Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Guide's Garage Sale - Used Climbing and Ski Gear!

As a working guide service we are constantly turning over personal and rental climbing and backcountry ski gear. We have launched a new page called the Guide's Garage Sale on our website.  From time to time we will be placing items for sale on this page.  Most gear sales occur in the off-season.

Items for sale so far in October of 2016 include:

Sportiva GT 177cm Touring Skis with Sportiva Skins and Dynafit ST Bindings - $425
2nd Pair of Sportiva GT 177 cm Touring Skis with Sportiva Skins and Dyanfit ST Bindings - $400
Sportiva GT 184 cm Touring Skis with Dyanfit ST bindings. - $375
Ortovox Tour 32 + 7 ABS Packs - $450 each

If interested in any of the gear call our office at 509-548-5823 or send us an e-mail.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Winter 2016-17 Stevens Pass AIARE Level 1 & 2 Avalanche Course Dates

With winter approaching, now is the time to schedule and book your AIARE Level 1 and AIARE Level 2 Avalanche Courses. We have posted the dates for all winter 2016-17 AIARE Level 1 and 2 Avalanche programs on our website and are currently taking bookings.  All programs have limited enrollment and we have been selling out on most dates for the past 4 years.

NMS skiers using safe travel techniques in the Italian Alps
AIARE Level 1 Course: This course involves 24 hours of total course time with all classroom sessions taking place at the Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort and all field activities taking in the Stevens Pass Backcountry. The course cost is $340 per participant and includes all course materials as well as a single-ride lift ticket (if needed) at Stevens Pass Mountain Resort.

AIARE Level 1 Classroom at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort

2016-17 AIARE Level 1 Dates

  • Dec. 2-4, 2016
  • Dec. 9-11, 2016
  • Dec. 16-18, 2016
  • January 6-8, 2017
  • Jan 14-16, 2017 (MLK)
  • Jan 20-22, 2017
  • Jan 27-29, 2017
  • February 3-5, 2017
  • February 10-12, 2017
  • February 18-20 (President's)
  • March 3-5, 2017
  • Custom Dates Also Available
AIARE Level 2 Course: Our AIARE Level 2 courses will once again be led by our experienced staff, which includes Harlan Sheppard, Ian Nicholson, and Dallas Glass.  In addition to experience as a heli-guide and ski patroller, Harland is currently working full-time each winter as a forecaster for the Washington State Department of Transportation as one of the forecasters for US highway 2 and Stevens Pass.  Ian Nicholson is an IFMGA guide and NWAC field observer and one of the more experienced instructors in the the Pacific Northwest. Dallas Glass is also an NWAC observer, mountaineering guide and Education Committee member for the American Avalanche Association. Harlan, Ian, and Dallas, are assisted by IFMGA guides Olivia Race and Nick Pope. For winter 2016-17 we are offering two formats: 1. A split date format allowing students to complete the course on two successive weekends, and a straight format where the course is presented in 4 consecutive days running from Thursday-Sunday. The course cost is $525

Skiing the backcountry of Hokkaido Japan

2016-17 AIARE Level 2 Dates

  • January 7-8 & 14-15, 2017
  • February 2-5, 2017
  • Custom Dates Available
Transition on NMS Avalanche Course - Stevens Pass Backcountry
Why take your AIARE Avalanche Course with the Northwest Mountain School?
  1. All of our instructors are also avid backcountry users and working ski guides. In addition to teaching these courses each of our instructors is ski touring multiple times per week, or even daily when the snow is good. Is addition to ski guiding, our guides have yearly guiding experience on objectives as big as 8000-meter peaks, Denali, Rainier, Baker, Adams, and other common PNW climbing and skiing destinations.
  2. We have run at least 2 AIARE Level 2 courses per year and 11-13 AIARE Level 1 each season. This allows us to constantly refine and improve our courses.
  3. Our courses are designed to tie into other NMS programs such is Introduction to Alpine Ski Touring, Intermediate Alpine Ski Touring, Powder Betty Women's Backcountry Ski Camp, and our European Ski Tours.
  4. Our teaching venue at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort is an award wining, green leaning, resort and conference facility second to none in Central Washington.
  5. We carry top of the line Ortovox digital avalanche beacons, Black Diamond probes, Black Diamond shovels, and rent AT ski setups with Dynafit and Black Diamond bindings mounted on lightweight touring skis of all lengths from Sportiva, K2, and Black Diamond.
If you have any questions feel free to give us a call at 509-548-5823, or visit our courses pages at AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course or AIARE Level 2 Avalanche Course.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Silvretta Ski Tour Trip Report ~ March 23-28, 2015

Robes Parrish and I scouted our Silvretta Ski Tour in the Spring of 2014 and I returned with Pete Keane in the Spring of 2015 with an enthusiastic group of return customers and their friends. In 2014 we found really amazing ski conditions, but were unsure if we had just got lucky or if the rumors are true that this is an area that holds powder longer than most areas. The range is tucked into a bit of a rain shadow, heavy on North facing terrain, and ideally laid out for touring, but it is also generally a bit lower than most of the other trips we run. In 2014 we were there in early March, this year we returned near the end of March. Bear in mind that these huts, unlike the huts on the Haute Route, open between late December and early February and then stay open all winter. 

