Improbable Traverse

Page Type
Washington, United States, North America
Route Type:
Technical Rock Climb
Time Required:
Half a day

Route Quality: 10 Votes

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Improbable Traverse
Created On: Oct 7, 2004
Last Edited On: Nov 8, 2004

Parking Approach

The approach to this climb is quite simple. The crux is finding parking suitable for your nerves...

About half-a-mile down Alpental Road from the freeway a street leads right up into the chalets. In summer you can park on Alpental Road at this point. (In snow conditions you are not allowed to park on the road unless at designated parking areas; this is due to snow banks and snow plows. For these conditions you may be required to park near Snoqaulmie Ski Area or at the first (lower) Alpental parking lot. The latter is better since you'll probably be coming down the Cave Ridge Trail after the climb. That trail dumps out at the lower Alpental parking lot.

Alternatively, in summer you can probably park up the chalet street. Drive up the chalet hill for about four blocks to where the main street turns sharply right. A large gravel area on the corner here offers ample parking. There is a "No Parking, Violators Towed" sign at one end of the gravel area but it is most likely only for winter. The sign is a taller one, tall so as to rise above a high snowbank. In winter--especially if it is snowing--the gravel area receives the pilings from snowplows, thus the reason for the no parking sign. In summer there is no snow, thus no real need to really worry about the no parking sign. However, park at your own risk. We parked there last time all day and the car was there when we got back.

Hiking Approach

From the far end of the gravel area on the chalet street (c. 3,080 ft), descend a few feet on trail through alder to get to the large talus fan below Guye's West Face. Hike directly up the talus. The talus gets looser and looser the higher you go. We climbed up the left side because it looked more solid than the right. You will be heading for the tip of the talus where it necks down into the prominent gully at center-face. Eventually a rough bootpath will form in the upper talus and lead into the left side of the gully. Climb up the gully on ever-steepening rock. The rock starts out as slabby Class 3 but soon tips up to unprotectable Class 4. For purposes of this route page, the route description will start at this Class 4 part (c. 4,200 ft?)

See bottom of page for a topo of our route.

Route to Lunch Ledge

Note: The constant drone of traffic--particularly trucks--on I-90 can drown out communication over distance. I'm not saying walkee-talkees are necessary but it might be advisable to work out a couple rope-tug off-belay & on-belay communication protocols.

There are two ways to get to Lunch Ledge, a kitchen-sized ledge at the same elevation as the Improbable Traverse pitch. The ledge has a large rappel anchor on it. The first way to Lunch Ledge is the way I shall describe in detail here. It is the easier of the two. The second way offers steeper climbing and is more direct. It is the route described in Beckey's CAG.

The talus gully at the base of the face tips up to Class 4 terrain. The Class 4 is a 50-degree slope cut by two or three minor gullies. You'll know the slope by the darker, reddish rock. You basically want to pick a way up the slope. We went right first then made a short step to the left and then up a rib. Fortunately the holds are good, though loose rock does lurk. Protection is almost non-existent, meaning a belay would be ludricous and a waste of time. Basically, if you're not comfortable free-soloing this you probably won't be able to handle the Improbable Traverse pitch.

Option 1: Low-Angle Ramps
Once above the Class 4 turn left. Two ramps will appear: an upper and a lower both trending up and left. You can try and get on the upper ramp (Class 4 down low?) but a proven route is to take the lower ramp (Class 3) to its end at some trees then transition to the upper ramp. The transition is Class 4 for about 15 feet (good but loose). Once on the upper ramp again turn left and climb to its end. The first 10 feet is Class 3; the last 10 feet is Class 4.

From the top end of the upper ramp a short level spine leads to trees. Walk into the trees and force your way through them. A few chimpanzee moves will be necessary to gain the boulders above and right of the trees. There will be a wide slot between the wall of the face and one of these boulders. In this slot is a nice flake that can be slung for a belay. The slot goes down a few feet. At its lowpoint beyond a bulge a terraced ledge continues off (south) on the wall. This is the first pitch. It is about 70 feet long.

Climb down the slot and around the bulge (Class 4) then along the terraced ledge to where it goes left around a corner. The ledge is mostly Class 4 but a few low-Class 5 moves are necessary. Protection is adequate (cracks in the beginning; a minor horn near the corner). Once around the corner you will be at Lunch Ledge. Anchor into the rap station there and bring up your second.

