Category Archives: North Cascades

Inspiration Peak, East Ridge

Inspiration Peak, East Ridge

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

This year Tim and I decided we wanted to learn the true meaning of Labor Day so while we could have spent our three day weekend climbing anywhere we chose the Pickets, a range in the North Cascades known by climbers for its remoteness and inaccessibility. In 1931 when all of the major peaks in the Tetons had established routes the Pickets saw their first recorded technical ascent. When people talk about the wild of the North Cascades they are talking about the Pickets.

So we decided on the east ridge of Inspiration Peak, a route first climbed by Becky and company in 1958. We started from Upper Goodell Creek Campground at 10am on Saturday morning. The first 4 miles follows an overgrown road bed along the east side of the creek until it abruptly ends, signaled by a cairn and turns uphill. From there it was an unrelenting 5000 ft charge uphill on what is generously called a climbers trail. But even that doesn’t tell the full story, in a place where an approach is better measured in time rather than distance. And 8 hours later we made camp following a well traveled trail into a gravel basin  at 6000 ft with a meadow at the bottom and plenty of water to make up for the lack of it on the approach. Big views of terror basin the  the southern Pickets took some of the hurt off from the approach and reset our motivation.

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The moon was so bright at night that I woke up and ask Tim to turn off his headlamp and I saw the big dipper sitting right on top of Inspiration Peak. That must have been around midnight. Four hours later I woke up to make breakfast and by 4:45am we were on the trail picking our way around boulders and across massive rock slabs on our way up to the glacier. We tried to follow the cairns across the outlet of a lakelet and then down and across a bigger ravine that we made note of because the scramble up the other side was a little tricky but also tough to identify from the top. (note: It may be easier to swing way up high on this one and cross over the creek around 6400.)

When we hit the glacier we roped up for some fairly straight forward glacier travel up until our final crevasse crossing. We navigated it by down climbing off of a snow bridge onto a lower ledge and climbing out. And then we stood at the bottom of the route, 7,400 ft above the ocean, four hours after we had started. We simul-climbed the first “two” pitches following a series of gullies and ledges trending toward a notch between the east ridge and a small spire to its right. The climbing gradually turns into a blocky face that we broke out into two 5.7 pitches as we worked our way onto the east ridge.

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The next two pitches are the ones we came all the way out here for. The layback pitch starts exactly how it sounds climbing right around the roof and then straight up to a roomy belay at the bottom of a splitter hand crack. The crack climbs straight up and offers the occasional face hold but mostly excellent hand and foot jamming. At the top we cut out right aiming at the notch in the rock around the roof and then up and left to a belay.

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Now through the crux we simuled the last “three” pitches to help ease the rope drag on a wandering climb across the top. From above the hand crack drop on to the north side and then up and left and around the south side of the east summit. We crossed the ridge down climbing to the base of the True summit and then and easy low fifth class scramble all the way up checking in at the top at 4pm.

Now the good part. Three double length rappels down the West Ridge. Raps are easy to find. Three more double length rappels down the gully. Lots of loose rock with very little protection offered from above. This took us 3 hours. Then we were standing at the upper glacier trying to figure how to cross a massive moat to get up on top of the snow. As it was, we climbed down underneath the glacier through a tunnel and popped out on a ledge in a crevasse. It was dusk now and we were loosing light, so with no great option to get out we front pointed straight up and out which was a less desirable approach with a lot of exposure to what lay below but ultimately better than turning around and finding another route out in the dark.

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The rest of the trek back was long and circuitous in the dark, but generally uninteresting. Back at camp at 11:30pm. We had stashed a couple beers in the creek that made the hike back slightly more bearable and made dinner slightly more enjoyable.

Slept in on Monday but the smoke came in that night to punished us in the morning and then on out hike out. We made it back to the car in 6 hours. It doesn’t get much more Cascades than this. It may take awhile to forget the approach and head back into the heart of darkness that is the Pickets but we did well in honoring the holiday.

