Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mount Thompson - West Ridge - 08.29.09

Sabrina and I finally got to go out together this summer. This is one we had on the list for last summer and never coordinated to make it happen. But now we were going to make it happen.

The forecast was for morning showers tapering to sun. I guess with all my good weather this summer, I didn't even consider a possibility of getting rained out. I did not check weather alternatives anywhere else and only checked the weather for the Snoqualmie Pass area. When I arrived at her house in the morning, her husband asked what our alternate plan was. "Alternate plan?" we said to each other. We got down to discussing that in the car. Sabrina said she brought along the Leavenworth climbing book in case we decided to go there. Of course, mostly we just caught up while chatting in the car. Before we knew it, we were at the pass and pulling in the parking lot.

It was raining in Seattle, and about 50% of the places along the way, but was just foggy and misty at the trailhead. We agreed to do some discussion while in the parking lot and planned to have a decision by 6:30am. I told Sabrina that the decision was hard because we are not gamblers. I then said let's put this discussion in different terms, like possible outcomes. So here is the list I presented that we made our final decision on:
(In order of best payoff outcome to lowest payoff.)
1. Hike in and climb Mt. Thompson
2. Drive to Leavenworth and go cragging
3. Hike in and not climb Mt. Thompson
4. Drive to Leavenworth and it is raining

It is a simplified list that eliminated other options such as driving to Vantage to crag, or driving over to Ingall's to climb the east ridge. Because in reality we weren't too fond of those options. We didn't know the weather forecast for Leavenworth and so rain in Leavenworth was a possibility. So after presenting the choices this way, we stuck with our original intent and hoped that the forecast for the day was correct.

Under foggy skies, we set off into the woods around 6:45am. We made good time. At one point before the Commonwealth Basin turn off, I put on a shell jacket over my t-shirt as the wetness and sweat was keep me cool. We stopped a few times for snacks and short breaks. In two and a half hours we were at the Kendall Katwalk. We continued further and soon were at Ledge Lake. At that point there are way trails in all directions. We confirmed with the map that we were supposed to continue on the right (east) of the ridge to get to Bumblebee Pass. (Although there is an alternate approach that goes to the west of the ridge it was a little too foggy to deviate.)

After some more hiking Sabrina stated she thought we went too far. I told her she was just being impatient. Then we hit a small "pass" near the trail. It was too steep on the other side, and we were too far being able to see Edds Lake. We had to hike back about ten minutes before finding Bumblebee Pass. It was not particularly obvious, but noticeable. Our problem was we were expecting the pass to be much closer to the trail level, and not a vege belay scramble up from the trail. At this point the fog appeared to be lifting. We had nice views of Alaska Lake but the upper reaches were still in the clouds. We grunted up Bumblebee Pass and then carefully picked out way through the loose rock on the other side.

We headed for a trail we could see in the bowl between us and Thompson. Since we had little or no visibility higher than the floor of the basin, we headed for the trail. Once near the bottom we made our way to the right of a tower that we thought was the first on the ridge. As we ascended the talus, the fog started getting worse again and our visibility was now limited to 75 feet. The talus was horrible, loose and bowling ball sized. Some times you would step and the a swath of rock would start moving from ten feet above you. It was slow going. We came to a rock wall at the top. There was a small gully feature going up and to our left. We went up it a bit to see if we could figure out where we were. It was now 12:30, and there were three possibilities before us. We could continue up the gully to see where it led, we could attempt to scramble the 4th class wall of the gully to possibly get on route, or we could call it a day and head back to the car.

With the dense fog and the not so dry rock, it made sense to turn around. Since we were in a moderately safe spot, we had our "lunch" on a stepped slab at the base of the gully. Then began the tedious task of descending the talus field. Sabrina and I originally intended on taking the alternate way back. But at this point, we were having difficulty even locating the saddle to head that way as the fog was so thick. We realized we'd have to go back up and over Bumblebee Pass and hike out the PCT to return to the car. Once back on the trail, we removed our helmets and headed south.

The funny thing about this trail is that the eight miles in seemed to take no time at all, while the same distance out took what seemed like forever. The sun started poking out as we were traversing below Kendall Peak. (A little late.) By the last few miles Sabrina and I were done. Our legs tired and our feet hurting, all we wanted to do was get into more comfortable shoes and off our feet.

Overall this was a fun trip. We didn't summit, and basically did everything but the rock climb. Had it been a little more clear, or the rock a little more dry I think we would've went for it. Unfortunately after looking at a pic of Thompson on a clear day we realize where we were at and why the talus was probably so difficult. (We were below the peak about two pitches in to the West Ridge route.) Anyway, they say you learn more from the non summits, which usually is true. (Steve and I summited on Forbidden and that was probably one of my biggest learning experiences.) I think it was just nice to catch up with Sabrina and for us to push ourselves in less than ideal conditions. Sure, we didn't summit. We didn't even see the mountain! But it was a good time, and good exercise.

My pics are here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lake Dorothy - 08.24.09

The lake

Jennifer and I went for a mellow hike to Lake Dorothy. This is a highly maintained trail. (Lots of stairs.) It has an elevation gain of perhaps 1000' depending on how far you go and it is only about a mile and a half to the lake. Once at the lake there are numerous campsites and toilets for staying overnight.

Stairs and large downed tree.

Lake Dorothy is one of the larger lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and is nearly a mile and a half long. We walked to the halfway point where Jennifer got a swim in, while I rested on shore. Then we continued to the far end of the lake before turning around and heading home. You could continue on the trail generally south until you reach the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River as well. But at that point you would need a car shuttle.

Jennifer was looking for a nice mellow trip to start hiking again and this proved good for that. Although we both wound up tired at the end and had to stop at the Sultan Bakery for a snack to make it home.

Fungus on tree stump

Also, it was quite crowded for a Monday. I presume it is a mad house on weekends.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ingall's Peak - South Ridge - 08.21.09

Elevation Gain: 3400'
8 miles RT
Left car: 7:30 am
Summit: 3:00 pm
Back at car: 10:20 pm
15 hours car to car

Another late night in the mountains.

