Our trip to Black Peak started with a planning meeting at Minnehaha Rocks in Spokane. Dave, Kevin, Fred, and I met briefly to discuss some game plans, group gear, route selection, carpooling, and logistics. Sara and her boyfriend Hans (now living in Winthrop) would be meeting us at the trailhead. Scott and Carol would also be joining us.
After car camping at a campsite near Washington Pass, we met early at the Rainy Pass trailhead. Thankfully, the large group of runners meeting at the Pacific Crest Trail for a competition did not take up all the parking spots. We departed towards Heather Pass enjoying the well maintained trail through lush alpine forests. Everyone was in good spirits during a party cloudy and cool day in the mountains. We all caught up on how Sara and Hans were enjoying Winthrop.
The time went very quickly and we found ourselves at the beautiful Heather Pass in no time. From here, we got our first view of the destination, 8,970 foot Black Peak. The mountain looked majestic peeking through patches of occasional wispy clouds.
The remainder of the trail up to high camp was a bit rougher with occasional boulder fields, talus, and some steeper trail. We arrived at high camp about 1:00 PM, and quickly set up our tents and had lunch. We all realized that there was plenty of time for an ascent of Black Peak that afternoon.
Fred and Carol were camped on hill just above the lake. Sara, Hans, Kevin, and I chose a flat spot near the lake. Scott and Dave would be bivying close by. After discussing the 2 possible routes, it was agreed that Kevin and I would attempt the Northeast Ridge, while the remainder of the group would ascend the south gully. Both groups left the campsite at approximately 2:00PM.
Kevin set a very fast pace meandering through some scree, talus, and loose rock on the approach to the Northeast Ridge. We made excellent time, covering 1,000 feet of vertical elevation gain in less than 40 minutes. We encountered a low angle glacier that required some careful footwork, and the use of our ice axes to get across. We found a sizeable crevasse that had to be negotiated. Fortunately, the glacier was very solid, and the crevasses were obvious.
After climbing up some loose 3rd and 4th class rock, we arrived at the start of the ridgeline. The views down either side were fantastic, as we paused for several minutes admiring the panorama of the North Cascades. The start of the ridge had some 3rd and 4th class scrambling. We decided to scramble up here unroped. We encountered several large gendarmes of the spine of the ridge, but fortunately there was an easy way around. The scrambling and exposure here were both moderate.
As the quality of the rock improved, and the ridge became more knifedged, we decided to rope up and belay several pitches. Kevin would lead a few pitches then hand the rack to me for a few. Kevin led off across a tower with some low 5th class climbing and significant exposure. The routefinding was challenging as we never knew if we should stay on the spine of the ridge, or traverse either side. Kevin’s leads were fast and efficient placing 3 or 4 pieces per ropelength. The occasional 5th class sections were separated by 3rd and 4th class scrambling. We were making good time for fixed pitches. Occasionally, we had some trouble hearing each other because of large rock structures on the ridge obstructing the line between us.
After Kevin lead 3 pitches, he handed the rack off to me. I climbed over a tower placing a cam to protect the 5th class moves. At the second tower, I was unsure of which direction to go. I decided to go right of the tower, but quickly realized this was a mistake. After backtracking, I placed a nut and went directly over the second tower. From then on, I decided to stay directly on the crest of the ridge. The first lead for me went slowly as I became used to the rock and protection possibilities. The next two pitches were much smoother, as we continued to make good time belaying up the ridgeline.
After 6 pitches of belayed climbing, the exposure and difficulty eased, as we simulclimbed up to the summit block. We saw Dave, Scott, and Fred on the summit block preparing to rappel down. After finishing the final 4th class scramble, we enjoyed sharing route notes and congratulating each other on a successful ascent. 2 more climbers joined us for some discussion on the summit block. They were local guides, and had quickly climbed the Northeast Ridge unroped.
After rappelling off the summit block, we all downclimbed the south gully together. The rock here was very loose, but we were able to avoid many sections by staying on some more solid areas. Our reunited group made excellent time down the gully and took a break at the bottom. The talus field in head of us looked awful. I was kicking myself for not buying new boots for this trip. The scramble down was a real struggle for me in sneakers. Other members of our party found it challenging, but less of a struggle than I. After about 45 minutes of this, we finally hit some flatter terrain near the lake. We arrived at our campsite at dusk, approximately 8:30 PM, after a great climb.
Scott brought some good photography equipment, and took several shots of the sunset over the North Cascades. We all had some dinner by headlamp and enjoyed discussing the trip as well as catching up.
The next morning we had breakfast, filtered some water, and then departed for the Rainy Pass trailhead. The weather was perfect again on Sunday. After a couple of miles, we all stopped for group pictures at Heather Pass. The rest of the hike down went well, as we encountered quite a few people headed up to the lakes.
We all decided to meet at a restaurant in Winthrop for a celebration afterwards. The lunch was delicious, and we all enjoyed the leisurely pace of the day. We were glad that we had climbed Saturday, saving Sunday for lunch and driving back.
I really enjoyed the trip. I got to know Dave and Scott a lot better from our car rides there and back. Everyone was very socialable on the trip. It was nice to finally climb with Kevin, after we had to bail on the South Face of the Tooth. I think it is safe to say, “Good times were had by all”.