Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dreams of Cashmere

Another day emerges from the darkness

Yesterday, Cole Allen and I ran up into an area of the Stuart Range that was fresh and new for the both of us. We set out from the Eight Mile Lake Trailhead in the pre-dawn blackness aiming to find a hidden wall of local lore.

A beautiful perspective on my home range

The approach was incredible and kept Cole and I in constant awe. The same old peaks dominated our view, but their appearance from a new angle ingnited our delight.

The road to Cashmere

After a detour to Windy Pass and an incredible ridge run while looking for the hidden wall, we found ourselves in a moonscape of boulders right below Cashmere Mountain's West Ridge. I noticed that all of the stone around us was of the highest quality.

Cole between Windy Pass and Cashmere Mountain

On our approach we had noticed that Cashmere's south face was defined by three prominent ridges that divided the rambling swath of granite. The central line, which flowed right to the summit was suprisingly inspiring and was of greater length than the other two options.

Giving up on finding the hidden wall, we dropped under the south face, picked a crack on the central buttress and climbed for over 1,000 feet to Cashmere's boulder stacked summit. The climbing blew me away. Perfect protection, the soundest of rock, and a pure line had me writhing in alpine bliss.

Cole midway up the buttress

A view ahead mid-ridge promised perfect rock and perfect climbing

Mr. Allen at a belay mid-ridge

Although the "South Central Buttress" of Cashmere is not documented in any books, I feel it has most likely been completed before, although I am not sure. What I do know is that this should be an objective for Stuart Range climbers looking for the perfect precurser to the Serpentine Arete, Backbone Ridge (both on Dragontail), or the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart. Besides the 5.8 start, the route never exceeds 5.7, but never drops below 5.5. For the more advanced climber it might offer an incredible solo objective.

Two perspectives on the "South-Central Buttress" of Cashmere. In the top picture, it is the ridge falling to the lowest point. In the bottom shot, the route can be seen directly in the center of the shot.

Fall is the perfect time for this route. The south side of any Stuart Range peak bakes in the summer, but offers perfect crisp sunshine in September and October. If you are looking for a different experiance in the Stuart Range check this route out. Pure joy I say!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Adventure Journal: Pickets Day 7

Soft pink light washes through the McMillan Cirque thousands of feet below our high camp under Luna Peak. My hands hurt more than ever today. I exercise each digit until the pain fades into background noise. We stuff sleeping bags, gag on a bar, and start moving. A rolling ridge deposits us at a flat bench below Luna. Above rises our last summit. Below lies our escape path out to the Big Beaver Valley.

Luna Peak

"Let's do it boys," Sol says. He readjusts his glasses, clicks on a helmet and takes off. Dan and I quickly follow him up the talus laden slope and soon we are all at the summit scramble. The top of Luna is a wild perch reached via an easy, but neat set of edges. We spend extra time on top savoring our high mountain lifestyle. We know that within hours our alpine heaven will fade into the darkness of Access Creek. It's hard to imagine life without the glory of the high country. We've left a bit of ourselves up here. Coming down won't be easy.

Dan on Luna

Back at our packs we squeeze out a gu into empty stomachs. Boulder filled basins and steep heather slopes eventually end in the woods. Bushwhacking down is always easier than the opposite so we make good time. Sol leads the way, bashing through anything that stands in his path.

My foot falls onto soft, almost manicured ground. The trail! I feel the intensity of the last few days relax. From here, one foot in front of the other will take us to friends and food. Slogging on the flat trail gives us plenty of time to reflect, but my mind stays blank. I stay in the moment, watching the forest around me, appreciating it's dark beauty.

Dan emerges from Access Creek

We spend the next half day tighting our belts and finishing the trail to the car. By the time we get there the hunger is at a pinnicle of intensity. A bag of chips dies in seconds and soon we are racing for gigantic burgers in Marblemount. All that matters is food. And then beer. And then sleep. The adventure is over.

Lost a few pounds out there!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Adventure Journal: Pickets Day 6

Ping! Ping! Ping!