The rest of the photos

North Face of Burgundy Spire, Washington Pass

North Face of Burgundy Spire, Washington Pass

Friday, July 21st, 2017

The plan was do to a Paisano Burgundy link up, but nothing that day quite went according to plan. Andrew, Tim, James and I slept at the trailhead 4mi east of WA pass, and were walking by 5:45 Saturday morning. The trail starts by scrambling down past cairns to Early Winters Creek, then weaving up through the woods to the bivy camp. The camp is roomy and has excellent views of the Liberty Bell group – next time I’ll block a few more days and plan to stay here. The trail up the spires is steep, and at times the footing is poor on marbly rocks. It is relatively easy to follow with regular cairns.

As we approached the base of Paisano around 8, it became clear that we would have to wait for a few other parties to climb before our two parties of two could jump on. Weighing our priorities for the day and recognizing that a delay may mean we couldn’t complete the link up, we decided to push on to Burgundy. We scrambled up to Burgundy Col at 7720’, roughly 3600’ above Early Winters Creek.

At the col we left our bags, and started scrambling to the base of the climb. We had planned on climbing the original route that heads directly up the north face of the spire. However we struggled significantly with route finding, and ultimately opted for what now seems to be the most popular route. This option traverses right at the top of pitch two. If I described the climb how we did it, it would be a messy and confusing string of climbing, rappelling, traversing, and so on. I will instead pitch it out how I would climb the North Face of Burgundy if I were to do it again.

P1. After scrambling slightly right and up from the col, rope up where the 5th class climbing starts about 45m above the col. Climb the right facing corner on the left side of the amphitheater without swinging around to the east side. Chossy rock. 5.7

P2. Trend back right to find a crack system with numerous flakes, ending on a large ledge. 5.8

Traverse right 50m, under a large block, to a long ledge to start the third pitch.

Belay ledge for P3

P3. Easy climbing in a left facing corner, then swing right, setting up an anchor roughly 25m above the last belay. 5.5

 

P4. Follow a fun corner hand crack with good pro, sling a horn and belay from a small stance at 30m. 5.8

Belay stance at top of P4

P5. Trend left, stepping around a bulge into a tapering left facing crack. A move or two of offwidth then good hands higher up, and a slightly overhanging jug to pull onto the ridge. Belay from the ridge to avoid rope drag, then scramble left to the summit.

Summit ridge

Descent: Two 60m ropes made for a relatively quick decent. We doubled up to rappel climbers left of our route to the next station. Another single rappel brought us to the ledge at the bottom of the third pitch. Rather than following our ascent path, we cut left down to a rappel station just after walking back under the large block. Three more double rappels brought us back to the col.

Southwest Rib w variation, South Early Winters Spire

Southwest Rib w variation, South Early Winters Spire

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Tim and Andrew beat us to the same summit up the same route two days earlier, so David and I rolled into Monday with some helpful beta for the climb. In hopes of a warmer climb we opted for a later start, leaving from the trailhead at 7am. We followed the Blue Lake trail for 1.5mi, until the terrain opened up and we had views of the Liberty Bell group. From there we took the obvious climbers trail that branched left, headed up towards Concord tower. The trail dwindled, and we got off track trending too far left, getting almost to the base of Concord before cutting back right. A high traverse across snow brought us to the base of South Early Winters Spire.

There were two parties ahead of us, so we waited at the high ponderosa hoping the sun would come over the ridge soon. When the route cleared, we scrambled climber’s left to rack up at the Y-shaped larch.

Looking back up at the approach at the end of the day

P1. The crux pitch starts mellow, then has a few 5.8 moves to get past a bulge. Protects well. 5.8

P2. The Wavy Crack – quick climbing up onto a ledge, then follows a wide left facing crack. 5.8

P3. We opted for the 10.b variation, traversing right 20m to a left facing corner. The seam starts as tight fingers, then widens slightly toward the top of the corner. The climbing gets easier further into the pitch, but has some boulder moves higher up to get over a bulge. Once over the bulge, you’re on the Nervous Nelly pitch and can look up to Bear Hug. Climb through Nervous Nelly to the ledge below the Hug. 5.10b

P4. The Bear Hug – The hug itself is only about 5m of super fun climbing. Protection felt adequate with one 4 at the bottom, but the crack would have taken a 5 and a 6 higher up. From there traverse right to a large south facing corner ledge. 5.7

