So Mark Bunker and I decided to have a go at The Pineapple Express (Cauthorn-Strong 2005, IV M6 5.8 WI3+) on the north face of Snoqualmie Mountain on Sunday. As far as I know this route has seen few if any repeats so we were at the mercy of the Dan Cauthorn’s write up in the NWMJ:
We … traversed beneath the New York Gully area to the lowest toe of the rock buttress. The first pitch started just left of the lowest point of rock and climbed a thin slab of ice hidden in a long right-facing corner (WI3+ R). After this pitch we trended up and left, pulling steep heather into a mixed gully leading to a tree belay beneath a rock headwall. The superb third pitch climbed the steep right-facing corner to a tree belay (M6 with good gear). Pitch 4 led up and right into snow and trees. The next pitch squeezed through the trees and traversed right to a 5.8 rock step that led up to a tree belay. We then continued up easy mixed ground to a flat ledge beneath the huge headwall that guards the top to the Northwest Face. We then traversed easily along a spectacular ledge system rightward to join the last two pitches of New York Gully. In total, we did nine long 60-meter pitches.
For me the first crux was getting out of bed and on the road before 5am but eventually I met Mark in North Bend. Note to self; partying the night before an alpine start looses its appeal sometime past your 30th birthday.
Excellent snow conditions meant that the approach was pretty much cake although it’s still quite a hike. We met Colin Haley and friends at the saddle – they’d slept in and taken the Phantom Slide approach (see approach notes below). We chatted to them as we geared up before descending into the Thunder Creek drainage below Snoqualmie’s north face.
We went to check out the Pineapple while Colin and Dylan tried their luck on NY Gully and another of their party soloed the Slot Couloir. Dylan had looked at our route the day before and said it was thin but we thought we might as well take a look. Hey, we’d walked all that way right?
Half way up the first pitch I was revising that "What the hell!" sentiment as I contemplated the holding power of a tied off bush with respect to my substantial 200lb frame. I muttered to Mark about having second thoughts but continued upward to find something better to bail off if nothing else. Thereby successfully conning myself into climbing the whole 60m. The pitch definitely lived up to the ‘R’ rating. Mark summed it up nicely with "I knew you’d brought your sense of humor when I saw that first screw".
Mark led off up and left on more thin ice with slightly better gear. At least the belays were all equipped with substantial trees. As Forrest Murphy once said to me "in the Cascades in winter trees are your friend". Mark belayed me up and we inspected the next pitch – apparently the crux at M6 with good gear. We’d discussed the small wrinkle in our plan during the approach, namely neither of us could really say we were M6 material. No matter… we had age and cunning on our side, Mark said he could even do a pull-up (just one) and "good gear" is really a secret alpinist code for "you can aid it if you have to".
Standing below it aiding seemed a little problematic but clearly the first couple of moves looked feasible. Having been offered the plum pitch is seemed rude not to at least try. Besides there was a nice soft snow slope to land in and a big tree belay. The pitch disappeared up a long right facing corner with the promise of another tree 150′ above. The first moves off the deck were strenuous but with several OK gear placements. After that the angle eased for a bit and along with more (thin but good) ice there was TURF! Oh yeah. Ice is great and all but big fat lumps of frozen moss and dirt… now that’s where it’s at. More good gear could be had in the corner on the left. All in all… Cake.
Of course that would have all been too easy. Above the angle steepens again. The corner was completely dry – providing good gear but harder climbing on the compact rock that’s typical of Snoqualmie Pass. Thankfully there was a very thin ice smear out to the right. Good gear high in the corner and a quick step down to reach a few inches of well adhered ice and Robert’s your father’s brother, thirty feet of upward progress and… more TURF! Mr. Turf say hello to my little friend, Mr. Spectre.
A bit more climbing, more rock gear and some entertaining tree pulling and cursing and I was belaying Mark up from another nice fat tree. Mark led the next pitch which moved right onto a spectacularly exposed ridge before taking a snow slope up to just below the ledge system leading across the base of the headwall. Given that I’d gotten the nicest pitch Mark led us home…
We simul-climbed the next four pitches to the base of the last pitch on NY Gully. Mark led across easier but exposed mixed ground including some not so easy sections with huge exposure over the whole of the north face. Anything that fell of plummeted into the mist below.
The 5.8 crack that represents the last of the difficulties on NY Gully was iced in. Mark did a stellar job of aiding it and tackling the thin ice above to the end of the difficulties. Usually this pitch is dry but still hard, as evidenced by the growing collection of fixed gear. I followed with the pack and somewhat less elegantly.
We descended in thick fog trying to make the most of the remaining half hour or so of daylight. Mark’s navigational genius, or blind luck (you choose) got us back to our gear stash without any real hassles. We followed tracks down the Phantom Slide and were back at the car in next to no time. Surprisingly we had taken just under twelve hours car-to-car. Plenty of time for Pizza in North Bend on the way home…
Ummm… A big helping of alpine climbing followed a serving of fat and carbs. What’s not to like?
- Full rack up to #3 Costalot including wires and (thin) pins.
- Slings are useful for slinging trees, bushes and anything else that might slow rapid downward progress.
- Take some stubby ice screws for comedy value and to make yourself feel better.
We approached as per Nelson’s description for New York Gully (Selected Climbs in the Cascades volume 2). Colin and co. hiked up the Phantom Slide directly from the Alpental lot. We descended this way. Colin’s description "it’s five times easier" is not an understatement. I’d use the Phantom next time. Obviously this is dependent on snow conditions.