Friday, September 21, 2007

New Route: Northwest Arayete, Mt. Shuksan (Grade III 5.9)

On September 2, AAI guide Danny Uhlmann and John Kear completed the third ascent of a new route on Mt. Shuksan in Washington's North Cascades. The route is called the Northwest Arayete - and yes, it is spelled that way.

The route was first put up in August by Northwest climbers Darin and Matt (see their trip report - search by route: Northwest Arayete). Darin explains: "We called it the Northwest Arayete as a a play on words between arete and Araya, the name of my daughter." As Darin says in his report, there is already a Northwest Arete and a Northwest Rib, so those names were already taken. The Northwest Arayete, according to him, "follows the crest of a fine arete on good rock for nine pitches to the summit of a prominent horn above the White Salmon Glacier. Though dirty at times, the position is incredible, the rock is solid and every pitch is sustained for it's grade."

When AAI guide Danny Uhlmann first heard about this new route, he was intrigued and set out immediately to put a climb together, which ended up happening not too much later, on September 2. Here is his account of the third ascent of the Northwest Arayete:

[*Since neither Danny nor John brought a camera, we asked Darin if we could use a few of his photos we found on - very nicely, he obliged us. So all the photos in this trip report are his.]

John Kear and I awoke at 5:30am in our tent, just above the Fisher Chimneys on the White Salmon Glacier of Mt. Shuksan. Our plan was to climb a new route, put up in early August, called the Northwest Arayete, which is a grade III 5.9, according to the first ascentionists. The weather had been quite unsettled yesterday, the day we climbed up the Chimneys, and we were unsure if rain was close on the horizon. Occasional high winds made the decision even more difficult. We originally planned to do the new route, which ends on the upper White Salmon Glacier, and then continue up the NE ridge of the summit pyramid.

We left the tent, after a few rounds of lemon and Earl Gray tea, at 6:15am, and did the quick jaunt across and down the White Salmon, to the base of the rock buttress. The first ascent team and the second ascent team accessed the route from the bottom of the buttress by rappelling off of snow bollard. We noticed a much easier way to access the buttress a little higher and climber's right, which allowed us to easily walk directly on to the rock via a snow ramp in the glacier. This led to a stance beneath a 100-foot-long traverse pitch, which intersected the original first pitch about halfway up. The next pitch was supposed to be 5.8 and runout. I found two or three pieces of protection on the whole thing, and one of those wouldn't have done much to hold a long fall. I reached the belay, relieved to have the "uncertain" slab climbing behind me, and belayed John up on an anchor I built.

Matt Alford pulling around onto a beautiful orange wall.

The sky was still gray; dark clouds to the west and flat light. After another short pitch we were at the base of what the route description considered the crux, a 5.9 traverse that possibly needed some thin pitons for protection. With this in mind I headed up the pitch with a hammer on my side and a few bugaboo pins, just in case. Fortunately the previous party left a key pin at the crux, which I used. It traversed sharply up and right, the crux short and positive, and around a corner to an exposed hanging belay. This was followed by a long 5.7 face pitch on quite loose rock. I haven't had to climb this slowly in a long time, but leading on loose rock demands care. John seconded this pitch a was pulling off as much of the loose rock as he could, which was a lot. It is always quite a sight watching rocks fall hundreds of feet.

Matt Alford starts up the steep upper wall.

Soon we were at the upper buttress, which is home to the final three or so pitches of the route. Again, fairly loose and difficult to protect climbing followed. I led about fifty meters out, taking a new line through a roof because it had protection, maybe 5.9++ or 5.10a, instead of following the route description. I ended the pitch by slinging a large, detached pillar for a belay. Following this we climbed two more varied crack, moss, and slab pitches to the summit of the buttress, had a quick snack and changed into boots, and made the quick descent to the glacier beneath. This, the southeast side of the buttress, was receiving wind and occasional rain - plus, it was noon, and we wanted to be leaving our camp by 1:30pm to accomodate our ever-important social schedule. We decided to forgo the summit - both of us had been there before - and we headed down to camp, packed up, and were at the truck by 5pm.

Stellar climbing on the crest of the Arete.

Overall, this was an interesting route, though not recommended for the average 5.9 climber. It features lots of runout in certain places, difficult protection, and moderate route finding. The green schist that composes this buttress is not the most solid on Shuksan, but it will get better with repeated ascents. Who knows, maybe it'll be a classic in ten years. It was a good adventure and worth it, as all new routes are.

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