Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mount Baker Skills and Climb

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of summiting Mt. Baker with a fun group of Canadians, one of which lives in Surry, BC and has been looking at this peak for many years. He decided that for his birthday he wanted to climb the mountain. So he did. Below are some photos from the weekend.

--Alasdair Turner, AAI Instructor and Guide

Sunday, September 26, 2010

October and November Climbing Events

--Sept 27 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Las Vegas Climber's Liaison Council Meeting. (contact Lisa at lvclc.admin@gmail.com)

-- Sept 30 -- Portland, OR -- Colin Haley Slideshow

-- Oct 2 -- Boone, NC -- Trip Crown Bouldering Comp

-- Oct 2 -- Bellingham, WA -- Extreme Weather NW Washington talk

-- Oct 7-9 -- Seattle, WA -- Mountainfilm Tour

-- Oct 8-10 -- Red River Gorge, KY -- Rocktoberfest 2010

-- Oct 8-10 -- San Luis Obispo, CA -- Pine Mountain Pull Down

-- Oct 10-12 -- Golden, CO -- Craggin Classic

-- Oct 14 -- San Diego, CA -- Allied Climbers Annual Fundraiser

-- Oct 23-24 -- Las Vegas, NV -- 2010 National Climbing Management Summit: This fall the Access Fund will host the 2010 National Climbing Management Summit in partnership with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and US Forest Service in Las Vegas, NV on October 23rd and 24th. The summit will bring land managers and field-level personnel who are involved in recreation policy and climbing management together to discuss best practices for

-- Oct 24-26 -- Joshua Tree, CA -- ClimbSmart

-- Oct 24-26 -- New River Gorge, WV -- Warrior's Way SPORT Camp

-- Oct 29-Nov -- Southwest various locations -- Chris Sharma Slideshow Tour

-- Oct 29-30 -- Red Rock, NV -- Make A Difference Day - Service project at Red Rock Canyon (contact Lisa at lvclc.admin@gmail.com)

-- Oct 30-Nov -- Banff, Canada -- Banff Mountian Film Fest

-- Oct 30-Nov 7 -- Italy -- International Mountain Summit Festival

-- Nov 7 -- Seattle, WA -- Northwest Snow and Avalanche Summit

-- Nov 20 -- Seattle, WA -- Stone Gardens 2010 Seattle Bouldering Challenge

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

Our resident Chilean, expert skier, AIARE Avalanche Level 1 and Level 2 instructor, and Equipment Shop Manager is feeling a bit under the weather right now.  However while he is at home resting, people are in the mountains of his home country skiing some beautiful lines.  I figured that we could try and cheer him up a little bit by giving him a little piece of home, and sharing with you all this great ski video.  Additionally, I can tell you the background music in this video is authentic, seeing as I spent 18 days on Denali with Richard this year and was treated to the wonderful Chilean music he brought along.

Black Diamond athlete Zack Giffin skiing in Chile from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

Back in the day, rock climbing and mountaineering were certainly "fringe sports," however they have entered the mainstream these days.  It seems that once a sport is introduced, it is only a matter of time before people start to accept it and we see it regularly in the media.  However, when things come along like "para-skiing," it is a lot easier to understand why people would say, "those crazy kids!"  Needless to say, with alpinism, it was only a matter a time before people started guiding it.  Call me pessimistic, but I don't see anyone guiding in the "para-ski" realm any time soon.  Regardless, it is pretty darn impressive.

--Andrew Yasso, Program Coordinator

Friday, September 24, 2010

North Cascades Backpacking Trip

This summer the American Alpine Institute was proud to run a backpacking trip deep in the North Cascades. The small group had phenomenal weather and found spectacular views throughout the trip.

AAI Backpacking Guide Jeff Ries ran this trip deep into the mountains and returned with a lot of great photos. Following is a photo essay from the trip:

When the Backpackers arrived with this view they began to serenade
Mt. Challenger with songs from the Sound of Music

An evening fire provides an opportunity to learn about living in
all the different countries represented by those on the trip

An cable car is used to get across the Chilliwack river by backpackers in the North Cascades National park

lChallenger Glacier is a great backdrop for a hike up to Tapto Lakes

The enchanted Tapto Lakes area on a high alpine shelf was the highlight of this year's
backpacking trip deep in the North Cascades

The Challenger Glacier makes for a great backdrop when backpacking up to the Taptoe Lakes

Crossing clear mountain streams deep in the North Cascades National park
(Brush Creek near Whatcom Pass)

