A New Route in the North Cascades

I would like the experience at some point this year of launching up a wall into the unknown...

So wrote my friend Rad Roberts in an email this Spring, and we set about planning an adventure. A couple days of cragging and a fun time on the spires of Washington Pass had us eager to head up something new, but as summer wore on, I feared it wouldn't happen.

Rad persisted, and the late-August rain cleared up just in time. We arranged a 5AM meeting in Seattle, from where we would head to the 7,800' Sloan Peak. Rad had been impressed with the steep SW face on a prior trip, and I was eager to explore a new part of the range.

The trail winds through old growth and follows a stream up to the peak, every step and turn revealing more of what the day held for us.

Rad wasted time bouldering in the cirque, while I worked to catch my breath.

In light of events to follow, perhaps we should not have tarried.

After the final push over a saddle separating the SW and West faces, our objective comes into view, and the clouds dissipate.

We scope lines and worry about getting lost is a sea of cracklessness. The rock looks solid, but compact. From the base of the wall it is just over 1,400' of climbing to the summit, and 3 knifeblade pitons are little insurance against a complete lack of protectable features. But we're here and so we'll climb until given an excuse to turn around. The presence of a steep, unclimbed wall is no such excuse.

And as Rad so strongly wanted to launch into the unknown, I let him take the first pitch, which began up a chimney with hand and finger cracks.

From atop the chimney progress slows, but movement is interjected with whoops of joy and grunts of desperation. I prepare to get sandbagged.
I look up in surprise. Rad's not moving into the obvious vegetated corner, instead he's following a line of previously-unseen splitters, rising from above the chimney on a slightly overhung wall. Forty more feet and he's off belay, 15 meters of slack pulled up, and I'm on.
I reacquaint myself with backpack-clad chimneying, lean a right shoulder into the wall and pray that the rubber on my comically blown-out shoes will adhere to the wall for a few more moves. From atop the chimney the climbing in phenomenal, and well-protected. I trundle some blocks and barely hang on between desperate finger lockoffs.
Rad's 'Real 5.10+'

My pitch moves right before more splitters emerge and I'm off.

This section had a few delicate low-5.10 moves above a green alien, but the wall is steep and solid enough to make falling a fairly safe prospect.

I start pitch 3, straight up a finger crack before moving right onto an amazingly featured wall of golden rock and incipient gear.

We dodge left around a huge roof and Rad dances up a right-facing dihedral, belaying along a major ledge system which cuts across the face 400' off the deck.

We survey our situation: time, water, location... and I'm off. With another steep unknown wall looming, it's time for some speed. The rock is featured, clean, and STEEP!

The rock stays solid but becomes even cleaner and more featured. The pitch flows without hesitation or thought. This is why we climb. Reach up for the jam, stem out to the knob, 3 more moves to a stance and gear... At 50 meters I hit a ledge, and a rusted old Lost Arrow! It looks like the someone had come across the long ledge which splits the face and also ended atop this pillar.

Rad's lead starts out with what we'd expected to be 30' of unprotected overhanging face climbing. In actuallity, it was 31 feet.
But instead of no protection, he found a pod to fit a small cam, and was able to tie off one of the protuding knobs. The rock is unlike any I have seen in the Cascades. Huge fins, dikes, and scoops made the 3 steep face sections on this pitch feel like hero climbing... and set up Rad for the sting in the tail, fingers in an overhanging corner. From a strenuous tips-layback, Rad was able to clip a second rust-infused pin. We figured this as an old aid piece, as neither of us could imagine placing and pounding in a piton while hanging off one's 3 left fingertips.
I arrive at the belay to trade gasps of exertion and drops of sweat for the rack, telling Rad that I'm going to try and get us somewhere fast, so he should shout as loud as possible at 30-feet left. Sixty-Two more meters of clean faces and cracks on lower-angle rock brings us to a second major horizontal ledge.

We move left into an amphitheater with no obvious line. The final pitch tackles a 5.10 hand crack through a roof, and leads across a long diagonal traverse on delicate flakes to the top of the wall and our intersection with the Corkscrew route. We unrope and stash the pack. It's 7pm, we've been out of water for too long and have one micro headlamp. But I've never summited Sloan, and if we don't summit, is it a complete route? We eschew the most circuitous parts of the Corkscrew route and solo several hundred more feet of easy climbing directly to the top. I coax my camera battery to fire up one last time for a summit shot.

Forest fire smoke surrounds us, holding a place in the sky for the darkess which is next. We hurry back to our gear, downclimb as much as we feel comfortable, and soon we're rappeling into a dark moat framed by moonlit rock and snow.

The final crux: 2 people, one ice tool, no crampons, and an increasingly firm glacier crossing. Some minor bollard shenanigans and creative nut-tool usage land us at rocks below the snow, where the sound of flowing water has drawn us. We split our last chocolate bar, drink a liter each, and smile. We're no longer racing the dark. And suddenly we're not benighted on a strange descent without the proper equipment. Now we're two friends at the the end of a long day, amazed at the beauty around us and thrilled with the climb. As simple sugar and satisfaction courses through our veins we breath deeply and head off the snow, across the rock, and down into the night.

Mt. Sloan's SW Face "Fire on the Mountain" 1,600' III+ 5.10+
Ground-up, boltless, onsight, and Seattle-to-Seattle in 22.5 hours.
My list of new routes in the Northwest was randomly noticed and linked by the Alpine Club of Canada, and the American Alpine Club's Blog. It's pretty crazy how quickly information travels online.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome Blake, congratulations! I am having a lot of fun keeping up with you on your blog.