I added a new Winter Routes page. This is a work in progress but it’ll eventually list lots of the better winter lines in the Cascades. If you think I’ve missed something then add a comment to the page or chime in on the CC.com thread about the list.
The tape starts…
“Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to climb the Improbable Traverse route on the west face of Guye Peak. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds…”
But that’s messed up, it’s the middle of winter. Why would anyone want to try and sketch their way up all that loose rock and then across a slab when it might be covered in snow?
“Well, it’s mission improbable, Dr. Miller – not mission difficult.”
Which is why Chris and I found ourselves gearing up at a turnout below Guye Peak at 7am on Sunday morning.
Bent forward, far back on the seat, and a rigid grip on the handlebars as the bike starts jumping and wavering in the wind… But with the throttle screwed on, there is only the barest margin and no room at all for mistakes… and that’s when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms…The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others – the living – are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and the pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to then it came time to choose between Now and Later.
But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it’s In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, the place of definitions.
Hunter S. Thompson – Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga
There are other means to the same end. Bikes and LSD aren’t the only way to find visit The Place of Definitions.
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.
Some thoughts on success factors when climbing alpine routes in winter…
Know the approach and descent. With short days you may have to get to the base of the route in the dark or descend after sunset. Knowing where you’re going will be a bit help. Check it out beforehand, perhaps on a poor weather weekend.
Rehearse the climb. If you’re trying do a winter ascent of a line that climbs a summer route then climb the route in summer at least once. Getting off route in winter will waste time and saps your momentum. I’ve failed more than once after a slowing of upward movement turned into full blown retreat.
Watch the weather. In the Cascades at least weather is everything. Follow the weather forecast and read trip reports to keep up with conditions even if you can’t get out in the hills to check them out for yourself.
John wrote up his account of our climb on Wenatchee Outdoors along with some more of his pictures. Check it out!
On Friday John Plotz and I finally made it up Dragontail’s Backbone Ridge in winter. I’ve put photos and a full account of the ascent in the gallery. This has taken a ton of attempts, mostly with Al Turner, and “rehearsals” in the summer with numerous partners.
Couple of other things I learnt on this trip…
- Macadamia nuts are the best alpine climbing food ever. Over seven hundred calories of energy per hundred grams. Over twice what you’d get from one and a half Clif bars. And easy to eat on the go.
- Climbing at night isn’t so bad provided you know where you’re going and the weather cooperates. If either of those things aren’t true then things probably aren’t going to work out.
- Keep watching the weather. That’s the only way to get things climbed in the Cascades in winter. I knew this already but seem to keep needing to re-learn it.
You can read John’s excellent account of our climb too!
Still plenty of time for more winter fun and games before the snow stops.
The Susan and I made another trip to Exit 38 yesterday and climbed Here Today Gone Tomorrow. This route isn’t in the Washington State Ice Guide but it’s fairly easy to find if you know where you’re going.
Things are starting to get soggier and the new snow has made slogging to the base of the climbs a bit more of a workout. We were going to check out the ice at Amazonia too but ran out of daylight.
The weirdest weather ever in Puget Sound this past week has actually brought some of the lowland ice ice routes into condition. The Deception crags at Exit 38 on I-90 froze up and gave some of the best ice I’ve ever seen in Washington.
Usually I’m not a big fan of ice cragging in Washington; young, poorly adhered and hard to protect ice that never lives up the promise of good climbing. Better to drive to BC and try your luck in Lillooet. For a few days this winter things are different but I don’t expect it to last. Hopefully I’ll snag one or two more days with The Susan before it thaws.
There are also new pictures from an ascent the NW Couloir on Dragontail Peak a few weeks back. Most of them are of the easy lower section of the couloir. Don’t let that fool you the kicker is the last pitch.
I found a few spare minutes at the end of a busy weekend to get some pictures of the Cosley-Houston route on Colfax Peak on to the Web. On the right you can see my partner for the trip, Bill, on one of the upper pitches.
I also put up some photos of an (almost) one day ascent of the Torment-Forbidden traverse with Jason earlier in the summer. Why "almost" well while we did get off the route we didn’t quite make it down to the car. Be especially suspicious of partners with large packs, within my lurk bivvi gear and along with it a strange enthusiasm to spend the night out.