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Climbing Washington Touring Mt. Rainier

Lane Peak, Zipper Couloir

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if it wasn’t directly in the shadow of Mount Rainier, the Tatoosh range would be it’s own National Park.

The gate into the park was a little late, opening at about 9:30am. We drove from Longmire up to Narada Falls under a nearly cloudless sky. Crossing the Nisqually bridge we considered skiing the Nisqually Chute but instead stuck with our original plan to head towards Lane Peak.

From the parking lot there was obvious debris on the apron below the Fly and Zipper couloirs from what was likely loose-wet activity the day prior. Considering the northern facing aspect, it looked like there was potential for crusty conditions but the trees were holding good snow and skinning up to Stevens Canyon Road from the falls we found light powdery snow that we were hoping for reassuring us on the conditions.

At this point in the season Stevens Canyon Road has been plowed so we threw the skis over our shoulder for the short walk to the bend were we transitioned and rode the trees down to Tatoosh Creek trending west toward the base of Lane Peak.

Now the clouds came in on what had been blue sky all morning and it began snowing heavily. Crossing the creek we passed a group who was bailing due to avalanche concern. We continued on, following the skin track of an another group who appeared to be heading for the adjacent Fly Couloir.

Up until this point we had not committed to a specific objective, instead keeping an option open to ski either the Fly or the Zipper Couloir. At the tree stand that sits where the base of the two couloirs meet we decided to boot up the Zipper, being the steeper and narrower of the two as the group ahead of us was going for the Fly.

The climbing started out in thigh deep snow making for slow going, however as we ascended the booting eased up. As we climbed the snow began to warm and drop off the tree branches on the walls above. As the trees bombed the couloir the snow would pick up speed and mass flushing the slope we were on and creating significant loose-wet slides that could easily take you off your feet. We picked up our pace to minimize our time in this hazard zone and finally finished the remaining 500ft of the couloir by 1:30pm with no major incidents.

This time of year the gate is closing at 4pm and not wanting to get stuck in the park we hurried our transition to drop in. The day was still warming as well and the wet slides in the couloir were increasing in their frequency and volume. We skied the length of the couloir one at a time to reduce our exposure.

The turns in the couloir itself were incredible. The snow was soft and loose. A little too loose as sluff mitigation was critical after almost every turn. The apron had a lot of debris on it and made for some chunky skiing in spots. After this the snow warmed significantly slowing us to a crawl by the time we returned to the creek.

From here it was back up to the road and then a ski down to the car. We hit the gate at 3:50pm just before close.

We got lucky with the conditions. The skiing was great but the avalanche activity due to late spring sun on a northern aspect was much more than we anticipated. As is often the case it became a matter of timing. We got up and down without issue but any later in the day and we would have surely experienced significant hazard. Either way, another amazing ski line in Mount Rainer National Park.

Categories
Washington Touring Central Cascades Snoqualmie Pass

Mt Snoqualmie, Crooked Couloir

This season has been fickle so far and there have been very few windows of favorable conditions.

After a decent storm that set down 25″ over the weekend, the clouds cleared and Presidents Day offered us one of those weather windows.

Bish and I met a the new market at 11:30am with the intention of going up Mt Snoqualmie and finding something to ski. Starting from Alpental and noon, we set a skin track up the Phantom slide path until we ran into another track that we followed up the South shoulder to the summit.

South Shoulder with Red Mountain in the background

Once up top, we took a look down the Slot but it had already been skied pretty good by that point in the day and it was looking chewed up. Instead we decided to ski the crooked couloir off the summit which was much broader with fewer tracks.

The entrance into the top was steep and required a little billygoating to get into but after that it opened way up for some nice deep turns all the way down to the choke. At the choke the couloir takes a 45º turn left and tightens into what can sometimes take the form of an ice buldge. Today it had been scraped by other skiers but the coverage was good so it was easy to maneuver.

This placed us out on the apron of the Slot that we skied down into Thunder Creek Basin to about 4600′. Here we transitioned and split back up to the notch getting to the top at 5pm. We skied down the front side and made it back to the car just before sunset.

In the week it took me to write this it has snowed another 1.5′ and then rained 5″ on top of that so once again everything is toast. Get it when you can.