Lori organized a trip that was going to be to either the Tooth or Ingalls and was supposed to involve Adam, Lori, myself and some of Ken's students. By the time I had gotten off Forbidden I found out that Adam was still working and I choose the location of Ingalls. We were originally supposed to have three students, but one backed out which gave us nice pairings. After some difficulty finding our way onto I90 in the early morning, Lori and I finally met Deanna and Mike in Issaquah. We piled into Mike's SUV and headed out.

Once on the dirt portion of Teanaway Road, the tire pressure sensor light came on. Mike assured us that it has happened in the past with no issues. As it turned out, we pulled into the lot with a hissing tire, deflating before our eyes. We decided to leave it until we were finished with the climb and deal with it then. We then headed up the trail.

This was a test mission for Lori's knees after starting a new regiment of arthritis treatment. I was still recovering from my Forbidden epic and I think the students were fine with the slow pace we set up the trail. Just before Ingall's Pass we were greeted by a goat posing for us on a rock outcropping. We all stopped to take pictures. After our photo session we continued to hike toward the lake.

Nearing the lake we had to veer off the trail to start the scramble to the base of the climb. Having only done the approach to the south ridge in the snow it was unfamiliar to me. It was not completely obvious which way to go as you could not see the peak to use as a reference point. After a little wandering, Lori, Mike and Deanna found a gully-like ramp to ascend while I ascended slabs to the right of them. We reconnected a short distance from a notch which we passed through and made a few steps on snow at. Then it was just a short scramble to the base at the dogtooth crags.

Since it was 11:30am I suggested we eat lunch. (I had already been up for seven hours, so why not?) We sat about and sorted gear and ate our respective lunches. Around 12:30pm I started off on the first pitch.

Every other time I have climbed the south ridge, this first pitch is usually buried in snow. So we ended up climbing it to the lowest rap anchor as a first pitch. I brought Mike up and we were on our way. I led up a short pitch to move the belay below the main pitch while Lori started leading up the first pitch. I brought Mike up to my location and put on my pant legs and shell jacket as the wind was relentless. Thankfully the sun was shinning, so it was keeping the temps reasonable.

I led off on what was our third pitch. This is one of the nicest pitches of easy alpine rock to climb. The crack is fairly clean, and the pro is good. It is really an enjoyable pitch. I had told the students that they should consider themselves lucky that they were on Ingalls and not the Tooth, as it was a nicer climb. This pitch was fun, but a bit long, and with my reduced alpine rack, I almost ran out of slings to finish the pitch. I brought Mike up and had him leave the #3 cam in for Lori as she did not bring one. (For some reason, the beta on this climb says gear to 2" and one piece of beta even limited it to 1.5"!) I agree with Ian in that if you bring a piece, you'll use it. So I had the #3 and was able to place it at least twice on the route. Although two pieces at 2" would go a longer way for the earlier pitch as getting the #3 in was a squeeze. Next time I may just bring a large hex instead of the #3 cam and see how that works.

After bringing Mike to the top of the pitch we hung out a bit. He was experiencing some leg cramps and wanted to rest them a bit, while I wanted to take pictures of Lori climbing the pitch. After a while of hanging out, I got under way.

In no time, I was at the top of our fourth pitch and done with the technical rock climbing. I brought Mike up and we relaxed a bit. I looked down to see that Lori and Deanna had not even started the final pitch and we decided to untie and head for shelter from the wind. I hung out behind a large rock in the sun while watching the clouds force their way over Mount Daniel, Chimney Rock and the Lemahs. Mike laid out in the sun and wind just above me. I'd occasionally run back to the route to check on the progress of the other rope, and then return to my perch.

At one point, I decided that we should hit the summit while waiting and Mike went up and touched it, while I straddled the rock. We then went to check on Lori and Deanna. At this point, Deanna was on the final pitch and I told Lori that Mike and I would hit the summit again and then start the rappels as it was getting late (Lori and Deanna probably arrived at the top a full hour and a half later than we did.) and the clouds seem to be winning their battle eastward to our location as well.

Mike and I went back to the summit to take pictures, this time Mike straddling the summit and getting his picture taken to boot. We hustled back to the anchors where Deanna was on top at last. I started setting up the rappel so I could add a rappel ring to the next anchor which only had one. Once the top rappel was set up, I had some minor difficulty in making the initial moves onto the rappel as it involves a turn around above the anchor. Once on rappel I made my way quickly to the next station. I had enough time alone at the next station to add a rappel ring and then set up my rope for half of the double rope rappel to the next rap station. Around this time, Mike joined me at the rap station and asked "how are four of us going to stand here?" The ledge there is tiny, and so I then set up my rope as a single line rappel and rapped it the next station to make room for Deanna and Lori.

Down at the lower rap station the wind seemed to be at its worst. I tried to huddle behind some rocks, but I mostly got flapped around by the wind. After a while, I was joined by everyone and we set about the next rappel. At this point I let Lori go first as I was pretty sure she wanted to be back on the ground. It also gave me time to put on a down jacket because the wind was really starting to chill me. After Lori and Mike made the next short rap, they set up a single rope rap to reach the packs.

By the time I reached the next rap station, I had discovered that the rope did not reach and we had to convert the single rope rap into a double. With some quick action this was done and Mike got to be the first to rap to the packs. Lori got on from her location (where she built an anchor) and made the short rap down to the packs as well. Once Deanna made the rappel I was all that was left.

I reached the packs, where we sorted gear, had a snack and started out way down. Going down the loose talus proved slow and then we had a bit of trail finding to make sure we didn't cliff out. Once back at the trail Lori almost had a run in with a goat and her kid. It seemed the goat was defending her child (and the trail) and started walking toward Lori (who was in the lead) with her head down. I started yelling loudly (and the others joined in) and that spooked the goat enough to run up the slope a bit. We all quickly passed and were on our way.

Most of the hike out was uneventful. While the parking lot was near full in the morning, we did not see people until our way out. There were a few camping near the trail, and a handful coming up by headlamp once we had crossed over Ingall's Pass. Back in the parking lot we were greeted by a few more who were getting ready for the popular parking lot bivy.

This turned out to be a good thing. Because not only did we have the tire change to deal with, but the dome light was also left on in the vehicle, and it would not start. The other climbers offered us a jump start, but asked them if they could wait until we changed the tire first. Other than a few issues with how to remove the jack and the spare tire, the tire change went well and soon we were being helped with a jump from the other climbers. Once the truck was running we hopped in for the slow ride back out. (The spare was a donut, so we took it easy.)