P5. Easy but exposed climbing on an arête, minimal pro. Stay on the right side of the arête to find a small belay stance before the base of the gully. 5.6

David belaying from the bottom of pitch 6

P6. Low 5th class, drop down and right into the sandy gully before the ridge steepens and would require a rap to get into the gully. Belay off a tree in the middle of the gully. 5.2

 

P7. From the notch at the top of the gully climb the obvious crack system right to the summit. 5.6

Summit photo for mom

Descent: Down the South Arête. At the top trend left to avoid dropping down the gully. There is a tight gently sloping chimney to descend, this awkward move is somewhat easier without a pack or rope on your back. Continue down the arêtes to the first of three rappel stations. After these rappels you are at the base of South Arête, and can walk back to the base of the Southwest Rib.

Arrowhead Mountain, Stevens Pass

Arrowhead Mountain, Stevens Pass

Monday, December 26th, 2016

What started as an idea to make a solid attempt to take on Jim Hill Mountain turned, out to be a relaxed post Christmas tour to Arrowhead Mountain. A much needed tour after a few days regaling of old Christmas past with family and friends. The weight of honey ham, seasonal meats and cheese, and a few many holiday spirits needed to escape our bodies in exchange for a solid tour.

We started out at the Henry Creek approach on the east side of US 2. Making our way to FS road 687, skinning the logging road up the twisty switch backs to the clear cut. Arrowhead Mountain was hovering above us so we knew we where headed in the right direction. After the clear cut the tight trees get thick and the trail is steep. A slight skin track was broken before us and we where able to navigate through it while noting the map to reinsure confidence in our navigation. The open ski glades started to pop out as we where skinning through the tight treed forest making our way up toward the rocky clumping to the summit of Arrowhead Mountain.

Although the tempter was only around 30F, seasonal treats might have been escaping through our skin… I was sweating like the honey ham I had for Christmas dinner! At the summit the wind chill was brisk and we quickly snacked to get over the bonk of the strenuous tour. The views are amazing from the summit, Jim Hill, Lichtenberg, Rock Mountain, Nason Ridge, etc…. I could see a passing train and hear the roar of the mighty BNSF train passing through the legendary North Cascade train tunnel!

Enough of the snacks, it was getting cold and we needed to warm up to prepare for our decent through the open glades of POW we passed while making our way to the bottom. Early season conditions do exists, so travel down with caution. Lucky for us our descent was filled with good times, and POW turns that felt bottomless. Jim Hill will come to us again with more planning and time. But for a short, steep, and rewarding tour I would recommend Arrowhead Mountain as a must tour.

 

 

 

Mt Herman, Stoneman Couloir

Mt Herman, Stoneman Couloir

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

Alright! Time to break the long silence with the first snowboard trip report of the season. Did you miss us?

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We went up Table Moutain and Herman a couple weeks ago but it didn’t quite warrant a write up. Fast forward to today and once again we were heading out of the upper lot at the resort around 9am. The snow around Bagley Lakes has been hit hard with tracks since the last storm but was holding up great with the cold temps in the last week.

We headed toward the high saddle that splits Bagley Creek from Mazama Bowl where we found deep consolidated powder on E and SE facing slopes. Dropping in off Mazama Dome we found much looser unconsolidated but mostly stable snow on N and NW aspects that made for some killer turns but difficult uphill as we transitioned and made the approach to the saddle below Herman proper.

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From there it was a boot pack traverse out to the top of the couloir where we made the transition at 11:30am. While we were not the first to ride Stoneman Couloir on this last storm cycle, it hardley mattered as there was plenty of room for everyone and the snow was deep and light. At the bottom we traversed left above the trees to a smaller tighter couloir that starts at about 5300ft.

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Now to find a way out.. From 4800ft the exit down to Bagley Creek either requires a hard cut right or a hard cut left. We tried to split the difference and ended up on a cliff band that required some trickery to get down. Next time I will opt for the honest line. In the end we made it out arriving back in the Heather Meadows parking lot a little before 2pm.

Check Stoneman off, and then add it back on the list. This one is a classic!