Hard turn on the apron
Categories
North Cascades Climbing Washington

Mt Shuksan, Fisher Chimneys

I just moved back to Washington from Denver and I was psyched to get out in the North Cascades on return.

I met Byron at the Mt Baker Ski Area on Friday evening and we camped out so that we could have a leisurely start Saturday morning. The road is currently closed up to Artist Point at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, or Grandma’s Hut as I’ve know it to be called. This added only a small amount of milage/elevation to our destination for the day, the White Salmon camp just below Winnies Slide.

We started at 10:30am and made it to Lake Ann by noon. It was a warm day and we stopped by the lake to have lunch before starting up the trail toward the Chimneys.

The trail past Lake Ann is well established and there are a number of good camp sites about 5-10 minutes down the trail just before the creek crossing. After that the path switchbacks up steeply for a ways and crosses a talus field just before entering the first of the chimneys.

There were a number of groups climbing that day so it wasn’t difficult to see the route from a distance but even without other folks to follow, the path seemed to be well established. We made it to camp just before 4pm.

The next morning we started our climb at 6am. The lower bivy site didn’t have a great water source so we climbed Winnies Slide, the first steep snow pitch, up to Camp 2 where there was a good flow coming out of the Upper Curtis Glacier. We filled our water bottles and then started onto the snow.

The glacier was in great shape and travel was straightforward with minimal obstacles to navigate. We climbed the Hourglass, the second and final steep snow pitch, before traversing on to the Sulphide Glacier. The upper stretch of the Sulphide was also in good shape and we climbed it up to the based of the South East Ridge on the summit block where we took a brief break before starting our climb on the ridge.

There are a couple of notches you can start the ridge climb from. We chose the further right and slightly deeper notch which resulted in some light down-climbing after the first pitch. This put us at the saddle of the second notch. We simul-climbed the route in 3ish blocks. It is mostly 3rd class with a few steeper but unsustained low 5 moves.

We summited at 10:30am and turned around quickly to start the long slog back to the car. We down climbed via the gully which was ultimately going to be much quicker than waiting around to rappel it. The gully down-climbed no harder than 4th class.

Both snow pitches we rappelled on fixed deadman that had been buried at the top of both Hourglass and Winnies. We made it back to our camp at 2pm. A nap was the vibe at this point so we took a brief one then packed up and walked out of camp around 3:30pm

The climb down the chimneys with our overnight packs wasn’t too tricky. The first two “pitches” off the ridge were the most sustained 4th class and it seemed to ease up after that. We were able to down-climb the whole thing without any additional rappels. I think we hit the lake at 6pm, only 4 more miles to go.

Things slowed down for us after this, finally we got to the cars at 8:40pm. Just under a 15 hour day. Not too bad. It’s nice to be back in the Cascades.

Categories
Climbing Washington

Mt Goode, Northeast Buttress

Peak of the Week is back! And after a considerable hiatus. The adventures never actually stopped, the motivation to write about them stalled out for a bit. It was temporarily.

This year we wanted to utilize a long holiday weekend on the 4th of July for a long holiday climb. Our plan was to try the Northeast Buttress on Mt Goode in the North Cascades. We would go in via Bridge Creek at Rainey Pass, carryover on the climb and exit through Stehekin taking three days for the trip.

Mt Goode is characterized by its remoteness within North Cascades national Park with it’s NE buttress being one of the longer technical ridge climbs in the state.

Campers were lining up at the Marblemount Ranger Station for overnight permits when I pulled into the parking lot at 6:50am on Friday morning. Covid restrictions had the park operating with just one permitting station at a time causing a decent amount of irritation. Despite all of this, 3 hours later when they finally called my ticket number still no one had requested a permit within the Goode back country zone. Although we anticipated something close to that, it was also telling.

From there we drove the the Bridge Creek trail head just over Rainey Pass, and finally started our hike at 11:30am. Tim’s folks, Clay and Chris saw us off for the first 6 miles of the trip until they turned off at the the South Fork and we continued on our way. Crossing a suspension bridge at Maple Creek, turning north up the north fork toward Grizzly Creek Camp.

Andrew crossing Grizzly Creek

Here the brush got a lot thicker as this trail does not see as much use. We spent a few minutes searching for a suitable creek crossing over Grizzly Creek and finally cut off the trail after a few more miles to cross the North Fork to start up the south side of the valley.