Heidelberger Hut's Snowcoach, the quick and easy way into the touring terrain.
We tweaked a few things from the year before. 1. We decided to stay in Kappl (1258 M), just down valley from Ishgl. It was quieter and worked out well. 2. We entered the range using the Heidelberger Huts slowcoach as it would run us up the Val Fenga quickly and allow us a full-day of touring out of the Heidelberger Hut (2264 M) on day 1. Alternately you can use the lifts from Ishgl combined with some touring to get to the hut. Both Robes and I found the ski area a bit chaotic, but interesting.

The captain of our snowcoach, day 1 on Silvretta Tour.
The guy that showed up was friendly and efficient, strapped all our skis to the blade of the coolest snowcat I have ridden in and had us up to the hut in about 40 minutes, quick considering that you climb about 900 meters out of the valley. The snow coach was €25 per person and they picked us up in front of the Hotel Jagerhof near the police station in Ishgl.

Approaching the Heidelberger Hut in the Silvretta Region
If you are skiing in from the ski area, you roll into the Heidelberger Hut from the lookers left in this view. There is a relatively new tram that deposits you atop the Pix Val Gronda (2812 M) and then you can wrap down and around to the Fourcla Val Gronda (2752 M) or alternately ski more directly to the hut.  The more direct route has not looked good either time we have been here as it is south facing and looks pretty bony.  In general the snowpack here is much thinner as the range sits in a bit of a rain shadow, but it also seems to hold the cold better and as a result we generally find good powder skiing.

Good skiing off the Spi d'Ursanna - Silvretta
We had good skiing on the Spi d'Ursanna (2898 M) behind the hut. There was a nice little North facing bowl that held great snow in the top 300 meters and provided for several laps of varying steepness. It took about 2 hours to get to the main saddle up there from the hut. Our plan for the tour was to spend 1 night at the Heidelberger Hut, 2 nights at the Jamtal Hut (1265 M), and 2 nights at the Wiesbadner Hut (2443 M). Alternately you can add huts on the South side of the range and then end by heading out West to Huts like the Silvretta Hut and then cycle back to the area.  On our two visits the previous strategy has given us more options and provided for a lot more skiing, but I would one day like to do the entire circuit.

Signage at Kronenjoch in, halfway between Heidelberger and Jamtal Huts
On day 2, we toured up and over the Kronenjoch (2980 M) and then down to the Jamtal Hut for lunch.  The trip up to the Krinenjoch took 3 hours and then another bit down to the hut. In 2014 Robes and I hit some incredible shots just blow and skiers right of the Kronenjoch, but this year we had to drop farther into the valley before things softened up.

Jamtal Hut (2165 M) - Silvretta Ski Tour
The Jamtal is one of the truly great huts in the alps.  Four generations of the Gottlieb family has run the hut since 1882 with breaks during WWI and WWII when the area was declared a "prohibited zone." Lorenz Gottlieb (the 4th) has run the hut since 1995. The crazy structure on the left is an artificial ice climbing column, a popular spot for mountaineering courses. After lunch on day 2 we skied laps off the Augstenkopf (2972 M) again finding great snow on North facing slopes.

Sarah, Taylor, and Curtis all smiles on top of the Gemspitze (3107 M)
On Day 3 the weather was starting to feel like it was falling apart a bit.  We reminded ourselves that storms are where fresh snow comes from and headed out on a full-day of touring that included summits of the Gemspitze (3107 M) and the Hinter Jamspitze (3156 M). Both feature not facing glacier ski runs that dump down onto the Jamtal Glacier and eventually lead you down the gut of the Jamtal Valley and the hut. The flat light coming off the Gemspitze was tough, but things improved slightly for the Hinter Jamspitze.

Skiers approaching the summit of the Hinter Jamspitz (3156 M) - Silvretta Ski Tour
The Jamtal Hut also offers a snow coach option and could easily provide the base for a 3-5 day ski tour with no need to visit adjacent valleys. Regardless we were excited to move onto the Wiesbadner Hut on the morning of day 4 as that area is rich with big lines and the forecast called for enough of a storm that we wanted to be up and over the pass before things got cranking too much.