And we saw a porcupine on the road on the way out. It turned its back to the vehicle and raised its quills before wandering to the side of the road. Cool.

My pics are here.
Mike's pics are here.
Lori's pics here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Forbidden - 08.16-18.09

Part III
"More To Go"

It was already lighter when we arrived at the notch. We watched headlamps from a party at the lower basin camp start up to Sahale or Sharkfin. (We never did see where they went.) We wondered if they had noticed our lights on the ridge and what they thought was going on.

Then Steve set about making himself comfortable and took a snooze. I was too uncomfortable to sleep at first and after jostling about in different positions finally took a nap. Steve said I even snored. I awoke a half hour later.

Nap time (photo by Steve Machuga)

Then we watched the sky turn beautiful colors as the sun rose. I ate a bag of dried fruit and nuts and Steve had a few granola bars. We weren't quite ready to get moving, so we lounged until the sun hit a feature we were calling "The Scottish Arete."

Having gotten some rest, we headed out slowly and methodically back down to camp. In our tired condition, we knew there would be a few cruxes on the way to camp. The first was getting around the chock stone at the top of the gully. This proved to be no issue and we were now making our way down the slabs and loose rock. We reached the bottom of the gully and got on the snow. Steve felt comfortable with a standing glissade. I put crampons on and walked quickly down the snow. (I just wasn't feeling confident in the boots I had chosen.)

We got back onto rock in the lower gully and navigated our way down to the next crux. On the way up we made an uncomfortable step onto the slab from a snow lip on the lower snowfield. I was sure there was no way to make this step after the previous day's melting. That would mean we would have a choice of climbing down either of two short waterfalls. When we arrived, Steve probed it out and made a step onto a lower portion of the final slab before making the big step out onto the snow. It didn't look that safe to me so I hesitated before finally making a large gentle step onto the snow. We crossed that short bit of snow and then gained the slabs again before jumping back onto snow down to camp.

Once in camp we quickly went about filtering water to drink. It was nice and cold snow melt and I drank enough to give me brain freeze. We lounged again at the stream dipping our feet in the water and dreading the coming hike out. After a while we made our way back to the tent to pack up and head out.

The flies were horrible at the tent and it made packing difficult. In my already weakened mental state the flies were the final straw. I was running about trying to kill any that came near me. It was an ordeal. We packed as quickly as possible and hoped that once we left the camp area we would be rid of the pesky insects.

Our hope faded as we had to negotiate a grassy moraine littered with Marmot dens and scat. The flies were even worse. There were brief moments hiking down the basin where there was a faint wind or even cooler temps and seemingly no flies. Then we would encounter another area, like the lower stream crossings and be swarmed again.

Once through the stream crossings we made it to the woods and through the avalanche debris fields. Constantly in and out of swarms of flies. At one point during the heaviest bushwhack area of the trail the flies were so thick I looked like Pig Pen from Peanuts with the swarm around me. Steve said he could see dozens landing all over his clothes. When we escaped that area, I told Steve I was close to a nervous breakdown. He said that me running down the trail screaming "Cannot stop! Must keep moving!" was a sign of a partial breakdown. I agreed and knew that the worst was behind us.

About 20 minutes later we were back at the car. We found a note from the rangers on the windshield stating "Steve and Gilbert: Your party has been reported passed due. Please check into the ranger station when you receive this note. A search party is being sent." We packed the car quickly and drank some more water before heading out.

The drive on Cascade River Road always seems longer than it should be. I understand that it is a 23 mile mostly dirt road with a 35mph speed limit, but it just seems to go on forever. Once out, we made right for the ranger station and reported in. We were told someone was just sent out to look for us and we presumed it was the ranger truck heading up the road as we came out. After leaving the ranger station we called our contacts to let them know we were alright. Apparently the rangers had gotten to that first in some cases. Then it was time for the long drive home.

This was another exciting experience in the mountains and was a good learning experience.

I think both Steve and I learned some lessons this weekend:

One of which is that the two of us actually get tired. (Which may be hard for others to believe.) I think if we had not done South Early Winter Spire on Saturday, the Forbidden trip would have played out completely different. We would have been fresh and moving faster without all the lethargic delays. I cannot say for sure this would have kept us on route during the climbing, but it probably would of had us moving faster on route, as well as the approach. It may also have made us more at ease with the rock quality and exposure.

Another lesson has to do with emergency contacts and when to call in a passed due. This was partially a flub because we had changed our plans a few times, so it wasn't exactly set in stone when we left Edmonds. That caused the timing to be off, and created a panic regarding our return time. In retrospect, it appears that Steve and I may not have even been on the same page regarding when authorities should be contacted. While Steve and I had no idea that a rescue was initiated, this incident has made me strongly consider the use of a Spot.

A funny thing about the "rescue" was that when we arrived at the ranger station the ranger behind the desk said they could have initiated the search earlier if we had used the climbing register. (We had neglected to, probably due to our fluid plans.) I thought at the time this was funny as I didn't even think the rescue needed to be initiated at all and that starting it earlier was a waste of time and resources.

The route itself was interesting. I don't know if I'd recommend it, as I was not a big fan of the rock quality. (Well, at least the quality of the protection.) It is also the sort of route people seek for the exposure, which is not a reason I usually seek out routes. There were only a few memorable climbing segments on the route, so it is also not a route to seek out if you want to get into some climbing. However, the setting is hard to beat with numerous 8000' peaks nearby and many small and a few large glaciers tucked here and there. I'd have to admit to loving downclimbing the ridge in the dark as well. It is truly spectacular to be on a beautiful mountain like Forbidden and watch the sun set, the stars rise, and eventually give way to the sun again. It was something we obviously didn't plan to do, but the trip was enriched because of it. It was a wonderful experience that I shall never forget.

I think I learned a few things about my ability to stay alert and focused after being up all of the night. (Partial thanks to Powerbar Gel with Caffeine.) I'll probably always look back on this trip fondly even though the result was not what Steve and I were looking for.

And Steve and I still have not done the West Ridge, so perhaps we'll have to go back for that and see if it lives up to the popularity.

