Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Tooth - South Face
A (wet) classic

The Tooth could be called Seattle's local mountain. Less than two hours away The Tooth sees nearly daily ascents of it's regular routes. This did not discourage me from planning a weekend climb on one of Northwest Washington's classic alpine summits. Though The Tooth has a comparatively short approach and just a few hundred feet of rock climbing it still requires technical climbing skill and, on our chosen day, and fair bit of Northwesterner gusto.

I wanted to beat the traffic, crowds, and supposed afternoon rain so I picked Mark up at 4:30am. We swung through Bellevue to pick up Ron, who just hours before agreed to head up The Tooth with us, and were at Snoqualomie Pass just before 6am.

The last times I had approached the Tooth and Source Lake was during winter excursions so I absent mindedly followed the winter route towards the base. “There has to be a better way,” said Ron, as we bushwacked up a steep waterfall and splashed through wet meadows. Turns out there's a trail that heads right up to the basin we were aiming for but I explained we were in it for the adventure and that the wet bushwack added to the excitement of the climb. I don't think they agreed.

After cross talus and low-angle snow, and making our way quickly through steep gullies we were at the base of the rocky and damp South Face. Mist swirled in the air and hid the entire route from view. It was silent and eerie below the unmeasurable mountain face at 8am. We brought two 8mm ropes – I tied into both and tied Ron and Mark into one each. We were going to be climbing in a cold cloud, I put my jacket on, and finished adding gear to my harness. I set out on damp rock placing little gear but feeling pretty nervous not knowing the route, not being able to see the route, and watching my toes slip on the wet granite.

After three relative easy pitches we were at the top. The clouds swirled and teased us with views of the rocky ridgeline we were a part of. The last pitch had been exposed and required a few moves of real climbing on real wet rock. I had made a committing desperate move for wet hold just before the summit approach and was happy to now have the three of us standing on top of the vertiginous summit. On the was back we found the trail, and the tourists – I liked the bushwacking better.

Photos: 1)A modified misty photo of the Tooth and adjacent spire. We climbed the illuminated ridgeline from the notch just left of center. 2)Happy summiters.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Check out more Stuart photos at Eve's blog:

[Trip Report]
Mount Stuart - North Ridge 7/30/2008

Mount Stuart - 9,415ft and “without a rival as the crown peak in the Central Cascades” - was an incredible alpine climbing adventure. Here is a recount of our journey on this immense mountain. Many thanks to the team (Doug, Eve, and Andrew) as I had little part in the logistics for this amazing day. Note for you non-climbers some of this text may seem a bit dry and climber vocabulary laden (i.e. you may have to google gendarme).

The Park-and-Ride was deserted at 2:30 am. We were packing our packs two hourslater at The Ingalls Lake trailhead. I had no hand in the planning for this trip so I was impressed by my colleagues timing. As we took our first steps up the wide Esmerelda Trail we switched our headlamps off to meet the looming dawn.

We followed trail to Ingalls Pass and across basins to reach Stuart Pass and a ridge below the West Ridge. We ascended the ridge until a comfortable talus traverse was made to a gully leading to Goat Pass. Looking back we followed the approach notes in Beckey fairly closely, but we instead climbed the ridge from Stuart Pass and then dropped down into the west rock-glacier cirque. During this morning hike the summit mixed with windy clouds and either ominous or inviting depending on the minute you choose to look up to it.

While we worked along the edge of Ingalls Lake the winds were gusty and dark clouds and fog came intermittently. At Goat Pass we encountered lighter winds but seemingly freezing temperatures in the shade. The glistening rime and damp rock was discerning but we were encouraged by weatherless skies to the east. We discussed the West Ridge as a second option if the cold temperatures were giving anyone a second thought. The sunny glacier smiled back at us and we all started to unpack our snow gear.

With crampons, ices axes, and approach shoes we began a tedious and inspiring climb across an sunny snowfield. From the pass we traversed the steep-ish Stuart glacier and easy rock bands to reach a gully below the North ridge. Ditching the crampons we climbed the solid-in-spots 3rd class gully to the North Ridge. We continued on the ridge until reaching an exposed short wall that warranted roping up. We had two 35M ropes which worked great for the 4 of us climbing as 2 parties.

The next handful of 'pitches' after gaining the ridge are fantastic with outstanding rock and cool, exposed movement. Andrew and I simul-climbed these pitches using sparse gear and reached the base of the gendarme without swapping places. During this time we were moving pretty quickly and enjoying the clearing skies and warming sun. The crest of the ridge made for the most exposed and warmest climbing so we made some moves chasing warm stone that may be easier to the west. This was the most memorable part of the day for me.

When we reach the base of the gendarme the belay was in the sun but the imposing 200 foot clean granite block was shaded and dreary. Andrew belayed me as I worked up a series of bulging liebacks with rests and great small cam placements. Despite the moderate solid climbing on this first belayed pitch I felt the immensity of the route, the weight of my pack, and the frigid temperature of the rock all immediately and
simultaneously. It was fucking cold, my fingers were cold, the granite unforgiving and clean. I reached the belay ledge atop the first pillar after strenuous climbing and starting digging in my backpack for more warmth. I brought Andrew up from the sunny belay and onto the icy cold ledge.

Andrew led off the thin belay out across an exposed traverse and into an alcove below an icy off-width crack. After receiving a large cam from our friends ahead of us (it felt like it was lowered from heaven), he was able to grovel up the alpine awkward granite crack. With my pack on my back and Andrew's on a long leash from my harness I struggled and moved slowly through this pitch. My hands became really cold and I had to work sloppily and slowly to clean gear. At the top of the pitch I climbed/stumbled past Andrew to a sunny flat belay and was very thankful the clouds had left us.

After warming up and recollecting we simul-climbed across exposed and wild blocky traverses. We pitched out a short hand crack and a really loose traverse, otherwise we moved simultaneously to the summit. Eve and Doug, who sat side by side us at the base of the gendarme had been lounging in the heat of the summit boulders for nearly an hour. They had won the race against the corrosive cold. I can't remember what time it was when we reached the summit (my camera suggests it was around 3pm). We spent just enough time on the summit to reorganize gear and snack.

We made a regular decent by heading east below the summit ridge and onto the SE flank above the Cascadian coloiur. There was some kitty litter and loose scree but otherwise nothing to slow our decent. In fact once we hit the sandy part of the gully Eve and I got a little too far ahead as we quickly plunged though the more forgiving loose patches. We followed a good trail down and right to the head of a brushy, welcomed creek and then followed broken trail to meet up with Doug at the Longs Pass / Ingalls Creek/ campsite junction. We should have stuck closer together as the route finding at the bottom of the gully was a little convoluted.

We had one last ascent to go. Up the steep switchbacks to Longs Pass we huffed as the sun set on the massive south face of Stuart. We reached the crest of the pass just in time to soak up the last rays of sun. We finished our snacks and water and made the cruiser, but indirect, decent by trail to reach the car by 8:30pm. We were tired – and happy with the day. Simple calculations suggest we gained 9,100 feet over 16 hours, over a 1000 feet being 5th class. The cold 5.9 climbing definitely was awesome but undoubtedly added to my exhaustion. We stopped at Safeway and got bad sushi that tasted so good regardless. We got back to Seattle at 11pm. I slept in.

Photos: 1) A recon photo I took from Stuart Lake in early June showing roughly our route up the North Ridge (much less snow now). 2)Looking to summit on the early morning approach. 3)Andrew making his way across the Stuart Glacier. 4) Lost in a vertical sea of granite 5)Summit smiles. 6)The rugged south side with descent route marked.