 

More photos courtesy of Corbin Hudacek here

Mt. Shuksan, North Face

Mt. Shuksan, North Face

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Summary

They told us the approach would be hell this late in the season. It was, but we’ll never admit it.

The Details

Car to Base of White Salmon Glacier, 4:00-7:15

We parked at the gate to White Salmon Lodge, left the car at 4am and walked the road past the lodge to the base of Chair 8.
There was plenty of snow. Material online and on paper described two ways forward from here. The first has you traverse along Shuksan Arm, maintain elevation where you can and generally avoid the dense brush in the valley. The second has you drop immediately from Chair 8 through an old clear cut to the valley floor. We went with option one and found a suitable place to cross the first (of many creeks) several hundred feet upstream. In general, our route from here maintained elevation along the Arm. We did a fine job, but sloppy snow, cliff bands and creeks made progress relatively slow. This approach worked well, though would have been better with more snow. We felt smug as hell on the open slopes below Shuksan. Where was all the alder we’d been warned about? Naysayers be damned!

Open Slopes to Base of NF, 7:15-9:00

With plenty of light, and a clear view of the saddle below the NF, we picked up the pace of travel. The debris field beneath the Hanging Glacier impresses the power of the mountain upon the observer. Don’t mess around.

We trended climber’s right and wrapped up and around a large rock outcropping in the path to the saddle. In retrospect, trending climber’s left  might have been more efficient, especially with more coverage. The snow surface was variable. Frozen and hard in some places, and soft in others. Wet skins and loose corn eventually brought us to the saddle. We had a quick snack, donned harness and threw skis on our packs.

Traverse from Saddle to NF, 9:15-9:45

We were roughly an hour behind schedule, but decided to push out toward the face. This section has a lot of exposure. Cliffs rise to your right, and Price Lake is visible several thousand feet below. The slope isn’t that steep but it left me on edge. At this point, we were pretty concerned with the quality of the snow. It was wet and soft to a depth of 10-15 inches. Even though this section had received sun for several hours, it was clear it hadn’t frozen the night before. As boots displaced snow, we kept a very close eye on the progress of rollers down slope. They didn’t entrain other snow, generally broke up a dozen feet below us. We proceeded with caution into the hot sun.

NF Ascent, 9:45-12:45

Tim and I took stock of the line, and the terrain we just crossed. We acknowledged that we didn’t want to retreat along the traverse later in the day given continued solar affects. We committed to topping out. The first 500 feet had some large cracks. We navigated them without too much trouble and avoided the main runnel that runs down the face wherever possible. One can see exposed rock above, and the lines written by releases of yesterday.

We trended climber’s right and at about 6,900 ft (10:45) passed through a notch between two rocks. At this point, exposure from cliffs above the lower face decreased. We took a deep breath and established a rhythm as snow firmness increased with elevation gain.

It’s worth noting that this section of the climb is steeper and receives less early morning sun this time of year. The breeze picked up as well. Tim set a g-o-r-geous boot pack in firm conditions on the upper face. I wished I had a second ice tool.

Lunch & Options, 12:45-14:00

The rock that borders the top of the climb make an excellent lunch perch, with astounding views to Price Lake and the valley below… Not to mention the summit pyramid of Shuksan. When we left the car that morning, we weren’t planning to ski back down the NF. Needless to say, the climb hadn’t changed our minds. We had two (reasonable) options from here. Circumnavigate the summit pyramid (and possibly summit) or take the Hanging Glacier to the White Salmon (via the Upper Curtis). The decision was postponed until we toured up to the saddle SE of our resting place.

From here, we were able to see the upper reaches of the HG to our west and the Crystal to our south. A quick look at the time and the smooth corn to the west, and we made the easy decision to save the summit for another day. In retrospect, this was a fantastic choice.

Descent to End of Snow, 14:00-16:00

Perfect corn down the HG to the Upper Curtis. We were cautious for several reasons, the most obvious being cracks. We also didn’t want to miss the entrance to the White Salmon, somewhere to skier’s right. As we approached the ridge separating the Curtis from the White Salmon, Tim wondered if we could tour up along the Arm. Anybody know if that’s a viable route?

