effort!

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