Tagged ‘Alpine Climbing‘

West Ridge of Prusik Peak in a Day

The West Ridge of Prusik Peak can change a fella’s mind. One week ago, while setting a top-rope at Rocky Butte with a wicked hangover, I was thinking about selling most of my climbing gear. “I like sport climbing”, I told myself, “The movement is fun, and the fear is all of the benign its-in-your-head kind. Why do I repeatedly make myself get scared over trad gear in mediocre rock? Life is short, and mountain biking is way more fun than trad climbing.”

…It is a route of purity on marvelous granite.     (Fred Beckey)

There’s a cure for this kind of thinking. It’s called, in the words of guidebook author Fred Beckey, “a route of purity on marvelous granite”. The West Ridge of Prusik Peak in the Enchantment Lakes wilderness is the polar opposite of the terrifying and mediocre rock that Nick Till and I had climbed on Illumination Rock just a few weeks before. In particular, the precipitous south face and exposed west ridge of Prusik peak sport immaculate and solid granite divided by a run of beautiful human-compatible cracks. Add to this that Prusik sits light a lighthouse in the middle of one of the most beautiful alpine environments in the lower-48, and it’s hard to argue against giving it a go.

Prusik Peak

Prusik Peak from just below Prusik Pass. The West Ridge traces the left skyline to the summit.

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Climbing Illumination Rock

Approaching Illumination Rock

Approaching Illumination Rock

Memory is a poor record. Four years ago, Alex Ragus and I decided that it would be a good idea to go rock climbing on Illumination Rock.  We went, and I swore that I would never repeat the experience.  But memory fades, and yesterday I found myself once-again climbing Illumination Rock.  Read on →

The Walk Back – A Winter Attempt on Dragontail

I love the feeling of being completely thrashed.  Not at the bar, not after a party, but after dragging my arms and legs around the mountains for hours or days on end.  The feeling comes after the action, after the main show.  It comes during the big slog, on the way back to the car, or while melting water in a storm.  It is the feeling that I and my body know how to keep going, in spite of everything, even having savored everything.

On Tuesday of last week, Colin called me to ask if I wanted to go climbing.  When I asked where, he blindsided me with the suggestion that we take advantage of the forecast weather over the weekend to go to Dragontail Peak in the North Cascades.  There’s a route there called the Gerber/Sink which has seen more traffic in recent years.  How could a 1000 meters of moderate mixed climbing not?

Dragontail Peak in Winter

Colin approaches Dragontail Peak across Colchuck Lake. Parts of each of the Triple Couloirs are visible cutting the center of the peak, and the Gerber Sink follows runnels connecting prominent snow bands to the right of center, finishing in the 3rd couloir.

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Umbilicals “Not For Climbing Use”


While watching this video recently, I was struck both by the mechanism of the fall, which resembles a rag doll falling down a laundry heap, as well as by the failure of a piece of equipment which has recently regained popularity and widespread use among ice and alpine climbers. I’m referring of course to ice tool umbilicals.

The umbilical is an old idea which briefly fell out of style with the advent of the wrist loop for vertical ice climbing.  Old umbilicals would prevent dropping axes, but leashes offered a much more efficient resting position while climbing.  Recently,  as tools have developed steeper picks and larger pinky-hooks, umbilicals have regained popularity as a means of climbing longer and more committing routes without the risk of dropping a tool.  Though they create slightly more hassle and clutter, they are a clear choice compared to carrying a third tool.

But drop-protection is not the only way that they’re used.  There is an implicit understanding among climbers who use umbilicals that they function as a sort of moving belay.  Or at least, we would hope so.  As the video shows at 00:45, the leader’s umbilical fails under the sudden load of his weight. This illustrates a fundamental deficiency in the design of ice umbilicals which should be fixed. Read on →

Releasing the Grip

Two Climbers Cross the Stuart Glacier


I was sick and tired of eating humble pie.

I was hundreds of feet in the air on a tiny perch of stone, teeth chattering in the freezing shade, and I’d just given up.  The sun was just around the corner, tauntingly warming the NE face of Mt Stuart while slyly dodging our slow but steady upward ascent.  I’d planned on leading the pitch that I was now belaying, as I had belayed or followed all other pitches on the route, but this just wasn’t my climb.

Three weeks earlier I was in Portland, my new home again, and I was pulling out my hair trying to finish the last week of a summer course of physics without giving up on that too.  It was the kind of week when I’m tempted to buy a plane ticket in the wee hours of the morning, out of ill judgement and the bursting need for escape that grows under the pressure of unshirked responsibility.  It was during that week that I’d started to browse Nelson’sSelected Climbs in the Cascades and Fred Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Guide, hunting around for a dream.  The North Ridge of Mt Stuart caught my eye.  Just two hours later, the physics was forgotten and I’d drawn up a plan, complete with maps and hourly breakdown of the approach and climb, to pull off the route during a two-day window between shifts in the ER. One day and an one email to my long-time partner later, the trip was scheduled.

In the weeks preceeding, I climbed at the gym wearing a pack, traversing for hours rather than pulling down hard on boulder problems as I usually do.  I went running, biking, gave up beer, packed and repacked. I thought that I was prepared. I felt lean and mean, and I was excited to go after the biggest climb that I’d yet attempted. I studied the topo, trip reports, maps, and I visualized successful and calm movement over the climb.

And now, sitting at the small belay perch between the first and second crux pitches of the Upper North Ridge of Mt Stuart (IV 5.9, 17 pitches, 1600′) I forgave myself and gave up hope of regaining my dignity for the day.  All day I’d followed Alex along the ridge, simul-climbing rhythmically, sometimes haltingly, but never feeling at ease.  The terrain was easy, even with a pack, and though I’d felt invincible and fit on the approach, I now felt like I needed to crawl out of my skin. The exposure around me should have been thrilling, but I resisted it and grew stressed by the remoteness and commitment of our position.


Alex Catching First Light on the Bivy Perch, North Ridge of Mt Stuart, WA

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