Our last few cuts on the Upper Curtis were a turning point in the tour. All of a sudden, loose wet became a major concern. Hot pow cut from our tracks slid slowly down the steep glacier.

At the top of the White Salmon, the snow is less exposed to the sun. We evaluated the terrain and plotted a route down. The first 500 feet were consumed boarding fall line on quality corn. There are many roll-overs, we paused atop each to avoid boxing ourselves in.

DownSalmon

The temperature increased dramatically and snow quality suffered. The remainder of the descent was spent minimizing exposure to wet loose. We traversed left across the slope toward mellower terrain, cliffs below. Nothing major released, though some slow movers plodded away.

Some good hot turns and a few short carries took use all the way to the end of snow. Phew. As we drank the last of our water and shared a final bar, our thoughts turned to open roads and full changes…

 

The Alder Path, 16:00-17:15

The Arm wasn’t on our list. It was hot on the way in. We knew it was a dead end on the way out. We generated a mental map of the valley, noting where we’d break up through the trees toward Chair 8. It looked close, doable in an hour.

The first 30 minutes were spent trailing creeks, reminding me why I like summer in the mountains. Then the undergrowth got thicker and thicker. In retrospect, it wasn’t too bad…

We were close, maybe 200 yards from the clear cut. The alder was thick, and we’d been up and down the creek looking for a place to cross. We back tracked to the pool below the waterfall and charged in. Drained boots on the far side, wrung out socks and swore never to admit the alder had been as bad if not worse than David claimed it would be.

We’re on it Now, 17:15-19:00

One of Tim’s many great qualities is his ability to buy in, to validate the reality and cultivate an attitude that gets you through to the other side. Coming out of the valley was tough. Tim wrestled his way up steep slopes through the trees and brush. I tagged along.

There’s not much to say about this section. Not much advice to give. I guess do it early in the season, or don’t do it at all, or just do. When we finally squeezed through the brush onto the gravel road below Chair 8, we were a thousand steps from dry feet and a big gulp of water. Amen.

Bye Bye Big Gulp, 19:00-22:45

We arrived at the car triumphant, having just passed a nice couple on their way to a sunset picnic. Bags hit the pavement, I threw my ski boots off and started digging for the vest that held my keys. When I saw all 3 zippers gaping, I knew immediately. The keys were gone. All the times I’d thrown that thing around flashed before my eyes. For all I knew, they were sitting at the top of the North Face.

Bye bye big gulp. Bye bye dry shoes. We were stuck. Eli, Tim’s brother came to the rescue. After mere seconds of pleading, he agreed to drive out to pick us up. He even grabbed a spare set of car keys from my beloved housemate, Evan.

Tim and I killed the time doing laps up to White Salmon Lodge to stay warm. We ate palm fulls of crushed ritz crackers and begged water from kind motorists. By the time Eli arrived, I was fading in and out of cold sleep on the pavement. Tim was whistling to himself, mumbling about northern lights.

Ruby Mountain, North Cascades

Ruby Mountain, North Cascades

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Animated Route Map

Weather busted our long-standing plan to climb Rainier this weekend. Coastal mountains do that to long-standing plans. Short-term developments dropped the crew down to me and Sam.

Storms rolled through the region most of the week, but tapered on Wednesday/Thursday, leaving us with the possibility of good turns and decent stability on Saturday. Our route search quickly took us to the North Cascades. We considered going after something high and alpine, like Colonial Peak, but ruled that out. A recent T-A-Y post points to a difficult approach and we weren’t keen on the exposed traverse below Pyramid Peak in current conditions.

Digging deeper into the grab bag of Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes: Washington (BSSRW) yielded Ruby Mountain. After a bit more research, we committed to Ruby. Elevation (7,408 ft) and aspect (north) would stack the deck for preserved powder from the recent storms.

As we drove through Concrete on Saturday morning, Sam asked if I’d seen the discussion surrounding Amar Andalkar’s turns post on Ruby from 2012. I hadn’t, so Sam filled me in. Amar’s report sparked a philosophical debate about why and how to document backcountry travel, particularly as it relates to “secret stashes”. BSSRW, with its description of Ruby, was published 2 years later and has since inspired much of the content on this site. What do you share? How do you share it? Skiing Ruby provided a great opportunity to reflect.