Once again, pics are here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Forbidden - East Ridge Direct - 08.16-18.09

Part II
"The Descent"

Steve's glory from the summit (photo by Steve Machuga)

Josh and Matt had told us that it took them about one and half hours to get back to the notch from the summit using the East Ledge descent. They said it was five rappels and then there were cairns on each rib on the traverse back. Most people avoid this descent because as Nelson states "climbers find this 3rd and 4th class descent route to be loose and stressful." Josh and Matt gave us confidence that we should have no problems with it. Plus at 7pm our only other option was to continue down the west ridge, which could not have been faster. If all went well, we should be back at the notch before the sun set.

Steve belayed me quickly back to the summit rap anchor. This was a mess of old slings on a horn on the ridge. The horn appeared sound enough, but we decided to add a sling as all the slings seemed old and tattered. The first rappel appeared to be the steepest. And we could see the next two rap stations from there.

I headed out first careful not to put too much weight on the anchor. About halfway down, Steve yelled to hurry up as it was 7:20pm. We made it to the next anchor which was no less scary than the top anchor and proceeded to rappel. A few raps down and we had difficulty finding the next rap stations. Steve led off on the next rap while I stashed the rack in the pack. By the time we were done with five raps it was a little dark and we could not see any cairns on the first rib. A lot of the beta and the climbeing ranger stated that the big mistake most people make is not descending enough. So, we made a sixth rap.

Still no sign of a cairn on the rib, we decided to head east. Perhaps we'd see it on the next rib? While not fully dark, it was a little too dark to see anything resembling a ledge that is what the route is supposed to traverse. So we carefully picked our way east as the sun set on us. We headed to what appeared to be a cairn on perhaps the second rib over but the ground got too difficult to reach it. (So we assumed it was not correct.) We saw a rap anchor nearby and were able to reach that. Anchored in, we rested our minds a bit, but wanted to keep moving. Now under head lamp, we made another rappel. Steve liked what he saw at the bottom and told me to come down. Once at the end of the rope, there were some larger, more comfortable ledges to stand on. We eyed the next rib and saw easier terrain going to it. We headed toward it.

Once on the rib, we identified a cairn. We were on route. But now it was dark and losing the route could be easy. The terrain and especially the ribs were rocky with many horns and blocks. A cairn could easily hide among all the other spikes on the rib. We continued slowly eastward toward the next rib. The night scrambling was stressful. We took a few minor breaks on larger ledges to rest our brains and take in the beauty of the sky. Unfortunately, there were no spots suitable for a bivy. No ledges were large enough to really sit or lay on, and none offered anchors to tie into. With a possibility of rockfall, our safest option was to keep moving off this technical terrain.

We neared the next rib and could see what looked like a cairn. But by headlamp it could also have been just a horn. We discussed it a bit. Then we headed toward it. It was yet another cairn. We were still on track!

We attempted to maintain a level crossing to the next rib. Going was slow. We kept looking up to the ridge to see if we were under the "solitary gendarme" that marks the start of the route. We reached the next rib to find another cairn. We were still on route and we appeared to be under the gendarme. Time to head up.

Having talked to the ranger and Josh and Matt they all stated that most people take the gully back up to the notch, but that it is preferred to stay on the rib just west of the gully as it is easier terrain. But where we were currently the gully offered the best terrain and we started our upward climb on grassy ledges and blocks. People had clearly been this way, but it did not necessarily look like a well traveled path. After some distance upward, we regained the rib again as that offered easier terrain. We were getting excited. The climbing was getting more stressful. The last bits to the ridge crest were probably low 5th class that we had to solo to make it to the top. Once there, our hearts sank. We headed up too early. We were at the location that marked the end of our fourth pitch earlier that day. (Or technically the day before.)

It was around 1:30am and we had four pitches to climb to return to the relative safety of the notch. We were out of water and hadn't drank any in hours. Nor would we be anywhere soon where we could replenish. We could build an anchor and huddle together until daylight, or we could climb out while we still were running on adrenalin. We sat about a bit admiring the stars and lights of Bellingham before making a decision. (Who knew you could see Forbidden from Bellingham?) The ridge was cold and windy, we wouldn't get any real rest, so we decided to climb. We both felt relief to finally be anchored back into the mountain again.

Steve suggested we lead the same pitches we led earlier as we may remember them. (It seemed like a week ago that we were on the ridge in the daylight. It made our South Early Winter Spire climb seem like last month!) I told him I remembered this pitch to be exposed. He told me it wouldn't matter as you couldn't feel the exposure in the dark.

So I took the rack out of the pack and racked up to lead a pitch on the ridge in the dark. As my headlamp illuminated the terrain it came back to me. Climb over this horn, traverse this rib, over another horn. I was determined to get it done. I stumbled upon the anchor where Steve belayed me on the pitch earlier. It was a sling someone left there. (Perhaps from retreating?) I backed it up with a cam set in what appeared to be a solid crack and yelled "Steve, off belay!" Later we would find it funny that we were using our names being the only people on the mountain. I brought Steve in and we contemplated the next pitch.

We were on top of the first large gendarme on the route. The way off was a steep 5.7 downclimb. We couldn't exactly see which way would continue on the ridge or start us down the face. Luckily for me it was Steve's turn to lead out. Unluckily for me it meant that I would follow the downclimb, which means I would have the danger of leading it. I told Steve to place gear early and often. He led off down the gendarme and off to where his headlamp darted about a bit here and there. Steve was low on gear and trying to build a suitable anchor. After a while of his headlamp darting, he finally yelled "off belay." And I was on my way.

When we were both on top of the gendarme, we contemplated numerous scenarios to get down it. One of which was both of us rapping off the anchor on top. (I told him I didn't like the anchor enough for that.) Another was for him to lead off on the down climb and for me to set up a top rope on the anchor to down climb it. This still relied on the top anchor too much and would also mean leaving gear. A similar option was to rappel off the top anchor after Steve down-climbed the pitch. If the top anchor failed, the top piece of gear should hold my fall. Well, we (or was it I) decided that downclimbing made the most sense. Assuming I didn't fall, there would be no reliance on gear. So I started down.

