12 miles of hiking • 5000' elevation gain • 1 night
Another climb in the bag outside of my comfort zone. I was the only noob on a small and experienced Mazama climb team led by Larry Buzan with Jeffery Welter assisting.
Having never been to the North Cascades, I applied for the climb because I thought it would be a non technical scramble. Not so!
The initial 2 miles was relatively easy, a good trail with relatively gentle gain. Then we hit, what I call, the boulder field of doom! It seemed to go on forever, and made us lose a ton of the elevation we had just gained. Merciless, never ending sharp jagged rocks with marmots and pika poking out between. Cairns were placed throughout, but without much direction or direct route. After hours of ascending past beautiful but mosquito infested lakes, we finally reached our destination for the night, a mostly thawed Wing Lake. It was a cold night, and I quickly set up camp, ate, and turned in with a bottle full of hot water to keep me warm. In the end it was 4 miles, with 2100 gain. That doesn't really describe how hard the terrain was with a full backpack.
I barely slept a wink in anticipation for the 4 am wake up. At 5 am we we off.
I opted not to bring heavy climbing boots, and used my Scarpa approach/backpacking boots instead as we didn't expect much snow. This proved slightly problematic when we had to go up one steep snowfield. I had tried my crampons on, but never used them in the field. When it started to get steep I felt myself sliding. Jeffery noticed and tied me in to him, till Larry got on the ridge and threw down the rope and belayed me the rest of the way up the steep section. Very grateful, and learned a lesson that I need to invest in some lightweight mountaineering boots. He ended up belaying everyone up over the ridge anyway, as it ended with good size rock blocks to climb over to get to the top. I was thankful for it as I had never been on a slope that steep without protection before.
Once on the ridge, I got my first view of what was to come. Peak beyond peak. It was overwhelming.
The rest of the route was relatively easy scrambling, with a few airy spots thrown in. We came across many different routes, and tried to find the best way up. Eventually we reached the saddle between the NE route and the summit block, and Larry went up and prepared for us. Jeffery had us all try an invention of his that attached to a prusik, pushing it along so we could be hands free. I'm sure there is a much more technical way to explain it, but I'm not a rock climber. Neat to try something new, and I enjoyed having both hands free. I was second in line to go up, and I nervously made my way up the rock. A few deep breaths, and I made it up what is likely easy for those used to climbing. It was exciting and I was completely awed by the view at the top. I spotted three climbers coming up the NE ridge and watched in awe as they simul climbed and reached the saddle below.
Then came the downclimb. I had never downclimbed anything in my life. I told Larry to hold keep the rope tight, and down I went. Let's just say, it isn't easy for a short lady like me, but I did it! I'm pretty proud of myself for getting over my fear. And yet another learning point in this climb.
After that, down we went, opting for the scree field rather than the snow field for the descent. It was it's own sort of steep mess with a mix of falling rock. Eventually, we reached camp, ate a quick lunch, packed up and began our descent out.
It was grueling after a day of climbing to go back up the boulder field. We had visions of hamburgers and french fries at the top of the pass, but sadly when we were out and reached Marblemount, all restaurants were closed.
We retreated to camp with gas station food and beer, and enjoyed a couple beers while I got advice about climbing from wise Larry and Sue before finally winding down to sleep for the night.