Option 2: 5.7 Dihedral
Once above the Class 4 turn left. Two ramps will appear: an upper and a lower both trending up and left. You will want to gain the upper one. Right about at its start a shapely dihedral will be visible above. This dihedral is just left of a big bush on the face. THIS IS NOT THE DIHEDRAL YOU WANT. The one you want is the next one to the left.

Thanks for the following information goes to Robert Meshaw:
About a third of the way up the upper ramp begin climbing the wall on the right (5.5) toward the groove that later steepens and turns into an off-hands dihedral (5.7). This option is usually done as 2 pitches from the ramp to Lunch Ledge. The lower half can be simulclimbed; the upper 80-90 feet should be belayed with a standard anchor. Pro to 3 inches; hexes work well.

The Improbable Traverse

From Lunch Ledge, climb up and over a pedestal just before an overhang. A down-facing crack above the pedestal takes smaller cams well. Scoot under the overhang (5.6) to its end to a more agreeable ledge slightly lower down.

Face-climb 5.4 up and right to a ledge twenty feet up. A diagonal crack halfway up this face slots a mid-size nut very well. Attach a double-runner to this piece--or a triple if you have it--to mitigate rope-drag.

From the ledge, continue rightward into a minor depression. Across the depression locate a knifeblade piton. Reach out and clip this piton with a double-runner before doing the move to it, which is the first of the two 5.7 crux moves for the climb.

With nothing for hands, balance your steps past the piton six feet to another piton (this one's a little looser). Clip the piton with a double runner if you have it (although if you fall, it will be a longer one on a double). The move beyond this second piton is sketchy but solid. You can attempt to step up to the larger platform but this is extremely awkward (off-balance). Instead, edge your feet along small ledges below the platform. Note: To reduce the pendulum factor should a fall occur, the follower should do the move past the second piton first then remove the protection behind him.

Once past the crux, climb up a few feet to a ledge that trends slightly downhill to the right (easy 5th Class). Place protection as you find it. The more you place the lower the pendulum factor for your follower. The farther you get out from Lunch Ledge the less mandatory it is to use double runners. The ledge eventually comes to a short downclimb. To make things safer for your second, consider placing a piece as low down on the beginning of the downclimb as possible. There is a crack that will take a small-to-mid sized cam. Without this low piece, a follower fall will be a long one because there will be nothing above and behind him to protect him. Descend 15 feet (5.5 downclimb) to another ledge. There is a loose horn-like rock in the center-bottom of the downclimb that is okay for stepping on but I don't know if I'd pull too hard straight out on it. If you look down and left (when facing in to the wall) you will find another piton in a small recess. You can clip this if you want but I don't know how useful it would be. Perhaps it is for those coming across along the lower ledge (the one down and left of the downclimb part).

Continue right on easier but looser rock to the high-angle ramp. There is no good protection on the ramp or its far wall. Instead, look for a small horn where the ledge meets the ramp. About two feet left of the horn is a very thin vertical crack that slots the tiny #3 nut well. There are some other cracks available but the rocks that comprise them are loose.

The High-Angle Ramp

Climb up the ramp to the trees at its top. The beginning of the ramp is enjoyable Class 4 slab. The middle part is irritating Class 3 rubble. The end near the trees is sketchier (with rock shoes) duff and moss-covered slab. Protection points are available, particularly on the right wall. The climbing is easy so you won't need much protection. A 60m rope will not quite reach all the way to the trees, thus necessitating about 50 feet of simul-climbing.

Transition to Upper Face

Once in the trees atop the high-angle ramp you can put your approach shoes or boots back on unless you plan on doing the 5.7 variation pitch mentioned in the next section. You can do the rest of the climb in boots or trail running shoes.

Walk in coils for 70 yards up through trees to where they end (bootpath). Scramble up and around to the left or right of a rock promentory then turn sharply back to the left on another ramp. This ramp leads back into trees. Walk up and left through the trees and round a corner rightward. Arc around the next depression past a deep chimney/gully. The summit is up and left of this gully, not up and right. Continue around to the far left end of the depression to a series of trees. This is the start of the last pitch to the top.

The 5.7 Variation Pitch

This is a worthy pitch if you have time to do it. From the trees atop the high-angle ramp, walk in coils for 70 yards up through trees to where they end (bootpath). To your left at this point will be a beckoning wall. You'll know it by the bush hanging over the top of it. A 60m rope will complete this pitch to trees 50 feet above the wall.

