Monday, June 27, 2022

Route Profile: Vesper Peak's True Grit (5.8, II)

The first year I worked as a mountain guide was the first year of the new millennium. I started guiding in June of the year 2000. And it was a busy busy season, full of things to learn. I didn't get to climb outside of work. I only had the opportunity to do that once.

In July of 2000, I climbed the North Face of Vesper Peak in Washington's Cascades with a long-time partner. It was a nice day out with a good friend, but the route itself didn't necessarily stick with me. 

Fast forward to the COVID summer of 2020. That was the second time I went to the mountain. I took the opportunity to climba newish route that my long-time friend Darrin Berdinka put up on Vesper.

 A climber clips a bolt on True Grit.

The route isn't that long -- only five pitches -- but it is high quality. The line is airy, exposed and beautiful. The crux fourth pitch climbs a perfect little crack right up the middle of the face. That particular pitch reminded me a lot of Birdland in Red Rock. The line was tremendously fun!

And it wasn't too far back in the backcountry. There are those that tend to camp near the mountain, but there's no reason to do so. It takes around three hours to get to the base. With a 7am start in the parking lot, we were at the base of the line by 10am.

Our intent was to climb both True Grit and Ragged Edge (a four-pitch 5.7 adjacent to True Grit), but when we were ready for our second line of the day, there were several parties on the route. It seems like the best way to do both climbs on the same day is to go to the mountain mid-week.

The hiking approach starts at the Sunrise Mine Trailhead off the Mountain Loop Highway. Directions to the trailhead can be found here, and a map can be found here. The drive takes between two and two-and-a-half hours from Seattle or Bellingham.

From the trailhead (2,500-feet), follow the trail, passing over several creeks (often with improvised bridges over them) until you emerge into the scenic Wirtz Basin, a cirque between the rocky flanks of Sperry and Morning Star Peak. Once in the basin, the trail peters and there are several sections where  you must follow carins. After the rocky section the trail reappears and switchbacks steeply up the right side of the basin to Headlee Pass (4,600-feet), at approximately the three-mile mark. 

From the pass, follow the trail to the northwest under Sperry Peak, eventually crossing a creek just below Vesper Lake. Continue up a climbers trail on the other side of the lake to approximately 5,700-feet. From there traverse north toward the pass between Vesper and an unnamed peak, but don't go all the way to the pass. There is a carin near at that elevation that indicates the climber's trail across the north face. 

From the carin traverse heather (or snow) to the base of the route. You may need an ice axe and crampons here, and maybe even snow pro, if it's early enough in the season.

Climbing Topo by Daren Berdinka

Pitch One: Start on a block and make your way up low fifth class to a belay below a chimney. (5.2, 200')

Pitch Two: Either climb directly up the squeeze chimney or climb the corner to the right. Eventually, you'll cross a heather ledge. Clip a bolt and then continue up, passing a few more bolts to an anchor on another heather ledge. (5.7, 100')

Pitch Three: Climb up the face, passing several bolts to an airy anchor. (90', 5.7)

Pitch Four: Launch up the finger crack. The crack is intermittent and there is a bolt here or there to connect it. Finish at another bolted anchor. (5.8, 120')

Pitch Five: Make a couple of harder moves, and then continue onto easier terrain to the end of the pitch, just below the summit. (5.8 then 5.5, 70')

Beautiful Views from the North Face of Vesper


The descent is embarrassingly easy. It is a simple 30-degree snow slope most of the year. It can be glissaded or walked down. If you're on the mountain in August or September, there may be more rock slabs to walk down, but there's no rappelling or shenanigans to get off this peak.

Vesper Peak will not disappoint. There is a fair bit of bang for your buck on this little peak, not far from the big cities.

--Jason D. Martin

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