Homepage / Climbing / The North Cascades / Davis Peak, NE Face Couloir in Winter
First winter ascent with Stuart Taylor. 12th Mar 2005.
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North Face of Davis - the vertical mile.
Wading the Stetattle River - as cold as it looks.
Post slab trauma (un)happyness.
Approaching the route.
NE Face Couloir.
Finishing the traverse just before the crux chockstone pitch.
Topo. Follow the red line.

Thanks to Stuart for the photos. I'd pitched my camera off another route the weekend before so didn't have any of my own.

Davis Peak - No milkshake...

There is a God, and he or she has it in for me big time. The last three weekends have been spent alpine failing, or flailing, depending how you want to look at it. Partners get sick, snow conditions turn to garbage or the weather does inexplicable things. Some take the hint; Alasdair heads for Smith Rock and sport climbing rather than spend another entertaining Saturday night rappelling off a route in high winds, others just don’t return calls or have sick pets and ailing aunts who need their attention.

At this point in the closing weeks of the most frustrating winter on record you can either quit while you’re only somewhat behind, go for a sure thing, or plough on regardless and hope for salvation. Enter… Davis Peak and Stuart. Davis Peak is big and steep and Stuart is too polite to say no to the idea climbing it, winter or otherwise. He only moved to Washington a while back so hasn’t been warned about Davis, or me for that matter.

Friday night finds us sleeping in my truck just outside Diablo next to a “No Camping” sign. The following morning we leave at first light and hike the Stetattle Creek trail. Despite warnings to the contrary this turns out to be pretty nice, easy hiking on a good trail with some nice views up the valley. Stuart and I both enjoyed this part of the approach. Opposite Davis we drop down to the river and scope it for crossings – no such luck.

We ford the river, which thankfully doesn’t reach the critical testicle deep level but it’s a close thing. The bushwhack to the base of the 3/4 class rib described in Beckey is also a little disappointing. This is all a bit too easy. Luckily the rib comes to save the day. Maybe we were off route, maybe I’m a shittier slab climber than even I’m prepared to admit or maybe it’s a sandbag but after some long runouts on what feels like 5th class and a close call with a detached tree and resulting slide to a ledge we get the rope out. Fred wins – again. He does mention a “rugged approach” and a “variety of terrain problems” so I guess we were warned. Maybe the next edition should just say “you might die on this dipshit” and have done with it. The section above the cliff band is slide alder but actually not too bad this time of year with no new foliage.

We find a bivvi at the base of the glacier on a nice flat spot in the snow with running water. Stuart and I have bivvi coffins kicked out and a brew on by late afternoon. We spend the remaining time re-hydrating and watching the sun set on the ridge opposite. We also look at the NE Face Couloir and debate if it’s going to go. The lower 5.6 pitches are snowed up and don’t look that easy and the entrance into the upper couloir has several ominous blank patches on it and some hidden ground. We also can’t see the top of the couloir but the cornices further along the face are enormous. There’s no denying it Davis is one big piece of rock. Still, Stuart doesn’t fancy descending to the river any more than I do. So, one way or another; we’re going down the other side.

The following morning we hike up the glacier to the base of the route. The slabs directly below the couloir are partially iced but not continuously and partially iced slabs don’t sound too clever. So we start a ways right of the bottom of the couloir. The bergschrund is pretty much filled in but we gear up there and Stuart belays while I head up to see if we can climb the approach pitches. Hard neve and just enough ice over the rock in places make the climbing tricky but not impossible. In some places we even find turf nirvana and I educate my Quarks in the way of Scottish climbing. The gear however is hard to find. The rock is compact and the climbing runout – later we’ll be very glad of the knifeblades.

We simul-climb to just below the snowfield, were I find a decent belay in some ice under an overhang. Stuart leads off around the corner and onto the main snowfield. I follow. We traverse leftwards towards the entrance to the couloir. The couloir doesn’t look like a giveaway. On the left is a vertical snice line that looks like garbage and doesn’t actually gain the couloir directly. On the right a couple of rock steps lead to a chockstone guarding the upper slopes but we can’t see the whole line. All a bit concerning really seeing that, given the nature of the rock rap anchors aren’t going to be leaping out at you. “Up” had better happen because “down” doesn’t seem that nice. Clearly Davis isn’t going to give it up that easily.

I belay from a cam, stubby screw and iffy looking horn while Stuart gears up for the next lead. Everything is super exposed. The snowfield has steepened at the left end and I’m looking down it until it disappears over the rock band below to the glacier nearly a thousand feet below. Herb Swedlund, first ascentionist of the Black Ice Couloir on the Grand, made the observation that; “On alpine climbs you can’t just lower off for a milkshake and a blowjob”. No kidding Herb.

Stuart scratches his way across a partially iced up slab. Falling would not be good. So he thoughtfully doesn’t. Next some snow and then finally he’s nearly in the corner below the chockstone. He’s partially out of sight but doing a fine job trying to surmount the final rock bulge to get below the corner. The knifeblades prove their worth and after some cursing and scratching Stuart appears and then disappears into the corner. I follow and soon we’re established below the chockstone on a thankfully good belay.

We’d been worried that the chockstone would have a big drop below it and be impossible to reach. It turns out there’s a fragile tongue of snow reaching up below it. Stuart belays as I try and climb up to the chockstone without collapsing the snow and making things harder. The ice above the stone is spilt by another large rock and the stuff on the right is hollow. Luckily the left is good and the gear gods smile on us; cam below the roof, stubby in the ice just above. It’s steep so don’t hang around. Big stick high, stem, stick higher, foot under roof and stem some more, another stick and we’re up! Hopefully it’s couloir all the way to the ridge.

I finish the pitch and Stuart follows. He continues up the couloir and we climb this sort of rib that forms one side of it with more big exposure. We simul-climb with occasional gear, trying to move as fast as possible given the cornice above and the big scoured out runnel we’re climbing in. Things could still get quite unpleasant if we hang around too long. Move fast, sweat a lot, wish I had more water.

This couloir, like most, goes on a tad longer than I’d actually admit to finding enjoyable. At some point I take over from Stuart and kick steps up the final few hundred feet to make the ridge. The snow on the South side has been turned to mush by the sun. Given the 6000’ vertical feet of "Klenke Country" that is the descent and the hour plus it’s going to take us to get to the summit we rap from pins to the SE ridge.

The descent was supposed to be hideous but getting the upper 1500’ done in the light really saves us. We avoid all the cliff bands and the rapping off trees that comes with it ending up at the top of the timber just after dark. The timber sucks but not as much as I’d expected it to. No cliffs, except the small one I fell off and not much Slide Alder. My Petzl Myo5 certainly saved us on a few occasions. A bit of compass work saves us from ending up back at Stetattle Creek. Four hours sees us to the road. It takes me another half hour to retrieve the truck from Diablo.

Home time!


The timber is thick enough that we could never see the lights from the dam during the descent. The only lights we saw the whole way down were those some a car when we were a few hundred feet above the road. Take a compass and try and be descending before dark.

Klenke - You do that shit for fun?! You’re INSANE!

John - Gracias for the beta.

Summary: First winter ascent of the Northeast Face Couloir (Kloke-Simon, July 1976) on Davis Peak (7,051'). In winter: 5.6, WI 4, mixed. For skipped the summit in favor of a descent in daylight.

Gear: Full set of wires, KBs, LAs, friends from #1-#3.5. A picket might have been nice.

Approach: Not as bad as you might think.