Approach to campNote:
this climb has apparently been done in one day car-to-car. In mid-summer, two days is more casual. In late-season, due to lack of daylight, three days (two nights at camp) might be reasonable.
Take the Thornton Lakes Trail for about 5 miles (see the Getting There section on the main page) to the outlet of the lower lake. Follow the boot path around the west side of the lower lake, cross the stream between it and the middle lake, and continue on to the slopes immediately above the northeast side of the middle lake. Find a thin climber's path up through the steep heather on the right side of the ravine/gully that leads up from the northwest side of the middle lake. (Note: this climber's path can actually be seen in satellite photos. See here
.) Find a nice camp at the saddle (on the left as you make the final steps to the saddle proper). It is about 1.5 miles from the lower lake outlet to this saddle but it will feel like 3 miles. The faint trail up to the saddle traverses steep heather. This heather would be hazardous if wet. Plan appropriately. Crampons? Unless global warming continues, there is a small but permanent snowpatch right there at the camp. To obtain liquid water, you can descend the snowfield (icy in late season) north of the saddle to its base. A small stream emanates from the snowfield. This stream is left of the prominent hump at the base of the snowfield.
Approach to the ridge
From the saddle, proceed down the snowfield for a couple of hundred vertical feet. Pass left of the hump at the base of the snowfield (note there is also a mediocre bivy on this hump if the saddle camp is already taken). In early season, get off the initial snowfield by way of a steep snow arete downclimb for about 50 feet. Later in season, it may be possible to downclimb in the moat. Traverse NNW across snow, ice, or slabs (depending on season) aiming for the prominent 6,080+ ft notch in the Northeast Ridge. At the other end of the glacial slabs is a diagonal cut leading up and right. This cut has one small class 4 step at its base but otherwise allows access to angled slabs that lead up to the notch. If snowcovered, these slabs could be a little more exposed. One could bear directly toward the notch higher up but this appears to require harder climbing. And why make it harder when you don't have to.
Climbing the lower ridge
From the notch, one short pitch of easy 5th class leads up and over a small gendarme in the notch. A large rappel anchor is situated on top of this gendarme. One can easily dismount the gendarme on the other (northeast) side. Climb up from the gendarme notch on class 4/5 rock for one pitch to a flat bivy area (two sites: one dirt the other rock). From the bivy area, walk about 100 feet to the next steep rise. This rise is still a little vegetated. A shallow gully on the left allows easy class 4 climbing up to the top of this rise. Lower angle scrambling (mostly sandy and blocky class 3) leads to the second steep rise. This one is steeper, higher, and more intimidating than the previous rise. Steep heather slopes are on the right. Do not go over there! Farther over to the right in the distance is Mt. Despair.
Climbing the middle of the ridge
A rappel anchor can be seen at the top of the second steep rise. Basically, the idea is to climb directly up to it. Having explored the right side of the rise, I can aver that the rock is better (more solid) on the left side. This is not to say the rock on the left is still not loose. Past this rise is the knife-edge section of the ridge. The knife edge is almost level and about 100 yards long. In addition to it being a knife-edge, there are two 20-ft gendarmes to get past. The first one is bypassed on its right. The next one is climbed over its top (very enjoyable low 5th class). After this second gendarme is the narrowest part of the knife. A tenuous cheval move or crab walk slightly downhill for about 15 feet gets you past this. The crux of the climb is next.
The route steepens considerably here. In fact, from below, one wonders just how the climb can be as easy as 5.6. From the vicinity of the notch at the base of the ridge, the ridge looks downright frightening. But, as is often the case, the closer you get to a rock face the less intimidating it looks. Features appear that were unseen from afar.
There is a 5.7 off-width crack on this crux part. From the end of knife-edge section this off-width doesn't look all that probable. It slants to the right and is off-balance as well with an overhanging rock wall on the left. To get to the base of the off-width, climb progressively steeper and steeper rock (to 5.6) for about 30 meters. Good pro placements can be scarce. Either that or the rock is too loose to use for anchoring to. Around the base of the off-width are lots of small downsloping ledges. Some of the traverse moves are all balance. One can attempt to scale the off-width (it requires about 15 feet of unaesthetic climbing: left foot in the crack, right foot on lichen-covered rock, crimp holds for fingers). Not to despair if you can't get up it or choose not to try, for there is an easier bypass around the corner to the right. From the base of the off-width, traverse very thin ledges to a small 2-foot-high rock horn. Turn the sharp corner at this horn and into a gully. The gully soon transforms into a slanting chimney of fun low-5th climbing to a flat belay platform at the apex or the off-width crack. A small notch is on the uphill side of this platform. Make an anchor and bring up your second(s).
