Mountains of Emotion

Desolation, Despair, Terror & Torment.
Not emotions inspired by watching the Fox News network, but names of mountains in the Cascades.

One of the fascinating things about mountains are their names. Amazing peaks like Rainier, Fitzroy, or Waddington get named for stuffy British officers or the wealthy backers of exploratory sailing trips. The Devil's Thumb evokes the feeling of the first people to contemplate an ascent, although given the peak's forboding tone, perhaps it was merely the day's decorum which prevented the name from referencing a certain more lateral digit. Meanwhile, New Zealand's Mount Aspiring couldn't be named more perfectly, drawing climbers to it like, well, like climbers to a beautiful mountain.

Apart from the volcanoes, the Cascade Range has some of the most evocative and telling mountain names anywhere. After coming back from a 4-day trip to the Picket (think fence) Sub-Range, I couldn't help but to feel some of the emotion shared by past generations of climbers and explorers. We climbed on Mt. Terror, and we climbed on Inspiration Peak. I've been on Bonanza, but yet to summit Triumph. I've had fun on Forbidden and Storm King, but been scared off Formidable, Fury, Challenger, Phantom, and Ghost.

And after a fairly epic descent down 4000' of slide alder in the Terror Creek drainage, I think even watercourses can sometimes be fully deserving of such a moniker. Naming somewhere like that after a stuffy British officer just wouldn't feel the same.

On Thursday October 1, in Bellingham WA, I'll be giving a movie and slideshow about my trips to Alaska and Patagonia. Free gear will be given out and witty heckling is encouraged!


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.


Becoming Enchanted?

At the end of August I headed back to the Enchantments with friends Sol, Jens, Max Hasson, and Ben Gilkison. Ben climbs ridiculously well, and was a strong contender to do the First Free Ascent of The Tempest, a IV 5.10 C2 route established the prior summer by Sol Wertkin and I on the peak Colchuck Balanced Rock.

This route has a 25' roof crack which had thus far thwarted efforts to be freed. Upon arriving at the cirque, we were surprised to see a pair of climbers on the route, working the roof with pre-placed gear and using a couple of strange belay spots, featuring newly retro-bolted cracks to facilitate working this pitch.

Ben and I headed up to the start of the route that afternoon, and hollered up to the climbers at the 1st belay to ask if we could climb the route. Evidentally they'd been working this pitch all day. Max and Jens had just done the second ascent of a nearby route called The Scoop (III+ 5.11c) and they were planning to rappel down and shoot some photos.

The projecting climbers insisted we could pass them and climb on, but when we arrived atop the first pitch, we were met with a surprise. Rather than wishing us well or just keeping to themselves, they implored Ben to fall or hang intentionally on the route, such that he would not freely climb the pitch. I couldn't believe that they wouldn't want someone to give any less than their best effort. We weren't stealing their sport project at the crag, we were on a mountain climb (of which I'd been 1/2 the FA team) and they'd already made numerous trips to the route, adding 4 bolts next to cracks on a climb established ground-up without any bolting.

One of the two climbers wanted to keep trying it and be first to cleanly climb the pitch, as he had put so many hours into practicing thsi section. Ben eventually relented to their wishes, and hung on purpose early on the pitch.

We were still able to meet Jens and Max above this point on the route, and Jens lead part of the headwall in the evening light, but our goal of the First Free Ascent was not to be, and Ben headed down to the car and back across the mountains the next morning. In subsequent days the climber was able to pinkpoint this pitch, climbing the section of rock cleanly by using pre-placed gear in the crack for protection. I hope he'll be satisfied with his prodigious efforts.

Ben enjoys the long 5.9 corner.

Jens and Max, relaxing in the glow.

The headwall!

That night Sol arrived at Colchuck Balanced Rock, and we got up early to try and and link-up all three existing climbs on this peak. It would have been 3 different grade III+/IV routes, featuring one pitch of aid, and almost 20 pitches of 5.10 and 5.11 climbing, plus a some easier scrambling and 3 laps up the V1 boulder problem on the summit.
The day began with The Tempest, and I lead the whole route (III+ 5.11- C1 for us) and back to the base in 5.5 hours.

From there, Sol took point for "The Scoop". The first two pitches went quickly, with cruiser climbing separated by short 5.10 section. Soon we were on to the route's namesake pitch. Sol hung a few times on his onsight-attempt at the enduro-overhung layback corner, and I was barely able to follow cleanly, an amazing pitch! The final two pitches mixed strenuous laybacking and very delicate, thought-provoking movement on knobs and smearing corners. These pitches are classic and require a cool head on lead. From there it was back up several hundred feet of 5.6 climbing, where I led the V1 boulder problem to the peak's summit once more.