As a relative newcomer to the sport, I’m mostly a consumer. I haven’t pioneered new routes or lines. That said, every time I go out, I see something no one has seen before. Winter terrain changes constantly and those changes dictate where you go and how you get there safely. That safety piece is about collecting data at home and in the field, then applying it to make decisions. I consume data provided by professionals and individuals. Whenever I go out, I produce data with every sense at my disposal. I benefit through that consumption, it consistently brings great joy. Do I have a duty to share what I produce?

As an Open Source Geographer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a beginner in a community of “perceived experts”. I see parallels between the ethos of backcountry skiing and open geo. And both communities are changing. Over the last decade, forces of industry have driven more and more people to open source tools. If those tools want to be useful to more than just the “experts”, they have to evolve or risk irrelevance. The forces are different, but similar shifts are taking place in backcountry skiing.

I don’t know what it meant to be a beginner ten years ago, but I do know what it means to be a beginner now. Most of the people I ride with are also early in their backcountry journey. Did beginners primarily ride with other beginners 10 years ago? Tell me, I don’t know. As beginners, we rely on the same sources of information. Sometimes that information isn’t great. You don’t have the same context that experts do and context is safety. I view these reports as a sharing of context, primarily for beginners or others seeking to progress… “I thought about this, I did that and it cost me, I did this and it went well”. In the mountains, context is safety. How do you accumulate context safely? Maybe it’s a new paradigm, maybe it’s not.

Standing on top of Ruby Mountain, with Cascades in every direction, I knew it wasn’t an issue of terrain. Skill, time and climate change are the limiting factors here. Ruby is easily accessible and in the guide book, secret stash no longer. That said, not an easy tour. Furthermore, what percentage of the mountain was actually skied yesterday? I envy the folks who came before and I thank them for opening an unknown world to me. Rest assured, it’s still discover to me, even if it’s well documented, and there’s a skin track, and a few other groups. Perhaps someday, the context I gained there will propel me into the unknown.

aSo, onto the details. Check out this MAP

8:45 am – Ross Lake Trailhead

No snow in sight, we’ve surely got some booting to do.

Skis on?

Start skinning?

9:45 am – End of Happy Creek Trail

The trail ends near a waterfall. Climb up slope along the east side of the creek. You don’t have to venture too far to avoid the steeps.

10:20 am  – Meadow at 3,400 ft

We put skis on here. You can see the top of Ruby over the trees. We followed the skin track south east out of the meadow. This is the less direct, but less densely shrubbed option described in BSSRW.

Skis on

This snow may not linger long…

12:30 pm – Lunch Stop

We’ve been following the skin track, which trends climbers left up through the forested valley.

Let's eat

Let’s eat.

1:10 pm – at treeline

Snow quality improves as we climb. Ice forms on the bottom of our skins. We continue to trend up toward the ridge south east of the summit pyramid.

Upper mountain

Wide open

2:30 pm – Summit

We soak in the views, survey the area and prep for the ride down.

Stoke

Smoking

Sam cruising the upper mountain

crown

I triggered a small wind slab with a 5 inch crown on our second run down after I went over a convexity at the top of the slide. I skied out of it without incident.

Summary: had a great day with Sam, good to get some vert and explore a new area. Very inspiring part of the cascades, much more to do up there.

Vesper Peak, The Ragged Edge

Vesper Peak, The Ragged Edge

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Heading into the first weekend of August, Sam, David and I knew we wanted to climb. After heavy traffic on the Tooth and bad weather on Ingalls, we were looking for something less traveled with high quality rock, 4+ pitches and more challenging moves. On Vesper Peak The Ragged Edge route passed all criteria with flying colors.

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Sam planning happily on Friday night

We left the car at 9:15 am and even then, the hike up Trail 707 to Hardlee Pass was hot, exposed and beautiful in the morning light. We crested the pass at about 10:45 am and got a nice long look at the granite summit of Vesper Peak as we traversed the talus field directly after the pass.

