Change Of Plans
Our plan was to hit something in the Sierras over the long Independence Day weekend relying on historical data that said: North Cascades weather during this time is shit. But forecast surprised us and on Wednesday night we were repacking our junk with the intention of hitting one of our goals for the season: Inspiration Peak via East Ridge
route. Good approach beta from Martin
was obtained, TR's on West Mac were printed (thanks Tazz
!) and we was ready. This worked out well as Shirley couldn’t really take the extra day off meant for the Sierras (work bullshit).
This was going to be our first outing to the famed Pickets Group of the North Cascades Range. We were excited. Drove to Marblemount ranger station on Friday after work and slept in the truck. 6:30 am the sound of hordes of Mounties and other permit piranhas lining up woke me up. Wasn’t particularly worried as I figured that Terror Basin can’t be that popular. Was almost wrong on this one though did manage to scoop up 2 permits.
After a rich breakfast we were soon hiking the overgrown opening of the Goodell Creek Trail (~500 feet starting elevation). Nice grade but we were slowed by appetites for the abundant thimbleberries. The initial ~4 miles shadow Goodell Creek below and make for a pleasant warm-up: nice trail and nice grade. After that, the business starts: a switchback-free climbers’ boot path that quite efficiently transports one from about 1600 feet to just above timber at 5000+ feet. There was no water available between the last stream crossing on the Goodell Trail and the ~5000' bench (big waterfall there – my elevations might be off). We were both suffering. Chatting with two other guys from Seattle who were headed up for W. McMillan made for a nice diversion and we kept bumping by each other during our breaks. We lost the trail under snow at about 5200 feet but the going was fairly obvious and we regained the bootpath at an overlook point. The view from here confirmed that indeed the granite fin I’ve kept seeing through the trees was Inspiration. Shit – still farther than I’d like. Though we were prepared for a 4-day itinerary (unlike our Prusik outing
the previous weekend, we had plenty of eats with us), I was quietly picturing us drinking celebratory beers at a warm beach on day 4.
By the time we reached the Nelson and Potterfield endorsed camp area (via a 6K+ saddle), it was close to 8pm. We were slow. The place was crowded with climbers – most (thankfully) were headed for the West McMillan Spire. As we were racking up for the next day, 4 guys passed by and we bs-ed a bit. They were headed for the West Ridge (III 5.7 choss) of Inspiration and wanted to make sure there were going to be no traffic jams. Indeed there were none.
We woke up at 5am on Sunday and were hiking & losing elevation by 5:30am. Not exactly an alpine start but we figured we’ll catch up once on the rock (not quite). We were about 15 minutes behind the 4 guys headed for West Ridge. Down and then back up we went. Elevation loss is necessary to cross the outlet from a small alpine lakelet surrounded by shear walls. Glacier crossing was fairly trivial – crevassed for sure but still with abundant snow bridges. There was also no huge moat near the start of East Ridge. We reached the rock at about 9:30am and started up at (probably) about 10 am. We saw the party of 4 guys headed for West Ridge bailing. 3 or 4 pitches to reach the notch (bet. Inspiration and the closest tower) is probably right on. We simuled the first 400 feet or so and then pitched out for the next two rope lengths. Going was run-out but pretty easy - low 5th class with singular moves up to 5.7. I was probably off-route (though I saw a fixed nut – only piece of fixed gear on the route) on this final pitch as the terrain got noticeably harder (5.8+ ?) and really loose (was forced here by a large patch of snow in the gully proper). At one point I nearly pitched off as I grabbed a hold and a 2X3 foot block came out of the rock face. Gently set it in a crack away from the rope. I could not toss it off as I did not trust my stance and thus my throw to ensure I wouldn’t hit Shirley on an exposed belay 40 feet below. Scary shit #1.
Once on the ridge, the nature of the rock changed: abundant cracks and mostly solid stuff. 5.8 lieback was next which was harder than I thought it should be – I’m blaming it on my pack. Our choice of backpacks was one stupid mistake (of many) we did on this climb. Planning on a 4-day itinerary, we both brought pretty large packs with large internal frames. In short, with helmets on we really could not turn our heads to look up. Stupid. The 5.8 pitch brought us to the base of the STELLAR looking hand crack - #2 to #3 Camalots mostly (some thinner stuff higher). I led off but once near the top could not decide where to go – left or right? Ended up tension traversing (weak and tired) to the right crack and up to the notch. Couple short and easy pitches brought us to the west side of the false summit. Going was spectacular at this point – with views into the Northern Pickets Group, lone and dramatic looking Luna Peak, and of course the West McMillan Spire. Next came the best part of the day: the low 5th traverse from false to true summit which itself is an incredible sight with its overhanging south face. About 8 to 10 pitches in all if you don’t do any simulclimbing from start to summit.
It was about 4 pm when we started down the west ridge – yeah no sped records broken here. The initial 3 or 4 raps went smoothly. Nice established rap stations. At this point, a snow gully appeared on the north side of the west ridge. The fixed anchors seem to run out (people drop down the south face at this point?). We wasted time scrambling around looking for the best way down. Finally spotted an old nest of slings. Two more raps and I could see that the next rap (plentiful slings visible from above) would bring us to the glacier. Happily rapped to it (~58 meters) only to find that the slings were total shit – I tore two of them with my hands. The downside of the situation was that the slings were slung around a 15-foot block. Out went the final cordallette but the set up looked flimsy and after searching around for alternatives (all loose shit), I made an expensive choice to back up the final rap station (merry Xmas to the next party through there who’s willing to take some more risk). We switched to boots and crampons and rapped 60 meters onto a snow tongue protruding out of Terror Glacier into a gully. I found a decent landing zone on a tiny rock stance inside the moat. Shirley came down and ducked as much as possible inside the moat. The ropes dropped smoothly until one end caught some blocks dislodging them. The last thing I saw was a 2X2 chunk of rock flying towards me 20 feet above as I was trying to squeeze deeper into the moat. The block bounced off the rock face above my head and harmlessly hit the snow. Scary shit #2. We belayed each other on the initial traverse above a huge crevasse and the steep downclimb. It was 7pm when we started down the gentler part of the glacier. Some route finding issues low on the snowfield were finally resolved and we made it back to camp in darkness (11pm??). In retrospect, it was a beautiful night with a half-moon lighting the southern skies illuminating tiny puffs of clouds above Mt. Triumph in the distance (though during the process, the mood was not quite that romantic: “where is THAT f…ing camp???!!”).
We slept and slept till we could sleep no more. Ate a big breakfast the next morning and casually hiked out (process begins by reversing a pain-in-the-ass steep climb up to a saddle overlooking camp). Reached the trailhead at 6pm on the dot and made a quick drive to Good Food in Marblemount for some greasy food (scary shit #3). Back in Portland before midnight.
The Best Part Of A Climb
the climb. The next morning we picked up our dog from the kennel and hit the beach in Oregon. Three days of perfectly sunny and hot weather in the mountains and I nearly caught hypothermia on the Oregon coast. It was COLD! Went back home, fired up the bbq and let two six packs of Moose Drool carry us away on a cloud. Ahhhhhh, life is good.