Looking down the Jamtal Valley from near the Ochsenscharte.
On Day 4 we left the Jamtal Hut and headed up valley toward the Dreilanderspitze (3197 M). Our intention was to summit, but we opted out of the last 100 meters as it was going to be heavy on scrambling and offer no additional ski turns. The ski off this shoulder has produced both years for us. The photo above is looking back down the Jamtal Valley as we approach the Ochsenscharte on the Jamtal glacier.

Pete Keane dropping in on the Dreilanderspitz (3197 M) - Austria, Silvretta
We were pleased that the clouds lifted a bit while we were up on the Dreilanderspitze as it made for more relaxed turns on what are initially semi-steep slopes. That is Pete Keane making the turns with the Jamtal Valley in the background and the pass we came through down and to his right.

Nice skiing on the Vermunt Glacier above the Wiesbaden Hut - Austria
As you work your way down off the Dreilanderspitze you arrive onto Vermunt Glacier which faces predominately NW and offers a nice steep entry followed by low angled glacier skiing the dumps into the non-glaciated terrain just above the hut. You need to have a pretty solid idea of where the hut is as you work into this valley, which is big.

One of the many rich delights you can follow your hut lunch with!
We made the Wiesbadner Hut in time for lunch and of course a sweet dish or two. Perhaps the biggest challenge of any hut trip is physically getting up from lunch after sampling some delicacy and turning toward the pull of more powder.  

Jeff digging the "porch" at the Wiesbaden Hut - Hemingway visited here in the 1920's.
The Wiesbadner Hut has this great little covered outdoor patio that faces West and soaks up the afternoon sun.  It has a really good view of the Ochsentaler Glacier and Piz Buin (3312 M), the Signalhorn (3174 M), the Egghorn (3147 M) and the Silvrettahorn (3244 M).

Kari skinning up for the post lunch tour at the Wiesbaden Hut - Austria
After lunch we headed up behind the hut onto the Tiroler Glacier where we climbed up to a small pass and found good turns on NW aspects.  

Kari and Pete checking out the Piz Buin area and the cloud covered Ochsentaler Glacier
The tours immediately behind the hut are nice because they can easily be scaled for an afternoon.  The cloud deck moved up while we were out and we were appreciative of the fat that we had plugged in a few waypoints on the way up as it provided a much simpler route back down through what could quickly be problematic terrain if you were a bit off route.

The whole gang enjoying Austrian (or perhaps Russian) hot dog-pickle meat dish!
I think this particular meal was a highlight my season in Europe.  It was absolutely delicious, but the "meat loaf" was unlike anything I had experienced.  Somehow they had managed to cook entire pickles and something like a hot dog into what appeared to be solid meat and then sliced it. The hut is staffed by several very funny and slightly wild Russian women and meal times usually involved a lot of laughing and performing by the zany staff.

Looking for the ground so that we can make a few turns above the Wiesbadner Hut
On day 5 we woke up and things were absolutely socked in.  We began by traversing up and onto this very cool glacial moraine that can provide a back door onto the east flank of the Ochsentaller Glacier, but once we were up there the light was so flat that we opted to divert to the Vermunt Pass (2798 M). On the Moraine the few tight spots are short, but in true whiteout even a minor blip can compress the consequences.

Pete Keane greatly relieved to be out of the weather at the "Not" hut.
The tour up the Vermunt Glacier to this funky little thing called the Not Hutte (which is really, not, a hut, more a shed). The wind and snow were just cranking, so we dove inside and warmed up and then skied by braille back down to the Wiesbadner Hut for a hot lunch. We retooled and came up with a plan for the afternoon.

Wind sheltered pow below the Icecliff on the Ochsentaler Glacier
In the afternoon we were still pretty hot to work into the basin on the Ochsentaller Glacier. To get there we skied down from the hut to about 2300 M and then toured up  to around 2800 M where we were able to cycle incredible powder in a wind protected basin. 


When we got back to the hut we were feeling pretty happy to have pieced together good turns after a lot of sniffing around and we celebrated as only the Austrians can.

Day 6 - All our work pays off and the powder goods smile upon us - Silvretta!
On day 6, our last day, we woke up to no wind, tons of new snow, and good stability. The usual plan is to poke up and over the ridge behind the hut, ski a lap on the Tiroler Kopf (3095 M) and then drop out the magnificent 1000+ meter run down the Bielerhohe.  As we worked out way back in we quickly realized that this was going to transform into a nice, full day of powder skiing.

Amazing powder turns on the last day of the trip! - Silvretta Ski Tour
On our first lap we skied off the Rauhkopfscharte, and then we climbed back up to the Rauher Kopf and skied beautiful fall line to the skiers right.  The photo above is from that second run with Pete Keane skiing.

Yup. That was good.
We then dropped down valley a ways before cutting down and over to the skiers right and then climbing up the Bietal Glacier.  After a rough winter in Washington I can say without pause that the runs we found back in here (deep - stable) were among the best of the season.  We kept moving towards exiting and then deciding that something new was not to be missed only skin back up and get a bit more.


