Out of nowhere, summer in the PNW set in with an almost cathartic force. The weather has been incredibly clear, hot, and stable, which has proven good for climbing but terrible for the environment (BC is in the midst of one of the worst wildfire emergencies in history).
Needless to say I have been getting out as much as possible and just returned from a month on the road and in the wild throughout BC and Washington. After a year of physical turmoil the body is finally responding well and seems to be in sync with the rest of my existence. I was able to pull off some of the grandest adventures I’ve ever had and some of my proudest climbs. Without going into too much detail, here is a run through of what I’ve been up to:
June 25-26th: Washington Pass
-Direct East Buttress (5.11a) on South Early Winter Spire
-Liberty Crack (5.11- C2) on Liberty Bell
I spent the weekend out with Artem and we got it done on some of the classics. It had been awhile since I had been on the sharp end on 5.11 terrain (injuries!) or done any big wall aiding. We had a blast on liberty crack and it was also Artem’s first real aid lead — he crushed on the Lithuanian Roof! (maybe some day I’ll be back to free…)
July 9-10th: Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainier
Josh Zahl and I did a two day ascent in very late season conditions. We found ourselves in some precarious rockfall scenarios but I think did a really good job of mitigating the objective hazard as much as possible. We bivied at Thumb Rock and dug out what was probably the only spot on the entire ridge that was relatively safe from rockfall (though it has come down there, too). We climbed super early on the second day and were on the upper snow fields by the time the pebbles started rolling. The highlight was leading a fun WI 3 pitch to bypass the bergshrund (possibly the original finish?). A quick summit hangout was followed by a painful slog down the Emmons. All in all we were excited to push through and make it happen. We found the climbing pretty straight-forward and really only roped up for the final pitch and on the glaciers.
July 20-22nd: Viennese-Clarke Traverse (5.8) in the Chehalis (Solo)
After some plans fell through (i.e. I got bailed on) I couldn’t let the psyche go to waste. I had heard about the bombproof granite of the Chehalis Range and had to have a look for myself. The weather was a bit iffy and I got a classic coastal “shrub-shower” on the way in and out. Somehow, the weather held just long enough to allow me to complete the traverse and make it back to my tent on the second day.
I found the climbing mellow (mostly 3rd/4th class) with one 5.8 move on Viennese and some steep but solid cracks on Clarke. I brought a rope for a rappel off the summit of Viennese but didn’t self-belay at all. It was nice to be on vacation and take a few days worth of food as opposed to rushing out to be back at school on Monday morning. I’m looking forward to getting back out there and climbing some of the bigger routes (and possibly some new ones!).
P.S. There is good approach beta here. The trail is easy to follow and you take the Brotherhood trail up to Upper Statlu Lake. The camping at the Upper Lake is terrible. Overgrown and bushy. Bring a machete or bivy at Statlu Lake or in the alpine.
July 23rd: North Face of Mt. Shuksan (solo)
Plans fell through again and I soloed the north face. The climbing was fast (3 hours to summit from start of climb). The approach and descent, on the other hand, won me some serious coastal shwacking karma. I followed the approach beta from Alpine Select, which pretty much has you whack your way to the White Salmon River, cross it, and whack your way all the way back up to the ridge leading to Shuksan. After encountering 20+ people at the summit who were all heading down Fisher Chimneys, I decided to descend the White Salmon Glacier back into the valley. I tried to stay high (to avoid all the bushiness at the valley bottom) but got cliffed-out numerous times on the way out to the ski resort (which was my target). I definitely do not recommend this descent unless it is early season and the slopes down low are snow covered. It would have been more pleasant to descend the normal route while trying not to get knocked out by loose rock from people rappelling the chimneys, and hitch a ride from a kind soul at the parking lot. It was a good experience though and reminder that it is not really over till it’s over. But damn, it is fun to climb light.
