|ig Four Mountain, dry creek Route, Ski Descent|
With corn snow the Dry Creek Route wouldn’t be a bad ski. But the route would probably never be fully covered in spring. I think this route is only skiable during a good winter, and no matter how you look at it, Big Four is a risky place to be. During our ski descent, the highest traverse along the ridge was the most difficult part of the route, very hard snow with an inch of crust on top. I’ve never had so many butterflies on a 20-degree slope. Below us was the 4000-foot north face, something I no longer have aspirations to ski. There were a few very steep steps along the ridge, but none were long. There wasn’t room to turn on top of the ridge, with exposed terrain to either side. Two more traverses and some ridgeline skiing brought us to the top of the headwall. The snow on the headwall was steep and hard, but the edges gripped well. Once down the headwall we hit fantastic powder in the upper couloir. The hardest part was over. Now for the reward. At the constriction we traversed to the lower couloir and skied down to the flats. Our legs were shot and the snow in the lower couloir was a nightmare to ski. Fortunately it was not very steep. After a break we traversed past the Ice Caves again and back to the trailhead. We skated back to our car fourteen hours after leaving it.
Abiel Peak, North Face, “Blind Date,” New Route
We hiked up the highest snow finger right of the summit, left the snowshoes and my pack, and headed up to the fun stuff. Mark set up the belay under an overhanging rock, climber’s right of the ice. From the belay, the route looked steep and challenging, mostly ice with good protection.
Mark offered me the first lead (WI3) which ended at a rock belay on the right side. After grabbing the rack, Mark traversed onto the main flow, approx 80°, and ran the rope out to a tree belay, just below the ridge. This second pitch was great, two steep pillars connected by 60° névé. We unroped on the ridge, wallowed up to the summit amid snow flurries, and took in the seldom-seen (for me) view of the peaks south of Snoqualmie Pass.
We descended the route via two double-rope rappels, and hiked out the summer trail, without need for headlamps. Although guarded by a slightly longer approach than other Snoqualmie Pass climbs, this line is fun. As noted in Washington Ice, several awesome, unclimbed lines lie across the breadth of the north face. Many burly mixed climbs await their first suitors, so go check it out!
Grade II+, AI3
Guye Peak, West Face, Ski Descent
On March 12, 2006, Jeff Hansel and I skied the West Face of Guye Peak after climbing the route. While climbing Guye in a previous winter, I noticed that a series of improbable steep ramps dissect the face. The ramps looked much smaller from Alpental Road than they really turned out to be. Jeff and I accessed a right-trending ramp that began approximately 75 yards left of the start of the Improbable Traverse route. The ramp angled southward across the middle of the West Face and was directly above the large roof hovering over the Improbable Traverse route. When the ramp ended in vertical terrain in the middle of the West Face, a narrow ice step with rocks led up to an improbable-looking left-leading narrow ramp. At the end of the second ramp, we crossed a rib and made a leftward traverse, which led to a steep hidden gully that eventually gained the summit. The ski descent off the summit and into the upper gully proved excellent skiing. The upper ramp featured turns at the edge of the steep walls of the west face. The crux of the ski descent was the narrow ice step with rocks near the ramp transition at the center of the face which had to be skied with care as a several hundred foot freefall lurked directly below. The greater than normal snowpack this year and good snow conditions allowed us passage.
On March 12, 2006, Ross Peritore and I climbed and skied the NW Face of Mount Formidable, a project that Ross suggested when we first met over two years ago. We left the car at mile 16 on the Cascade River Road and skinned the remaining mile to the Middle Fork around 8:00 p.m. on March 11. We struggled with deadfall in the woods during the night, but were relieved to find the Cleve Creek drainage open and pleasant. Partway up the drainage we had a snack and slept until we were too cold.
By moonlight we considered how to get from the valley onto the face. The gully on the right looked like a one-way ticket to nowhere. The slopes we’d hoped to use on its left were snow-dusted rock slabs. Cliff bands barred the way on the left, but a chink in their armor appeared to their right. Using crampons, we climbed thin snow and ice over rock then made a spicy traverse on loose snow over rock above a cliff band. We climbed over a scary wind lip and continued upward. About an hour before dawn we climbed up a bowl below an ice bulge. Concerned about releasing a slab if we crossed the bowl too high, we retreated around a rib to some trees. From there we were able to skin.
We reached the base of the upper face by 8:30 a.m. The snow here had ripples, evidence of wind-scouring. We were encouraged. Booting up the face varied from boot-top powder to knee deep swimming. The top was tricky with sugar snow over steeper rocks. We climbed along the North Ridge with stimulating exposure. We left skis about 15 vertical feet below the summit to scramble to the top.
The descent was the best non-stop, fall-line powder run I’ve had—5,600 feet to the Middle Fork with a couple pauses to rest the legs. We made a jump into powder over the bulge at the edge of the cliff band we’d climbed so early in the morning. The Middle Fork bushwack went quickly.
On March 19, 2006, Ade Miller and I climbed a new route on Abiel Peak (5,365 feet) south of Snoqualmie Pass in great weather. We approached via the Annette Lake summer trail on skis, arriving at the base in about four hours. The North Face Direct can be readily identified as the waterfall with large hanging daggers on its right. It is situated just east of the North Face Couloir (Kloke-Wiedner 1997). We swung leads up six new pitches that included over 200 feet of steep ice. The third pitch was the crux with 85°+ water ice that provided great sticks and reasonable protection. Easier snow slopes (to 60°) with bomber tree belays took us to the summit ridge and expansive views. Descent was made by double-rope rappels from trees. Skiing out on the west side of Humpback Creek was tedious on a breakable ice crust but was much faster than descending the summer trail. This face houses at least four more quality winter lines and is definitely worth the effort to approach.