This was the last big climb and descent of the trip.  We skied down and hit the groomed nordic piste just below Bielerhohe and then glided and skated the 7-8 km to Wirl and the end of the trip.  

Thus far the Silvretta has not failed to provide mighty amounts of good skiing.....

Silvretta Ski Tour Logisitical Details:

  • Closest Airports: Innsbruck (1 hr 15 mins by car), Munich (3 hrs 15 mins by car). As we also work in other parts of the alps we often drive in from Zurich, Switzerland (also about 3 hours).
  • Maps: The best are the Swiss Topo Maps. the Tarasp Map is an actual ski map so it has the common ski lines marked, but has less detail.  The 1:25000 maps lack the ski lines, but have more detail and are better for precise navigation.  As a ski guide I prefer the 1:25000, but if unfamiliar with the area the 1:50000 is a nice addition that will point you toward the primary runs. From our experience, maps are impossible to find in the local area and are best ordered in advance.  There is a Kompass Map called Silvretta Verwallgruppe that is 1:50000 and will work in a pinch, but is less than ideal. After MUCH hunting we did find a copy of this locally.
    • Gross Litzner #1178, 1:25000
    • Samnaun #1179, 1:25000
    • Silvretta #1198, 1:25000
    • Tarasp (Silvretta - Scuol - Samnaun) #249S, 1:50000
  • Best time to tour in Silvretta: Most folks go late February through early April.  The Jamtal Hut opens in February, the Heidelbeger Hut opens just after Christmas, and the Wiesbadner Hut is planning to open February 20 for the 2016 ski season.
  • Feel free to call us at 509-548-5823 if we can assist with questions.

Many thanks to John, Alex, Peter, Jeff, Curtis, Taylor, Glenn, Kari, and Sarah (Oh my gosh!) for a fantastic trip.  It was a pleasure as always to work with IFMGA Pete Keane. We have one trip filled for 2016 from March 28-April 2, 2016 and are looking for folks for trips on March 7-12, 2016 and March 14-19, 2016.  Full trip details are here: Silvretta Ski Tour

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Upcoming Fall Climbs in the Great American Desert

We were recently informed that our quickly aging children will need to be educated. Fortunately our oldest is still a year out from Kindergarten and our youngest is still sorting out the mechanics of walking. With the threat of a more regular school schedule bearing down upon us we are planning to spend the Fall of 2015 doing what we love most, climbing in the desert. We have programs scheduled at Red Rocks from October 9-18, 2015 and will then be stationed in Moab, UT until winter starts here in the PNW.

Climbing at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Sunset over Red Rocks Canyon NCA
Our time at Red Rocks: We are not the type of folks that would go out of our way to visit Las Vegas. In 1988 JR was headed from Colorado to Joshua Tree and he stopped at Red Rocks to check out the climbing. At the time there was very little information on the climbing. Armed with a short article from climbing magazine several of us wandered up Pine Creek Canyon and proceeded to take a massive ass-whupping on what we thought was an established route. We estimated the wall to be a few pitches high. 6-pitches and a lot of swearing later we bailed. In the early 2000's we started coming back as part of our training with the American Mountain Guides Association enrollee to obtaining out AMGA Rock Guide Certifications. In the process of becoming certified we spent months trying to climb every possible exam route and fell in love with the place. Since becoming certified we apply every year for one of several permits for guiding issued by lottery.  We won one for 2015 and are planning to be in the area from October 9-18 working on routes we have come to cherish for 10 days.

Climbers on the first pitch of Dark Shadow's - Red Rocks

What is so special about Red Rocks?: As improbable as it seems, it is one of the prettiest places to climb in the Western US. Vegas is a busy place and had built itself right up to the edge of the park. The park itself sees a lot of traffic.  Fortunately most of those visitors drive the loop road and never hike out to where the climbing is.  Once away from the parking lot Red Rocks starts to feel very remote. Coming off the longer routes it feels downright wild. The rock is a very featured and hard sandstone and allows for long, moderate, multi-pitch routes unlike any we have experienced elsewhere. The climbing tends to be steep, well protected, and very reasonable even for less experienced climbers. Climbers with previous experience will be stunned at the quality of both the easier and harder routes.

What are your options for hiring a guide? We will have many of our key rock guides from Leavenworth in Red Rocks for the duration. To keep things simple we have kept the same rate schedule that we use for Leavenworth.  The daily rate is based on the ratio of guides to climbers and the length of your program. For example, an 8-hour day with 1 guide and 1 climber would be $340 per day, a 5-hour day would be $235 per day. If you want to step it up and climb a longer route such as Frogland (14 pitches, up to 5.7) the cost would be $375.

