As climbed: [III, 60°, 5.6]
With bluebird weather in the forecast, Artem and I set out to climb Mt. Redoubt over the weekend of May 27-28. Given the spring conditions and big snowpack, we opted to carry skis with hopes of climbing the NE face and skiing the normal south-side route around the Redoubt glacier and back to the north side.
We arrived at the trail-head behind Chilliwack Lake to what felt like summer heat. The road itself wasn’t in too bad shape, save the endless pot-holing at the end of Chilliwack Lake Road and the narrow 4×4 “road” to where we started walking. We were surprised to find 5 other brave souls about to suffer through the bush-whack through the forest, across the border, and up a steep waterfall trail up into the alpine.
The trail itself was pretty much as described from the few online resources available. It is mostly flat through old growth forest until a steep climb up next to Depot Creek Falls, which opens up into the Alpine. We did not put skis on until reaching the top of the waterfall, at about 1400 m and 5-6 hours in.
The alpine basin below Redoubt is spectacular, and we decided to camp just below the start of the slopes up to the Depot glacier and north face route, as opposed to camping at Ouzel lake and traversing the glacier to the route (why carry heavy packs the extra distance?). Water was a plenty with the warm weather and glacial melt. We had to forge several cold streams before reaching our campsite. We slept early and set alarms for 1 AM. We knew we had a big day ahead.
We were off and moving by 2 AM, with strange warm gusts blowing by us. We skinned pretty much straight up the Depot glacier to climbers-left of the face. The glacier was pretty filled in, though we did have to contour around a few bigger cracks. We reached the bottom of the face as the sun arrived on the horizon.
The face itself was still snow-covered and no ice showed. The three bergschrunds were open to varying degrees, and our line went from the bottom right-side of the face, traversing to the left, and up the left side to the above ridge. I led up and we simul-climbed the whole face (up to 60 degrees), placing a few pieces of pro into rocky outcrops and one picket in decently solid snow. I kicked steps most of the way, but found some fun sections of neve to play on. The face was just starting to get sun as we neared the top, and the conditions changed quite drastically as I half-flopped onto the ridge, which was already composed of slushy and unconsolidated snow.
For some reason we acknowledged the “north” in NE face, but seemed to have missed the “east”. The upper part of the route is almost completely east facing, and we were already starting to hear the un-nerving sounds of snow, rock, and ice falling. We stopped for a good 15 minutes and debated our options. Was it safe to continue? Was the objective risk acceptable? Could we mitigate it to a reasonable degree? These tough questions never have easy answers.
We decided to negotiate the ridge toward the rock faces leading upwards as we had nothing to anchor to in our current position. Artem led up a soft and steep snow hump and traversed the knife edge until reaching rock and finally setting an anchor. I belayed him by straddling the ridge and being ready to hop off either side for counter-balance. Just in case… The ridge reminded me of stories I’ve heard from the gargoyles of Mt. Robson’s Emperor Ridge. Training, I suppose…
I decided to keep the train moving and led around a rock band towards the hidden couloir, which makes up the upper section of the route. We dealt with the hazards of the terrain by moving quickly through snowy sections and sticking to mixed rock where possible. After a couple mixed pitches, we reached the point where it was possible to descend down into the hidden couloir. The snow was really baking now and we were concerned about the steep snow at the top of the face, and the random chunks of cornice that were dropping into the couloir. Instead of dropping in, we climbed 3 pitches of rock up to mid-5th and ended up on top of the next tower over from the summit (one over from the NE face col).
It was about 1 PM (11 hours in) and we ditched up packs and simul-climbed the last “scramble” pitch to the summit. We found it pretty full-on and think the normal scramble route through the “keyhole” was filled in as we climbed up the right (north) side of the summit tower. We reached the summit at 2 PM to unreal views of the North Cascades (and Ledge Mountain, in BC, Artem would have you know).
We were psyched to have pushed through, yet were still quite unnerved with the conditions we experienced on the ascent. Taking no chances getting off the summit, we made two raps back to our packs. After making one rap down from the upper snow gully it looked like the rest of the decent would go on skis. We didn’t hesitate to finally take them off our backs! It seemed like the plan was going to work after all. The south-facing snow conditions consisted of spring corn that we carefully sluffed-off as we descended.
We skied all the way down to the base of the flying buttress with no issues (there were still snow bridges over the bergschrund) and from there it was quick to get up to the Redoubt glacier and back down to our tent. Exhausted but satisfied, the gnarly decent back to the car still loomed. We reached the bottom of the waterfall just before dark, and were completely soaked by the spray as we negotiated the wet slab leading back into the forest. We pushed forward in an almost meditative state, moving fast and only communicating through the occasional swear as skis got stuck in a bush or one of us tripped over a stump. Back at the car by midnight, we reached Van by 3 AM after a much deserved late-night dinner in Chilliwack.
It was a whirlwind of an ascent — the kind that you reflect on and can’t really believe all that has just happened. As I curled into bed at 4 AM, alarm set for work 4 hours later, I felt accomplished, and wiser for having had the experience. Although the ascent wasn’t the type of blissful movement and rhythm you often hope to find in the mountains, it was challenging and thought-provoking — the type of adventure that you learn from and helps you progress into a better and smarter climber.
That being said, I will think twice next time before packing a full skiing and climbing set-up to hike miles in for just the weekend! But if I’m being honest, it’ll probably happen again soon…