North Face Couloir
On April 29, 2004 Sky Sjue and I climbed the North Face of Mt. Buckner and skied the North Face Couloir in a single 18-hour push. We left the car around midnight and approached via Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm on skis.
The skin to Cascade Pass and up the Arm was super easy and contouring around into Boston Basin was also quite easy. We reached the 8,500 foot notch leading to the Boston glacier about 6am. An easy ski down the Boston glacier found us at the base of the North face not too much later. We climbed the North Face instead of the North Face Couloir because of bergschrund difficulties. Reaching the summit sometime around 10am, we realized that we would have to wait a while for things to soften up.
After napping until 12:30 we started to work our way down the North face couloir. The top of the couloir (which is actually just the first 500 vertical feet of the North Face), is quite steep. The couloir gets quite narrow (40 feet) for a hundred feet or so before slowly opening up. At the constriction fairly good snow started – chunky powder. Beneath the bergschrund (which can easily be shot across on skis) we found picture perfect powder for the last few hundred feet down to the flat part of the Boston Glacier. The skin back up to the 8,500 foot notch went quickly and soon we were skiing down the Quien Sabe and the Sahale Arm, which was fast and fun with perfect corn.
Summit Chief Mountain, North Face
On April 10 and 11, 2004, Chris Robertson, Juan Esteban Lira, John Petroske and I climbed the possible first ascent of the NNE Face on Whitehorse.
The north side of Whitehorse contains two prominent faces drained by independent streams. Using the nomenclature contained on the USGS 7.5-minute quad, the western face drains into Snow Gulch (and eventually into Ashton Creek) while the eastern face, containing Sill and Wellman Basins, drains directly into Ashton Creek.
The photo in Cascade Alpine Guide (on page 111 1st edition, page 117 2nd edition, page 130 3rd edition) is intended to indicate the Snow Gulch/Whitehorse Glacier route. However, the actual line on the photo goes through Wellman Basin and up the N.N.E. face. The text for the Whitehorse Glacier route directs the climber to the end of the Mine Road and up Snow Gulch. Wellman Basin is in fact more than a mile east of the end of the Mine Road and Snow Gulch. So, all of the ascents of the Snow Gulch/Whitehorse Glacier route did not start at Wellman Basin and none of the ascents were anywhere near the line shown in Fred Beckey’s photos! Fred Beckey changed the photo in the 3rd edition but showed the route line in the same wrong place. A nice sketch was added on page 124 of the Whitehorse-Three Fingers area, but unfortunately it exacerbates the error by indicating no route up Snowgulch and showing the Mine Road ending just before Wellman Basin. (Coincidentally, the route shown on this sketch is very close to the route actually taken by our party.) A small sketch on page 155 in the 1960 Climber’s Guide to the Cascade and Olympic Mountains is correct.
We approached from the Darrington Highway, starting at 2:30PM on bikes, at the crossing of Squire Creek (at Squire Creek Park) where a DNR logging road leads towards Wellman Basin. This road is gated 100 feet from the highway. In fact, this approach is vaguely described in Beckey under “East Ridge”. Overgrown spurs end on the east side of Ashton Creek at approximately 900 feet. After bashing a short distance we reached Ashton Creek to find it dry at this elevation. The creek bed made for easy travel through the brush. Soon the creek appeared but we could still rock-hop our way up. At approximately 1,000 feet we encountered an avalanche filled basin. The mountain side of this basin is cut by a deep cleft containing a large waterfall. Each side of the cleft is shielded by nearly symmetrical vine maple choked slopes. We chose the right side which took 1-1/2 hours to gain 600 feet. By the time we reached the second basin, which consisted of difficult-looking steep gullies and cedared faces, it was 6:30. We chose the center route starting in a mostly dry gully. The gully quickly steepened and we climbed vertical cedars to the right of the gully to gain easier ground, and continued up the now shallow gully This brought us to a mid-face snowfield and our first bivouac, at approx. 2,800 feet, at 8PM.
The second day began at 5:45AM, when we tackled the next cedared headwall, which led to reasonably solid snow through the scrub trees. After five hundred vertical feet we were able to break left and pick-up the continuous snow line, now too steep for snow shoes. By hugging the left wall we had stayed in the shade the entire ascent, with views of the Whitehorse Glacier and High Pass routes. We joined these routes, and the sun, one hundred feet below the summit, which we reached at 10:30AM. We descended the normal route back to the Lone Pass trailhead.
Dragontail Peak, NE Couloir Ski Descent
On April 3rd, 2004, I climbed and skied the NE Couloir on Dragontail Peak. I approached across Colchuck Lake, and up to the bottom of the NE Couloir. The steep couloir twists and turns up the face between huge granite walls. The upper section of the couloir was very steep and narrow, and made for precarious balancing as I took off my crampons and put on the skis. The ski descent was a mixed bag of nice, somewhat firm snow, loose unconsolidated stuff and pretty solid ice. The steep winding nature of the couloir added some spice.
Mt. Maude, NE Couloir Ski Descent
On March 23, 2004, Jason Cassarino and I climbed and skied the NE Couloir on Mt. Maude. From our camp in Entiat Meadows, we followed our skin track from the previous day up towards the North Face of Mt. Maude. We continued under the North and Northeast Faces until we were at the bottom of the NE couloir. We climbed the steep couloir, snow to 55 degrees, to a notch on the ridge not far from the summit. We climbed one short but very steep icy step to gain the final southeast slope to the summit. We skied from the summit, and kind of slipped down the short ice step to get to the top of the couloir. The skiing in the couloir was steep and sustained, 50-55 degrees the entire way. But great snow conditions made it a very enjoyable descent. The line down the couloir and through the lower gullies into Entiat Meadows was really spectacular due to the directness, one straight shot of nearly 3,000 vertical feet.