It was about 6:00pm at this point an we had been setting a fairly speedy pace covering about 16 miles in 6.5 hours but now we had 2000 feet of elevation to climb and not even a hint of a trail to do it on. The climb up to camp is a bit of a dealers choice with a little bit of everything and a lot of tearing through various stands of slide alder. A snow apron down low helped to mitigate some of the hard travel early on but once we cut right to navigate up, through and above the slabs the brush closed in on us delivering a classic North Cascades experience for the next 1200 vertical feet.

The terrain is steep below the glacier and once you leave the creek down low you can count the number of level spots suitable for even a small tent on a couple fingers. We found one at 5200ft and squeezed two tents on to it comfortably, finally dropping our bags for the day at 7:45pm.

The next morning we were up by 5:30am, packed up and moving by 7am. The slabs below the glacier made for some enjoyable 3rd and 4th class scrambling until we ultimately roped up for the glacier crossing.

The glacier itself was in good shape with minimal hazards. Even moving from the glacier across the moat and onto the ridge at 6800ft was a straightforward experience. Now it was time for the main event. Stow the ice axe and crampons and pull out the climbing gear.

We had expected sunny weather for our climb day, however when we woke up in the morning the top of the mountain was obscured by clouds. As we climbed the clouds did as well, all the while offering a cooler day.

The first bit of climbing offers some reasonably steep moves before turning the corner and moving up onto a slab. From here we stayed more or less true to the ridge for the next 1500 ft moving through a variety of gniess ranging from 3rd to low 5th class in its grade, ultimately touching 5.5 for the last few hundred feet directly below the big ledge at 8600ft. This is where we decided to settle for the night.

I find these long ridge routes often feel deceiving because it can be so hard to judge your progress against the ridge itself. You spend hours climbing with seemingly little to no progress made toward your objective. After climbing for 8 hours that day we were ready to give it a rest as soon as we found a suitable bivy and the ledge proved to be that. Room for a couple tents, plenty of snow to melt for water, a perch that offered views in three different directions and for the first time on our trip the clouds had finally burnt off giving us a spectacular sunset. At 6:00pm we had the rest of the evening to enjoy it.

The next morning the clouds were gone the sun was out and it was time to finish the thing off. We anticipated about 3 more hours to the top at 9,199, so we packed up and hit the gas. Were we had spent most of the previous day simul-climbing it seemed easier to pitch out the remainder of the ridge. The climbing and steepened up a bit and was pretty steady mid 5th to the summit.

We topped out at 10:30am on a gorgeous sunny Sunday, July 5th. From the summit you can see every major peak in the North Cascades and an overwhelming number of the minor peaks as well. Goode has a feeling of sitting directly in the heart of the region. We lingered just long enough to take a selfie before hurrying to start the process down. Our intent was to make it to Stehekin that night where we had booked a room at the landing and we had some serious ground to cover ahead of us.

Two rappels back down the way that we came puts you on a thin ledge that traverses around to the south side of the mountain to a notch at the top of the South East Couloir. This is the descent, more or less a straight shot of -5200 vertical ft to Park Creek.

Rappels turn into scrambling, turned into glissading, turned into down climbing and finally into a bushwhack through first burnout and then a sea of sword ferns until we finally a hit trail again at 6pm. It was the first trail we had seen in 2 days and now we had 12 miles to go on it before we had any hope of our day being over.

Goode from the south and our descent route

The pace into the Stehekin Valley was quick and we raced the sun as it set toward night time. The 12 miles we still had to cover was just to get to the upper valley where the road meets the trail at High Bridge. Past that is still another 12 miles to reach the landing at Lake Chelan where we had reserved a spot for the night. We reached High Bridge at 9pm, took inventory of our situation and decided the only option was to keep walking. (Often there is a shuttle that operates on this road but we were well past its sechduled hours) After about 5 miles on a dark empty road in the woods a car slowed as it passed and offered a ride for the remaining stretch. We enthusiastically accepted and thus finally ended our long trip.

This picture accurately captures the mood.

What a climb! It had all of the characteristics of a Cascade adventure. Soggy weather, remote setting, loose rock, route finding, glacier travel, engaging climbing, spectacular sunsets, berry pies at the bakery and a good group of climbing friends. I know it’s early but it may be time to start planning for next years trip.