The climbing down the gendarme was marked by short difficult moves with good stances to finish. Steve placed gear so I would be roughly at a piece for the more difficult moves and should be able to still reach high to remove the gear at the good stances. I got to the first piece, a slung horn, and downclimbed below it. I had difficulty removing it and was about to leave it when I finally had success. Down to the next piece I continued. This continued for a bit until I got to a large slung block. Steve yelled up, "Leave the triple if you have to." I pulled the carabiner off the sling and used it as a hold to climb the next section. A few more lower angle moves and I was at Steve's position ready to continue.

I took what he had left of the rack and didn't bother to trade out the backpack and I continued down. The going was steep. I didn't remember this as well as the previous bits. Then I found a rock with a scar on it that Steve "was heading for" on his first pitch the previous day. I was on track. A bunch of steeper moves and I was back at the belay from the top of our first pitch. I brought Steve down and he arrived at my location with the sentiment that down climbing is hard. Yes, especially in the dark. We discussed where he should head. (We both figured walkable terrain was not too far below us.) And he headed out.

After a few slower moments I was paying out rope quickly. Steve reached walking terrain. Now he had to find an anchor. He built an anchor and belayed me in. We were back at the notch with our stashed gear.

It was around 4:30am and we had been moving for 22 hours straight. Shortly after reaching the notch we heard rock/icefall lower down. We decided to wait until daylight to continue. It was nice to be out of rock shoes for the first time in 19 hours. We put all our clothes on, and just hung out at the notch, glad to be on safer terrain.

My pics are here.

Forbidden - East West Traverse - 08.16-18.09

Part I
"The Summit"

The original plan was to climb Forbidden Peak as an east to west traverse so that we could climb the west ridge and avoid the late season difficulties associated with it. We got a late start in Washington Pass and packed up slowly and did some sight seeing. We ate lunch in Marblemount and finally got under way. As soon as we were hiking the Boston Basin bushwhack, I mean trail, we knew what we were getting into. It turns out we were both fairly tired from climbing South Early Winter Spire the day before and we were feeling it.

Sorting gear for Forbidden (photo by Steve Machuga)

On the way in we passed Josh and Matt who were coming down from a climb of the Direct East Ridge. We chatted a bit and got beta for the descent of the East Ledges. It was probably there that I made the decision in my head that we would probably only do the east ridge and then descend the ledges although I may not have expressed it to Steve at that time. After chatting a bit we continued on and discussed the option of descending the ledges. After some difficult water crossings in the basin, we were finally in the upper basin and setting up camp three hours after we left the car.

We pumped some water from a nice stream, and made dinner. We prepped for the next day and decided on a wake up time of 5:30am. (Josh and Matt had told us they left camp at 5:30.) We had a bit of difficulty getting to sleep because we kept thinking we were hearing female voices. This may have been true as another tent was there in the morning (About 100m downhill from our location) that wasn't there when we went to bed.

Just before the alarm went off there was some rock/ice fall on the mountain. I jumped up to make sure we were not in danger. My commotion woke Steve up and he promptly went back to sleep. I hadn't been sleeping well and mulled about in my sleeping bag for the next 15 minutes until the alarm went off. Once the alarms went off, Steve and I decided to rest in another 15 minutes or so before actually getting out of the tent. [Can you already count the many signs of an epic?] We ate breakfast, used the toilet and left camp at 6:30am.

We had good information from Josh and Matt about the problem they had on the approach and made quick time up the slabs to the snow and eventually the gully. We arrived at the notch at the base of the route around 8:30 or so. In keeping with the epic theme, we dawdled at the base for some time (including Steve needing another "bathroom break" before starting the route.) During our delay we made the decision not to down climb the west ridge. We knew we were both tired and we weren't moving that fast coming up from camp.

We eventually started climbing at 10am and I took the first lead. The first bits were 3rd class and then it got somewhat harder where I had to negotiate a few small gendarmes. Since good protection was scarce, I looked for a viable anchor location after I had about half the rope out. I wound up slightly off the crest of the ridge on the south side and was probably slightly off route. Steve made his way over to me and then slowly made about leading the next pitch.

Steve had to regain the ridge crest first and then make his way up the first significant gendarme on the ridge. This section is listed at 5.7 in the guides and that would probably be correct. It was slow going as route finding was not obvious, but more so because protection was difficult. Once finding an suitable anchor location, Steve brought me up. Two hours had passed since we started climbing and I knew that we were in for a long day. Being the optimist, I thought our speed would improve now that we got a feel for the climbing and we were back on route. So we continued on.

Following the second pitch (photo by Steve Machuga)

I led a short exposed pitch along the ridge crest with easy climbing before I got to and area that looked like it may be difficult to find an anchor in. So I went with the option I had present. (Which still felt pretty desperate to me.) I brought Steve over and we discussed the next pitch. We were a short distance from the next major gendarme which can be bypassed on the north side of the ridge. Steve led off around some minor obstacles before taking a path of least resistance on the north side of the ridge. After using up all the rope, I began to simul climb behind him as we both wound up north of the ridge proper. We continued to climb on the north side for some distance on loose dirty ledges until Steve hit a spot where he could build a reliable belay. He then belayed me to his location.

I started out on the second leg of this traverse over a rib and onto more slab like terrain heading for the notch between the last two gendarmes. It seemed we were a bit low and as I headed back up, the terrain was better for climbing and protecting. I could see I wouldn't make it to the notch in one rope, so when Steve told me I had used half the rope, I built a suitable anchor. He then led off to the notch on a full rope length and brought me up. Having looked at the rap on top of the last gendarme, I can say I am glad we decided to bypass it. (Scary overhanging rappel off a rock horn.)

Climbing up to the notch (photo by Steve Machuga)

Anchor options weren't great at the notch, and it took Steve a long while to build an anchor using a few pieces and a few natural options. This was the crux overhanging 5.8 step. I had already told him he was leading it, so we switched positions and he headed out. The step looked scary and Steve had a hard time believing it went the way it did. He tried to scope out other alternatives to it, but then faced the fact that it did go up that steeply. Steve confidently led up the steep face and began to look for a suitable belay anchor. (I told him it better be solid before starting the pitch.) He went a bit further before he built an anchor. I climbed the steep section which was pretty wild, but easier than it looked. Although it had a very funky move where you had to stand on a wobbly block in order to make a move. After reaching the belay, I was off again.