Our full rate schedule is as follows:
  • Full Day Rock Climbing (up to 8 hours) 
    • 1 climber with 1 guide (1:1) $340
    • climbers with 1 guide (2:1) $235
    • 3 climbers with 1 guide (3:1) $180
    • 4 climbers with 1 guide (4:1) $160
    • 5 climbers with 1 guide (5:1) $150
    • 6 climbers with 1 guide (6:1) $130
  • Half Day Rock Climbing (up to 5 hours) 
    • 1 climber with 1 guide (1:1) $235
    • 2 climbers with 1 guide (2:1) $155
    • 3 climbers with 1 guide (3:1) $130
    • 4 climbers with 1 guide (4:1) $110
    • 5 climbers with 1 guide (5:1) $100
    • 6 climbers with 1 guide (6:1) $90
  • Alpine Rock (up to 10 hours) 
    • 1 climber with 1 guide (1:1) $375
    • 2 climbers with 1 guide (2:1) $275
  • Grade IV or V days** 
    • climber with 1 guide (1:1) $550
    • climbers with 1 guide (2:1) $375
Awesome Climbing In Calico Basin, Red Rocks
Examples of how you might put your Red Rocks Climbing Trip together:

3 days of cragging with a guide with 2 climbers:
  • Day 1: Climb Dark Shadows. This is a 4-pitch 5.8 route with a spectacular position and really nice climbing. Climb Dark Shadows and if you have energy stop at the classic Straight Shooter Wall for a variety of good 5.8-5.10 climbs.
  • Day 2: Hit one of the turnouts for a full-day of sport climbing at the Black Corridor, Little Red Book, Panty Wall, or any of the many sport crags here. These climbs can be dialed up or down anywhere between about 5.8 and 5.11.  The routes are so well setup that you usually get a ton of climbing in.
  • Day 3: Get and early start and head for the Ultra-Classic 5.6+ route Cat in the Hat. This sits on the other side of Mescalito, the same feather that Dark Shadows climbs. On the way out, if there is time, there are a variety of one-pitch routes that can be done.
    • Total Cost for 2 climbers: $705 each
2 days of Long-Moderate Climbs with a guide and 1 climber: 
  • Day 1: Meet your guide early and head in to climb one or two of the great mid-length routes at White Rock Spring.  Good options include: Tunnel Vision (6 pitch, 5.7), Group Therapy (6-pitch, 5.7), Purblind Pillar (6-pitch 5.8). Book a 10-hour day and either relax on one route or hammer on 2.
  • Day 2: Meet early and drive around to remote and beautiful Black Velvet Canyon to try one of the classic moderate routes located there. A good option is Frogland, a 6-pitch 5.8 route. 
    • Total cost: $750 for one climber
3-day Hardman Tour with 1 guide and 1 climber:
  • Day 1: Hike into Juniper Canyon and tackle Ginger Cracks, a 7-pitch 5.9 route with a spectacular rappel descent. 
  • Day 2: Hike into Oak Creek Canyon and go for Black Orpheus, and 8-pitch 5.9+ route with a mostly walk-off descent
  • Day 3: Hike into Black Velvet Canyon and climb the ultra-classic Dream of Wild Turkeys, a 7-pitch 5.10 a route with a spectacular position amid many other steep, classic routes.
    • Total Cost: $1125 for 1-climber, bring a friend and the cost drops to $825 each.
2-Days of sunny sport climbing with your 4 best friends:
  • Day 1: Check out the scene at one of the pullouts and climb a variety of sport climbs until your arms fall-off. This works well even if your group has a variety of experience levels.  When things start to get hot in the afternoon we can reposition to Willow Springs to climb so classic cracks such as Ragged Edges for those that still have the energy.
  • Day 2: Head off the beaten path into Calico Basin and visit a variety of crags that offer routes of different levels of climbing. 
    • Cost: $320 each.
Red Rocks Women's Climbing Seminar: Olivia will once again be offering her Women's Red Rocks Climbing Seminar from October 15-18, 2015.  On this trip we usually all camp together at the Red Rocks Campground. We can either do group meals or hit the local restaurants. This trip includes all-female guides and is designed to give you a chance to climb with instructional clinics on most days giving you a chance to focus on skills such as led climbing, anchor construction, gear placement, or if you are newer to climbing we can cover skills like belaying, rapeling, etc.  Olivia brings enough guides to give everyone that wants to a chance to get out and climb multi-pitch routes on one or more of the days. Red Rocks Women's Climbing Seminar

IFMGA Guide Olivia Race's 2013 Women's Red Rocks Climbing Group
Why a women's seminar? Olivia, like many women, got into climbing through male friends. It has been her experience over time that many women encounter different obstacles than men as they get deeper into climbing. The answer to hesitation is not always as simple as "go for it." Olivia finds that women seem more relaxed and learn more effectively when climbing with other women. These trips have slowly gotten more popular and she has been offering similar programs in backcountry skiing (Called Powder Betty) and her customers consistently report that the all-women's format works better for them. 