Getting ready to rap out of the Himmelhorn/Ottohorn col

I drive home a pin, sling a block, slam a nut into a constriction, and equalize the trifecta of protection. Instead of upward or horizontal movement this morning, I ready myself to start rappeling down the broken coulior and glacier that spills off of the northern side of the Himmelhorn/Ottohorn col. Our plan is to make our way to the south face of the Frenzilspitz, climb it's shimmering wall and then head north.

Dealing with moats on the descent out of the Himmelhorn/Ottohorn col

"Sure glad we didn't down climb this," I think. Standing at the edge of a huge overhanging moat, I kick at the snowy border again and again. I don't want it to collapse on me when I jump in! When I'm finally confident it's safe, I hurl myself over the edge and swing into a pit. I have to unholster the ice axe to climb out the other side. Soon, I am working on another rock anchor to the side of the snow as Sol and Dan slip down the ropes.

Heading for the Frenzilspits

Another rap takes us to lower angle ground. I work across the glacier towards the Frenzilspitz, but when I get close I realize I most likely won't be able to reach the rock. Scary chasms seperate me from granite and the glacier's flimsy edges won't hold my weight.

After a few hours of trying to make it work, I kiss the Frenzilspitz goodbye. I really want its airy summit, but it's not worth dying for.

After deciding to leave this peak behind, we scramble onto a broad ridge that will take us across Picket Pass, over Outrigger Peak, and to a bivy near Luna Peak. Even though we've chosen to forgoe the entire traverse, we are excited to finish our trip as a loop and Outrigger and Luna form a line that inspires us, even if it is only a back up plan.

Sol heads north. Mongo Ridge (bad ass Wayne Wallace!!) rises in the background

Outrigger Peak, which appears to be a major choss pile, suprises us with beautiful orange stone. We have a blast twisting up the ridge, finding secret passages, and climbing a beautiful golden staircase in the steepest section.

Next, we strap on our crampons again and cruise across Mt. Fury's SE glacier. The going is easy and we take in the powerful beauty around us. We follow bear prints off the glacier and onto a bench which we follow into a talus field. A slog to the top of the rocks brings us to a spectacular bivy with running water.

Outrigger Peak on the left, Fury on the right.

I am dissapointed we have failed in our original objective, but I am also thankful and happy to be out in these wild lands at all. All night we stare at the Southern Pickets. They stand in the darkness, like deserted castles from another time. "I may never complete such an incredible traverse again," I muse. The line of jagged peaks is truly unique and terribly beautiful. I scan the moon lit horizon again and then close my eyes. Sleep finds me and takes me away.

Heading for Luna

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Adventure Journal: Pickets Day 5

Dan and I kick it at the Himmelhorn/Ottohorn Col

"Ouch!" Just the slightest bump and my hands burn in pain. The last days of rope handeling and rough rock have taken their toll. Blood pools under my nails and my digits are swollen. None the less, the sun rises again and we have mountains to climb.

We decide to summit The Ottohorn without taking any equipment from our camp. While the first ascent party of the traverse we are currently on rolled over The Ottohorn and on to the Frenzilspits, we have a slightly different plan as we are heading out another path.

The Ottohorn is only 3rd class and we enjoy the easy scrambling. Only 30 feet from the summit ridge our easy route explodes into a fresh rock fall zone. We each push ourselves to try and find a way through the sketchy fresh blocks.

Myself trying to deal with the rock fall zone near the Ottohorn's summit

"I just can't justify this," I say. "We need the damn rope!"

What to do? The discussion continues...

We've failed on the Southern Picket's easiest summit and thrown away valuable time. Discouraged, we arrive back in camp kicking dirt and feeling stupid for not having our gear with us. I start feeling our original intentions for a full south to north summit ridge traverse evaporating in a variety of compounding issues.

We know we didn't-couldn't bring enough enough food for the whole traverse and if we spend the day here, we further deplete the precious stash. We knew we might need a rest somewhere along the lines. Could this be that day?

"Let's eat lunch and rest for a couple of hours," Dan says. "Then, we can take the rope up and bag the Ottohorn. Tomorrow we will descend the glacier and climb the Frinzelspits via it's south face. That way, today is mostly a rest day."

Leaving the col for try #2 on the Ottohorn

After some lounging, we pick up the rope and a few pieces and retrace our steps up the Ottohorn. Instead of tackling the fresh rock scar, we find amazing pitches of 5.7 around the corner. Juggy climbing rambles to the summit that had discouraged us earlier in the day.


