North Face 04-2007
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Climbing is dangerous! Every year many climbers are broken, maimed, and killed. Don't be so foolish as to trust your life to what you see here. I'm not a guide and neither is this web site. If you don't know what you are doing or where you are going, please take a course or hire a guide!

Chair Peak, North Face

April 12, 2007

In desperate need of a mental health vacation day from work I started scheming a week in advance to get Thursday off. Despite the usual last minute before vacation rush of phone calls and emails, I got ahead of it and everything that needed to be done was.

Too tired to back the night before, I set the alarm for 5:00 AM, deciding I could manage an AM pack job. I was pretty much ready to go by the time Hannah arrived, and we depart my house at 6:30 AM.

It's 7:35 when we leave the upper Alpental lot under unexpected blue skies. One group on showshoes is ahead of us, but I'm not worried as I'm happy with either the Northeast Buttress or the North Face route- I'm happy just to be not working for the day.

We skin along to Source Lake. When I arrive, in full, glorious sunshine, I look at my watch. It's 8:00. Under 30 minutes to the lake is good time for me. There isn't an obvious skin track so we pick our way along and up the slope, eventually picking up and older, snowed-over track.

I'm beginning to feel nervous about the warm sun shining on the descent route for the climb. While the sun is nice, there is a good bit of fresh, unconsolidated snow and I don't want it sluffing down on us.

Just before we break into the basin below the Thumbtack the clouds roll in and our skins start icing up. I pick a spot to leave our skis that seems unlikely to be buried while we are climbing and we stop to switch gear. Though the slope up from the lake had me winded, I'm pleased to see that we're less than 90 minutes from the car.

I change my boots, put on some clothes, and clip my crampons and spare gloves to my harness. Hannah kindly leads the way, postholing up to the notch on the ridge that becomes the Northeast Buttress. She's postholing up to her hips and by the time we get to the notch I can almost hear her breathing hard.

At the notch the NE Buttress is looking good. But I want to go over and take a look at the North Face, too. I realize that I've never seen the start of the route under daylight- I've always started up the first pitch in the dark. After a bit more slogging and postholing while traversing I spot the route and climb up to the start.

Skiers below the north face and above Source Lake.

The big north face of Snoqualmie Mountain.

A glide crack bars the way and though there is an obvious and easy way around it to the right, I'm looking for a bit more sport and climb up and over. I'm pleased that the snow above the overhanging lip is firm and I manage to get a couple good sticks with my old straight-shafted Grivel Super Courmayer tools and pull over. I find lower angle neve and nice ice above and climb up through the groove, clipping a fixed pin at 30 meters, and into the broader open slopes. There is ice for screws, but I feel comfortable and stretch the rope out to the fixed pin at 60 meters. I add a #2 Friend to a crack, equalize it, and bring up Hannah, who's climbing in her randonnee boots.

Hannah finishes up the first pitch.

Looking up the route from the first belay.

She demurs on the lead and I run out another 60 meters to a tree belay. Gear on this pitch would have been marginal to the first tree at about 40 meters, but the conditions are great and I'm comfortable even though I've not swung my tools in a year or more.

Hannah making her way up the 2nd pitch.

The next pitch starts out as steep snow and ends at about 50 meters just above a fun little ice step. A big tree provides a safe and comfortable belay. Hannah comes up quickly and leads through to the top of the route. I join her and we scramble up to the summit.

There is no view, but there is also no wind and radiant energy from the sun is warming. We sit and watch two skiers below us. I close my eyes for a while and relax.

Then our time on the summit is done and we make our way down, past the top of the route (and the wrong descent gully), over the small hump and down the correct descent gully. It's shorter that I remember and soon we're rigging a rappel over the cornice atop the 2nd descent gully.

In thickening clouds we descend the gully, with me dragging the rope behind me. I'm not interested in taking the time here to coil it- the basin is full of sluffs that weren't there in the morning.

The snow is knee to thigh deep and the walk down to our skis is a bit tedious. I arrive at the skis and turn. Hannah is out of sight. My longer legs made the going in the deep snow quite a bit easier for me. I make myself busy changing my boots, coiling the rope, and otherwise getting ready for the ski down.

Hannah appears in the clouds above and soon joins me. She ready to go before me and we start down. The skiing, which we'd feared would be very difficult, isn't so bad: We're able to float on top of much of the heavy, wet snow. Still, I stop a lot to breath and adjust my new boots, which are easy to get painfully tight around my calves. Visibility improves as we get closer to Source Lake. We glide across some bumpy debris and then into the trees. The snow is slushy and I have to pole and skate more than usual, but in ten minutes or so we're at the car.

The route is in great shape. Who knows, maybe go back tomorrow to solo the NE Buttress and the North Face...

This page was last edited on Saturday, April 14, 2007
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