NE Buttress time...
Since I returned home from Patagonia, life has resumed as usual. Of course "usual"means climbing all the time, watching the weather constantly. and jumping at the windows of opportunity. Last week high pressure pushed away the clouds and inspired Dan Hilden and I to have a look at a few lines we had in mind on Colchuck Peak.
Getting started on the NEB
Our first priortiy was the NE Buttress of Colchuck Peak, a climb that has been on mind for a few years now. A firm approach under stars brought us to the base of the route with the first light. Our chosen start is a cold place with no sun. The snow was marginal and the ice thin, but we made progress, aiming for the ramp that cuts the face. Although we were making headway it was not fast enough to race the coming of the icy night. Unprepared for this, we turned tail and bailed quickly and safely. Although I was dissapointed in my tactical decision regarding no bivy gear, it had been a fun experiance on a cool winter project.
Good ice on the starting pitches of Colchuck Peak's NE Face
That night we left the gear under plan two, a winter ascent of the NE face of Colchuck Peak. I have never heard of anyone doing the NE face in any season, although a summer route from the 70's winds up moderate and blocky climbing directly to the main summit. The last few winters I had noticed appealing ice smears leading to classic mixed climbing on the broad face. I don't know if our route followed the summer route exactly, but it was quality and fun.
Spindrift and ice on the NE Face
The first 400 feet were stellar alpine ice. It felt so good to be climbing easily and fluidly, especially after the tedious nature of the previous day's leads on the NE Buttress. After the ice we crossed a snow field up onto a rocky ridge. Traversing mixed climbing brought us to a steeper gash of frozen moss, powdery snow, and solid orange granite. Out of the gash a thin ice step led us onto a ridge falling from the summit.
Fun mixed climbing
A burning sunset lit the North Casades and Stuart dominated the shadowed valleys. I stared in awe as I belayed Dan up. "Where are we?" he asked, swinnging to the belay. I too had hoped the summit was closer, but reality was a wide crack and more traversing mixed climbing in a dark, cold world. Our headlamps bounced around the face as we connected features to the summit.
All the way down the glacier back to camp I felt the buzz of our adventure and savored it. The experiance had been perfect, a balanced outing of challenge and enjoyment. I would highly recommend the NE Face of Colchuck Peak as another awesome winter route to consider in the Stuart Range.