Intro/StatsPikes Pk (14115')
Via Barr Trail/Bottomless Pit/North Ridge
21 miles RT, 7800' gain
December 17, 2011
My quest for trying new routes on Pikes continues, but some day it may no longer be in my back yard. The forecast was looking exquisite and I wanted to get some altitude in, so Pikes was the ticket. I haven't been above treeline a whole lot this fall, so this would be a stiff test of some 7800' vertical, the last 3000 feet of which is off trail. The north ridge has been on my to do list for awhile as I have wrapped around it many times to climb the Y couloir in the spring. It starts out very steeply from Bottomless Pit, then mellows out before it ends up at a headwall connecting to the northeast ridge. I got a decent shot of it from Rumdoodle Ridge across the pit last fall and its mystery intrigued me. Would it go?
The north ridge left of center:
Will it Go?
I took the last available free parking spot below the Cog station on Ruxton at 6570' right below the incline. I toyed with going up the incline, but I would have plenty of steeps to deal with later! I set off at 6:10am up Barr Trail and it was warm enough to shed the gloves and hat very early. There were only a few incline diehards running down the trail this early. It always nice to catch the light show above the city on Barr.
I kept the pace pretty mellow as it was going to be a LONG day. I guessed it would take me at least 7 hours to summit, depending on how much trail breaking was to be had on the Bottomless Pit trail and how much routefinding the north ridge entailed. The trail was snowpacked above French Creek, but as always it is well traveled. I hit Barr Camp in a bit under 3 hours and enjoyed a long break inside talking with the new caretaker Mary. She said there were no guests last night or today! There was only one couple making there way to the top via the trail on a glorious Dec day. A fat bunny outside the windows at Barr was begging for some food. Looks like he's ready for the winter!
In my rush to leave in the morning, I forgot my wallet. That means no donuts and pizza on the summit, no halfway ride down the cog, and only 1 Gatorade bottle. I filtered some water at Barr Camp and chugged a liter there as it would be a long haul to the summit off just 1 liter. The trail was well packed as expected to the cutoff for Bottomless Pit. Today was my lucky day as there was an old track to Bottomless Pit! That saved some time as it was way easier than it is in the spring when sidehilling postholing is the norm. I lost the tracks as the trees thinned when the trail wraps around to the north side of the mountain. From here, I just headed straight up to get out of the wallowing in the trees ASAP. The wallowing in rotten north facing snow was tough, but it only lasted about 10 minutes. I was glad I left the snowshoes behind though, as the postholing wasn't sustained enough to need them. This meant a lot more sidehilling on scree that I anticipated ahead!
Ken Nolan would be proud:
I busted out of the trees at around 11400', but now I had to deal with sidehilling on steep scree. I guess it's better than postholing in the trees. The ascending traverse to the north ridge was tedious with minor cliff bands, small couloirs, and kitty litter scree to deal with. I got my axe out for one shallow couloir that I crossed and left it out until the headwall. The north ridge can be accessed directly from Bottomless Pit, but a steep headwall must be passed. I countered across the n.e. slopes and didn't hit the ridge proper until about 12600'.
Lots of weaving around traversing the n.e. slopes of Pikes:
The ridge is easy until you get to the headwall, and I really couldn't tell if it went or not until I got closer. I noticed a notch splitting the headwall, with lower angle terrain below. The other option was traverse way left below the slabs and intersect the n.e. ridge way lower. That would take a lot of time though. I decided to go to the notch in hopes that the top was indeed along the n.e. ridge.
The north face:
Does it go?
As I got closer, it was clear that it wouldn't be harder than 3rd class, but was this the only difficulties? Not quite. The slabs got steeper and there was going to be some sustained 4th class climbing over some big air to gain the ridge. The rule of thumb for me solo here was to not climb anything I couldn't downclimb since I had a big pack on and was wearing slogging Salomon boots, not ideal for an airy scramble. I scanned the slabs and tried a few ways, but the consequences were beyond my risk level. I looked at a low 5th class option that looked like a possibility. I gave it a shot, but backed off before committing the crux move because the holds just weren't there. I considered it for about 10 minutes, but it just wasn't worth the risk. I slowly downclimbed over some huge exposure.
Doesn't look too bad, huh?
Looking down from the top of the crux that I bypassed. Whoa!
I found a narrow but solid and dry ledge to the left that led to a much safer 4th class climb to the top of the buttress where easy terrain awaited. I contoured over to the n.e. ridge, cresting it around 13900 feet. I was totally gassed and finally tripped my way through the boulders in the middle of the parking lot to the true summit, arriving at 2:20. The last train hadn't left yet, but I had no money. I snacked inside for 20 minutes and hit the parking lot in hopes of catching someone leaving for a ride down. No such luck, so time to hit the Baker Direct undisclosed to the internet route down! Let's just say it was steep and knee jarring, offset somewhat by the snow. I hit the truck a bit after 6pm. Heck of a tour of Pikes!