On March 13th, 2004, Ade Miller and I climbed Dragontail Peak (8,840 feet) by the popular summer line The Serpentine Ridge. The route starts with a single pitch ice smear (AI 3) to a snowfield traverse and two mixed pitches to the ledge below the 5.8 twin cracks, approximately following the summer line. From this point we climbed the rock of the summer route. Several pitches of 5.7 and 5.8 climbing with some aid moves (A0) led to a moderately angled iced up crack, which proved to be the crux of the route. The climbing above this point eased, and several areas of unpleasant loose rock in the summer were covered by snow making the upper section of the route very enjoyable. The final short rock pitch to the summit was easily skirted to the left via a short snow gully (4th class in summer). We summited just before dark after twelve and a half hours on the route and descended back to our bivy site via Asgaard Pass.
Icicle Ridge Area, Ski Descents
In late February, 2004, Armond DuBuque, Craig Hatton and Scott Wicklund skied the “Crescent Couloir” on the S face of “Jay Peak” above Icicle Canyon. Jay Peak is an informal name for Peak 7548 feet, about 1-1/2 miles east of Lake Ida. The Crescent Couloir starts near the summit and descends in a distinctive arc down a rock-walled chute ranging from 40 to 50+ degrees for 2,700 vertical feet. The complete descent to the valley bottom is nearly 5,000 vertical feet in height. The party used a snowmobile for part of the approach, following an old logging road west of Jay Creek. On April 26, 2004, Rob Castillo, Armond DuBuque and Jim Jack skied the NE face of Big Jim mountain, about two miles north of the earlier Jay Peak descent.
Mt. Buckner, North Face, First Winter Ascent
On February 20, 2004 Sky Sjue, Corey Bloom and I climbed and skied the North face on Mt. Buckner. From a camp near 8,000 feet on the Quien Sabe Glacier we climbed a steep snow gully to a notch at 8,600 feet immediately south of Boston Peak. We skied down the Boston Glacier until we were below the North face of Buckner. We skinned up the face to the bergschrund where we put on crampons. Climbing the face was straightforward steep snow, and no protection was needed. We skied off the summit directly down the North face in perfect punchy powder snow.
(Ed. This was the first winter ascent of this route but not the first ski descent.)
The Chopping Block, First Winter Ascent
On February 15th, 2004, I climbed the Chopping Block after hiking in via Goodell Creek and The Barrier. The entire Goodell Creek valley (and I would imagine most N Cascade valleys) has plenty of evidence of November 2003’s torrential rains. The Goodell creek bed is about 4 times wider in places, and the landslide that came down the opposite side of the valley is enormous. The Southeast route was moderate – mostly steep snow with a couple tricky mixed sections.
Winter 2004 Mazama
Ice formed early and well this year. The Goat’s Beard came within feet of fully forming and was the best anyone had seen. Alas it still has not had a second ascent. The route’s south aspect makes for a tricky and dangerous proposition.
Steve House was active in climbing several hard routes in the area. He climbed a new WI 6 pitch in the lower Goat Wall Creek drainage as well as a couple of other difficult mixed and ice leads in both the Goat Wall Creek and Gate Creek drainages.
Steve House and Scott Johnston established the first bolted mixed sport route in the Mazama area. It is on the left wall at the bottom of the Czech gully. No grading has been given.
After the major rains of last October, the North Cascades highway was closed at Varden creek making access to either skiing or climbing more difficult. The rain also caused substantial ice formations where no real climbs had come in before. Scott Johnston and Steve House took advantage of these conditions, the low avalanche hazard and the clear weather to get in some early season ice routes. The first and second Cutthroat slide paths, located between mile post 165 and166 on Hwy 20, offered good 3 pitch climbs of up to WI 4.
- Scott Johnston
On November 8th, 2003, Jay Brazier and I climbed a new line on the western flank between the Upper Curtis Glacier and the Sulphide Glacier. The route is the obvious ice flow right of The Hourglass that forms in late season about 200 meters left of Hells Highway. I spotted this line the previous year in October while crossing the Upper Curtis Glacier and I knew that I had to return to climb it.
Unfortunately circumstances did not allow me to return that season so I was forced to wait until the following year. The route was increasingly on my mind as the days became shorter so in early November when Jay mentioned that he wanted to climb something alpine I jumped at the opportunity. I knew I could convince him to come check out this line with me. A two-week cold snap with no precipitation made conditions ideal. We approached the route via the Sulphide Glacier. All the way I was silently hoping that the route had formed as a continuous ice line, but when we rounded the corner from Hell’s Highway I saw that the ice had not touched down. Undeterred, we scanned the rock for a way up because the upper ice pitches were fat and blue! We gained access to the ice by climbing a series of corners and ramps to the left for a full 60 meters. The second pitch traversed right onto the ice and then followed the ice up. The remaining three pitches followed the ice to the top to reach the Sulphide Glacier. The climbing was enjoyable with some added excitement from climbing the last pitches by headlamp and topping out to a beautiful moon and clear night sky. All in all, a fantastic climb with good company and great views!
We did the climb in around 19 hours car-to-car and spent about 6 or 7 hours on the route.
III 5.7R/X WI3+ 280m
Exfoliation Dome, VooDoo Wall
IV 5.10 A2
On September 13, 2003, Jordan Peters and Mike Layton climbed an unnamed tower on the buttress southeast of Ares Tower. From the base of Clean Break, the tower appears as the last point on the left. The route climbs the East Ridge for many pitches, traverses to the south face of the summit tower and continues to the summit. The crux was a 5.10dX off-width on which the rock was “total garbage”. In general, however, the rock is very good. Other pitches included a 5.8 open book with a fun roof, and the summit pitch that required “walking the plank”.
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