Categories
Washington Touring Mt. Rainier Central Cascades

Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger

It’s Friday evening, and Zach and I had just been set up by our mutual friend Whitney to climb and ski Mt. Rainier together over the weekend.  We had both been looking for partners to attempt the Fuhrer Finger route, and had both approached Whitney about skiing the Finger.   The Fuhrer Finger is an extraordinary ski mountaineering line; it takes a direct line up a south aspect of Mt. Rainier, and gets its name from the 3000 vertical foot, 40 degree chute located about two thirds of the way up the route, called ‘the finger.’  Some sources cite it as the biggest ski descent in the lower forty eight, but I’m skeptical of anything with a ‘biggest’ quantifier in front of it.   It’s definitely up there, a rad line, for sure.  In good conditions, the entire 9000 vertical feet of the route is ski-able on the descent, with the option to extend that even further by skiing to the Nisqually bridge.

After reviewing our 2-person crevasse rescue skills, we talk about details on the route.  There’s a risk of rockfall within the finger, which is heightened later in the day as things heat up.  There’s also the risk of loose-wet slides later in the day.  Timing on ascent day will be critical, as you want to be descending after the snow has softened up enough to be ski-able, yet before the rocks start firing down from above, or before the snow beneath you becomes warm and unstable.  Based on the predicted warm weather, we set a turnaround time of 11AM for summit day

Saturday, 12:00PM: We arrive at the Paradise Parking lot. We gather our permits and gear, and hit the trail at 1PM

The weather for our ascent was warm and sunny.  Just before dropping down to the Lower Nisqually Glacier, we got a nice view of our planned route.  We chose to hook low and left around the Wilson glacier and gain the ridge to camp, rather than picking our way up through the middle as some do.

Both the Lower Nisqually and the Wilson were in great shape – neither ourselves nor the other two parties we ran into opted to rope up for these glacier crossings.

Saturday, 6:00PM: Arrive at camp .  If you camp by the castle, there’s currently nice, clean, running water by the upper sites.  We skipped the water boiling routine, and haven’t gotten giardia, yet.

Sunday, 2:30AM:  Summit day!  We hit the trail and cross the Wilson glacier to begin the bootpack up the finger. 

Around 4AM, despite it being the coldest portion of the day, a softball size rock came flying down the finger between Zach and myself.  Although jarring, that rock was the only rockfall we witnessed throughout the day.

6:00 AM: Sunrise. After 9000 french steps, we reach the top of the finger.

At the top of the finger we went high and left above a serac before hooking right onto the Upper Nisqually Glacier.

We roped up here. The upper Nisqually was still in great shape – only a couple of snow bridges to cross on the way to the summit.

Slow going on the last couple thousand feet. We chose to continue booting, however, skinning with ski crampons would have been an equally reasonable choice. A group of Canadians did so, and we played rope team leapfrog for a while.

11AM: Summit! We snacked and transitioned quickly, as we had just barely made our turnaround goal. Just enough time for a ski guitar summit picture :).

Conditions were perfect corn on the way back to camp. The terrain was fantastic, and the scenery unbeatable.

We took a leisurely pace packing up camp, and ended up getting back to the car around 4PM.

What a fantastic weekend on the mountain. The Fuhrer finger delivered everything that was expected, and more – absolutely worthy of it’s reputation as one of the best ski mountaineering descents in North America.


Categories
Washington Mt. Adams Touring

Mt Adams, South Face

We had planned to do this one a couple weeks ago but the weather was bad. This weekend however delivered perfect climbing conditions so we trekked south for a Mt Adams climb.

Leaving Seattle on a Friday is a loosing prospect to begin with. Then there is the location of the mountain itself. It is said that Glacier Peak is the most remote volcano in Washington, but I think I would rather do a few extra hours hiking, than the five hours in the car it took to get to the town of Trout Lake. All the same, we camped out on Friday night which made for a relaxing morning on Saturday where we slept in, made breakfast, checked in at the ranger station and drove up to Cold Springs where we started out from the trail head by 11:30pm.