July 25-26: North East Buttress (5.10a) of Mt. Slesse
Mountain Joe and I got out for this classic. We had heard many stories of mis-construed descents in the dark, ending in unplanned bivies, so we decided to bring light bivy gear and spend the night at the big ledge 2/3rds of the way up. There was running snow-melt, huge flat areas, and I even brought a beer to enjoy the evening. BUT THE MOSQUITOS were horrendous. We couldn’t believe it. 2000 feet off the deck and getting eaten alive by mozzies. Temperate jungle style.
The climbing itself was really good and we did the 10a variation mid-way up the route. The rock was relatively solid, but not spectacular, and I ended up leading the whole thing. I did dislodge one block at a very un-opportune moment. But I won’t get into that.
The descent was a breeze under the afternoon sun of day 2 (we had two cars so were able to walk down to Slesse creek).
August 1-3: Roger’s Pass
-NW Ridge (5.4) of Sir Donald
-South Rib (5.10) of Mt. Tupper
The easy access and big peaks of Rogers Pass have held my attention since first visiting last April. I was excited to go back in summer conditions and met my friend Brendan for a few days climbing.
Neither of us had ever done any summer adventuring out there, so it was only right that we got started on the NW Ridge of Sir Donald. After a relatively warm bivy below the col, we soloed the whole route and then rapped down on a single half-rope. The climbing was a lot of fun and rock as good as it gets. It definitely lived up to its reputation. I was interested in scoping the route Colin Haley recently put up on the North Face (Sashimi Don) but it was clear we were way too late in the season. The only negative was the smoke up in the pass. We couldn’t see much…
After heading down to the cars we decided to try the South Rib of Tupper the next day. It is an obvious line visible from the highway and also sits just across from the infamous face of Mt. McDonald.
The approach couloir was straight-forward and we were on rock within a couple hours. We found the lower part of the route quite wandery and interspersed with lots of bushy and treed ledges. In addition, the 5.8 grade seems to apply only if you find the path of least resistance. We found ourselves in harder terrain quite a few times.
The original ascent party bailed off the grand traverse ledge in a storm, so we were excited to head for the upper pitches with little information. The last few pitches provided exciting 5.10 climbing with lots of exposure. I pulled through a roof on the left side of the ridge and we then found a couple pitches of tenuous face climbing. We summited at sunset, got a bit turned around on the descent, and finally arrived at the cars after 20+ hours on the move. A rest day surely followed.
August 4-12: Bugaboos
-McTech Roof/Arete (5.10+)
-Minotaur Direct (5.11+)
-West Ridge of Pigeon Spire (5.4)
-Becky/Chouinard (5.10) on South Howser Tower
-All Along the Watchtower (5.12-) on North Howser Tower (see story below…)
My first outing in the Bugs did not disappoint. After plans to go to the Adamant range fell through (seems to be a bit of a theme this summer… What is up with everyone, where is the EXCITEMENT?!) I teamed up with another Ethan B. and packed supplies for 8 days. There are two routes I have been dreaming about in the bugs all year and we climbed them both.
Since finding Jon Walsh’s blog, I have been following his new developments closely and admire his dedication to crushing new lines. If you don’t know about all the routes he’s been putting up on the East Face of Snowpatch (as well as those on Mt. McDonald in Roger’s Pass) check his site. There is detailed beta for Minotaur Direct here.
Minotaur Direct is a striking line up the center of the East Face of Snowpatch Spire. When team Ethan B. set off to try it on our second day in the Bugs, I didn’t know what to expect. 5.11+ was just about my onsight limit the previous summer while living in Yosemite, and I hadn’t been climbing all year. I figured I would just give it my best and see what happened. The day turned into one of my proudest to dates, as I was able to come through and onsight the route, including a lead of the crux pitch! I was psyched. And still am. The climb was symbolic of a long recovery from a nagging injury and is telling of lots of good things to come. The route is classic. Get out there.
After Snowpatch we moved camp to the Pigeon-Howser col for a few nights. We soloed the W ridge of Pigeon and tucked in for a relatively early start on the Beckey. At dusk a chopper dropped off a huge party in East Creek and gave us a bit of anxiety over what we thought was a few guided parties also headed for the same route. We should have just shrugged it off, as it ended up being Will Stanhope and Leo Houlding shooting some kind of virtual reality on the route, as well as trying some more ambitious link-ups…
Ethan and I simul-climbed the whole route. It is definitely as classic as its reputation. We had a good time hanging out with the Scottish contingency climbing and camping with us and double-teamed the descent rappels.
