Monday, September 14, 2009

Argonaut - SE Ridge - 09.12-13.09

Elevation Gain: ~7000'
15+ miles RT
Two days

It was time to revisit the Southeast Ridge on Argonaut Peak. Last year Julie and I attempted it and started technical climbing way too early and had to bail because of it. This time I felt confident that the approach would go better and that we would successfully complete the climb. Since misery loves company, I recruited four others to join me on this expedition.

The game plan was similar to the previous year in that we would get a casual start on Saturday and hike in to camp. Once camp was setup, we'd go scout the approach. One difference is that we would use the Beverly Creek Trail Head instead of going over Long's Pass. This would save five miles driving, and eliminate about 1000' of needless elevation gain. As well as avoiding the light scrambling involved with crossing Long's Pass. I briefly considered an approach up Ingall's Creek Trail, but the drive was longer and nine miles seemed way too far to walk to camp. Although it did have the benefit of being all downhill on the way out.

By 3pm we had set up camp at the junction of 4th Creek and Ingall's Creek trails. We left our gear and headed east to scout the approach. Instead of going up Porcupine Creek like Julie and I had done the year before, we were going to go up the next (unnamed) creek to the east which has a large drainage scattered with beautiful white granite boulders. There were actually a few cairns up the drainage, but they stopped after a while, and who knows what they were meant to signify anyway? Adam, Zach and Matt got tired, and Gerry and I continued up the drainage to around 4500' where we exited left on some game trails. The going was good and we successfully reached Porcupine Creek higher up with what looked like 500' vertical of bushwhacking before we could gain the slabs of the upper basin. Feeling good about our scouting we returned to the boys lounging on a boulder in the drainage.

We got back to camp and did the usual camp things like eating and pumping water. We discussed wake up time and packing for the climb. I recommended that we all carry packs so when we switched into rock shoes a follower wouldn't be bogged down with lots of boots in the pack. We agreed on a wake up time and were planning on hiking at 5am.

Alarms went off and we were hiking at five. Going up the drainage was a bit slowed by headlamp usage, but we eventually made our cut off and were on a mild rising traverse toward Porcupine Creek. Once there we had a small bit of bushwhacking to get out of the trees, and then reentered the trees higher up back on game trails and easy going up to the slabs. Once out on the slabs, we made our way higher and westward toward the ridge. We made a last stop at the creek to filter water as we wouldn't find any on route. Then we started looking for the leftward trending ramp that gains the ridge from the Beckey description. Around 7200' we found one that fit the description which was a 2nd class goat ramp to the ridge. (Although lots of scat and tracks were seen, we didn't see any goats the whole trip.)

Once on the ridge we scrambled a bit before we got to a low 5th class dihedral which marked the point where we would gear up and be on ropes. We let Matt and Gerry go first figuring the two man team would be faster and be able to do the route finding while our slower three man team would plod along behind them. I took the first few leads and was making the moves up the dihedral in my approach shoes. Right after the dihedral the terrain was fairly 3rd class and I moved a bit before setting up a belay due to horrendous rope drag. I brought Adam and Zach up together and I was heading off to lead the next pitch. (We decided to lead in blocks due to rope management issues with the three man team.)

I believe the next pitch I didn't suffer from the rope drag as much and was able to go a full rope length across some slabby bits before setting up a belay. This time I brought the guys up separately and then I was belayed a short distance to move the belay to a good spot for the next pitch. At this point, Matt and Gerry and disappeared around a corner after attempting to go up a larger bump on the ridge.

We reorganized the ropes and Zach was off leading around the corner. So far everything was low 5th class and we seemed to be moving fine, but Matt and Gerry were running away from us. After Zach's first lead we wound up around a corner where Matt and Gerry then downclimbed to easier terrain and scrambled to the base of the next pitch. Zach thought that seemed conveluted and wanted to remain on the ridge, which had a series of small gendarmes. Zach headed off on a slow pitch up and over a few small gendarmes before the rope drag got the best of him. He brought Adam and I over and we then decided to follow the other guy's lead and downclimb to easier terrain and then scramble to the base of the next pitch.

Once there, we were at a section I called "Wall of the Eights." As there was a short wall with numerous cracks up it that all looked a bit harder than the 5.6 claim for the route. (One of the cracks was a 8' overhanging hand crack.) Adam took the lead and backed off the hand crack and finally found an easier way around to the right on the ridge crest. It was sketchy due to the friction climbing and high lichen coverage on the rock. Once through the initial section Adam was able to run out a full rope length to a belay where he brought us up. At this point he declined to continue leading as he felt he was costing us too much time. Since I knew the roof pitch was coming up and I wanted Zach to lead it, I took the next lead.

