Monday, December 7, 2009

Exploration Day - 12.07.09

This was a day I was looking forward to since Thursday. Jennifer was sick all week and I was trying not to catch it while saving energy for Monday. The plan was to go climb ice. Steve and I had loosely coordinated on Friday and the initial goal was the North Face of Chair Peak. Temps have been silly cold. (With overnight lows in Seattle in the 20°s.) During the weekend I saw that someone had climbed it on Saturday. We were on. Until it snowed Sunday. Well that wouldn't totally deflate our plans, but being on the dark side of a mountain with the high temp at sea level around freezing sounded really cold to us. That added to the high winds and possible cornices and bombs that would await us at the top of the face. (The wind chill for Monday at Snoqualmie Pass was predicted to be -11°F.) Rather than hike out there and turn around, we decided on Sunday evening to give the South Gully of Guye Peak a try. There was less of a hiking commitment and the route is wind protected.

Heading up on the road

We had a bit of a late start, and arrived in a parking area on the Oberstrasse. The outside temp was 7°. It took a bit of effort to remove our heavy coats and start moving. At least the sun was out although we were in the woods immediately off the road. Soon we got on a forest road and heading in the general direction of the Southwest Rib. We left the road near the end and headed generally east under the rib. Going was not too difficult with bare boots as the snow pack was firm except for the fresh 5" from the previous day. (Steve and I were regretting not going out to ski instead as conditions were nice for that activity.) We finally arrived at what we believed to be the gully and did some checking to confirm this. However, the gully did not have much snow above our location and we started rethinking our plan. We hiked up to the area where there was less snow (which was in the sun.) The going was not as easy as previous with the increased slope angle we eventually donned crampons. We debated a bit, and then made the decision that climbing snowy rock and a possible loose 3rd class gully didn't sound appealing to us on this day. So we turned around.

Our high point in the gully

The hike out was uneventful, but we got a good look at Chair Peak and could see cornices and thanked ourselves for the decision not to head there. We made a plan that once we got to the car we would go take a look for ice at Alpental Falls. We made the short drive and hiked up the Snow Lake Trail to the falls. Most of the ice was there, but looked a bit fragile, or had running water behind it. While there, we heard a few icicles falling. It was midday and they were in the heat of the sun. We assumed they would look better in the morning.

Checking out the ice

We hiked northwest from that location and found a few short solid patches of ice that we would be willing to top rope from trees. (We had only brought three screws for Guye, so we didn't have the capacity to lead.) Steve then searched a gully while I hacked at the ice a bit to see how durable it was. Due to the deep cold, it wasn't as plastic as I would prefer for ice climbing, but it was solid and climbable. We poked around a little more without actually climbing anything and then headed to the parking lot. I took my watch off below the falls (which were no longer in direct sunlight) to gauge the temperature. By the time we reached the parking lot it was a mere 15°. Steve and I got in the car and headed out.

On the way home we checked out some other areas that we knew ice up and investigated their feasibility for later in the week. We will see.

While not the grand goal I had originally planned, it was a fun outing. We now know where to find the gully on Guye Peak and may return when there is better snow cover. For now, I am excited to get out and climb ice while the temps are low and there is no precip in the forecast.

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