Back in camp shortly after, we lounge in the sun and search for rejuvination. Our discussion focuses on the realities of finishing our original project. Our biggest issue is food, but short days, on sight maneuvering, and broken glaciers are also slowing our pace. I know if we go all the way, I will have a "power bar a day" rations by the time it's all done. Can we do it?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Adventure Journal: Pickets Day 4

Quiet dawn lights the sky above our heads. Last night's bivy, in a sharp notch between the east and west summits of The Rake, provided a protected recovery zone. Our obsessive hydrating and good nights sleep has done the trick. I'm ready for another fun day.

Morning ritual at the rad bivy between the east and west summits of The Rake

Sol leads out of the bivy, climbing strongly and quickly. After an hour or so, Dan and I finally join him at a comfy terrace of boulders. I click the pro onto my waist and start up the final rope length of the East Twin Needle. The climbing is exhilarating and I shake my head in awe when the features become clear. Again, unlikely, but solid and fun climbing leads to a pin top summit. Dan and Sol follow with joy. I pull the rope through the belay device and turn my back against the wind.

An incredible arete led to the summit of East Twin Needle

Myself on the crux lead of our trip, pushing for the summit of the Himmelhorn

I'm cold, so it feels good to move off of the East Twin, bag the west summit, and descend to our next objective. Ahead is the golden blade of the Himmelhorn. I'm also scared, as I can already tell my leads on the spire will be full on. I set an exposed belay and bring Sol and Dan over to a stance of loose stone. Within a few minutes I'm tight roping across a sharp horizontal arete that soon cranks its angle to vertical. I fire some gear in and set off into my own world. At nearly 200 feet out, I finally come to a solid belay that takes my last cam and a trucker nut.

Sol arrives at the summit of East Twin Needle

"That was crazy, climbing that pitch with Dan, you at some crazy belay way up there! Wild!" Sol says pulling onto my stance.

Looking back at the ridge we had been climbing for a few days from the top of East Twin Needle

The rest of the Himmelhorn passes with fewer hairs raised. Down climbing and rappelling, we efficiently make it to a fat col before the sun goes down. We hit the final bit of hot chocolate and slurp down freeze drieds. Lumpy rocks poke my back and my bivy slopes, but I fall into dreams before I've even zipped up my bag.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Adventure Journal: Pickets, Day 3

A light wind flutters over the col as the stove kicks to life in the tent. "Is it four?"
I ask. A simple "yep" comes from Dan. In the darkness we pack our bags for another day in paradise. We hope to climb Pyramid Peak, Degenhardt, Terror, and the Rake, the latter an especially long and challenging route.

Dan climbing beautiful stone on Pyramid Peak

Dan strings up Pyramid finely, making smart route finding choices and using good beta from our friend Wayne. Without stress, Sol and I follow through golden cracks, overlaps, and chicken heads. The climbing unfolds in an unlikely and beautiful manner.

Dan rides the ridge on Day three

"I'll take the rope"
"I've got the rack on me"
"You want to shoulder the slings?"

Myself on the summit of Terror

We break down our system and scramble over Degenhardt. Only ridge top boulder hopping seperates us from Terror. Arriving at the base of the East Face (of Terror) we chose a route through the loose swath. Sol decisevely weaves through the choss up a yellow brick road of incuts and blocks. "No terror on Terror today." The lame summit jokes barely escape our lips before we are scratching down the descent.

"How can we not find a way down!"I say with frustration. "Slings over here!" Sol yells from a gully away. Time is lost as we screw around on what should have been an easy descent. "Should not have made that 'No terror on Terror' joke" I think to myself.

Climbing into the sunset on The Rake

We are finally at The Rake. I know it's late in the day, but I have been saving my energy for this final push. Dan hands me some water as Sol clips cams to my harness. I take off up a wild pitch that ends in a 50 foot runout straight left into a gully. The 5.9 moves make me giddy, but I know the homies at the belay face a dangerous follow. Luckily, we devise a cool rope trick and they free climb safely through the dangerous section.