Getting it done on the Red Rocks Women's Climbing Seminar.

Climbing around Moab, UT: This is our favorite spot on the planet.  We have spent the last decade here each fall climbing, rafting, mountain biking, road-biking, and exploring the canyons around this mecca for outdoor activity. We are planning to be here from October 26-November 15, 2015. There is a lot to be done here and we can tailor your trip to your climbing goals and background. There is really good top-roping, insane crack climbing at both Indian Creek and near Moab, as opportunities for classic ascents of towers such as Ancient Art, Castleton, We would recommend mixing it up and spending a day or two climbing with us and then a day or two biking or hiking.  

Olivia Race on one of the many classics at Indian Creek, UT
Cragging Options around Moab, UT: If simply looking to get out and climb some nice routes in a top-roped session your best bet is to camp or stay in Moab and join us each day at one of the various crags within a short drive of Moab. If it is on BLM land we can guide it. Common destinations for climbers looking for moderate climbing up to 5.9 include: Potash Road, The Ice Cream Parlor, as well as a few unpublished crags that friends have put up nearby. If you want to climb harder and can follow 5.10 the opportunities greatly expand. We also like the Abraxis Wall and of course Indian Creek, which is a 90-miute drive to the South.

Rest Day hikes have no shortage of interesting places to explore.
Tower Climbing: In our minds this is where it is at. Unfortunately there are not too many towers than can be climbed at an easier grade than 5.9.  If you can make the moves on 5.9 or 5.10 there are a lot of options.  One exception is the Ultra-Classic Ancient Art in the Fisher Towers. We have done this many times, usually bump not other climbers, and always walk away thinking that it one of the cooler things you can do. The summit redefines exposure. Have what it takes to stand up? Alternately we can take you to a classic like the Kor-Ingals Route on Castleton (4-pitch, 5.9), or try something harder  on the nearby Rectory.

Climber on top of Ancient Art, Fisher Chimneys
How do I schedule a climb with you in the desert? Given that total guides are limited and that the schedule for these trips is a bit of a patchwork quilt built around other bookings and various meetings, it is best to give us a call at 509-548-5823 and we can suggest trips that would work.  We can dial things up or down depending on how hard you want to climb or how budget conscious you are. We generally keep our total guiding days pretty light on the fall road trip, but are looking to do some climbing!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mt. Fury, East Peak, SE Glacier - Trip Report - August 12-15, 2015

"More than any other peak, Mt. Fury epitomizes the grand alpine wilderness of the amazing Picket Range." Fred Beckey, Cascade Alpine Guide, Vol 3.

Mt. Fury (8,280'), East Peak, as seen from approach to SE Glacier route
I am currently the proud parent of two very energetic, beautiful kids, one aged 10-months, the other just over 4-years. As much as I love my kids, I miss spending the majority of my time in the mountains and adjusting to the requirements of parenthood has been a struggle. Each trip into the mountains is more carefully chosen and the preciousness of the time spent has me becoming super selective about who I spend it with.

Dusty Wunderlich at the trailhead for our Mt. Fury climb
I came into the summer hot to guide Mt. Goode. We managed to book a trip for Nick Pope with 1 customer and I set out to find someone I could convince to climb with me.  The remoteness of Goode had me thinking it would be nice for two small groups to work alongside one another. It would be fun to get photos of a fellow-guide at work and if there were any issues we could assist one another. Dusty Wunderlich and I had planned to go to Europe together, but life intervened, and at the last moment Dusty and I settled on a shorter trip to Mt. Goode. Two major fires (Wolverine and Goode) broke out before the climb and Nick switched to Fury so we followed, albeit 2-days later.

Ross Lake Resort Water Taxi pickup on Ross Lake
Dusty and I had climbed Rainier, Aconcagua, and the North Face of Mt. Buckner together. Dusty is one of the more fit people I climb with and I knew he was up to the ass kicking that Fury was likely to provide on the approach and exit. We packed at my house in Leavenworth and then drove to the Ross Dam-Ross Lake Resort Trailhead on US highway 20. We paid $60 each way to avoid the 6-mile walk from the road to the Big Beaver Campground, the starting point for the long hike in.

Start of new Fire, just north of Big Beaver Trailhead, Ross Lake, WA
We had chosen Fury because the Northern Pickets was one of the few places in the State without lightning in the forecast. Forecast aside the area saw plenty of lightning this week, including one strike the night before our climb that started a new fire a few miles North of Big Beaver. The hike from Big Beaver (1611') to Luna Camp (2420') is a bit over 10 miles and took 3.5 hours. We crossed 3 or 4 good streams for water. This low elevation trail features super impressive climax Doug-Fir, Western Red Cedar forest, and is well-maintained. I had been in here with middle school students back in the days when Northwest Mountain School programs focused on climbing with kids and teaching environmental education.

