We got to the Narada Falls parking lot around 8:30am after a stop for snacks and breakfast items along the way. After toilet trips (porta johns, as the comfort station is not open in the winter) and chatting with others in the parking lot we were finally under way at 9am under bright blue skies. We opted to attempt the route without floatation for the approach as the snow pack has been hard. We also figured with all the recent trip reports, that there was a beaten path to the climb.
We were fairly correct. Floatation was not needed on the road in or even after we left the road for the woods. We crossed the creek and meadow and still no need for floatation. We agreed in the meadow that we would harness up at the bottom of the couloir so we wouldn't be caught having to harness up in a situation where we felt we needed protection. We left the meadow and headed up the slopes to the couloir. For parts of this section, snowshoes may have been handy. Of course, other parts of the slope were bullet proof.
We reached the bottom of the couloir, and put on helmets and harnesses. We exchanged pleasantries with a soloist who we let go ahead of us. Then we also decided to put on crampons as this seemed like something we did not want to have to put on in a sketchy situation. We started up the couloir in steps made by previous ascent parties. The snow was variable, but mostly very firm. Crampons were not necessary due to the steps, but somewhat nice to have on. About two-thirds of the way up was a particularly icy section with no steps in it. At this time we all decided to take out a second tool. (Or first tool for those whose primary tool was an axe.)
This section went by quickly. And shortly we could see the top of the gully. We took lots of pictures, and eventually topped out of The Zipper. We relaxed a bit at the top before heading under the south of the summit to reach the summit gully climb. When we arrived under the summit, the soloist was downclimbing the section from the summit. We waited, exchanged pleasantries again, and started up.
This final step felt steeper than The Zipper, and had pretty solid snow despite being in the sun. (Or perhaps because of being in the sun on previous days.) It also had a thin section where rock holds were used, and perhaps some dry tooling. We all soloed to just below the summit, and then took turns one at a time on the small and rocky summit. We descended back down to a tree with rap slings, and made the decision to do a double rope rap from the tree. Once we were all down, we took most of the climbing gear off, and headed off the mountain. It was now Noon.
Since we were on the south side of the peak the snow was soft, and made for good plunge stepping. Matt Jilson and Josh did some glissading. The walk off was pretty straight forward save for a section where you reach the trees just above the meadow we crossed earlier. We didn't follow beta from the Internet stating to take the far left down, and did some sketchy down climbing through trees to reach easier ground. We got back on the trail and headed up through the woods back to the car. We reached the car just before two o'clock.
When we arrived back at the car, I just couldn't stop saying, "I cannot believe it was that short." Conditions were really ideal for a quick climb of the Zipper. And using the USGS topo map, the summit is only about 2 miles from the car. I think if conditions were harder/icier without steps, it might have only added an hour to our climb. The angle of the gully was never scary steep, and even if it was icy, I may have been inclined to solo it the whole way up with two tools. The gully Julie, Steve, and I went up on McClellan, was steeper (and icier) near the top and we soloed it to the rock with a single axe. There was talk of going back up Lane via "Lover's Lane" or "The Fly" after we got back down. But we were more concerned about getting back to Seattle in proper time. Overall, we had a grand time, and this is a route I may try again. (Although now I'm inclined to try one of the other north face routes.) I can understand why it is a classic, because of the setting, and relatively easy nature of the route. The north couloir on McClellan is definitely a more difficult route, and not as nice a setting.
My pics are here.