Sunday, October 17, 2010

Washington Pass Anniversary Weekend

No, not the anniversary of Washington Pass, rather the 4th wedding anniversary for me and my lovely wife, which we wisely decided to spend in Washington Pass. Roanne and I have a longstanding tradition of doing something fun over the weekend that falls closest to our wedding anniversary (we were married on Oct. 14, 2006), and we were determined that this year would be no different. Well, I guess the tradition isn't that longstanding; on our first anniversary we spent an extended weekend in Yosemite (which is so awesome), but then on our second anniversary there was a conflict where Fras and I held Utah Adventure Week during this time frame (so I guess I still had a great anniversary weekend with Fras, but I'm not sure how Roanne's went), and then on the third anniversary we were right in the middle of Roanne's breast cancer diagnosis which most definitely did not make for a fun weekend. So, we were determined to get the tradition up and running again by doing something fun and new on our fourth anniversary.

We had originally planned to head into the North Cascades and climb Forbidden Peak (one of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America), but in the weak leading up to it Roanne found that she was "fighting something" which is her expression for thinking that she is getting sick. I would say that she feels like this roughly 50% of the time, and it almost always turns out that she doesn't get sick (I guess she usually puts up a good fight), but in this case she defied expectations and really did get sick so that she was just barely starting to recover by the time the weekend rolled around.

So, in light of this we ruled out any overnight camping (we had been planning Forbiddden Peak as a two day effort) and set our sights on objectives with short approaches that were amenable to hotel accommodations. With these new selection criteria Washington Pass jumped out as the best option, since it is a renowned area that neither of us had been to, the approached are in the 1.5 mile range (which is ridiculously short for alpine climbing), and we could stay about 20 minutes away in the town of Mazama. Perfect!

We had both been pretty busy at work that week so we decided to have a relaxing Friday night and then leave Saturday morning, Roanne mandated that we must sleep in and leave no earlier than 9:00am, but my adventure excitement got the better of me so that I got up at 6:00am and went downstairs to experiment with my espresso machine, which turns out to be quite noisy so that Roanne was also awake by 6:20am. After Roanne's initial fury melted away and I professed my ignorance at how noisy the espresso machine really was and gave a long and heartfelt apology, things got on track and we managed to pull off a 7:45am departure time. Not bad!

We loaded up the car and headed for Washington Pass, stopping in Marblemount along the way to get a NW Forest Pass and call ahead to arrange our evening accommodations in the Mazama Country Inn. The rest of the drive was really nice as neither of us had ever driven through that part of the Cascades, and before too long we arrived at our destination of the Blue Lake Trailhead which gives access to the set of peaks around Liberty Bell. We had selected the South Arete on the South Early Winter Spire as our objective for the day, since it was south facing, pretty casual (rated 5.5 but with just a few moves at that grade right off the deck and the rest being mostly 3rd and 4th class scrambling), and was supposed to be a fun route with great views.

It was stinkin' cold in the parking lot with ice on some of the standing water, so we bundled up and headed out in the hopes that it would be warmer higher up in the sun. Here is Roanne headed up the trail, you can see the frost on the ground indicating the temperatures:

As we climbed higher and left the shaded forest it got warmer and warmer and we shed layer after layer until it was finally time for a Huber brothers impersonation photo:

With that out of the way and after negotiating one more extended icy section we finally had our objective in sight and began ascending the final ridge to the start of our route. Here is the South Early Winter Spire viewed from the South West (with the aptly-named Southwest Couliour visible), the South Arete that we would be climbing is on the right skyline.