Fortunately, I had switched to rock shoes on the gendarme pitch and was doing my first lead in rock shoes instead of the approach shoes. This was good as there were a bunch of options on this next wall as well, including the one I took which involved lichen covered foot holds and some thin crack liebacking. Through the first bit I went on to tackle the next bit, but the rope drag once again brought me down. I set up a anchor and belayed in Adam and then Zach. From this point on, we would have someone on the end of the rope lead so they did not have to deal with drag from both ropes.

At the belay I handed over the lead to Zach and he went up the next section which had three options at the top of a 8' off width crack. There was a really nice looking hand traverse going left, a finger crack that continued above an overlap straight up, and a not so clean crack heading a short distance right. Zach felt the rightward option was the easiest but couldn't manage the move without placing a cam and using it as a hold. Once through the initial moves, he zipped up the pitch to bring Adam and I up.

Since I was tied in at the middle (tied to both ropes,) I was the first up and was able to belay Adam up while Zach re-racked for the next pitch which we hoped was the roof pitch. Once Adam was up, he belayed Zach off on the pitch only to have Zach almost run out of rope and have to call it quits just before the roof. This pitch was excellent climbing on varied terrain that ended in a belay just below a large roof. According the Beckey, this is one of the 5.6 pitches. Once we were all under the roof, Zach had the daunting task of leading up around it. While the climbing wasn't super difficult technically, it was strenuous and Zach was huffing and puffing his way up. This made Adam and I a bit concerned as we are not as strong as Zach. Once I started the moves, I too was huffing to get through it, which seemed to make Adam more concerned as well. Once at the top belay, we were on top of Argonaut's Southeast Spire. Zach belayed me to a notch where I set up a rappel.

There is the option of one single rope, or two double rope rappels to the notch. Neither anchor is great, so maybe it is better to do it as two single rope rappels. Matt and Gerry set up their rope on the lower anchor, so I was able to rap through to the notch between the spire and the false summit and join the other rope team patiently waiting there. The view of the false summit pitches were daunting. Supposedly two pitches with 5.6 hand crack. The whole face looked like hand cracks!

Anyway, by the time we were done with the raps it was 7pm and there was no way we could attempt the summit. Fortunately, it is a 2nd/3rd class scramble down from the notch and that is what we did. We got benighted on the way down which made the scrambling a bit more tedious. Around 6800', we stopped to filter water from a tiny stream and watch a Blackhawk helicopter fly around Mount Stuart. Then we were off again. We were attempting to connect with the summit walk off, but it was way too difficult in the headlamp conditions we were in.

We eventually made our way skier's right of the gully and in easier terrain. Then things got a little confusing before we found a cairn. (Which in the darkness seemed randomly placed.) We couldn't locate a path associated with it, and decided it meant it was time to follow the fall line. A bit of fall line travel got us into nicer terrain with big trees following game trails down. Then we ran into a bushwhack. I think we had to negotiate around 300' vertical of a stiff BW3 which had us all mindless and wanting to stop. (Fortunately we had kept our helmets on which minimized the damage.)

We eventually persevered and were back in less vegetated forest. We were getting close and then, I stumbled upon the trail. We arrived back at camp at midnight where I suggested a nap or sleep before hiking out. Gerry and Zach weren't in favor of that idea, so I gave in and we packed up and headed out. After the slow six mile plod out we were back at the cars. A potato chip snack and some water, and we were on our way.

We arrived in Seattle a little after 7am, where I went home and went to sleep for a few hours.

So we did not summit. At least we seemed to be on route this time and the climbing was enjoyable if a bit lichen covered at times. The position on the ridge is quite nice too. I think for this route to go, you need to bivy in the upper basin and do a full-on carryover. But I think it will be long time before I attempt to revisit this one again.

I also learned that it is a really bad idea to try a rope team of three on a ridge climb like this. There just seemed to be too many issues that hindered our team. There was no logical or easy way to simulclimb for one thing. Another was the rope drag. Just the basic rope management flaking added time to our climbing. The whole party would have been faster if it was three teams of two instead of one rope of two and one team of three.

My pictures are here.

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