Saturday, September 25, 2010

Prusik Peak

My brother Fras and I had set out a number of summer activity goals for ourselves at the start of the year, but as the summer wound down we were left pondering the relatively meager success rate we had in actually doing any of them. As the end of September approached we resolved that we should try and get something big done, and we settled on the north ridge of Mount Stuart, something we both had high on our tick lists. This is commonly done as a two or three day trip; we had originally hoped to do it in a single day but the shorter days at the end of September and the fact that this would be the longest climb of this nature that either of us had ever done (18-20 pitches with a 10 mile approach) led us to alter our plans for a 2 day assault on the peak.

However, as our targeted weekend approached it became clear that we would only have a weather window of one day, so we decided to adjust our plans once again and target a shorter route in the same area on another formation that we still wanted to climb, Prusik Peak. Prusik Peak has a similarly lengthy approach with about 9-10 miles and 5000-6000 feet of elevation gain, but much less climbing with just 5-6 pitches maxing out at 5.7.

Friday night we both got packed up and met up on Highway 2 in the town of Monroe, where we parked my car and continued on in Fras's Matrix after stocking up on food for the weekend at Safeway. We arrived at the Mountaineers trailhead near Leavenworth around midnight, and after a brief gear organizing session we curled up under clear skies on our thermal rests in the parking lot and drifted off to sleep at around 12:30am.

We know that it was going to be a long day, so our alarm went off at 4:30am and we slowly rolled out of bed after a woefully inadequate rest and fired up the camp stove to make some thick brew in my newly acquired backcountry french press (which is awesome!). One would normally feel pretty tired in this situation, but in my experience I have found that excitement does a pretty good job at compensating for sleep and we were both pretty amped up to get going. We went to leave at about 5:15am, and unfortunately when Fras went to switch on his headlamp he found that the batteries had leaked out inside and it was not working. This was, however, a step up from our last camping experience together when he had neglected to bring a headlamp altogether. That being said, a headlamp without batteries isn't much better than no headlamp at all, so we set off with Fras in front and me behind with my headlamp doing my best to illuminate the trail for him as it was still completely dark at this point. Here is Fras making his way up the trail, utterly non-plussed by his lack of illumination.

Another thing you will notice from this picture is that Fras also has no waist belt on his pack; he discovered it was broken on our last expedition on Mount Alpha, and evidently the 1.5 month timeframe between then and now hadn't been quite long enough for him to make his way into MEC and get a new buckle. Fras, if you are reading this: go get a new buckle, ski touring season starts soon!

We continued on our way up the trail, with it becoming quite light out by about 6:30am so that we no longer required the headlamp and could move a bit faster. Eventually we came up to Colchuk Lake, with a nice view of the giant Massif of Dragontail Peak at the end of it:

Our route of ascent would take us up Aasgard Pass, which is the pass to the left of Dragontail Peak (the peak in the middle of the picture) so we made our way around the lake and after a few routefinding snafu's we began making our way up the long talus field ascent to Aasgard Pass. We had nice views looking back out over Colchuk Lake at the rising sun:

Aasgard Pass seemed to go on forever, as each time it looked like we were nearing the top we realized that it was just a point where the angle lessened and we still had a long way to climb. We continued up, still making good time as we began to encounter small snowfields that reminded us we were starting to get pretty high.

We finally popped out over the top of Aasgard Pass, suddenly feeling like we were in the alpine with a glacier visible on the backside of Dragontail Peak in the background of the photo below:

Up until this point we had been following the trail, but we could now see Prusik Peak off in the distance and the trail didn't seem (to me at least) to be the most expedient way to get there, so I convinced Fras that we should set off cross country over some slabs and take a direct route to the peak. I am notorious for these "direct routes" and they never seem to work out very well, so if you are ever on a trip with me and I convince you that we should leave the trail and make a beeline for our objective, just ignore me and stay on the trail, hopefully I will follow suit. Here is Fras leading out on the direct approach, with Prusik Peak the prominant peak in the distance:

Our direct route across grassy fields soon turned to 4th class slab traversing followed by a snow field traverse in our running shoes, so we reluctanctantly abandoned our idea of a direct approach and headed back to the trail (which we had been paralleling anyways) and therafter made much better progress. Prusik Peak is in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness which is a really beautiful area with (as the name suggests) lots of lakes in an alpine setting. Here I am heading down to the shores of yet another lake with Prusik Peak and some yellowing Larch trees in the background:

As we continued along we encountered several really nice alpine meadows with small streams winding through them, the setting almost looked like it was out of a fair tale. Here I am stopped for a break in one such setting:

And here is Fras stopped in another, with a really nice view out over some more lakes.