We reached the top of the ridge and the base of our route, where we could gaze around at the much more impressive east face of the formation which looks awesome and will be next on the hit list for this area. Here is Roanne suiting up and getting ready for the climb:

We headed up the first pitch (the only one with extended fifth class climbing), deciding to leave our approach shoes on with our climbing shoes in the backpack in case anything surprised us and required them. This did not turn out to be the case, as the route stayed on the casual side, falling into the class of vertical hiking. This being the case, we simulclimbed almost everything after the first pitch, keeping a few pieces of protection between us and only stopping to belay a few short bouldery sections. Midway up the route there was a really nice exposed knife-edge ridge, here is Roanne making her way across that:

We finally reached the top of the South Arete where we could peer over and down the north face of the formation, which was really impressive being quite steep and decidedly alpine looking with a fair bit of snow on it. We'll stick to the south faces, thank you! A short traverse gained the summit block, and after one last short boulder problem we were able to scramble to the top:

Great success! We had the summit all to ourselves since we had only seen one other party who was descended as we were coming up, so we put on our downies and relaxed for a bit while we admired the panoramic view:

We then headed back down the route with a few short rappels, reaching the base without incident and starting the hike out. We had perfect timing so that the sun was hitting the tops of the peaks as we entered the forest, and it was just getting dark as we reached the car at 6:30pm. Here is a group photo looking back at the group of spires (though they don't like like spires from this vantage) with Liberty Bell on the left:

We then made the 20 minute drive east from the pass down into Mazama, where we found our accommodations at the Mazama Country Inn without incident. We checked into our room (which could be best described as "kitschy", from the wood paneling to the plaid curtains to the fly fishing-themed wall paper) and had a surprisingly good dinner at their restaurant before jumping in the hot tub for 30 minutes and then climbing into bed at 8:50pm. We were pretty tired as neither of us had any trouble falling asleep and we both woke up at 7:30am after a much-needed 10 hours of sleep. Refreshing! We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant (we had timed it well as this was their last open weekend of the fall before closing for a few weeks while transitioning to... SKI SEASON!!! get psyched!), and then stepped outside to find that the temperature was reading a few degrees below freezing (yikes! we're going climbing?!?). Undeterred, we climbed in the car and headed back up the pass, all the while praying that our chosen route (The Beckey Route on the Liberty Spire) was warming in the sun.

It was again quite cold as we started hiking, but warmed up as we reached the sunny upper slopes of the approach and then headed up our chosen gully to the start of our climb. Here is Roanne heading up the steep gully, still looking a little bleary-eyed but enjoying the sunshine:

As we ascended higher in the gully I noticed that the southwest face we were supposed to be climbing was looking uncharacteristically steep for a 5.6, and I began to have my doubts that we were in the correct gully. Sure enough, we reached the top and there was no way on earth that there was a 5.6 route on our chosen face, unless someone had hidden an elevator in the rock. Stinker! We realized that we had come up the wrong gully, so we headed back down the nasty, loose slope that we had scrambled up, traversed, and then headed up the correct gully. This set us back about an hour which turned out to be a bummer, as by the time we finally reached our route there were two parties already on it. Fortunately they were both teams of two and seemed to be moving reasonably well, so after hanging out at the base for a bit to give them a head start we racked up and started climbing.

The first pitch was low fifth class but quite entertaining, aside from the lower part being in the shade and being really really cold on our hands. The next pitch was the 5.6 "crux" pitch which was a chimney but didn't present any difficulties and was actually really fun to climb (i.e., you didn't have to use any chimney climbing techniques). Here is Roanne emerging over the top of the chimney section:

The next pitch was a fun 5.5, followed by one last pitch with a few moves of 5.7 slab (but not the scary kind since there were handholds and no exposure) followed by a full rope length of scrambling to gain the summit. Here I am coiling the rope after our successful summit bid:

We sat on the summit and ate our lunch (leftovers from dinner the night before: gnocchi and stuffed pork) while admiring the once-again spectacular view:

We then headed down, and after a short scramble and two rappels we were back at the base retrieving our packs for the hike down. Here is Roanne headed back to the car:

Despite our relaxed start and route-finding blunders we still finished about an hour earlier than the day before, so it was good to get an earlier start on our drive back to Seattle. It was a great weekend of climbing, Washington Pass was amazing and I will definitely be back next summer to try some of the harder routes in the area. Of the two routes we did I definitely enjoyed the route on Liberty Bell the most as the climbing was much more engaging, but both routes were fun and highly recommended.

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