Climbing the upper ridge
One more short pitch from this platform (or at another one just above it) gets one to the Great Notch. This pitch involves a steep friction slab with tiny crimp holds right from the belay. The fall factor is not a problem because you're right there at the belay platform. The leader can use a shoulder stand to facilitate easy progress; the second(s) are on their own. A bypass to the right is blockier but more exposed and probably not easier. Hmmm, a running start then dyno leap might get you up the slab, since it is only about 10 feet high.
At the Great Notch is a very steep headwall. It is not necessary to clown around on that. Instead, descend into the notch (easy) then take a ledge left beside a big block. There is a trail on the ledge. The ledge ends in about 50 feet past the notch. Set up one last belay anchor at the ledge terminus then climb straight up a short class 4 gash to the next-higher ledge. Traverse another trail left on this ledge to a vegetated class 4 step (exposed). From here, class 4 rocks and heather lead up to the summit. The best finish is to gee toward the uppermost part of the Northeast Ridge. At the ridge crest there is a rappel anchor. Can leave the rope(s) there and scramble the remaining 60 vertical feet to the top. We could not find a register. It could use one.
Rappeling the ridge
Getting down could take you longer than going up. It took us roughly 45 minutes longer
to rappel the ridge than to get up (5 hours, 15 minutes versus 4 hours, 30 minutes) and we were doing mostly double rope rappels.
Warning: the following is description is for those possessing two 60m ropes with which to rap. I make no commentary about parties with only one rope other than you will probably find yourself rappelling to intermediate rap stations of dubious quality. Certainly some of them may be on the side of a rock face. Also, I may be forgetting a rappel. A lot of them looked and felt the same.
From the aforementioned rappel station on the uppermost Northeast Ridge, Rap#1
descends to another rap anchor above the steep buttress that looms above the Great Notch. Note that hardcore climbers can downclimb this first rappel. The terrain is mostly very steep heather and rocks. Rap#2
descends into the Great Notch. It requires two ropes. The last 40 feet is free-hanging.
goes down from the notch to the top of the crux part of the climb. Rap#4
descends past the crux to the uphill end of the knife-edge traverse. It is not possible to rappel the knife edge. Simulclimb or belay back across the knife. descends.
descends the second step in the ridge (the step with the steep heather off to the right). A little downclimbing down and to the right gets one back to the top of the small first step (the one with the shallow gully on the southeast side). Rap#6
goes down this small step to where the bivy sites are located. Rap#7
is a long one and leads down to the high side of the small gendarme at the 6,080+ ft notch. Rap#8
is a short rap (single ropes are fine) to the main notch. You can downclimb along the red slabs back to the diagonal cut and finally back to the gray slabs below the glacier.
Other descent route
One could feasibly rappel down the South Ridge Route but I have no idea where the anchors are. I'm sure they are there though. From the broad 6,400+ ft low-point between Triumph and Thornton Peak, it would be necessary to rappel back to the top of the glacier, whereupon downclimbing then traversing it southeastward will get you back to camp.
This descent route obviously requires that you carry over all your gear, else you'll have to go and fetch it at the base of the Northeast Ridge, thus negating any time savings descending the South Ridge.
For more information, please see this note
for a description of a South Ridge descent done by Eric Sandbo.
Standard rock climbing gear: helmet, harness, etc.
Mid-size rack with varied assortment of pro
Lots of runners (doubles are bette)--especially if you intend to simulclimb a lot of the route. Three of us wound up "simul-belaying" the whole route. What do I mean by simul-belaying? The leader sets out on belay from below, when the rope pays out such that the second (of three) is ready to begin climbing, the third then belays the leader and the second. If just two people simul-belaying, then the climbing transitions from belayed to simulclimbing at this point. When the third's rope comes taut, he breaks down the anchor thus commencing a three-person simulclimb.
Two 60m ropes. This works well for three-person teams. The ropes can be strung between the three climbers in a double-rope set up. The leader then alternates which rope he clips to as he sets pro (to minimize rope drag). Having two ropes also expedites the rappeling.