Newlyweds Marlies and Oscar from the Netherlands take a break
and admire Ruth Mountain

To learn more about our backpacking and trekking programs, please click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Denali Park Road Open to Mile 30 through September

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from Denali National Park:

The busy summer season has ended at Denali National Park and Preserve, and visitors can now drive private vehicles on the Denali Park Road as far as the Teklanika River Rest Area at Mile 30, weather permitting. Visitors are advised to call ahead for weather and road information, as conditions can change rapidly at this time of the year. Vault toilets will be available at the Mountain Vista Trailhead (Mile 12), Savage River parking area (Mile 15) and the Teklanika River Rest Area through September. Other park facilities west of headquarters, such as campgrounds and restrooms, are closed for the season.

Beginning on Friday, October 1, the park road will be closed to travel beyond Mile 5 in order to replace a large culvert at Mile 7 that is failing. During the construction period, which is expected to take up to four weeks, that section of road will be impassable by vehicle. The road will be open to pedestrians and bicyclists, but they will need to walk around the construction area and stay alert for trucks and other heavy equipment.

The headquarters flagpole parking lot is closed to all parking until late November, as the site will be under construction as part of the kennels road re-alignment project.

On Wednesday, September 22 the Murie Science and Learning Center (MSLC) will begin functioning as the winter visitor center. The MSLC will be open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. to provide park information and backcountry permits.

The Bear Loop of the Riley Creek Campground at Mile 0.2 remains open for camping, but the water has been turned off for the season. A vault toilet is provided for campers and water can be obtained at the Murie Science and Learning Center. Gas, food service and lodging are available in the communities of Healy and Cantwell.

Denali National Park and Preserve collects an entrance fee year-round. The entrance fee of $10 per person or $20 per vehicle is good for seven days. The majority of the money collected remains in the park to be used for projects to improve visitor services and facilities. Interagency Federal Recreation Passes such as the Annual, Senior, and Access Pass, and the Denali Annual Pass are also valid for entry into the park. Visitors can pay entrance fees at the Murie Science and Learning Center.

Information is available on the park website at www.nps.gov/dena or by calling (907) 683-2294 from 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. daily.

Haute Route Trekking

I hadn't heard of the Haute Route before I started working here. It turns out it is one of the most beautiful hikes (or it can be done as a ski tour) in Europe. It's an easy life going from hut-to-hut with only a daypack as you make the 11-day journey near Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland.

Here's some proof. Check out these photos from AAI guide Jeff Ries. He shot these earlier this summer on a recent trip:

AAI trekkers enjoy amazing views of the Lesser Combin on day 5 of this Julys Swiss trek.

A great view of the impressive Moiry icefall greets the Swiss.

The Matterhorn welcomes trekkers at the end of the trip in Zermatt.

-Dyan Padagas, Program Coordinator

Monday, September 20, 2010

Angle and Force in an Anchor

You've heard before, and I'll say it again. The lower the angle between the pieces in an anchor, the better equalized the anchor will be.

What does this actually mean?

Well, first it means that the American Death Triangle is really bad...

The American Death Triangle = Death
From the Chockstone Website

And second it means that...

If an anchor is composed of two pieces, and one piece is directly above the other piece, and you are using a pre-equalized knot on a cordellete clipped to the pieces, then you are likely to be close to completely equalized at your master-point. The photo below shows a three piece anchor with low angles between the pieces. The low angles make this a very good anchor. However, due to the fact that the pieces are not completely in line with one another, the anchor cannot be truly equalized.

A Very Good Pre-Equalized Anchor that is Not Truly Equalized
Guides believe that this is an acceptable anchor.
Photo from Splitter Climbing Gear

Some may find minor concerns with the different lengths of cord in the preceding picture. Most guides are not concerned about this.

When the angle on a two-point anchor increases, so too does the load on each piece. The theory is that when there is no or a very low angle -- under 20 degrees -- the pieces are close to equalized. When the angle increases to 40 degrees, then 54% of the load is on each piece. As the angle increases to 80 degrees, then 70% of the load is on each piece. And when the angle increases to 120 degrees, then 100% of the load is on each piece.

The following chart from the Technical Manual for Mountain Guides from the AMGA, demonstrates this with proposed weight of 1000 pounds.

The video savvy Canadian guide, Mike Barter, put together a great video on this subject for youtube.com. He uses a number of visual demonstrations throughout the video to show how weight affects an anchor as the angle increases. Check out the video below:

--Jason D. Martin


This is the second time we've posted this blog. And after I posted it the first time a couple of years ago an extremely valid comment was made. I thought that it would be prudent to post the comment as well as my response:

Anonymous said...

