Homepage / Climbing / The North Cascades / Cutthroat Peak, NW Couloir
Ascent with Al Turner. April 26th 2003.
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Cutthroat from the approach. The NW Couloir is the obvious line splitting the middle of the face.
The couloir, main pitch heads up and right.
Al topping out on the crux pitch.

Climbing with the Rat on Cutthroat Peak

So it all started Monday... the rat got back out of the cage and started gnawing again. I heard about a couple of ascents of the East face of Cutthroat Peak the previous weekend. I had similar plans but other things, like life, just got in the way.

By Monday afternoon things were starting to look bleak, poor forecast for both weather and partners started to make me think that the last spring alpine routes were slipping away. The gnawing got worse and the headaches started. Salvation arrived in the form of Wayne, who called and we agreed to leave Wednesday night and give it a go Thursday. To cut a long story short. Drove to WA Pass, slept in the truck, got up at 3am, barely freezing at 5500' and raining below 5000', had breakfast, drove home. All without getting to climb with Wayne, a great pity. I sulked and tried to ignore the scratching and grinding of teeth.

Al came through on Friday afternoon when I managed to convince him that the weather wouldn't "suck" just as Matt P had convinced me. I guess we all had rodents to feed. Friday night found us at the Blue Lake trailhead dossed in the back of my truck for a few hours. Thankfully it was cold and clear, things were looking hopeful.

We were up before 3am and on the go shortly after that. Unlike a few days previously the snow had set up nicely although there was a fair amount of sugar snow under the crust. Mmmm... snowshoeing. People do this for fun? As an alternative to what? Burning each other with cigarettes? It took us quite a while to reach the base of the route, mainly due to ending up too far to the East in the dark and having to traverse into the East bowl. We kept moving as it was too cold to stop without putting on layers.

The forecast cloud failed to materialize so the route was in the sun by sometime after six. The rat reappeared along with the fear that we'd have to bail on the climb. The snow seemed pretty stable and the crux pitch wasn't lying at the base of the couloir and the gnawing stopped. We ditched one pack and as much gear as possible at the base of the route and soloed up the approach pitches at around seven. The sun caused some ice to fall down the route as icicles detached from the warming rock but it was very minor.

The first short ice step was rotten. Al scoped it out and decided soloing it wasn't such a smart idea, good thing as several sections of it fell off when he seconded it later. With the rope and rack I had at it and made short work of the step and carried on up the snow slope above towards the crux corner.

I figured I had enough rope to do the crux section without another belay so headed straight on up. The feeding frenzy had started. The corner is off vertical but the ice was very variable, rotten in places, but with reasonable rock gear to be had. Progress was steady with a few good rests to be had by wedging myself against the opposite face of the corner. Our 60m rope just made it to the top of the difficulties. I hammered in a knifeblade, a couple of wires and my tools and called it good. By now it was getting hot and I was regretting not putting on more sun cream and less layers before things got steep.

Al led the last of the difficulties, a short low angled slab covered with rapidly softening ice, and got a good belay at a small tree. We traded gear and I started up the remaining snow slope placing gear where I could and Al followed as we simul-climbed to the ridge and up it to the summit. It took us about three and a half hours from leaving the snowshoes.

Cutthroat's summit is pretty spectacular, small with incredible views of the Liberty Bell group and way beyond. Memorable moments as I belayed Al up and then kept him on as he scoped out the descent. You could see pretty much the whole of the Cascades, way more mountains than I could name, stretching North and South. We joked about how "in" the NW face of the Bell looked, it's granite slabs covered in snow. The rat dozed, sated, but took quiet note of the conversation, always on the lookout for future dining possibilities.

We ended up digging out a rap anchor in the rocks and getting to the West couloir directly from the summit via a secondary gully. For the most part the descent was straight forward once we'd committed to it. A rappel and then down climb into the West trending couloir followed by more traversing and then some dubious anchors to reach the south facing slopes.

The trip back round to the snowshoes was a hot, sweaty wade up to the saddle about 500' above the bowl we had descended into. Al went up to get the snowshoes while I dragged the gear down to a convenient spot for more gapping at the view. A smorgasbord of possibilities. Even with floatation the descent was a wade, albeit a short one as we took the direct line to the road. By the time we got there we'd both taken falls up to our hips and I'd inspected a streambed rather too closely.

We dumped our gear on the roadside and I headed up the highway to retrieve the truck while Al tried to throw as much climbing paraphernalia around as possible. When I returned we packed everything up just as a guy on a touring motorbike pulled up and parked a few hundred feet away from us. The rider got off his bike, walked across the road and took a picture of Cutthroat with the road and his bike in the foreground. Lucky bastard, he has no rat. For him the road is enough. A days ride and a photo of the slopes we sweated up is enough. Too much is never enough.

Spent the evening at CC.com's Spring Ski-In, cooking, drinking and hanging out. All in all a near perfect weekend. But today I heard some muffled clawing as I awoke.

Approach Notes: A better approach would be to head West on the road for about a mile to the turnout on the N side of the road and head straight up into the basin E of the peak as per Beckey III. Rather than traversing from the trailhead directly as described in Nelson II. Traversing on snowshoes is no fun, maybe on skis Nelson's approach is better.

We rapped off the summit to gain the gully but I think you're supposed to traverse slightly S down the ridge to get into the top of the W gully proper and then follow the descent as per Nelson II.

The descent is possible with a single 60m rope. Bounce test those rap anchors.