After another descent, neither one of us could rally the excitement to climb the peak's West Face again, so the trifecta ended at two routes. We joined friends for the alpine potluck in progress at the peak's base.

Amazing and delicate stemming on pith 4, and where the crack becomes a seam, there are just enough knobs.


The next morning Sol and I headed down to Colchuck Lake, where I met Jeff Haley, from my old job, and Sol met his wife and some high-schoolers whom she had taken for a hike. After some swimming, Jeff and I trudged the 2000' up to Asgard Pass and across the beautiful Enchantments Plateau. The first night we climbed a couple pitches on a granite wall and I taught Jeff about placing gear and building anchors.

The following morning we headed up the West Ridge of Prusik Peak, which is a classic 5.7 on perfect granite, following the left skyline.

I got us lost to start off the day, which sets the tone pretty well for any time someone climbs with me. Jeff was a good sport about my "approach pitch" and was having so much fun, he volunteered to take his first lead!

Here are the overhanging finger cracks atop the route "Prayer for a Friend".

I finished up the climb in classic Blake style as well, getting lost and following a wonderful 5.9 corner to a shiny new mystery bolt and squeeze-chimney topout.

Jeff and I had a blast, and I think Jeff is hooked.

Celebrate Summer

This summer has been a whirlwind of adventure. I'm incredibly blessed with such great friends and an unbeatable place to live! Rather than detail all of the last 5 weeks, here are some pictures.

The Enchantments with Peter Hirst... We climbed Acid Baby on Enchantment Peak (III 5.10+) before an onslaught of thunderstorms sent us packing. Next it was Dragons of Eden to the NE Buttress topout on Dragontail Peak (III+ 5.11 C1), before the onslaught of mosquitoes sent us packing.

Dragons of Eden to the NE Buttress

Great stone on pitch #2

Peter on the 5.10d softman variation we established, 30' right of the 5.12 crux.

Pete on the route's headwall, 190' of overhanging granite.

My friends Sol and Jens had just made the FFA of Dragons of Eden, and Pete and I were the third party on the route, not mentioning some mystery aid climbers who left a few fixed (now completely rusted) pieces on the last 2 pitches. These pitches can also be accessed from other routes though.

Then it was on to Squamish, BC with Colin Haley. We arrived mid-heat-wave and sweated and smeared off routes for 3 days. Nightmare Wall, Petrifying Wall, and Cruel Shoes on the Grand Wall area, but the smartest thing we did was spend afternoons swimming at Brohm Lake.

Colin starts the chimney on Cruel Shoes.

We retreat from friction climbing for more reasonable pursuits:

The following week I picked up my better half (Allison) at the airport, and we hung out with wonderful friends in Bellingham.

Brandi and Kristen... On a Boat!

Our Bellingham stay was bookended by two short trips to Washington's granite mecca of Index, where we climbed Godzilla-City Park-Sloe Children, Heaven's Gate, and several other classics.

The endless finger locks of Sloe Children

Allison styling the final moves on Godzilla

From there it was on to Stehekin, a tiny village at the mountainous end of Lake Chelan where I went to 8th grade, and worked for 6 summers. Allison and I put our gear on the ferry boat in Chelan, and drove to a trailhead in the Sawtooth Wilderness area, where we left the car and hiked 18 miles to Stehekin via 7,000' Purple Pass. Huckleberries were the snack of choice for our trip. We had an amazing time staying with friends Bob and Tammy in Stehekin (what is summer without Stehekin volleyball?)

Bob and Tammy have a house on the Stehekin River... it's the BaseCamp.

The item hanging to the right of the door is an "ice screw" which is a section of galvanized steel pipe, cut off, sharpened, and used by Bob as protection on the first and only ascent of a frozen Rainbow Falls.

Here is Bob and Tammy's son (Eli) fishing in lower Rainbow Falls. I used to bike over to go fishing here on recess, about 1/2 mile from school.

Allison learns to row on a boat crafted by Bob

Sahale, Boston, Booker, Buckner, and Mt. McGregor in the distance

Allison and I caught some sun and a light snow flurry during our 2-day backpacking trip away from Stehekin.

The ubiquitous marmot and the less ubiquitous 4-point buck.

From there I was able to meet up with old friends Brandon Workman and Rad Roberts to climb the MEGA-CLASSIC "Passenger" route, on South Early Winter Spire. Though listed as grade V 5.12, we found the climb a stellar grade III+, 5.11c/d and all enjoyed the route immensely.