West Ridge
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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!

Mt. Thompson, West Ridge

Saturday, July 8, 2000

As Jens had recently participated in a door-to-door blitz of the West Ridge of Forbidden, we had an easier than usual negotiation about disembarkation time. At the last minute Sarah thought she might join us, but at the agreed departure time of 6:00 AM, she was absent, so we departed as a pair.

Being the intrepid and wizened mountaineers that we are, we opted for an obvious shortcut to the climb. A large group near us looked to be heading for the same objective. We knew our shortcut would put us on the route ahead of them. So we smugly raced out of the parking lot at 7:05 AM, going "light" in our approach shoes.

At 7:15 AM the  trail began to grow faint. At 7:16 AM we were battling a full-on BW3 on the Cascade Bushwhack Scale. The only question seemed to be whether we would escape with a Grade I bushwhack or if we were in for an approach epic. It grew foul, the language that is, but eventually we did find our way back to the enigmatic trail. Though this trail is professionally signed as "Abandoned" by the DeForest Service, it is certainly anything but. And they really have hung up a beautifully handcrafted sign on the trail: "Abandoned Trail". I could go on. And I won't.

Jens ponders his dismount from a stream crossing.

Eventually the trail turned away from our objective and we started the planned bushwhack, which at BW1 was significantly easier than our earlier unplanned bushwhack. We found some beautiful scenes, and I was reminded how nice it is to get, literally, off the beaten path in the Cascades.

Jens strikes a pose in BW1 terrain. Note the stellar waterfall in the background.

It was just a bit after 10:00 AM that we approached the head of the Valley. Above us we saw the lead members of the large group we'd seen in the parking lot. Hmmm, the shortcut was a great idea anyway.

We cruised through Kendall Pass, making good time in our light shoes. Hah! Who needs big clunky boots for approaches in the Cascades? As Kendall Katwalk ended, so did the dry trail. Oh, well, at least it was only 80% snow covered from there to the base of the climb. You now when your feet are so wet that water sloshes out of your shoes every step? By the time we passed the group of six just above Ridge Lake, our feet were soaked.

The West Ridge of Mt. Thompson

 By and by we made it into the basin below the South Face of Thompson, which happens to look a whole lot like Great Scott Bowl below The Tooth. We climbed mixed talus, scree, and snow to the notch just right of the shark's fin shaped point on the ridge. From there it was third and fourth class to the base of the climb.

Yours truly near the top of the approach gully

We geared up and Jens took the lead. We planned to simul-climb the whole route, but rope drag on the first pitch mandated a belay. The "Under the Bush Crawl" was the highlight of the first pitch, especially for Jens who had full length ski poles sticking out of his pack. As a side note, I was lucky because I didn't have to suffer with my poles for the 50 minute climb because I'd accidentally left them in my car in Issaquah. Of course, they would have been a great help on the four hour, thirty minute approach, and the two hour, thirty minute return hike. But I gloated anyway as Jens cursed the poles and shrubbery.

The first 30 feet of the second pitch is the gem of the route. It is worth fighting your partner for the lead. Of course, I didn't know that, so Jens led off again up the dihedral and beauty finger crack. A little traverse right and a short step up led to the crux of the route for me: An awkward leftward traverse past a bulge. The moves weren't that hard, but I couldn't take my eyes off that little 7.8 mm rope that just kept leading out left, with no pro. It would have been a big mother of a pendulum. At that point I decided I was glad I had compromised my "Go Light" mantra in favor of a helmet.

Once past that little epic-in-my-head, the terrain eased and I popped out onto the lower slab visible in the picture above. Jens was at the foot of a vertical section as I came around the corner and noticed that there was nothing anchoring the rope, and us, to the mountain. "I can't find any pro.", he responded to the look on my face. If he fell we'd both get a fast trip back to the basin below, so I did the best thing I could think of: I walked up to the edge of the slab and prepared to jump off the back side if he fell down the front side. I'm happy to say that we didn't test that often talked about and infrequently used last-ditch technique. He sent a short fifth class section with ease. I followed, and we soon back on easier third class ground.

Jens leading just past the lower slab

A bit of meandering to climber's left brought us to the last obstacle: A short less-than-vertical but soaking wet and mossy laid-back dihedral. Jens had cruised it by the time I got there, of course, but I couldn't help but notice that the bomber nut he had in was above the crux. Have I mentioned that he is a confident, solid alpine climber?

Around the next corner I caught up and we traded positions. I led the last short scramble to the summit. It took us less than an hour to complete the climb. Yahoo!

Bumblebee Pass from the summit. Note the three climbers (specks) descending.

We had an uneventful down climb of the East Ridge. There are rap stations, but it isn't too bad to down climb and it is certainly faster. Just below where we stopped and put our (soaking wet) shoes and socks back on we ran into a party of three ascending. The biggest rock I dislodged all day fell right between them. Sorry!

I think the crux of the descent is to skip the first couloir in favor of the second. Despite what Cascade Fred says in Volume I, at least at this time of year, the second one is best. Maybe the 12' vertical snow cliff wasn't in there when Fred made the first ascent in the 40s. But seeing as how we were without our ice tools, we opted to avoid it. The couloir gives way to a steep slope, which is not deathly steep like it looks from Bumblebee Pass. We traversed as much as we could on snow, scree, and talus until we started climbing back up to Bumblebee Pass. At the Pass we met a group of three looking for a spot to camp. They had lots of questions and told us that the group of six (remember them?) went all the way to the base of the climb and then turned around 'because of the weather'. Oh, did I mention that it was sunny most of the day and it never rained a drop?

Determined to discover the mystery of the disappearing trail, we retraced our path on the way back. Sure enough, right where the trail took a sharp right, a large tree had fallen and covered it. We had walked up a dry creek bed that ran straight onto the trail and into oblivion. Being the good Samaritans that we are, we did our best to mark the spot so that others might avoid our BW3 experience. We were back at the car at 5:00 PM

Miscellaneous thoughts:

This is a nice climb, similar in difficulty to The Tooth, though a bit longer.

It is a long approach, no matter how you do it, for a short climb. Were I to try it again, I'd go in overnight and try Huckleberry and maybe Chikamin, too. Ridge Lake would be a nice place to camp.

Don't succumb to temptation and try to hop over the ridge and into the basin at Gravel Lake. Cascade Fred calls it an option. I'll agree, but preface "bad" to his description.

There is a lot of loose rock on this hill. When you hear it described as solid, that would be relative to the rest of the crumbling Cascades.

This would be a wicked fun winter climb. Getting there would be challenging.


This page was last edited on Tuesday, August 30, 2005
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