I hate to flame people trying to put good information out for the public, but I thought his demonstration was pretty silly. First off(although it really wasn't important for the demonstration) he had the knot of the cordelette directly on the carabiner of one of his "anchors". You think that an IFMGA guide wouldn't do this even in a demonstration. His demonstration really didn't show the increase in force on the anchor, but the change in the direction of pull. I think he could of easily done this by attaching a simple fish scale to each anchor.

AAI said...

I also thought about the knot on the carabiner when I found this video. The knot on the carabiner does weaken the cordellete mildly.

I have seen A LOT of IFMGA guides do this over the years. Indeed, I've seen enough of them do this that I've considered pulling back on the amount of emphasis I've put on keeping the knot out of the carabiner in the classes that I teach.

In addition to this, lets remember what this blog is about. It's about how angle impacts individual pieces...and I think that the video does a great job of demonstrating this...


Sunday, September 19, 2010

September and October Climbing Events

Coffee will be served most Saturdays and Sundays during peak climbing season in Joshua Tree, CA.

-- Sept 19-20 -- Bidsboro, PA -- 3rd Annual Clean and Climb

-- Sept 19 -- Index, WA -- WCC Index Purchase Celebration

-- Sept 25 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Adopt-a-Crag American Fork

-- Sept 25 -- Indian Creek, UT -- SushiFest

-- Sept 25 -- Devil's Tower, WY - Adopt a Crag

-- Sept 25 -- Everywhere -- National Public Lands Day

-- Sept 30 -- Portland, OR -- Colin Haley Slideshow

-- Oct 2 -- Boone, NC -- Trip Crown Bouldering Comp

-- Oct 2 -- Bellingham, WA -- Extreme Weather NW Washington talk

-- Oct 7-9 -- Seattle, WA -- Mountainfilm Tour

-- Oct 8-10 -- Red River Gorge, KY -- Rocktoberfest 2010

-- Oct 8-10 -- San Luis Obispo, CA -- Pine Mountain Pull Down

-- Oct 10-12 -- Golden, CO -- Craggin Classic

-- Oct 14 -- San Diego, CA -- Allied Climbers Annual Fundraiser

-- Oct 23-24 -- Las Vegas, NV -- 2010 National Climbing Management Summit: This fall the Access Fund will host the 2010 National Climbing Management Summit in partnership with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and US Forest Service in Las Vegas, NV on October 23rd and 24th. The summit will bring land managers and field-level personnel who are involved in recreation policy and climbing management together to discuss best practices for climbing management and policy. Topics will include climbing management challenges such as cultural and historic resources, fixed anchor management, protected species closures, climbing in wilderness, trails and staging area impacts, and how land managers can better work with local climbing organizations. For more information contact Jason Keith at Jason@accessfund.org.

--Oct 24-26 -- Joshua Tree, CA -- ClimbSmart

--Oct 24-26 -- New River Gorge, WV -- Warrior's Way SPORT Camp

--Oct 29-Nov -- Southwest various locations -- Chris Sharma Slideshow Tour

--Oct 30-Nov -- Banff, Canada -- Banff Mountian Film Fest

--Oct 30-Nov 7 -- Italy -- International Mountain Summit Festival

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

By the time you read this, a man with Cerebral Palsy may have just finished climbing El Capitan in Yosemite. Steve Wampler is climbing El Capitan in an effort to raise money for his foundation which provides wilderness camps for disabled children free of charge. It's an extremely impressive endeavor, and I wish him the best of luck! Here is a a video describing what he is trying to do with the climb, and interview with some of the kids it will benefit

I figure I'm just going to dedicate this Weekend Warrior solely to Steve. This next one sums up the first few days of him on the wall. The last 30 seconds is rather touching. If you feel so inclined, please click here to support Steve's cause.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Film Review: The Wildest Dream

In 1924, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine made the first ascent of Mount Everest...

Or maybe they didn't...

It's hard to tell whether they made it or not. The pair was last seen alive 800 feet below the summit. Seventy-five years later, Mallory's body was discovered by mountaineer Conrad Anker on an expedition designed to find out what actually happened on the mountain in 1924.