Topping out on the 5.8 (photo by Steve Machuga)

I led out a bit on what is supposed to be 5.2 terrain to the summit. It was mostly on the crest and upon approaching a minor step, with a sling on top, I set up a belay. (I mistook that to be the summit, but was unsure.) I brought Steve up to my location and he led out for the summit.

My last lead up the East Ridge (photo by Steve Machuga)

He reached the summit and set up and anchor to belay me up. I joined him at the summit around 7pm. Clouds were blowing up out of Boston Basin and blowing down the north side of the mountain. There was the smell of smoke. (We presumed the clouds were related to forest fires.) The wind was cold and we snapped a few pics before rapidly going about the rappels...

Summit shot (photo by Steve Machuga)

My photos are here.

South Early Winter Spire - SW Rib - 08.15.09

Elevation Gain: 2600'
5 miles RT
Left car: 11:15 am
Summit: 7:30 pm
Back at car: 10:00 pm
11 hours car to car

Steve and I planned a big climbing weekend. We didn't finalize our objectives until a few days before the weekend. The first leg would be an attempt on the Southwest Rib of South Early Winter Spire. Our plan was to climb South Early on Saturday, and then head to Cascade Pass to climb Forbidden on Sunday/Monday.

We had a casual start from Seattle on Saturday and arrived at the Blue Lake trail head in the late morning. Temps were cool, and it was a bit cloudy. We made awesome time to the base where we ate lunch and started to gear up. (And Steve took a "bathroom break".) There was a party on route ahead of us and they were a few pitches up. We hung our remaining gear in the tree, and headed up the direct start. [Using the description from Weekend Rock.]

Steve led off on the first pitch which was a loose and not easily protected corner. He went a little off route at one point (he called it the 5.10 variation) and was finally at the belay. I followed and found the pitch a struggle, and mostly unenjoyable. The off route variation took me some time to complete as I couldn't manage the moves Steve did and did an even different variation. This off route issue on the first pitch burned a lot of time for us, (Steve thought over and hour) but we weren't too concerned.

I led off on the next pitch which was short and if we didn't go off route on the first pitch, probably could have been combined with it. This short pitch was a moderate crack that brought you up to the next belay just below a major flake that is the following pitch. We changed over leads and Steve was on his way.

This crack is wider and has an interesting design to it with a large edge as its left side. The crack was fairly steep, and Steve headed up it straddling the flake with one leg on the face and one in the crack. There was much grunting. (Not as much as from the woman who was ahead of us-I think she was actually crying at one point.) Steve made his way up and commented about the amount of blood on the rock. He combined the pitch with the following pitch and started to bring me up. I climbed the crack with both feet in for the initial part, and then about 1/3 of the way up I used the flake for feet as my feet were killing me from jamming them in the crack. The last third of the pitch you come out and lie back the final portion. Exciting to go from the relative security of the crack out on to the face. The second pitch of this link up was a wide crack in a slab.

Top of the fourth pitch (photo by Steve Machuga)

It was my turn to lead the next pitch which was a slab pitch. It starts out by going around a corner and then up a nice slab with some exposure. The book description said somewhat runout, but it was oddly only runout for the crux, which in the book was stated as being "an exciting step to the right." It was a fun pitch and I set a gear belay at the base of the bear hug cracks and brought Steve up.

Rounding the corner to gain the slab (photo by Steve Machuga)

Since I had told Steve at the base that I wanted to lead the bear hug cracks, he let me lead this next pitch as well. This was a super enjoyable pitch where you head up a short crack that brings you to a small ledge at the bottom of wide double cracks. They took a touch of effort to get on, but once on them, I found the climbing easy. What was not particularly easy was protecting them. We had brought a #5 Camalot just for this pitch (although we used it on 2-3 other pitches as well.) The bear hug cracks were too wide for the #4 and so I had to move the #5 up with me at least once. Just above the cracks I was able to get in a #4 and then proceeded up a ramp to the next belay, where I brought Steve up.

Bear Hug Cracks (Photo by Steve Machuga)

Steve led out on the next bit and then we started simul-climbing. (This was roughly pitches seven and eight.) He belayed me up to just below the bunny ears, and then I led a short bit to the rap anchor at the bunny ears. We rapped off the scary (freestanding block) anchor into the notch. Then Steve led the final pitch up to the summit area. It was a fun little crack that brought you up to near the summit. Since it was late in the day and clouds seemed to be rolling in, we bypassed the summit block and started our way down the South Arete.

Bottom of pitch 7 (photo by Steve Machuga)

We scrambled most of the the descent until we got to one of the chimneys. We opted to rappel at the rap station there and that is where we were joined by another party who had just topped out on an east face route. One of the guys, Blake, scrambled down to me and set up the next rappel at the next chimney and rapped down. They allowed us to use their rope and I rapped it to find Blake scrambling down to the base. One of his partners came down and said "its only 5.0 right?" and started scrambling the final bit as well. His other partner showed up with another rope and we rappelled to the base. The one partner who started scrambling got a bit sketched and rapped the last bit before Steve could finally rap down.

Once on the ground, we returned to our packs at the base, turned on our headlamps and hiked out.

Overall this was a great climb. Although it was 5.6, the first pitch was no doubt the crux for us. (Were we off route the entire time?) It was loose, not well protected, and strenuous. There were three really enjoyable (dare I say great?) pitches on the route and some other good pitches as well. While clouds threatened all day, they mostly stuck to bothering the nearby peaks like Silver Star and Cutthroat. It was windy and cool on route, but we did have brief moments of sun.

My pics are here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Wet Day - 08.10.09

Steve and I planned our third consecutive Monday to be at Three O'Clock Rock again. But weather was looking to thwart us and made us think of heading to Leavenworth to climb The Mole with only a 20% chance of precip there. After contemplating the two hour drive and the possibility of getting rained out after hiking six miles, we decided to take our chances with the 70% chance of rain on the west side. So we headed to Darrington with the hope we could get a few pitches in before the rain started.

We didn't even make it to Darrington before we saw ominous clouds and wet roads. Just before reaching Darrington, it started to rain on the car. It was now time for "Plan B." Steve and I discussed this possibility the night before and decided that if it started to rain we would do a reconnaissance mission to see if we could find some slabs worthy of climbing.