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We stopped for lunch at 7000 ft where the snow finally became skinnable. By 2:00 pm we were moving again, making it to Lunch Counter camp by 4:00 pm which allowed for casual evening.

The next morning we were up a little after 5:00 am and on the move by 6:30 am. We topped out by 11:00 am, rode the south ridge down and were back at camp by noon. It was a gorgeous sunny June day and we enjoyed every minute of the climb crowd negotiation included. We were back to the car by 3:oo pm. The snow was soft but sun cupped and made a choppy ride down at certain points but warmed significantly from the day before. None the less it was good to check another Washington volcano of the list.

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkwQ3gmh_Ej/?taken-by=peakoftheweek

Categories
Washington Touring Snoqualmie Pass

Chair Peak Circumnavigation, Alpental Valley

We went out in Alpental Valley on Saturday. For me, it was my first time out there on a splitboard. Our objective was to Circumnavigate Chair Peak.

We left from the upper parking lot at 8am and split up into the valley following the groomed track until it ended. At this point split left until we met up with the main skin track just below Source Lake.

The East Shoulder of Chair Peak was pretty crowded with groups skiing off every aspect, by the time we got up there around 10am. We dropped the north side down to Snow Lake making the best turns of the day.

The trail out the west side of the lake was set for us up to 4400ft where we bumped off of it passing the guys who had set it as they bailed off of Holy Diver due to warming conditions. After that we were on our own, breaking trail up to Melakwa Pass and then down the other side completing 3/4 of the pizza that is Chair Peak.

Finally the last sprint up to the top of Bryant Peak Couloir where we could look back down into Alpental Valley and at our last descent. The run back to the car could be made by the determined one footed snowboarder without a transition.

Warming temperatures couple with storm and snow and wind activity in the previous days caused a lot of loose wet slides on just about everywhere the sun hit. Early in the week some pretty big slides released leaving crowns upwards of 5ft on North East aspects and significant debris on our descents into Snow and Source Lakes.

Nevertheless the snow and the weather lined up very nicely for a time out in the valley

https://www.strava.com/activities/1434898096

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bf6vfvSHc0C/?taken-by=peakoftheweek

Categories
Climbing Washington Touring Mt. Rainier

Mt Rainier, Success Couloir

Success Glacier Couloir on Mount Rainier. A friend of a friend had heard about it.

Finding information on the route wasn’t easy; a google search pulled up a couple dated trip reports with helpful beta but very little to cross-reference against. Skiing down the south-facing couloir seemed straight-forward (and fun!) but climbing up was more like choose your own adventure. We chose the Kautz Cleaver for the ascent with two goals in mind: 1) ski the couloir, and 2) summit rainier via a traverse onto the Kautz Headwall.

We (David, Sam, myself) started Saturday morning from Paradise at 9:30 AM. Day One was largely a traverse taking us across the Nisqually, Wilson, Van Trump, and Kautz Glaciers. The route steepened when we got to the cleaver (35 to 45 degrees) and we ascended to 10,200 feet before taking up camp at a lovely bivy spot. For some reason this route just isn’t popular with the rainier masses, so we had the entire cleaver to ourselves Saturday. Party! A couple flasks were downed and the three of us retreated to the tent to rest up for summit day.

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We continued up the cleaver Sunday morning at 5 and by 7 the sun was hitting most of the route. This proved to be a big problem; around 12,000 feet we started getting hit by ice pellets, which turned to ice balls, which turned to rock, one of which flew right over my head. Good karma? Bad karma? Damnit. The reality had sunk in. Our timing was off, conditions weren’t right. The good news was we were nearing the top of the couloir. The bad news was if we wanted to summit, we still had an exposed traverse over the Kautz underneath a rimy, rocky, ridge that was also likely unloading its contents onto the slopes below. A fall would be “a bummer” in the words of David Kiker. Agreed, David.

We made the safe call to fold our hand on the summit bid and focus on the ski/board down. After a quick nap at 12,800 feet, we headed down. Snow was firm up high, with some packed powder turns, turning to corned snow between 12,000 and 9,000. We did not observe any loose wet avalanches on the way down, although the snow got very rotten around 7,000 as we descended via the Van Trump, down through comet falls and eventually onto the hikers trail. This is a fun tour that is highly recommended over two days; great steep skiing and an isolated feeling.

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