Spoiler alert! Third time is a charm.
I worked it out with KJ that we would do this climb as a "warm up" to Torment Forbidden traverse. We had not yet done it, and we had not climbed an alpine ridge together. So it was sort of a shake down of us climbing together. Although it was a route I had been wanting to tackle since I had been unsuccessful attempting it twice.
We left Seattle on time and somewhat casually at 5am. I think we were shooting for a 12 hour car to car trip. But I was doing this off the couch, so who knew what would happen? We arrived at the trail head a little after 6am, and by the time we were hiking it was closer to 6:30am. I was feeling nervous about losing some time. After sampling some fine thimble berries down low, the miles melted away beneath us in the cool morning forest. We finally arrived at Bumblebee Pass at 9:30am. There we cached our water filter and one liter of water and then started the difficulties.
In the grand scheme of the climb coming down from Bumblebee pass into the basin in not really difficult. But with the lack of rain this summer the soil was quite loose and sandy with loose rocks deposited in it. KJ was in trail runners and myself in approach shoes better suited for rock. It made for somewhat slow going. then we hiked the climbers trail through the basin where we cached a few items for our return trip that we would not need on the climb like trekking poles. There was some discussion of bringing only one pack for snacks/water, but we both opted to keep our packs on. (After all this is supposed to be a shake down for Torment Forbidden.) We then made our way to the talus field to get to the base of the climbing.
We were now in the sun heading up hot rocks to the base. This also felt incredibly slow, especially trying to avoid loose patches which makes a lot of rocks start sliding beneath your feet. We picked our way up and eventually gained the ridge where we had to scramble an exposed ledge on the north side to make it to the base of the climb. It was now 11am and we took a break and geared up.
We did not bring a route description or topo. I really didn't think it was needed with a five pitch route up a ridge. But perhaps it would have been speedier to have it. KJ took the first pitch, and then I led the next up steep terrain. Perhaps KJ stopped short of the top of the first pitch and I stopped short of the second. But it took us three pitches to make it to the third pitch slab. Which I cruised and brought KJ up and sent him on his way up the next pitch. We simul-climbed for a bit before I took the lead again to the summit with a bit of simul-climbing as well. Arriving at the summit around three hours after we left the base.
Unfortunately for us the summit was not a pleasant place to be. While I belayed KJ up the last bit, I was being bothered by swarming ants flying about me and landing on me. When he went to use the summit register, he too was being swarmed. So we didn't stay long and have a snack, and started the descent quickly. The descent was pretty straightforward. There was some easy scrambling that led to two rappels. Although they are fourth class down climbs, we rapped these as we had the rope out and our harnesses on, so it would be faster and safer to rap. There was a bit more hiking, and then some third class steps before we were once again on loose dirt paths heading down from the notch. This was probably the most unpleasant terrain of the day for me as a misstep would cause you to dirt ski, or worse fall. It was now close to the hottest time of the day and there was little shade. We hiked for a long time on this climber's trail before it gave way to talus again. The talus was actually a welcome relief, but not much faster going. Especially because if there was a faint trail in the talus, I couldn't manage to follow it.
We regrouped at our cache location, picked up our gear and proceeded onward toward Bumblebee Pass. By the time we reached the pass, it was about an hour and a half since we were on the summit, and even longer since we last had water. And even longer for me since I last had food. We shared the stashed liter of water (with NUUN) and headed back to the PCT. We could not wait to get to Ridge Lake to filter some water.
A few uphill minutes on the PCT and we were at the lake. I lagged behind KJ as I was bonking. It became more noticeable when I sat beside the lake with a light headache. I dipped my feet in and got the shivers. We pumped some water and I drank a liter or two. I wanted to jump in, but my body was having difficulty managing temperature, so I thought better of it. I finally got up after being beside the lake for a long time. I was a bit dizzy, and nauseous. I needed food. I tried to eat some bison jerky but it took forever to chew a bite. What I wanted was a fresh juicy Yakima peach, but I didn't have that. The best thing in either of our packs was a Clif beet, banana, and ginger squeeze. It turned out to be the perfect thing, liquid sugar. After a bunch of slurps, we were off again and I was only slowed by picking some really wonderful blueberries on the side of the trail. After we left the blueberries I caught KJ and was back on track.
The hike out seemed to take forever. We kept thinking we were reaching a part we remembered only to have to hike longer to reach that part. This was particularly true with the Commonwealth Basin trail turnoff. This marked the 2.4 miles to go point, but that still meant we were about an hour out. We reached the car around 8pm. We're calling it "less than 14 hours" but I actually forgot to bring a watch so we only checked time when KJ took out his phone.
Overall the climbing was fun if a bit chossy at times. There was no stellar crack pitch or anything like that, just typical Cascades alpine climbing. I was expecting it to be like a bigger version of The Tooth, and maybe it was, but it didn't feel like it. It seemed more adventurous and definitely steeper for the first few pitches. I think this route would get significantly more traffic if the approach wasn't eight miles in. I'm glad to finally achieve this climb and actually enjoy it. Not to mention getting out on a rare occasion.
Fagin's Hike of the Week: Mt. McDonald
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