Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mt. Slesse - NE Buttress

On Saturday, July 28, Chad Kellogg and I made an ascent of the NE Buttress of Mt. Slesse.  Since I'm moving to Salt Lake City on Saturday to begin a new career as a nurse, I was seeking a climb that would satisfy my adventurous alpine side for awhile.  Mt. Slesse offered exactly the type of North Cascades adventure I was in search of and then some.

We drove to the trailhead on Friday night.  I found this map to help us find the trailhead as its a little confusing in the dark.  The Nesakwatch Creek road is pretty rugged and a high clearance vehicle is mandatory to get to the trailhead.

We began hiking at 3:45 am.  The approach was straightforward despite being very wet due to the low lying clouds.  We were soaked once we got out of the trees.

We crossed these slabs below all the debris to reach the notch that leads to the pocket glacier.

I thought down climbing to get onto the glacier was a bit sketchy since the rock was really wet and loose.  Once on the pocket glacier, I realized that the sketchiness had only begun. . . . I have to admit, I was fairly scared while walking across the pocket glacier, despite having spent lots of time on glaciers.  If it wasn't for my faith in Chad's navigation, persistence and judgement, I would have turned around.  Instead I just tried to remember to breath and walk really fast! I wouldn't really recommend this unless you are super comfortable navigating very broken glaciers.

We saw this really cool arch on the glacier.

View of the glacier from the initial ledge on the route.

Very happy after getting to the other side of the pocket glacier!

Once off the glacier, life got a lot better!  We simul-climbed the first several pitches of low 5th class.  We pitched out a couple steeper ones.  It was hard to determine where we were on route since we were still in the clouds.  Around noon, we managed to get ourselves off route for awhile.  I wondered up, down, right, and left in attempt to get us back on route.  After that approach didn't work we decided to rap to get ourselves back on route.  Of course when we pulled the rope, it got stuck!  An hour and a half later, we were back on route and I led up an awesome and steep 50 m pitch.  To avoid this error, I would recommend staying more to the climbers right around pitch 12 and not heading to faded slings around a small horn.

Chad leading up terrain down low on the buttress.

Me starting up one of the first steeper pitches.

From this point on, the climbing only got better.  Once the clouds opened up, we were rewarded with the most amazing views ever.  The North Cascades are such a special place. The terrain is so rugged and beautiful and its just a 4 hour drive from Seattle.  Looking out at all the valleys, I felt so happy and so fortunate to be in this beautiful spot.  It is moments like this that I am reminded about why I love to climb.


Up high on the buttress

We simul-climbed a bit more and pitched out the steeper looking sections.   The climbing was interesting and fun and the rock quality was pretty good. The buttress went on forever and I remembered that 2500 feet of climbing can take awhile.  I was beginning to feel a bit tired but tried not to show my fatigue.  Finally at around 6 pm, I lead the final bit to the summit!  It was a bit anti-climatic since I new the descent was going to be epic and we only had a few hours of daylight left.

Chad coiling the rope on the summit

Summit shot

After taking a few photos, we quickly transitioned into rappel-mode, e.g. the worst part about climbing.  It turns out a 60 m rope does not get you to the correct stations so we had to add a few anchors and make a couple extra short rappels.  

At one of the rappel stations

We were planning on doing the crossover descent, so we pulled out our 3 page description of the descent once we finished the rappels.  It was a bit epic to say the least.  We made it through 'critical routefinding 1' in the daylight.  While down climbing the gully, Chad pulled off a couple large blocks.  For a second, I thought he was going with them.  That was not a highlight of the climb.  We might have been in the wrong gully.  After that, Chad basically started running to find 'critical routefinding 2' before darkness.  I tried to keep up but needless to say, I couldn't breath.  It soon got dark and we hadn't completed 'critical routefinding 2.'  We scrambled up and down a little summit in search of a rappel with black slings.  At this point, I thought I was going to have my first ever unplanned bivy.  But I learned that Chad is really persistent and eventually he found the rappel.  Supposedly after 'critical routefinding 2' the descent gets easier but with all the snow the description wasn't entirely accurate and of course it was hard to see.  We spent quite a bit of time wandering around on a snow slope searching for an easy way to get  down into the forest.  At one point, I yelled out (probably not very politely), "Where are you going?"  Chad's response was, "I don't know."  Again, I thought we were going to have to bivy.  I was wrong and eventually we found a way into the trees.  Once in the trees, the description says walk left and look for flagging.  To me, this seemed incredible random and highly unlikely that we would actually find this flagging with such a vague description.  Again, I thought we were going to have to bivy,  I was actually starting to look forward to it.  So once again, Chad proved me wrong and he found the flagging after weaving back in forth through the forest.  And I'm so happy he found it, because it took us down a really nice trail.  Also there is no longer an intense bushwack at the end of the descent.  It is now a very nice trail!