Luna Camp, Big Beaver Loop, North Cascades National Park
We contemplated walking further, but knew that the going was about to become more difficult and opted to spend the afternoon resting, getting super-hydrated, and planned an early start the next morning. This is a nice camp with a toilet and a good stream for water. Up early the next morning we hiked for about 20-minutes to a point where we felt close to Big Beaver (the stream) and just north of the point where the stream from Access Creek joins the Big Beaver. There is no visible path though the underbrush here so we just dove in. After a few short battles with Devil's Club we found a suitable crossing.

Crossing Big Beaver, first third in knee deep water, last two-thirds on logs. 
Once across Big Beaver we stayed just climber's right of Access Creek and bush-whacked from 2457' up to 3840' where we finally crossed over Access Creek and soon got into a large boulder field. The brush is not quite as bad as we expected, at times rolling a faint-climber's trail, and often following animal trails. Occasional thickets of Slide Alder were often overcome by walking on fallen logs or plowing through barely discernible animal trails.

View from 3900' looking at Luna Peak, from here route stays climber's left of creek until access gully appears on your left.
We worked our way up Access Creek.  It has hot and our shirts were filled with pine needles from the hiking below. Eventually we broke free of the vegetation and boulders and climbed a couple thousand feet up a very blown out gully leading to a notch at 6100'. Of note, we did not see any rockfall, but the bottom half of the climb seems like a prime place to get taken out by significant rockfall.

Gully leading out of Access Creek to 6100' notch enrollee to Mt. Fury SE Glacier Route.
Once on the ridge at 6100' we finally had a view of the Southern Pickets. From left to right you see McMillan Spires, Inspiration, Pyramid, Degenhardt, Terror, Twin Needles, Himmelgeisterhorn, and the Ottohorn. There are no shortage of routes on the North side, but these peaks are most often climbed from the Southern approaches. As on Glacier earlier this summer, I was a bit saddened to see how much the glaciers are receding, particularly in the hot summer we have had following a poor winter.

The Southern Picket Range as seen from the 6100' notch, NE of the range.
From here we crossed steep heather slopes into the basin leading up to Luna Col, where we planned to place our high camp. You cross through a series of small valley's before eventually descending into the main valley. The ideal route seems to lose a bit of elevation at the start and then contour around into the valley. We had read stories of people wanting to use crampons on the heather here due to the steepness.  Fortunately it was dry and we did not have to contemplate this as it would be hard to imagine the damage we would cause. A huge part of the allure of the place is the fact that you encounter little evidence that others have been there before you and we wanted to keep it that way.

We camped low, at 6100', due to small electrical storms. The ideal camp is in the saddle just left of center on the ridge above. That camp is called Luna Col and is at 7200'.
We set up camp lower than planned as things were clouding up, it started to rain, and a thunderstorm rolled through to the NW and we felt less exposed off the ridge. Our route in the morning would traverse up and climb to point just below the snow slopes just right of center and then work out way over and left to Luna Col. The entire trip from Luna Camp to here took maybe 8 hours.

Southern Picket Range from our camp at 6100' on Southern slopes of Luna Peak.
Our weather forecast called for a 30% chance of lightning the following day between 11 am and 11 pm. We settled on an early start (walking by 4:30 am) hoping to at least not be on the may ridge lines if something rolled in. Stress related to lightning was the key feature of the trip from this point forward. We had had lightning when not forecasted and then saw none when forecasted. The weather on the exit was forecasted to degenerate into a significant rain and lightning event. Of interest, we still had not seen Fury at this point.

The ledge leading around the right side of point 7308' above Luna Col
We got up early and made Luna Col in about an hour. All of the trip reports and guidebook descriptions talk about the section head looking intimidating, but leading to this amazing ledge that allows you to bypass the difficulties on point 7308' just West of Luna Col.  A short class 3 scramble led to the ledge and it was a really cool feature that provided easy travel up to the ridge. Once on the ridge we walked to the next high point, about 10 minutes away. From here the route was not at all obvious and the descriptions we had read a bit confusing.

Key Beta for highpoint just beyond point 7308' on SE Glacier Route, Mt. Fury.
The photo above is taken looking back to the top of the highpoint reached about 10 minutes after you come across the ledge bypassing point 7308'.  When you get to this rise you think you are cliffed out and need to look left (South) for the entrance to a gully that will get you down to the glacier. We spent some time finding this. Once in the gully it is good short-rope terrain. We took the gully down to the glacier and then continued forward avoiding the glacier by alternately climbing in the moat and using the rock slab to the climbers left of the moat.

