Monday, June 8, 2009

Prusik Peak - West Ridge - 06.06-07.09

Elevation Gain: 6650'
~18 miles RT
2 Days
West Ridge: 5 hours up, 1:30 down

Scott asked me if I'd be willing to lead a climb of Prusik Peak in the Enchantments for the weekend. I told him yes, as long as we attempted some other climbs on Temple Ridge as well.

We got together a team of four for the climb and decided on a leisurely start to the trip. This was a mistake as it really cut our chances of getting in multiple climbs. We were hiking from the Snow Creek Trail Head around 10am, with the hopes of reaching the Enchantments in the early afternoon with time to complete a climb.

Our original intent was to hike in and camp somewhere near or above Snow Lakes. However, while on route we checked our beta and the maps and decided that we would have the best chance at completing three climbs if we came in from the north side up Temple Canyon. This approach was similar (and probably worse) than heading to the Enchantments via Asgard Pass. We left the Snow Creek Trail around Nada Creek and headed up. It first started with loose talus terrain with a slight boot path or drainage. Then we met a short 5th class step that we roped up for to surmount. Above that we saw a few cairns, but it was mostly scrambling to reach more level ground in the canyon. Once on more level ground it was impossible to follow any trails with the patchy snow, so we mostly hugged the creek. By around 6pm we were tired, and it made sense to start looking for camp. We were successful in finding some flatter spots near a lake around 6300'.

During dinner (Kudos to Bram for bringing up sausage and pasta in the box. What a champ.) we discussed what had to be done on Sunday. Since we all knew heading back out the way we came in would be difficult route finding and involve a rappel with full packs, we decided it was in our best interest to head out via Snow Lakes.

It rained during the night and we awoke at our original time with severe fog and we decided only one climb would be tackled as we went to sleep for another hour or two. Later when we awoke again, the sun was starting to come out and we could see the peaks around us. By the time we ate breakfast and packed up camp, we were in the fog again. Route finding was difficult, but we mostly kept near the creek heading in the general direction of Prusik Pass. The snow conditions did not help our situation as there was mostly continuous snow with patches of exposed rock and slabs that were wet and had numerous moats and voids. With all the moisture in the air and the wet rock about our thoughts were moving to just getting to Prusik Pass to start our descent back to the trail head.

After a few hours of wallowing, the sky parted enough for us to get a pinpoint on our location. We were above Shield Lake and below Temple Ridge. After a steep snow slope and some rock scrambling, we arrived at the base of the climb where the rock was dry, and we were ready to gear up.

By now it was noon and we were going to have to be fast and efficient to complete the route and not come out by headlamp. There was a party on route ahead of us, but they were a few pitches up and shouldn't slow us down. But since it appeared we might catch them, we decided to pitch out the first two pitches rather than simul climb them. The first pitch was fairly mellow and mostly 4th class with a few 5th class moves. Scott led off first and belayed atop a crack on a nice perch. Bram followed behind him and I led up to just under their belay location. While belaying Jay up the first pitch we experienced the clouds rolling in again this time with some hail. Fortunately it was not wetting the rock and we figured it would blow over, which it did. Then we headed out on the second pitch which had more 5th class including an interesting steep crack bit, but also a fair amount of 4th class as well.

Once at the top of the second pitch, we were at the crux of the climb, the 5.7 unprotectable slab. It looks far more imposing than it is and even has a bit of exposure. This is truly a quality pitch. There is a piton to clip at the base of the slab, and then you climb the slab using the arete as a hand hold. After a short bit you gain a flake where pro can be placed. Then it is around a corner on an airy exposed alpine traverse. (You just can't get climbing like this cragging.) Made even more dramatic by the clouds blowing in. We stopped the pitch short due to rope drag and then did a roped scramble on 4th class to the base of the summit pitch.

Jay led the summit pitch which was quality climbing on flakes and cracks including a final chimney section to reach the summit. It was difficult following this pitch as the pack kept putting me off balance and jamming into the rock. (We had ice axes and boots for the return to the base.) We did haul packs up the final chimney, so it was convenient not to climb the chimney with a pack. Once on the summit we proceeded to take a few summit photos and start rappelling as we were running late. (We had the option to bail before the 4th class, but we figured what was another hour added to our return time for the final pitch.)

Five rappels later we were at the snow and attempting to stay on the rock for the high traverse back to the base of the climb. The high traverse was fairly easy and quick back to the packs. We packed up and then proceed to head west on the ridge until we could down climb south toward Lake Vivian.

Unfortunately, we left the base of the climb after 7pm and we were hustling down the snow and slabs until we could finally reach the Snow Creek Trail near Lake Vivian. Also, once we reached the trail we accidentally headed the wrong way for a bit before realizing our error and returning to the correct direction. Initially we made good time, and reached Snow Lakes by 9pm. Headlamps came on around 9:30pm and we hustled down the trail. Jay started falling behind and Scott hung with him to keep him with the group while Bram and I forged ahead scouting difficult areas through bogs, slabs and creek crossings. When we arrived at Nada Lake we made a decision to stop to pump water once we reached the footbridge a bit further down the trail.

At the footbridge we took a long break and took a bulk a Jay's gear and spread it among us so his burden could be eased for the rest of the way down. From there we started hiking again and then came up with the idea of sending Bram to the car to drop his pack and then come back up for Jay's pack. Being three miles out meant we wouldn't see a return on this result until the final half mile, but I think Jay was thankful for it. Hiking down the trail with Snow Creek Wall bathed in moonlight. We all hit the car spent around 2:30 Monday morning.

Nothing was open in Leavenworth, so we couldn't even get a snack and proceeded to drive back to Seattle. By Steven's Pass, only Jay and I were up but both fading fast. So we stopped and took a 15 minute snooze break. I may have reawaken briefly but it appears I fell asleep in the car shortly west of Steven's Pass only to come alive when we dropped Scott off at his car in Monroe. I finally arrived home after 6am and promptly went to bed.

This was an interesting trip. It felt way more strenuous than Mt. Rainier last week and left my body in worse shape. (The skiing on Friday probably did not help.) The mileage of getting into the Enchantments really seems to be the downfall for me. Heavy overnight packs with climbing gear was not helping matters. I think if we had better weather, and trail conditions we could have at least accomplished two climbs in two days. (Assuming we started earlier on Saturday.) I think most people would enjoy the Prusik, High Priest, and Temple combo in a three day trip. It was nice to climb Prusik which had a nice technical pitch for the summit that was really enjoyable climbing. The crux pitch was also a really fine alpine pitch as well.

My pics are here.
Bram's pics here.
Scott's here.

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