Since that fateful day, the day that took the lives of Mallory and Irvine, whether or not the pair reached the summit of the tallest mountain in the world before their demise is one of the most hotly debated subjects in mountaineering history. There are many details that make one believe that perhaps they did summit. For example, Mallory carried a picture of his beloved wife Ruth which he said he would leave on top of the mountain when he summited. The picture was not found on his body, which could mean that it was left on the summit. But there are also details that make one believe that they might not have summited. For example the Second Step, a named feature on the mountain which now has a ladder on it, would require difficult rock climbing at altitude, something that might not have been possible in the twenties.

The new IMAX documentary film, The Wildest Dream, delves deeply into the mystery surrounding the loss of Mallory and Irvine by chronicling the lives of both men as well as the life of modern day mountaineer, Conrad Anker. Anker returns to the mountain with climbing prodigy Leo Houlding, to continue to develop his understanding of the 1924 expedition and to try to surmount the major difficulty that some historians believe may have turned the pair around, the rock climbing required on Second Step.

The Wildest Dream is a fantastic visual journey chocked full of dramatic mountain images and dramatic mountain men. Anker and Mallory are linked through time by a mountain, by a route, and by their commitment to their families. Indeed, the most pertinent moment of the film is when Anker compares his feelings to those that Mallory expressed in his letters. When Mallory was at home with his wife and his family, he was always dreaming of the mountains. When Mallory was in the mountains, he was always dreaming of his wife and family. This is something that most of us in the mountain community can relate to.

The use of IMAX for this film was wise. However, it can make it difficult for those who do not have IMAX screens nearby to see this film before it comes to DVD. The movie's artistic exploration through imagery is far more decisive and more dramatic than the 1998 IMAX film, Everest about the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy. In part this is because the filmmakers really commit to the format. If they didn't have the footage of a given spot on the mountain, they used high-end computer models, which looked incredibly realistic.

The one downside of the film is that it takes a firm stand on why Mallory chose Irvine as his climbing partner, without presenting the fact that historians see this choice as controversial. In part this is because a fit, acclimitized and experienced climber named Noel Odell was close at hand high on the mountain. Some believe that Mallory may have chosen Irvine as his partner because he was sexually attracted to the younger man. Mallory went through a well-documented period where he flirted with homosexuality. Others believe that he may have done this because he was attracted to the younger man's youth and saw himself in the man. But in the film, they tell us that without question, Mallory chose Irvine to be his companion because of his knowledge of the oxygen apparatus that the men carried. It would have been nice if they had at least alluded to the fact that this choice was considered controversial in such a documentary.

Artistically the use of Mallory and Irvine contrasted with Anker and Houlding works extremely well. As such, The Wildest Dream becomes a film about expeditions in the twenties and expeditions now. It becomes a film about men in the early nineteen-hundreds and men now. It becomes a film about the women who fell in love with these men. And finally it becomes a film about a mountain that has obsessed climbers for nearly a hundred years.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Euro Death-Knot

There is a commonly used knot out there that many people use regularly to join two ropes together that is totally misrepresented by its name. The Euro death knot (EDK) is not dangerous and it is not a death knot. It is likely that American climbers gave the knot this name when they saw Europeans use it because it looked sketchy.

The EDK is officially known as an overhand bend or an overhand flat knot. It would be far better to refer to this knot by one of these names as they do not strike fear into those that use the knot.

The Overhand Bend (AKA Overhand Flat Knot/Euro Death Knot)
In this photo the tail is very short and there is no back-up to the Overhand Bend.
Photo from Wikepedia

Most people like the overhand bend for two reasons. First, because of the knot's asymmetrical profile, it tends to pull smoothly over edges and doesn't get caught as easily. And second, it is very easy to untie.

To tie the knot, lay both ends of the rope together. Make sure that they are pointed in the same direction and then make an overhand knot in both ropes at the same time. This is the overhand bend. Most guides tie a backup by adding a second overhand bend next to the first. This will keep the knot from rolling if there are unexpected high loads.

In the past, most climbers tied the overhand bend alone. If the knot is tied by itself without a backup, there must be a significant tail. It is not recommended to tie the overhand bend by itself.

Some people tie an overhand eight in lieu of an overhand bend. This is far more likely to roll than a unbacked-up overhand bend and is not recommended.

Most of our guides tend to tie not only their rappel ropes together with an overhand bend, but their cordelletes as well. Guides tie their cordelletes with this knot because it is easy to untie. A cordellete that may be opened has a great deal more flexibility. It can easily be opened up and used like a webolette. Some like the ability to open up a cordellete because an open cordellete without a welded double-fisherman's knot can be cut up more effectively for anchor material.