This mission started years ago when Steve was on a hiking trip and saw some potential slabs for climbing in a valley. So, before long, we were driving the Mountain Loop Highway heading for the trail head.

Once arriving we set out on the trail and then veered off at an opportune moment to head to the valley of our choice. It was raining, however lightly, from the moment we parked the car. The rain barely made it through the thick forests of the area, and the trail stayed dry in the woods. Once breaking out of the woods to avalanche deposition areas, we were both in shell jackets and remained that way until back at the car.

Once out of the woods, we could also barely see our objective. Low clouds hung in the valley as we pushed our way through 6' high vegetation. While it was not raining hard, the bushwhacking was causing us to get soaked. Well, at least our pants as we had shell jackets on.

After a period of time we got to talus that led up to the slab. We rock hopped a bit before reaching the toe of the slab. Unfortunately, there wasn't a good view of the slab from this point as a good sized roof blocked our view of the upper slabs. So we made a sketchy traverse through some vine maples to our right to get a better look. We arrived at a nice boulder and viewed the slab, but we still wanted better views. So we traversed a bit more to our right where we took a few pics and examined the slab a bit.

Then we started heading back. We traversed back a bit lower which did not seem as sketchy as the original traverse. We were heading to a spot that looked like a trail, but at least would be another good vantage point to view the slab. When we got over there, it was not quite a trail, but we realized humans had been there before. There was plenty of iron ore on the ground, and so I poked around thinking there may be a mine present. After following the trail of ore uphill, I came to an old mine. We viewed it briefly, and Steve even went inside a few feet before we gained access to the slab. We took a few more pictures and discussed possible lines up the slab. Then we retreated back to the woods. It was difficult to find our way out a bit in the high brush, but eventually we made it back out to the trail. A short time later, we were back at the car eating a late lunch and taking off wet clothes.

Overall it was a productive trip. I think if it was not raining, we would have given the slab a go. We'd probably try to give it a go without bolting as we think it can be protected with gear and natural protection. It looks like we can manage about four pitches and there are plenty of tree rappel options if we need to bail or rappel from the top. As for the climbing, it looks like typical PNW slabbing. The rock had a great texture and most of the slab was fairly clean. Being we could find little to no information about these slabs in books or the internet, we are not sure if we would be making first ascents on this slab. Having said that, we did not see evidence of the slabs having been climbed. Not that we got the best look with binoculars from the base, but there were no slings or pitons evident from where we stood. If people did climb it, it is probably few and far between. If we get a good period of dryness, I'm sure we'll be back to give it a go.

My pics are here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Exit 38 - Easy Street - 08.08.09

After getting a late start, Jennifer and I decided not to go camping for the weekend, and I convinced her to head out for a few pitches of climbing before the coming rain.

After a diversion of helping a friend who was locked out of their house, we were on our way. (And oops, skipping lunch.)

I didn't bring the guidebook as I thought I knew where we were going. (I forgot to bring the camera as well.) This proved a mild mistake as it has been a few years since I was at Easy Street, and accidentally took the trail to Interstate Park briefly before realizing my error. We arrived at Easy Street with another party of three just finishing up.

I led the 13 clip ES-3 on the right and brought Jennifer up. I lowered her and rapped off. Jennifer was still lamenting that she was in the break in period on her new rock shoes, and didn't want to climb much more. So we tried out the new route on the left. (Not in the guidebook.) One of the women from the previous party said she thought it to be a 5.5. I climbed it and thought it to be more of a 5.2. It was really easy, and shorter than the other routes at Easy Street. After bringing Jennifer up and lowering her, we packed up as another party arrived.

It was good to get out and Jennifer was pretty happy the hike and mellow slab climbing were a nice outing for her. While there, I noticed that Easy Street does have more grippy rock than other Exit 38 locations. Also, I was really eying up a second pitch for ES-3. There was some interesting terrain above it, and it could go. Probably at less than 5.6, but who knows? Perhaps I'll have to get Steve to help me with it? It is raining a bit today, so we're trying to figure out what to do.

As mentioned earlier, no camera=no pics.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Exit 38 Thursdays - Gritscone - 08.06.09

With our fearless leader Sammy out of town, we still had three people ready to go. Like previous weeks, we were to meet at the Park and Ride at 5pm. I arrived with Amy already waiting in the lot. After a few moments, she got a call from Greg stating he was stuck at work. She talked to her friend Dave to see if he was coming and he stated he would be arriving later after picking up his buddy.

Amy and I headed out with the intent of choosing an area en route and then relaying that information to Dave and Greg. We decided to go to the Gritscone since we did not have a guidebook. We knew the routes there and that they could easily be top-roped.

When we got there, we set about climbing the 5.7 route (So Funny I Forgot to Rope Up) on the far right to warm up. Amy and I both led it and then went to the left side to climb the 5.6 and 5.7 over there. I led the 5.7 (Snaffle Baffler) and Amy followed. She then led Lucky Arms (5.6) and I followed. By this time Dave and his friend arrived. They started with Chica Rapida (5.10a) and worked their way through the harder routes.

Amy climbing 99Grit

Amy and I went right again and did the same, although through lower grades. We both led Pete's Possum Palace (5.7) and then I led 99 Grit (5.9) and Amy followed. To finish the evening, I led Chica Rapida where I had to hang a bit on the third bolt to figure out the following moves. Amy followed the route and we called it a night.

Cleaning the anchors on Chica Rapida

It was nice to get out again on Thursday evening. It was interesting to get back to the Gritscone. I had climbed there only once before, and that was when I first started to lead. So I got to do a whole bunch of routes that I hadn't done previously and remembered why it isn't so fun to climb at the Grtiscone. Lots of dirty, mossy, pine needled holds. Being in the trees, it also does not lend itself to climbing in the evenings as it is already a darker place. While I lead 5.9 and 5.10 in other locations, last night marked the first time where I have led a 5.9 or 5.10 at Exit 38. I finally think I am overcoming the difficulties I have with climbing there.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Three O'Clock Rock - Silent Running - 08.03.09

Steve and I made our second weekly trip to Darrington to Three O' Clock Rock. This time to climb Silent Running (II, 5.10a/b.) We got there a bit earlier this time and welcomed the cooler temps.

