Introduction & PicsApproach:
Lake Road to Pyramid, Pyramid/Gothics col to south face base. NW up face, traverse across top, follow finger up to trail. Gothics summit down Beaver Meadow Trail to car.
Roughly 12 miles, 6 miles to base of south face, 1/3 of a mile on slab. 4,300+.
High 20’s with light winds and sun
After talking over various options for a couple weeks, Nangaparbat and I opted to head for Gothics’ South Face, to which, he was particularly drawn. I was a bit more hesitant knowing it had some 5.10 pitches which I thoroughly intended to avoid. The recent warm weather and forecast for milder temperatures following this weekend enunciated by the exposure of this slide made it likely that this weekend might provide one last window before it turned back to a rock climb, shedding its winter coat of ice and snow. Before beginning, please note that we in no way are suggesting that our chosen route is the best one for the face in winter. It was simply our best option based on the conditions as assessed by Nangaparbat and the limitations of my winter climbing experience and equipment. It was perfect for us at the time.
The snow tapered off shortly after leaving the car and unveiled a beautiful morning sky. This relaxed me a bit since I’d no desire to climb with fresh snow obscuring ice and other details of the slab. Mild temps in the high 20’ or lower 30’s made all but a thin pair of gloves unnecessary. The road passed quickly as I slid my way toward the lake while talking about Himalayan climbers with Nangaparbat…The skill of real mountaineers strikes a stark contrast to what I possess. We changed into snowshoes under the gaze of Indian Head and slowly made our way up to Pyramid…slowly and consistently being the key words of the morning. Nangaparbat’s plan was to follow the Pyramid/Gothics drainage southwest to the base of the south face once we assessed the viability of the climb from Pyramid’s summit. It looked ‘in’ for our purposes.
We stepped off trail from the col at around noon. I expected to see Nangaparbat drop in to this waist once off the snow spine; instead he stopped mid shin, supported by the underlying crust. We easily worked our way through the trees and found the gulley a few minutes later. It was blessedly open and I carefully slid down each section enjoying the glissade. An intervening ledge broke the rhythm about halfway down. NP led most of the way and I slid past on the last section, spotted an opening and was suddenly standing on the bottom edge of the dramatic face…second guessing my comfort zone based the various options available. I looked up at the steep face adorned with ice flows, neve, hanging icicles and no small amount of open rock.
NP assessed and we decided to traverse northwest across the bottom skirt of snow. The northeastern edge looked thin of ice, the central line was beyond my capabilities and NP harbored concerns over the relatively thin sheet of ice delaminating. Our line would be adjacent to a northwestern crack where the southwestern face meets the southeastern slab…a summer rock climbing route. It looked vertical from a distance as slides often do.
Kevin climbing the first pitch near the seam of the South Face.
The face had been shedding much of its winter burden, evidenced by chunks of ice and a semi-supportive skirt of snow. Off to the west, Basin gleamed like a winter gem and clouds clung to the surrounding peaks and danced in the valleys depending on where you looked.
Comfortable with my stance, I quickly noticed that it was a bit ‘airy’ to my left. The exposure didn’t bother me until I approached 200’ of elevation gain, however. Some soft ice appeared every now and again and the ice axes, one of which was NP’s bit deep and surely. My borrowed boots were a bit on the large side, so my foot moved uncomfortably at times which shook my tentative confidence. I felt my old fear of heights briefly reawaken a couple hundred feet up as I approached a steeper section. A small shelf of trees offered a little respite. NP climbed higher while I rested and talked myself back into a stronger state of mind. I desensitized to the exposure quickly and marveled at the ice and snow covered slab that fell away 200’ to the runout below. The sun lit the distant peaks and lakes and clouds slowly traversed lazily. The day, complete with a gentle breeze, had gone from beautiful to magnificent.
'Nangaparbat' taking pics from an icy ledge at the top of the South Face.
A few minutes later, it was time to set my feet in motion again. We changed direction at the top of the buried crack from northwest to due north. NP worked on the ice around a ledge at the top and I took a different route around, listening to his suggestion and my own conscience. I’d no desire to push my luck. Then it was back to an exposed stance as we began a 600 foot traverse east across the top to a 200 foot run of slab that shot like a finger toward the trail above. It took us nearly a little over an hour to walk the bottom and climb to the beginning of the traverse. We were in no rush as the weather was comfortable.
Walking along the top was sketchy to say the least, in my opinion. Each step and axe placement required a focused effort on my part. The slab was not quite as steep as below, but an unarrested slip would vault us off the platform onto the open rock for a fall over just over 300’ to our tracks below. NP reminded me of this several times…my stomach fell away within itself as a silent answer. I was keenly aware of what a lapse in focus could result in. My user name would briefly change from MudRat to MudSplat followed by a permanent void in trip reports. In any case, I felt the exposure, but enjoyed the sprawling views when I had a firm stance.
Once at the base of the finger to the top, we took another break to soak in the sweeping perspective. We could trace our footsteps up the slab and across the top. They silently told of a two hour journey. Basin was our silent witness, its eastern face still impacted with ice and snow.
The tributary was largely bare rock so we followed the left-hand edge. I was thrilled with the way the day had gone. (Read that as I hadn’t fallen to my death.) It started in the darkest of ways, of which I’ll spare everyone the details, and transformed into a day full of adventure and, for me, learning. Winter slide climbing is still relatively new to me and the only reason I felt remotely comfortable with this exposure was because of my experienced partner. I’d not be comfortable on a solo run up this particular face. Some people in my life will be happy to hear that comment...namely the ones that lecture me about the pitfalls of what they see as extremely risky endeavors. Then again, that’s purely subjective and easy to judge from from behind a computer without understanding context.
'Nangaparbat' exiting a portion of the face near the top/middle.
Once at the top,some 700 feet higher than the base, the low cripplebrush and occasional anorthosite protrusions made for an enjoyable bushwhack to the path and subsequent summit where we shed crampons for snowshoes and ate lunch. A day on Gothics with such low wind was a nice change of pace. Beaver Meadow Falls served as our exit path, a packed highway. My camera continued to get some exercise as we passed some great views of the new slide track on Upper Wolf Jaw and the old exposure Sabre Tooth Slides.
Finally, 7:00 p.m. found us back at our cars after a day much longer than either of us planned. We’d spent 2.5 hours on the face enjoying the perfect weather and appreciating a new view of the areas. It would be hard to remember a better exploration or more ideal conditions. Thanks again to Nangaparbat for a great choice and solid decision making!
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