After a rest day we set our sights on North Howser. The big one. 3000 feet of solid granite climbing. We decided pretty quickly that we weren’t going to bivy, so the plan was to simul all the lower pitches, pitch out the dihedral, and simul to the summit. We woke at midnight and left the col by 1 am. I had already stashed gear on the approach path and Ethan had stashed crampons for the descent. The approach went quickly, partly due to the Stanhope/Houlding crew’s fixed ropes on the descent rappels into North Howser basin. The snow was a bit steep in the basin but we found our way to the base without too much trouble.
We got off-route to the left on the initial 4 pitches, guided by mis-leading crack systems (which we knew about). We down-climbed some ledge systems and ended up at a descent bivy with two bolts (the only we would see on the tower) and a wide crack above. We continued up, belaying a couple short 5.10 sections, and a couple long simul pitches later found ourselves at the base of three dihedrals. We had already made the traverse away from Armageddon, and being on lead I decided to continue up to the base of the middle dihedral. There was a big bivy at the bottom and a looming right-facing corner above. The far-left corner was too hard to get to and we didn’t think much about the one on the right. The corner we were below seemed to match the (vague) beta we had.
We started up and found multiple crack systems running through the corner. The climbing was spectacular: wild, exposed, face moves mixed with splitter jams and good pro. The rock was a bit dirty, and loose in places, but we didn’t think about it too much. We were high in the alpine, after all. A few rope-stretching pitches and hanging belays later I found myself on the left side of the big corner, leading right through a roof. It didn’t quite match the description, and I figured we just got a little too far out of the corner. The roof traverse to the right and back into the corner ended up being the crux of the route. It was a bit too powerful, and the gear above a bit too mysterious, for me to push through. I ended up getting spooked, taking, and doing a short pendulum into the corner proper, which led up a thin hands crack to a left traversing roof (as described on the topo). Ethan followed the pitch clean (impressive!) and led through the second roof, which actually didn’t present too hard of an obstacle.
We finally reached ledges above to stretch out, warm up in the sun, and drink some water before continuing to the summit. The ridge to the top wasn’t too bad, and the rappels off the east face OK (though there were many and the anchors weren’t great). Rapping into the schrund was pretty wild. We stumbled back into camp with a couple hours of light left, 20 hours after leaving.
So. We climbed the wrong dihedral. For the moment I’m dubbing it All Along the Wrong Tower. The correct dihedral was much more of a splitter, cleaner, and only had a big roof traverse left. It was the corner to the right of the one we climbed, also starting at a big bivy ledge. We aren’t bummed. Actually very psyched. We climbed N Howser in good style (Ethan freeing it), and quested up with little information. I am currently in the process of trying to figure out what exactly we climbed, if it has a name, who got the FA, etc. It had definitely been climbed before, as we bootied a number 4 friend and heard back at Applebee of a party doing the same thing the year before. In addition, the party behind us followed us up the same corner. I think the corner we climbed deserves to be recognized. It is quality (I haven’t climbed watchtower proper so can’t compare) and will give you your thrills. I do find it curious though, in the popular Bugaboos, that the beta around N Howser is so vague, both in the guidebook and online. I’m not criticizing, the mystery surrounding the tower and the giant undertaking to climb it is exciting. It is just curious.
UPDATE: I have since been in touch with Marc Piché who informed me that we climbed Eye of Providence (5.12). I added the route to Mountain Project.
The Bugs totally lived up to their rep and there is so much more left to do. Don’t know if I’ll return soon, but when I do it’ll be time to create my own history on the steep walls surrounding East Creek Basin.
Back in Vancouver, I am already pouring over AAJ articles, guidebooks, and Google Earth, searching for new places and lines to explore. This year is going to be pivotal in the sense that I plan to focus on exploration and route development. It really is time to start painting on the coastal canvas. Very excited for what is to come. Peace!