Dan on The Rake

Without a break I run the rope out 160 feet and place a cam right before Dan begins to simul behind me. Criss-crossing over a beautiful arete I focus on stretching our simul blocks as far as possible. Despite the darkness the climbing is solid and fun. I follow a nice flow through towers and over ledges. The terrain is not complex. Follow the ridge under a rising moon.

Sol on The Rake

"We're there!" I shout. Two headlamps bump towards my stance. Dan hands me a knife and I cut some tat, slinging a pointy horn. One single rope rap nestles us in our wildest bivy yet. Stars burn through the sliver of sky we can see as we chop a snow ledge for the tent. What a cool place!

Dan and Sol on The Rake

Day four on the way...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Adventure Journal: Pickets 2011

The amazing Southern Picket Ridge Traverse!

My throat burns with acidic vomit as I spit again and again into a moon lit Diablo Lake. Fifteen mountains, a giant cheeseburger, and one too many french fries brought me to this shoreline. I sit on an egg shaped rock and stare up at the forested hills that gaurd the alpine realm. "I should have eased into it," I think, remembering the last days meager calorie intake. Wiping my mouth, I let my mind retrace the ridges, walls, and glaciers of the past week. Even as worked as I am, a smile breaks my face. It was so beautiful out there!

Mt. Triumph from the approach out of Goodell Creek

Day 1
The forest and sky unite in blackness as we meader up Goodell Creek. Before long the steep trees peter out and we zig zag through misty heather slopes and hop between tilted granite boulders. When the Southern Pickets come into view we monkey call and slip down a snow slope, excitement in our heel plunges. A quick water break allows us to scan the razorback ridge that dominates our view. Iconic peaks line themselves up in the swirling clouds as we prepare to kick up the glacier towards our first day's objectives, the three McMillan Spires.

Approaching our first objectives!

Finally, the gear is off our backs. I twist into my harness, tie in, and take off running. My pack is heavy with many pounds of food and fuel, but the freshness of day one allows me to push us up over the towers before the sun sets. Red rays burn the skyline and the bivy is magical. We take in our surroundings and settle into our new world. And what a world it is!

Dan and Sol climb the McMillan Spires

Night 1 bivy

Day 2

"I got messed up here last year, " Sol says as he jams over a steep block on the towers seperating our first bivy with Inspiration Peak. Dan crampons down a snow patch and ties in twenty feet from my end. When the rope comes tight all three of us traverse with care through a more reasonable path than Sol had followed previously. The climbing in this section demands concentration, but deposits us under the laser cut splitters of Inspiration's East Ridge. Taking the lead, I lieback and face climb to a bench of loose talus. The pack is heavy, but my heart is light. What amazing climbing!

Awesome climbing on Inspiration Peak's East Ridge

Another varied crack leads to a perched belay and I snap photos of Dan and Sol as they hoot and hollar up steep 5.9 jams. Rambly climbing leads over Inspiration's two summits. Although we are climbing well, our late morning start has pushed us against a setting sun. A bit of discouragement follows us down the raps and into the col between Inspiration and Pyramid Peak. At the bivy we relax and remind each other that the first few days with packs full of food will be slow. Tomorrow we plan an early assault, aiming for a notch in the sky many mountains to our north.

Stay tuned for Day 3!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Back From The Pickets!

Sol Wertkin and I getting ready on day 6. We had spent most of the previous days traversing the amazing ridge in the background.
Sol trying to get service on our last climb, Luna Peak. We had climbed the ridge in the background as well as a peak in between these two points. We spent the next day and a half leaving the high country and walking out Access Creek to Big Beaver Trail, to Ross Lake, and finally to Highway 20.

Sol Wertkin, Dan Hilden, and myself have just returned home after an incredible journey through the North Cascades. On September 2nd we set off to tackle an especially ambitious goal: the full Picket's Range Traverse. Although Sol and Dan had been in the area before, none of us had a real idea of what to expect. We gave the effort our all, but came up short in the end due to a variety of factors. Still, we climbed 15 beautiful peaks in 7.5 days and had the adventure of a lifetime.

Over the next few days I will put together a detailed post regarding our trip. Between the three of us, we have great photos and video that we hope will share our story in an inspiring manner. Stay tuned!