Climb up to a small overhang. Climb over the right end of the overhang (5.8?) or traverse a few feet left to climb up the left end of the overhang (5.6). Move right above the overhang on a short heathery ledge (loose rock on ledge) to a vertical crack. Climb up the crack (5.7). Once above the crack the climbing eases on nice face holds. Come up to the right of the aforementioned bush. Continue beyond on Class 3/2 dirt and set up a belay from the trees. Alternately, you could belay from a crack near the bush (or even at the bush) if you could find suitable anchor points.

I used four or five cams and a couple of nuts for this pitch.

Last Pitch to Summit

Begin to the left in an awkward right-leaning crack (5.4) or to the right by way of a short stemming chimney (5.7). Climb rightward to a white snag. Continue up and right to the makings of a gully/chimney in a depression. Climb up the gully (piton located somewhere here) on Class 4/5 rock then continue upward to trees. A 60m rope will run out a little beyond these trees a few dozen feet from the summit. You can simul-climb this pitch once the rope runs out (recommended).

This pitch is actually pretty enjoyable in spots. The holds are so nice at times it's as if they were chiseled right out of the rock. Later, the pitch gets dirty. Not so great.

The last few feet to the summit (south summit) is a cake-walk.

Time = 4-5 hours on face, 1.5-2 hours for Cave Ridge Trail return, 5-20 minutes to get back to your car (depending on whether you get a ride, jog, or walk the road).
Gain = 2,100 ft to summit.


You can downclimb and rappel the face. There are rap stations where needed but it seemed to me that double-rope rappels would be necessary. Given where you parked, it could be quicker to go this way than to descend via the walk-off route (Cave Ridge Trail).

For the Cave Ridge Trail descent:
Take the trail from the south summit to its end below the middle summit. Scramble up and over the middle summit to the next notch. A short Class 5 pitch can be done up and over the final north summit. Or you can descend rightward down the gully and up the gully on the other side. The descent into the gully is over mossy slab (Class 3/4). As such, a lot of parties rappel it. There are two different rappel anchors--one on a tree at the notch another slightly below it.

The brush-choked gully on the other side has a bootpath in it. Once atop that gully it is clear sailing on trail. Well, the trail is steep and rooted at times but good-to-go. You just have to make sure you don't go past the junction leading back down to the Alpental parking lot. The junction is in a hollow (the 4,600-ft pass between Guye and Snoqualmie Mountain). From the junction, 30 minutes or so of annoying trail gets you back to civilization.

Essential Gear

Mid-size rack: an assortment of 6-8 cams, small and mid-sized nuts including the small #3 nut for the anchor at the far end of the Improbable Traverse pitch.
60m rope (a 50m rope may not complete the Improbable Traverse Pitch all the way from Lunch Ledge; however, an intermediate belay can be done on the ledge leading to the crux moves)
Rock shoes
Approach shoes or boots
At least five double runners. A triple runner for the second protection point out from Lunch Ledge would be nice to mitigate rope-drag
Sunscreen. The West Face receives the full bore of sun in the afternoon (on nice days). You may find yourself belaying at Lunch Ledge for a long time
Trail Park Pass if parking a second car at Alpental. You know how they are.

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

Viewing: 1-3 of 3

alpinecrags - Jun 1, 2015 3:11 am - Voted 7/10

Beta Video

We confused a part of the route description and down climbed too far which put us off-route and onto the 5.7 direct variation. If you want to add this video, I made a pretty comprehensive guide for the whole climb.


Klenke - Jun 2, 2015 2:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Beta Video

I watched the video and I think I understand what you were trying to say, but your comment above is confusing. Maybe you can expound upon it. I did the Improb. Traverse twice but over 10 years ago so some (but not all) of my memories are vague. I don't recall any of the approach to the the trees at the top of the ramp being harder than Class 4 but admittedly it could be easy to veer from the easiest line, which would get one onto some low-5th moves.

alpinecrags - Jun 2, 2015 8:28 pm - Voted 7/10

Re: Beta Video

You're right, I sound vague in my original comment. What I was saying was, by our own nonsense, Jordan and I got confused on the way to Lunch Ledge, and instead made a traverse below the actual route. This put us off route, but we managed to link up to the 5.7 direct variation that climbs the dihedral to the Improbable Traverse.

The climbing above the High Angle Ramp is not entirely 5th class, but where I felt most secure climbing (in case of a tumbling fall) was at a vertical section where I had to pull two fifth class steps. What can I say, Klenke, you're cojones are measurably bigger than mine to climb those fourth class sections without protection! ;)

Viewing: 1-3 of 3

Improbable Traverse

16 Images 1 Climber's Log Entries 1 Comments 3 Additions & Corrections


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