Monday, August 27, 2012

Green Creek Glacier Exploratory Trip

The Green Creek Glacier, found just south of the South Twin in the Twin Sisters Range, is an alpine rock playground with most routes clocking in as mid-fifth class “adventure climbs.” These are adventure routes because while the trailhead is no more than thirty miles from Bellingham, the approach is serious and only hardy climbers should make the trek into region.

I recently made my first foray into this region and found it to be an incredibly cool area. And in part it's cool because it is truly a wilderness area. Indeed, the approach requires a bunch of bushwacking and wilderness navigation.

The area is also cool because it is home to the "Bellingham Big Wall." For a number of years people referred to this as the Mythic Bellingham Big Wall, so when ascents finally began to take place on the wall around 2005, primarily pioneered by Darren Berdinka, the wall was dubbed the Mythic Wall.

There are a bunch of routes in the area, some older, some newer, but as I'd never been to that part of the Twin Sister Range, I thought it might be worth checking out.

Strong parties can do routes on the Green Creek Glacier in a day.  But strong doesn’t necessarily mean “I’m a good rock climber, so I should be fine.” Instead, strong means that you can hike fast, navigate through nearly impenetrable brush quickly, and then climb quickly. Most parties should plan on two days or more in the region.

There are a few things that you should consider before heading into the Green Creek Glacier. First, it’s probably not even worth it in a month outside of July, August or September. The creek crossings will be too difficult. Second, it should be completely dry out. If there is any light rain, mist or even dew, you will get soaked to the bone while fighting through the brush on the approach.  And third, the climbs in this region, while on somewhat sound rock, are still alpine in nature and many of them have seen limited ascents.

It took us a long long time to get to the base of our route. We left the car at 6:30 in the morning and got back to the car at 8:30 at night...and we only did a three pitch route. Though it was an awesome day in an awesome area.

As the approach was 'hardy" and required some difficult navigation, I thought I'd do a little more than just your run of the mill photo essay.  Below the essay, you will find some approach beta and even some route beta on the Green Creek Needle, the little peak we climbed...

Crossing the Middle Fork of the Nooksack. 
On the way back, water was running over the logs and we had to crawl across them on our hands and knees.

There was a lot of map and compass action on this approach.

There were two major creek crossings that required us to search around for a suitable way cross. 
This was the second, over the Greek Creek.

 Our first views of the Green Creek Glacier and the peaks behind it.

As we moved up onto the glacier, the views continued to improve.

After our approach took so long, we decided that we would not climb one of the bigger walls.
We opted for the Green Creek Needle, the spire just left of center.

My partner, Dave Zulinke, leading a 5.4 pitch on the Needle.

 Mount Baker

 Dave working his way up the last pitch of the Needle.

 Dave, after a successful ascent of the Green Creek Needle.

Approach and Route Beta

From Bellingham, drive SR 542 east toward Mt. Baker for 16.7 miles. Turn right onto Mosquito Lake Road and drive 4.7 miles to the Middle Fork Nooksack Road (FR 38). Follow the road for 11 miles to the Elbow Lake Trailhead (2,100’). 

Take the Elbow Lake trail to the Middle Fork of the Nooksack and find a way to cross. This is the first of two difficult crossings on the approach. You should be willing to bail on the whole trip if the water is too high on either crossing.  

Once you are on the other side of the river, pick up the Elbow Lake Trail again and walk for approximately 1.5 miles to a switchback at 2,650’. It is mildly steep as you leave the trail and enter “the bush.” Traverse down southwest to 2,600’ to cross Hildebrand Creek. This is an easier crossing.

Climb out of the drainage and continue to traverse at the 2,600 to 2,700-foot level to the Green Creek and the second difficult crossing. The terrain is rough between the two crossings and your elevation will vary. Once you find the Green, climb up alongside the creek until you find a suitable crossing.

Once you have attained the other side of the creek, the brush will become a bit thicker, but fear not, you’re almost out! 

Follow the Green Creek up the drainage while slowly gaining altitude by angling up to the west. The higher up the hillside you are, the less brush. 

Eventually the brush will begin to fade and you will encounter more and more little open sections. This will eventually open up completely at a slidepath. From here the travel is significantly easier. Continue up the drainage on talus to the base of the Green Glacier at approximately the 4,000-foot level.

From the base of the glacier, work up the left-hand (south) shoulder. There are a number of flatish campsites at the top of the shoulder at nearly the same level as the climbs (4,800’-5,000’). Parties who are on their first foray into the region will commonly take five-hours for the approach. Those who are on their second or third trips should be able to make the approach in four-hours.

Green Creek Needle, East Face (5.7, II)

FA: Tyree Johnson and Darin Berdinka, September 2005
A super scenic spire that stands out above the Greek Creek Glacier, the Needle is a summit that just begs to be climbed.

Approach: The Green Creek Needle is the obvious spire between Little Sister and Skookum Peak.  Work your way up the glacier to the moat. Find a way to cross and gear up.

Pitch 1: Scramble up third and fourth-class terrain to the base of a chimney. (90’) Be sure to build a belay station in a place protected from rockfall.

Pitch 2: Climb the easy chimney to the base of the final headwall. (5.4, 80’)

Pitch 3: Send the beautiful face to the needle-like top of the spire. (5.7, 70’)

Descent: Rappel the route.

Gear: Standard to 3”, it may be good to double-up on small gear.

--Jason D. Martin

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