Now, prepared with watches we were able to make the hike to the base in 30 minutes. (It also only took us 1.5 hours from Steve's house to the trail head.) After reaching the base we started gearing up. Then Steve led out on the first pitch. This was agreed on earlier to give Steve the lead on the final crux pitch which he had not previously climbed.

The first pitch was nearly a rope length of easy climbing. (Almost running up the slab.) Steve brought me up and it was time for the second pitch where the difficulty increased significantly. Well, at least you had to be weary of where you put your feet, and there was no more running. I led the second pitch on some nice friction moves where it got harder through the last two bolts to the belay. I arrived at a nice belay ledge, and brought Steve up.

Steve got the lead on the next 5.9 pitch which started out with what looked to be great rock. However, it was polished and slippery. Foot placements were critical through the first four bolts or so. Then the route moved right a bit and the traction was phenomenal. Completely different character for the second part of the pitch. I followed him up and was off on to the next pitch.

From this pitch on, the first bolt was often a bit off the belay. (In this case, about 10-12'.) After clipping a few bolts, I could no longer see any above me and in a shaky stance decided to look at the topo. In the difficult stance for viewing, I accidentally looked at the following pitch which moves right after a few bolts. Since I could not see any bolts, I started to move right where people had clearly been before. After I moved right, I was stuck out on a ledge and could see the "next" bolt up and to my left about 15' or so. (There was a hidden piton that I could not see about 10' above the last point I was on route.) So I yelled to Steve about getting back on route. I put a cam in a weak flake and decided to head straight up to a ledge system that would bring me to the last bolt on the pitch. The climbing was easy up to the ledges, but was unprotectable. After going up about 20' I put another cam in a flake, and started leftward on the ledge system to get back on route. After crossing the ledge, I used some quartz dikes to gain the bolt and return to the pitch. The final climbing of the pitch went up a fun small gear protectable lie back past a bush to the anchor. Once at the anchor, I could see where I went wrong. Steve pointed out to me the piton as he made his way up my off route excursion.

Steve led off on the next pitch which was more of the same to start with, then some climbing up some creaky flakes to get to the anchors.

The penultimate pitch is where the fun really started. I led off up and over an overlap and mostly easy terrain while moving leftward. Then the the slab steepens. There is a section of steeper slab with widely spaced (10+') bolts going up. The bolts are closer to the left of this narrow slab near an inviting grassy corner. When I first arrived at the steeper section, it looked as though the right hand side would also work, but reaching the bolts may have been difficult. So I followed the bolt line up friction moves to another overlap and a piton. I clipped the piton and worked my way over the final overlap to the anchor, a hanging belay. I brought Steve up to my position and we readied the rack for the next pitch. (The guidebook stated gear to 4" for the final pitch, so we pulled out the 3 & 4" cams, but Steve didn't need them.)

Steve left the belay to clip the first bolt on the final pitch. There were a few moves on a slab protected by a bolt before having to surmount a double overlap. The first overlap was not as high, and was protected by a bolt. The second was stepped, and higher and needed to be traditionally protected. Steve made his way through the overlaps and I asked him if he felt they were the .10b portions. He didn't think so. He continued up onto a slab where he took on a bolt before reaching the final flake. He told me his feet had had enough and he needed a rest. After resting on the rope briefly, he made the easy moves to the flake and was shortly at the belay. I found the moves through the overlaps to be difficult and required me to bounce to make the moves. They were high steps and required manteling as there were no holds above the overlaps. Once past the overlaps, I used any possible rests before gaining the slab that tired out Steve's feet. I moved up the slab quickly and deliberately. I was soon at the fun flake moves to finish the route. Once there, we set up our rappel and started rapping the route.

The rappels were uneventful, except for a serious lapse in judgement on my part where we reached one of the larger rap ledges and I forgot to clip in before undoing my rappel. That will never happen again! Yipe.

I liked this route better than Total Soul from last week. I think the line was more logical and the final two pitches were really 3 star. (Maybe four.) At times Silent Running seemed more run out than Total Soul, but it was usually on easier ground. It is a slightly shorter and easier route, so it is a little quicker to finish than Total Soul if you have less daylight to work with. It was more enjoyable too, because last week's "warm up" on Total Soul made the moves on Silent Running pretty familiar to me and it feels like I may have gotten rid of the rust from not climbing for a while.

On the way down (rapping and the drive out) we discussed with each other that it seemed darker than the previous week. We knew we were getting out a little earlier and there were no clouds in the sky. We couldn't understand why. I thought maybe because it was so hot the previous week, that being in the shade did not make a difference. It wasn't until we got back into Darrington that we had our answer. There was a fire on the other side of Whitehorse Mountain. We had seen the forest service helicopter in the morning at a makeshift helipad near highway 530. (But there were no signs of smoke in the morning.) We stopped to see it landing and it appears there were fire fighters from Targhee NF on the scene. After snapping a few pics, we drove home.

Fire on the Mountain

My pics are here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

No Turns All Year

Today is August 1st, and I have not skied since June. That means today marks the end of my eight consecutive months of skiing. I was hoping to get out this last week, but couldn't manage it and will have to wait until the opportunity arises to try and get out again.

The bummer of it is that I only went "Spring" skiing twice this year. (Actually once was Spring and the other time Summer.) Although both trips on Cascade volcanoes. While on Mt. St. Helens, the conditions were not quite Spring like and not thoroughly enjoyable. However on Mt. Adams, the conditions were perfect Spring/Summer conditions and it turned out to be one of the best ski trips of my life! I was hoping to recapture that with some more skiing in July, but it never materialized. (Probably due to being in France for two weeks.)

Skiing this late in the lean months (August/September) usually isn't good, and most likely would be a trip to Mt. Rainier to ski the snowfield. A trip I don't exactly want to make just to get my turns in. I like to use my skiing as a means of getting someplace and going somewhere and it would be hard to justify a trip to the snowfield just to get turns in.

So on a positive note, I am lifted of the burden of attempting to find snow to ski in August and September. This allows me to concentrate on getting some climbing in before the real ski season comes about this year.

Maybe I'll never be a "Turns All Year" guy. I'm pretty happy with the 8 months of skiing I get anyway. Perhaps in the coming months I'll be able to ski from October to July. With ten consecutive months, I might be compelled to search for turns in August and September. At this point, I am hanging up the skis until the snow starts falling again.