The descent basically traverses this ridgeline for a bit and goes down the snow slopes eventually

All said, the descent took about 10 hours and we got back to the truck around 4 am.  I was worked and immediately passed out.  Chad and I had both really wanted to climb this peak and we were both super psyched to have had such a fun adventure.  It is experiences like these that keep me sane as I navigate through all of life's highs and lows.  These types of adventures remind me that it is worth it to work hard in life so that I can pursue my passions in my free time.  I can't wait for more.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Climbing in the Pacific Northwest

View from the top of South Early Winter Spire, WA Pass

Summer in the PNW conveniently arrived when I finally finished nursing school, passed the boards and secured an awesome job!  I definitely couldn’t complain about that!  At the same time, my injured ring finger started to show some signs of healing and I began to slowly re-establish my climbing fitness.   I have spent most of the month of July enjoying the variety of climbing that Washington and British Columbia offer.

First up was a trip to Sqaumish with Jonathon.  My goal was to get back in shape mentally and physically.  On our first day we explored the amazing crack climbs on the lower malamute.  Highlights included climbing Caboose, named because its literally right next to the railroad tracks.  In the afternoon we moved to the base of the Grand Wall and I finally got a chance to climb the classic 5.10 finger crack, Exasperator in 1 long 50 meter pitch! It was pretty great.  Over the next couple days we did another day of cragging at Murrin Park and ascent of the Squamish Buttress.   I convinced Jonathon to climb the Squamish Buttress with me since I had never climbed it, even though he had climbed it many, many times. We did “The Snake” to connect into the Buttress.  The 5.10 pitch on the buttress is pretty classic!

Leading the 5.10 crux pitch on the Squamish Buttress

Summit of The Chief

Jonathon and I also got a chance to climb one of our favorite routes on the Upper Town Wall at Index called Heaven’s Gate (5.11b).  It consists of four great pitches.  Pitch 1 is the first pitch of the Lamplighter and is the most burly 5.10 I have ever climbed!   This pitch is typically linked into the short 5.8 traversing pitch to set the belay up below the 5.11a crux.  The rack can be left here as the rest of the climb is bolted.  Pitch 2 starts out with a powerful and reachy move and then continues up for about 100 feet on amazing edges and crimps.  Pitch 3 is a short 5.10 pitch with a bit of an awkward move about 2/3 of the way through the pitch.  The final pitch is the crux and it climbs through two big roofs.  It is pretty amazing! We still need to go back and get the redpoint on this climb!  The climb can be rappelled with one 70 m rope.

Pitch 1 of Heavens Gate

Jonathon starting up pitch 2 of Heaven's Gate

Pitch 2

Pitch 2

Pitch 3

Jonathon entering the first roof on pitch 4 of Heaven's Gate

I also spent a couple days in Mazama in hopes of climbing at Washington Pass.  Unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal and thunderstorms were forecasted limiting any big objectives.  I still managed to experience some of Mazama’s ‘unique’ sport climbing at both Prospect and Euro crag.  On my drive home, with no sight of thunderheads building I decided to solo the South Arete of South Early Morning Spire.  I’m not too psyched on soloing but this was totally within my comfort zone with only a few low 5th class moves and terrain that was generally not too exposed.  My favorite part was the exposed but short 5.2 ridge that gained the summit.  Having not been to WA Pass in several years, I had forgotten about the excellent quality of the rock and beautiful terrain.  I managed to down climb the route and didn’t end up using the rope I had had in my backpack.

Summers in the PNW are some of the best for alpine rock climbing and overall fun.  There is an endless amount of terrain to explore and so many more climbs that I can’t wait to do.

Michelle leading the first pitch of Lovin'Arms on the upper town wall at Index

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gear Review: Petzl Freino

As I was struggling to lower my 200 pound climbing partner off of a steep overhanging route in Thailand, he yelled out to me, "Why aren't you using one of those special Petzl carabiners?"  At that point in time, I had no idea what he was talking about, but anything to increase friction when descending seemed like a great idea to me!

Used in belay mode

A couple months later, I ordered a petzl freino and have been using it regularly as my belay carabiner.  Since it's a bit heavier (85 g), it is mainly for cragging.  It is designed to use with single ropes to increase friction when lowering or rappelling.  It works especially great with a gri gri or any other belay device.  The 'mini' carabiner on the side of the device is easy to use and greatly increases the friction for descents. It works great for lowering heavier partners and also while rappelling.  I wouldn't recommend using the additional friction 'mini biner' while lowering partners that are the same weight or lighter, as their descent can be a little bumpy when that amount of friction is used.  In these circumstances, the carabiner can be used as your standard locking carabiner.  I used it the other day when I rappelled on a single strand with my gri gri and it added a significant amount of friction that ultimately helped me feel safer while rappelling.

The carabiner is a bit awkward to put on a belay loop or gear loop when a gri gri is also on it.  It seems like the gate doesn't open wide enough when a gri gri is also on the carabiner.  Additionally, the auto-locking system may contribute to this awkwardness.  The carabiner also needs to hang on just one axis, otherwise it hangs in a less than streamlined way.  This results in a little bit of extra fiddling when getting the carabiner situated on a belay or gear loop.

Bottom line:  This is a great piece of equipment to increase friction and ultimately safety.  I wish I had one in Thailand!

Used in rappel mode