Looking West to the third rise on the ridge from Luna Col. You go up and over this. It is all easy with the exception of one supposed 5.0 section, which seems easier than that.
Once back up on the ridge we came to a large col and could see the next rock section to go over.  From this vantage it looked time-consuming, but went incredibly fast. This is where the one supposed 5.0 section is, but it seemed easier than that. We made it to the top of this about 20 minutes after we left the col.

Looking to the final ridge section before descending into the basins East of Mt Fury. Photo taken on return from summit.
 From the top of this third major rise you walk on a broad ridge for awhile and eventually start wondering how you are going to get off the ridge. The best route seems to be to go over the bump just above Dusty's head and slightly to the right of the photo center. On the back side of this there are some exposed down climbs to what eventually become heather slopes.  These are followed down and to the skier's right to about 6500'.  The heater in here starts in a very steep gully and then eventually degenerates into scree and becomes lower angled.

Once down to 6400-6500' in this basin you traverse toward the glaciers on Fury. Good water at times in this zone and eventually things seem a bit dicey, which leads to a ledge at around 6650' that will take you west.
We traversed through the basin crossing well under the red rock in the just right and over center and eventually were either going to need to lose a ton of elevation or need to cross extremely steep heather and scree.  At this point we found a nice ledge system that allowed us to traverse West at around 6650' to the small basin before you reach the actual SE glacier.

Here is where our route diverted from the usual SE Glacier route due to unusually broken glacier on the lower glacier.
Once across the ledge system you cross steep scree and come into a big basin East of the SE Glacier. We looked down the gully you would normally use to descend to the SE glacier and opted for the beta Nick had given us, which was to instead ascend up avoiding snow and hit the glacier much higher. In a normal year the SE glacier would be a better option, but this year the lower section of the route was very beat up from the early melt.

Finally on the SE glacier an climbing toward the summit.
We eventually gained the SE glacier and worked our way up and to the climber's left avoiding small crevasses along the way. When you get to the section just below the summit and expect there to be a bergschrund things are radically melted out and the bergschrund is long gone.  We traversed under the summit far to the West and eventually gained the world's loosest boulder pile.

Easy glacier travel on upper SE Glacier of Fury.
The final climb to the summit was in many ways the weirdest part of the route. The boulder field is incredibly loose and it took great care to work up and around a small rock summit to the left of the main snow field.  The snow in many ways seems a better route, but this was faster and we wanted to get in and out as slums clouds were slowly building to the East. Just below the summit we hit a rock col SW of the summit and did 1 or 2 very short pitches before moving back to short rope for the final climb to the summit.

Dusty Wunderlich on summit of Mt. Fury, East Summit, 8288'
We reached the summit around noon.  The climb up took 7 hours from our camp at 6100'. Two days earlier Nick Pope had guided the same route in about 6 hours to the summit from the regular camp at Luna Col at 7200'. The return trip took about 5 hours to Luna Col and another hour down to our camp at 6100'.

One tired Dusty rolling into a camp at 4000' on the way down.
We got back to camp and planned to spend the night.  I touched base with Olivia on the sat phone and she let us know that all hell was forecasted to break loose the following day and so we opted to move as low as possible to reduce the amount of travel on wet heather and in wet bushes.  There is a single, flat, sand and gravel spot big enough for a couple tents next to the creek in the Access Creek Basin at 4000'.  We made it to here about 45 minutes after dark and tucked in for the night.

Sulpher Shelf Fungus (aka Chicken of the Woods) on hike out.
We woke up the next morning and set off early for what became a good 8-hour slog to the trailhead. I use to teach natural history in this area when climbing with kids and wished I had my copy of Field Guide to the Cascades and Olympics (2nd edition) as the low-elevation forest hike out has a mind-blowing collection of plants, fungi, and amphibians, beaver dams, snakes, the works. You would be hard pressed to find a better trail to spend some time with kids while based out of the Big Beaver campground. We waited at the trailhead in the quickly developing thunder storm for our boat pickup. Once out, the drive home turned epic as we rerouted well into Eastern Washington to avoid the fires that were started and in the process of bringing sections of Chelan.


Many thanks to Dusty for a great trip.  We had hoped to climb Goode, but that will need to wait for a summer when there are no fires in the way. Dusty summed up his climb on Fb by saying, "A successful summit of Mt. Fury in the Picket Range but not without getting pretty beat up. By far the hardest alpine experience I've had to date, it tested every ounce of my physical and mental conditioning. Back to training on how to get the body and mind tougher."

I would love to guide Fury again, or any peak in the Pickets for that matter.  Ounce for ounce I don't think you can find a more magnificent destination in the lower 48. Feel free to call us at 509-548-5823 if we can help with details of climbs in the North Cascades.  Take good care of the place, it is a treasure.

North Cascades Guided Trips with the Northwest Mountain School.