A post on Cascadeclimbers.com made it sound as if the route was in excellent condition. I had been ice climbing a lot that winter and wanted to up the ante...so I decided to solo the route.
I arrived early in the morning, skied in and sent the route. Of course that all sounds very simple. The reality is that the route wasn't in very good shape. In fact, one might say it was in quite poor shape. There was a lot of steep unconsolidated snow on the line and the crux moves demanded mixed climbing above a five-hundred foot void.
In other words, the climb was mildly terrifying.
And I was tremendously proud of my solo accomplishment...
In the seven years since that ascent, things have changed. I've become a father. And this particular life-changing experience has made me quite a bit more conservative in my personal climbing. It's now hard for me to justify soloing to myself. That's not to say that I think soloing is a universally bad thing. It's just not right for me anymore.
I'm still proud of that 2003 ascent. So when former AAI guide Gene Pires sent out an email in an attempt to find a partner for a Chair Peak trip, I eagerly accepted. I've always wanted to go back to that mountain with a partner in the hopes of finding better conditions...and perhaps reliving some of fun of that solo without reliving the danger.
I've been climbing on and off with Gene since we met in college in the early nineties. He's always been a reliable partner who is more than ready to joke about pretty much anything. He also has a toddler that is about the same age as my daughter. In other words, half the day was spent talking about climbing and the other half was spent talking about potty training. It was a lot of fun to spend the day with an old friend.
We made the approach on snowshoes and climbed the route in good style, swapping pitches to the top. We found excellent conditions. The line was "in-shape" and was composed of a mix of water ice and neve. The route varied in angle from fifty to seventy degrees with occasional spots of thin ice over rock. There was almost no comparison to the way the route was in 2003. Back then it felt extremely insecure. On our recent ascent, with the exception of a handful of thin moves, it was an absolutely delightful climb.
Alpine climbs can change dramatically from one day to the next, especially alpine ice climbs. People don't change as fast, but inevitably they change too. I'm a very different person than I was seven years ago and it was good to look at the mountain with the eyes of a father looking to get out with a partner, instead of with the eyes of a hungry alpinist trying to define himself...
The peak can be seen in the center of this photo.
The Northeast Buttress is the ridge in the center of the photo and the
North Face can be seen in the shade
--Jason D. Martin