Grade III, WI4, 1,000 feet
Mount Baring, NE Couloir, Ski Descent
On March 19, 2006, Ben Haskell and I skied the northeast-facing couloir that descends from the notch between the South and SE summits of Mount Baring. We drove to within a half-mile of the trailhead and took the 2.2 mile trail into Barclay Lake. The view of Baring from just before the lake reminded me of the Dolomites in Italy. We climbed the slope just east of the couloir for about 1,200 vertical feet, then worked rightward into the couloir proper. Lots of debris was falling from the east face of the North Summit, but we found ourselves in shadows all day and out of harm’s way. After a lunch break a little below 5,000 feet, we proceeded to see what we would find, as the couloir splits back to the west, and was hidden by a headwall of sorts. With fatigue coming on, I left my skis at our lunch stop, but Ben hauled his up to the 5,480+-foot notch at the top of the slot.
The couloir we climbed divides the South and SE summits and is overshadowed by these two towers all the way up. The “V-gap” (5,520+ feet) on the standard NW Ridge route of Baring is between the North and South summits, to the climber’s right of the saddle we reached. The slope below this gap is where snow was sloughing during our climb. A ski descent from the V-gap would be possible, but it would require coming down that steep and scoured slope.
As I plunge-stepped back to my gear, Ben let out several jazzed exclamations as he skied the couloir in two feet of very soft and cold snow. I collected my gear, and we continued skiing to Barclay Lake basin. The snow became sun-affected about 1,000 feet above the lake, but we found nice soft pockets to entertain ourselves. Gazing back up at Baring while re-skinning, we decided that the line ought be named the “Jazz Couloir” for the jazzy music it sent our way!
On March 21, 2006, Paul Belitz and I skied the Formidable Glacier. This glacier lies on the northeast side of Mount Formidable and caught my eye as a ski line during an early-February trip to Spider Mountain with Ben Kaufman and Sky Sjue. On the 20th, Paul and I hiked up the Middle Fork Cascade River through some of the worst blow-downs imaginable. We were eventually able to skin, and by mid-afternoon we reached the basin below the Middle Cascade Glacier. We camped around 5,400 feet at a relatively flat spot on the east side of the glacier.
The next morning we followed a ramp toward the right side of Formidable Glacier to avoid debris fall from the lower ice cliffs. As the route steepened, deep snow and variably packed powder made for slow going. About 2-1/2 hours from camp, we climbed above the final bergschrund. The last 100 feet to the col steepened to around 45 degrees, so we climbed it on foot. Beginning our ski descent, we found wind-buffed powder with a slight crust. Lower, we encountered some amazing powder. We were fortunate to have the sun out most of the day, since we were met by steady rain as we approached the car that evening. The steep rolls on the upper glacier, coupled with the serac and icefall sections on the lower half of the route, made for a memorable 3,000-foot ski descent.
Abiel Peak, North Face, “It’s All-Der”, New Route
Grade III, AI4
Other Climbs of interest
On March 13, 2006, Martin Volken and Dave Perkins skied the East Face of McClellan Butte, a 2,900-foot, fall-line descent reaching 45 degrees at the top. Volken skied from the summit and Perkins started about 300 feet lower. In a discussion on the Turns-All-Year.com website, Steve Barnett reported that the line was skied long ago, but specifics are unknown and it is uncertain whether the route had been skied from the true summit. Anyone with information about earlier descents is encouraged to contact the NWMJ editors.
On February 19, 2006, Darin Berdinka and Justin Thibault climbed the East Face Couloir of Three Fingers, encountering steep snow to 60 degrees. This is believed to be the first winter ascent of the couloir, but the party did not continue to any of the summits of the peak. Ice fall from the East Face presented considerable objective danger. The party’s approach tracks were wiped out by an ice avalanche while they were high on the route.
On February 11, 2006, Hannah Carrigan made the first reported solo winter ascent of the Nisqually Icecliff on Mount Rainier, according to MRNP Supervisory Climbing Ranger Mike Gauthier. The lower part of the route required some technical climbing using two ice tools. Slots, crevasses, and steep sections viewed from below grew substantially when up close. Carrigan descended the Gibraltar Ledges back to Camp Muir.
On July 17, 2005, Drew Brayshaw and Shaun Neufeld climbed the East Pillar and Gendarme of Labour Day Peak, a variation of the Spagnut/Lang route. Labour Day Peak is the southeastern-most summit of the Slesse Massif. From the base of the NE Face, the party scrambled to the col between the East Pillar and the Gendarme. They scrambled up the Gendarme to its summit block, which required exposed 5.7 bouldering, then returned to the col. Neufeld led from the col up the East Pillar in five pitches to 5.10d. The party descended by scrambling down the South Face of the peak.
On September 16, 2001, Gary Hehn and Dave Stephens climbed a route on the West Face of Huckleberry Mountain. A summary of their route follows: The wide chimney on the left side of the lower face is best avoided. Start left of this chimney and work up and left to the ridge. Climb on the right side of the ridge to the large ledge that horizontally bisects the West Face. From the south end of this ledge ascend a ramp to a bench at the south edge of the upper face. Left of the bench two right-facing open books (5.6) lead 70 feet to just below the summit area. Johnny Jeans reported that he soloed the West Face in about 1988.
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