Elevation Gain: 4100'
9 miles RT
Left car: 7:30 am
Summit: 3:00 pm
Back at car: 5:30 pm
10 hours car to car
Josh alerted me to a day he had available to climb, so we decided to take advantage of it. We both wanted to climb South Early Winter Spire, but the drive to Washington Pass for a day climb seemed a bit too long. So I looked around for ideas and came up with the North Face of Vesper. I knew the approach having scrambled the peak last fall with Julie. The drive isn't too long, and I knew we could be back in one day easy.
So away we went. We left Seattle somewhat casually at 6am. (There was a forecast of afternoon thunderstorms that should have had us starting earlier.) We were at the trail head and hiking at 7:30am and were covering ground quickly. (1000' ~45minutes) We were slowed briefly by my inability to jump from sloping wet rocks onto other sloping wet rocks just before leaving the woods. After leaving the woods, it was very humid and the alder and blueberries were wet with dew making the two of us a bit wet and uncomfortable. We had no issues getting to Headlee Pass and only had to cross about one patch of snow in the valley to get there.
After the traverse, we crossed the creek on a snow bridge and started heading up the scramble route. The skies were attempting to rain on us for a while, and when we got to around 5000', it finally started raining for good and hard. We stopped briefly to put on shell jackets and started to look for a large rock to hide under. We were cold and miserable, and this shower was not in the forecast. After about 20 minutes, the rain passed and we were at the top of the first notch in the sun.
We took a break to eat and let the sun dry out the rock on the route. Due to whatever oversight it was (not reading the route description again?) we set out down the first gully. We opted to take the moat down as the snow looked a bit steep and hard to tackle. This turned out to be the crux of the climb for us and a real time waster. Shortly after entering the moat we had a wet third class step to negotiate. Then there was a lot of slow going on loose rock before we decided that the snow angle was a little more favorable and we moved out onto the snow. My combination of approach shoes and crampons did not fare well and caused me to move equally as slow on the snow (if not slower.) We eventually navigated around the burgschrund and a few crevasses before reaching the base of the climb.
Once again, due to us not reading everything we had handy we ascended the gully. (And possibly due to the party who took the correct snow gully to the glacier and beat us to the base of the route.) We simul-climbed the mostly 3rd and 4th class gully until just below the top out. I belayed Josh us the last bit before we did a roped scramble up to the base of the giant slab.
From here I led out across the blank lower slab (low 5th or 4th class.) After about 50m of rope, I set up a belay where I could. Some beta said "anchors were difficult to locate." This is true and we had to stop when we found locations where more than one piece could go in so we could build an anchor. Even still, all our anchors wound up being two pieces. I brought Josh up and he started out on the next pitch where we agreed to head to the corner dihedral. He made an anchor in the large dish and brought me up where I started out on the first dihedral pitch.
I had a little difficulty making the first move into the dihedral as my foot kept slipping and I decided to climb the short slab to the left that would put me into the dihedral higher. After that it was easier ground with somewhat more opportunity for protection. Shortly before running out of rope, I built and anchor and brought Josh up. He continued to just past the top of the dihedral where he ran out of rope and built an anchor. I followed up and we were on the summit shortly afterward. Since we could see and hear thunderstorms coming from the east, we did not stay long and started the decent quickly after snapping a few photos.
The descent was quick and easy. We lost the first 1000' in about 20 minutes glissading down the snowfields. Before we knew it, we were back at Headlee Pass and heading down the trail. We hammered out the remaining distance and were back at the car without the thunderstorm soaking us.
Overall it was a fun trip. Also one I'd be interested in repeating. The drive isn't much longer than driving to Snoqualmie Pass, and the area is a bit more interesting. In the future I won't make the same footwear mistake on the glacier either. Also now having done the climb and reread the beta, I would climb the buttress on the right of the gully on the lower portion of the climb. (Beckey states 5.6 "1970" route.) It would be slower, but involve more real climbing. Also, if I wasn't to do that, I might as well do the 3rd class ledge traverse to the base of the slab. Next time, I want to venture out in the middle of the slab. It looked really cool out there and would be a change from the dihedral. Speaking of the dihedral, it is dirty and no where near the four star quality that the Diedre dihedral is in Squamish. However, rock is similar with some glacially polished sections and frictionless quartz dikes. This was a fun trip, and I'm a bit surprised people don't do it more often.