What an awesome day! This is a worthwhile place to go even if you are not climbing any of the peaks in the area, it is one of the nicest outdoor settings that I have seen in Washington. We continued on our way, ascending Prusik Pass and then traversing a ridgeline to the base of our route, the West Ridge. Here is Fras racking up at the base of the climb:

We racked up our gear and headed up, with me taking the first pitch which was low 5th class and took us up on to the ridge. Fras led the next pitch which was more of the same, and then I led the 3rd pitch which had few moves of 5.7 slab climbing (a little tenous-feeling with the only protection being a piton down and to the right) and then popped up ontot he ridge crest and then traversed a bit. Here is Fras emerging on the ridge crest:

The next pitch was a traverse of mostly 3rd class terrain, which deposited us at the base of the final headwall. Fras led the next pitch up a 5.6 corner with some pretty fun climbing:

And then I took the final pitch which ascended a 5.4 chimney to gain the summit block. Fras seemed to be having some problems on the 5.4 final pitch which initially made me wonder about his chimney climbing technique, but I then realized that he was wearing the backpack which can sometimes be a hindrance when trying to stuff yourself in a chimney. Nevertheless he eventually made it up, here is a shot just after he emerged onto the summit:

There were some great views from the summit, and despite it being a bit windy we lingered for a while taking some photos and eating some snacks. Here I am celebrating our successful ascent:

And here is a panaramic view that I took from the summit:

As we started getting cold we decided it was time to head down, so we found the rap anchors and headed down the north face. Our guidebook had recommended having double ropes, but it turned out to be fine with the single rope that we had brough and we made it down after about 4 rappels. Here I am heading down:

After depositing ourselves back on terra firma we scrambled around the north side of the peak to where we had left our packs at the start of the west ridge, and after packing up we began the long walk out. We ended up taking a different route down from Prusik Peak that took us through some nice forests, here is Fras headed down:

We also had some good views looking back at Prusik, it is a really impressive peak when viewed from this aspect:

This is a peak that looks a lot harder than it as (at least by the route that we took), but a good climb nonetheless! We stopped for a break at one of the lakes where we ate the rest of our real food leaving us only with energy bars (gross!) for the rest of the walk out. We met some interesting characters on the walk out, most notably a group of east Indian hikers who greeted us with "Camping or Traversing?" spoken in a thick indian accent. We didn't think we were doing either and tried to explain that to them, but apparently people commonly do a hiking traverse of the area so our activity at that moment fit best with Traversing though we both felt we had left off traversing after finishing the 4th pitch of Prusik Peak. As we continued the shadows began to lengthen and we upped our tempo in an effort to try and finish in the daylight without having to resort to more team headlamp tactics:

We did stop to take in the incredible views a few more times though, here is a shot looking back across some lakes and snowfields at Prusik Peak:

We eventually made our way back to Aasgard Pass and began the long and torturous descent to the waters of Colchuk Lake below. As we progressed we were treated to some spectacular scenery with some of the yellow Larch trees being selectively illuminated by the setting sun:

We didn't meet our goal of getting out in the light as it was pitch black by 7:30pm as we were descending from Colchuk Lake, but we didn't have to hike in the dark for too long as we made it back to the parking lot by 8:15pm, for a grand total of 15 hours on the go. What a great day! Feeling pretty tired, we headed into Leavenworth for a mediocre burger served by a sullen waitress at Gustav's before heading back up Icicle canyon to the free camping area where we hoped to meet up with Jesse to connect for some bouldering the next day.

Jesse never materialized but we still had a good day bouldering the next day, checking out an area called The Beach that I had never climbed at before. After a few good hours of bouldering we called it a day and headed back along Highway 2 to Monroe. So, we had a great time on Prusik Peak, but it looks like Mount Stuart will have to wait another year.


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  2. missed the yearly pillgrimage...your report is second best!
    good job cam. we (berger and johnny) did that one as the "traverse" over the top of prusik and out through temple canyon and icicle creek last year...same time as you. what a great day in WA. the goal (plant seed, would be to do an entire traverse of the temple ridge, which starts with prusik. Check out the ridge in beckey's guide.