Following is a short video from the Canadian guide, Mike Barter, on how to tie a overhand bend.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 13, 2010

Climbing Scenes in Non-Climbing Movies

High budget narrative climbing movies are a genre in and of themselves. There are not very many of them out there and those that do exist tend to be filled with plot holes and ludicrous situations. But what about non-climbing movies that include elements of climbing?

Mountaineering, rock climbing and ice climbing are generally seen as extreme or eccentric things by filmmakers. The result of this is that they only use climbing for three things.

First and foremost, they use climbing to emphasize a character's bravery or uniqueness. You can see this in the following two clips.

In Mission Impossible II, Tom Cruise does things on desert towers that are completely impossible. This is a perfect example of climbing used for character development to show how "extreme" someone might be. There's a moment in this clip that is supposed to result in a laugh. They make a comment about Tom Cruise being on holiday. The joke of course is the question, who would ever go rock climbing for a vacation?

In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Captain James T. Kirk free solos the Nose on El Cap, badly. By the time this film came out we didn't need a lot of character development for Captain Kirk. Instead, this is -- perhaps unintentionally -- designed to reinforce the character's cocky arrogance.

The second use of climbing by filmmakers is simply to show something that is "different." They'll use it more for its novelty than for any other reason. Movies that do this include Axe, The Descent, and Wrong Turn. It's weird that most films that come up on a quick search are horror films...

Here is the opening climbing scene from the very bad horror movie, Wrong Turn:

The third use is when a character is forced to climb. This is an incredibly common thing in film. Movies that have scenes like this include North by Northwest, The Princess Bride, The Good Son, and Deliverance.

Here is the scene from the award winning film Deliverance:

Though they're not all available, there are tons of movies with climbing scenes in them. Check out the female mountain guide hero of Alien vs. Predator or Keanu Reeves as a Himalayan climber in The Day the Earth Stood Still. I'm sure there are dozens and dozens more out there that I haven't thought of. I'd be curious to know what they are.

What other non-climbing movies with climbing scenes can you think of?

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September and October Climbing Events

--Sept 12 -- Bishop, CA --John Cyril Fischer Celebration

-- Sept 16 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- HERA Foundation Climb4Life

-- Sept 18 -- Pocatello, ID -- Pocatello Pump, Idaho State University

-- Sept 19-20 -- Bidsboro, PA -- 3rd Annual Clean and Climb

-- Sept 19 -- Index, WA -- WCC Index Purchase Celebration

-- Sept 25 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Adopt-a-Crag American Fork

-- Sept 25 -- Indian Creek, UT -- SushiFest

-- Sept 30 -- Portland, OR -- Colin Haley Slideshow

-- Oct 2 -- Boone, NC -- Trip Crown Bouldering Comp

-- Oct 7-9 -- Seattle, WA -- Mountainfilm Tour

-- Oct 8-10 -- Red River Gorge, KY -- Rocktoberfest 2010

-- Oct 8-10 -- San Luis Obispo, CA -- Pine Mountain Pull Down

-- Oct 10-12 -- Golden, CO -- Craggin Classic

-- Oct 14 -- San Diego, CA -- Allied Climbers Annual Fundraiser

--Oct 24-26 -- Joshua Tree, CA -- ClimbSmart

--Oct 24-26 -- New River Gorge, WV -- Warrior's Way SPORT Camp

--Oct 29-Nov -- Southwest various locations -- Chris Sharma Slideshow Tour

--Oct 30-Nov -- Banff, Canada -- Banff Mountian Film Fest

--Oct 30-Nov 7 -- Italy -- International Mountain Summit Festival

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

Okay ladies and gentlemen, another trailer for you, this time for the upcoming Reel Rock Tour. If anything, just watch the first ten seconds. Something about a guy more or less "sprinting" up a 60+ degree slope on his front points just gets me pumped. Sure there are great videos out there of guys sending some seriously difficult boulder problems and sport routes, but moving quickly over steep mountainous terrain is just so much cooler in my mind. I guess that make me an alpinist.

Well, I'm not sure if I posted this one before or not, but I've been feeling pretty homesick lately and the Red River Gorge used to be my "home crag" (I'm from Michigan...). Here's a great video of some of our sport's best sport climbers going at it in the Gorge.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Colchuck Peak - The Elusive Northeast Buttress

With small children and a full-time job, it's hard for me to get out on personal climbing trips. Yes, I do get out into the field regularly to guide, but since we had children I have not had as many opportunities to get out and chase the types of routes that I love. I decided that it was important for me to try to do something new and interesting on a personal trip every summer. This year, that was going to be an ascent of the Northeast Buttress of Colchuck Peak.