The trail then crosses the outlet of Vesper Lake and climbs out of the lake basin toward the peak (scramble route). At some point, we decided that we should have left the scramble trail at the lake outlet. We could see a very direct looking couloir to our right. We down climbed to the base of the chute and powered to the top.

Looking down the couloir to the outlet of Vesper Lake

As we huffed and puffed our way out of the chute, the trail was in sight and several people we saw earlier in the day cruised by. Evidently, this “direct” grind did not save any time. That didn’t stop us from breaking from the trail immediately, veering toward the eastern flank (hiker’s right) of Vesper Peak. This turned out to be a good move.

Vesper

Sam and David head north east

After about 10 minutes of rock hopping, we arrived at a saddle on the north eastern side of the mountain where we gained outstanding views of the glaciated valley below. The rest of the approach wasn’t clear immediately. From this col, the approach traverses west under the north face of Vesper Peak. This is high consequence terrain, take your time and watch your step. You’ve reached the base of the climb when you can’t go any further without getting on rock. 2.5 hours to here.

Hugging the north face of Vesper

We geared up at the base of the first pitch and were sure to leave nothing behind. The Ragged Edge is a relatively new route (~2 years old) and while the rock is solid the climb took a bit of way finding. In some ways, this was complicated by the fact that the first two pitches trend west across the face.

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Sam takes stock at the top of pitch 2

After pitch 3, the route really starts to shine. The exposure is phenomenal. They call this The Ragged Edge for a reason. The route heads up a jagged, blocky rip in the middle of the face.

Scaling the edge on pitch 5

Vesper

David cleans the final piece

The Ragged Edge exceeded our expectations. It presented a lot of opportunities to learn without unnecessary risk. Climbing aside, this area is an absolutely spectacular section of the Cascades with plenty of exposure to alpine splendor.

Vesper

After a quick walk off the summit and dip in the lake, we were on our way. The car was a welcome sight at 7:30 pm. Another great day in the mountains.

Refer to this map to avoid our mistake:

Eldorado Peak, North Cascades National Park

Eldorado Peak, North Cascades National Park

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Another week, another trip to the mountains, this time heading north with Sam, Whitney, Tim and Andrew, our sights on Eldorado Peak in North Cascade National Park.

In a range of peaks with names like Forbidden and Torment, Eldorado stands out with a friendlier designation. And it just might be too, while many of the surrounding mountains look seemingly unrideable for their craggy aspects, the east southeast side of Eldorado contrasts these with, “the largest contiguous ice-sheet in the lower 48 states not connected to a volcano”. And so we set out from the car at 6am, crossed the road, crossed the river where we quickly ended up off trail, bushwacking through the alder that goes up Eldorado Creek. 45 minuted later we were back on the trail, that while steep, was much more effective than our previous path.

The trail follows the lookers left side of the creek up to about 4k where it hits a boulder field. Another 400 ft and we were finally able to get the boards off of our backs and start splitting. The recent temp cycles have been freeze at night and soften during the day so at 830am ski crampons were very helpful. Around 930am and 5600 ft the snow started to soften as a warm sunny day began to take hold. The east side of the ridge sees a lot of early morning sun, resulting in some sloppy side-hilling and causing Tim to rethink his initial approach up the hill after loosing some serious ground in a battle with one particularly tricky kick turn.

We stopped for lunch around 1030am on top of the ridge, before dropping down the other side onto the Eldorado Glacier. From there it was more or less just an uphill shot to first, the basin southeast of the summit at about 7500 then, the Inspiration Glacier where we switched to boot crampons around 8k and finally the top, where this peaker staggered in last, around 230, nearly 34 years after “the probable first winter ascent made by Donald Goodman and party March 14 1981”.

Moraine Lake

The knife ridge on the summit was slightly tricky to navigate so we strapped in about 70 ft below, and began our descent. The top skied pretty firm down to about 8k with one major but easily avoidable crevass. From there it softened into some great hot powder turns for the next 1600ft which finally gave way to spring corn right before the traverse back up over the ridge. A ski back to the bolder field and a tired hike down the trail had us returning to the car in just over 12 hrs.

For a season that has been disappointing by all measurements Eldorado certainly stood out as a high point, as it does in an area known for its high points.

Photos courtesy of Sam Hobbs