Former AAI guide Jay Hack and I have been climbing with one another for over a decade. Jay and I both started guiding together in the summer of 2000. Since then, we have done many of our most memorable climbs together, including my big personal trip from last year on the Northeast Buttress of Mount Slesse.

Instead of planning for the standard two day ascent of the route, we decided that it might be better to go cragging in Leavenworth and to go out to dinner the day before our ascent. This laziness before hand gave us the opportunity to enjoy a pleasant four pitch route and a nice dinner before turning in early.

The route that we selected to warm up on was a classic Leavenworth line called Heart of Gold (II, 5.10a). This slabby route gave us just what we needed, a little spice, some interesting slab climbing, and some old bolts, all of which helped us to get our heads into the game for the climb to come.

Jay leading a slabby crux on the third pitch of Heart of Gold

Jay passing the second bolt on Heart of Gold

Jay belaying the fourth pitch

We started the hike by headlamp at 1:30 in the morning. I'm not sure if either of us said it, but we both knew that it would be a very very looonnng time before we got to see the car again. By 6:00am we were strapping crampons onto our approach shoes and were working our way up the glacier to the base of the route.

Colchuck Peak - Our route started just to the left of the discontinuous
snow colouir at toe of the buttress

Jay on the glacier below the peak

Wearing crampons on approach shoes isn't all that pleasant, but it is light!

Jay approaching the moat below the first pitch

Many parties have had a difficult time in the past getting over the moat to the toe of the buttress. Luckily a large snow block made the transition from snow to rock relatively simple. Had the block not been there it would have been much harder to do. As we crossed the snow block, one could look down into the darkness of the moat...and it wasn't clear that there was a bottom down there. For all that we knew, it could have just kept going and going!

It was cold and there was a crispness in the air as we pulled on our rock shoes and started to climb. The Cascades tend to see a bit of a shift in early September. Fall comes early to the mountains and to the mountain air. As we began working our way up, we found it difficult to keep our hands and feet warm. The wind had a bite to it all day.

Jay leading the first pitch

The rock on the route was not sound. Of the twenty pitches that we climbed, there were only a handful that were quality. Instead, we found ourselves negotiating bad and loose rock throughout the entire climb.

When I mentioned that I was going to try to do the Northeast Buttress of Colchuck, one experienced Cascadian alpinist told me, "that is the most bailed off of mountain in the range!" What he meant was that many climbers don't have much success on the route. Indeed, when we were up there, core-shot ropes, nests of slings and old pitons decorated that mountain from the bottom to the top, a testament to the number of people who have retreated. A combination of bad rock and tricky routefinding drew on all of our alpine skills. It doesn't surprise me that so many parties bail well below the top.

Jay leading up the fourth pitch of the route

Jay following the sixth pitch

Approximately half-way up the mountain, the route took a radical turn away from the buttress and made it's way onto the East Face for a number of lower angled pitches. We were supposed to follow fourth and low-fifth class pitches until we found a left-facing dihedral from which we could reattain the buttress.

We never found the dihedral.

Jason high on the East Face of the Route

We found a few pitons on the route. Like the rock, they didn't look very sound.
Instead they were old and rusty.

Low-Angled Terrain on the East Face

Eventually I was required to launch out onto a blank face with limited protection. It was good that the rock on this pitch was sound. I built a belay and brought Jay up.

The next pitch back to the buttress was absolutely stellar. I lead out, following a perfect crack system on sound rock. And although the route was windy and loose below, this phenomenal pitch made up for it...mostly.

The Central Pillar of Dragontail Peak is
the well-known route, Serpentine Arete (IV, 5.8)

We reached the summit of the mountain at 5:30pm. It had been a very long day of climbing with a few genuinely frightening pitches. We quickly transitioned from climbing mode to mountaineering mode and made our way down to the Colchuck Glacier. It would be another five hours until we were at the car, making it a twenty-one hour day.

Jason and Jay on the Summit

To see a topo of the route which shows our line as well as the Beckey variation (which we did not take), please click on the following photo.

Click on the Topo to Enlarge

I'm not sure that I would strongly recommend the Northeast Buttress of Colchuck to anybody. It was a bit on the loose side and somewhat "zig-zaggy." But it was a really grand adventure with a good friend...

--Jason D. Martin