I signed on for Bob Brievogel's third attempt on Mt. Triumph in the North Cascades. The first two ran out of time and hit too much snow on the summit, so Bob had done a bit more than half the route before. Yes, I am insane: after the Bivvy on Jefferson, and this info on Bob's previous attempts, I really did sign up for more!
I was disappointed that my friend Robert Joy couldn't make it - Bob had given him and his two kids bad blisters the week before on Shuksan! We ended up with Bob, his sidekick Richard Denker assisting, Chris Ledoux, and myself - a strong crew. Except Chris was still recovering from a broken back two years ago in a 35 foot ice climbing lead fall ground-out, and was still a bit rusty and slow. But slow for her was still plenty fast! I suggested, and Bob decided, to postpone a day to let a receding weather system move on out, and the weather was perfect.
This is no climb for neophytes or weanies. But the views throughout the trip are spectacular, and the climb itself, especially on the ridge, is a prize worth every bit of the effort on the approach. But it's a big prize - we were climbing and descending for 22 hours straight! (Yeah, I know, a bunch of slow, old guys...)
The pack-in is initially easy, following an old road, but the trail gets rough when it drops over the ridge four miles in, dropping 500 feet to lower Thornton lake.
A faint, brushy trail around the lake peters out as it climbs beside the creek to middle Thornton lake, then disappers into a long, slow section of blocky talus around the lake. A partial footpath leads up a steep talus/heather chute to a gorgeous but small base camp area in a narrow saddle leading to the southern end of Triumph Glacier.
Lots of flowers in the chute, especially a large area of bleeding hearts. Sunset on the N. Cascades, viewed from the ridge above the camp was memorable.
The climb is wonderful and varied. There is some steep ice right off the bat, leaving the saddle to descend to the glacier. Then some routefinding around cravasses, or onto the granite below the glacier, and some scrambling up to the technical ridge. All the harder sections of the ridge are on excellent rock, with tremendous exposure in many places, virtually straddling a narrow ridge with multi-hundred-foot drops on both sides. The scrambling is on pretty loose stuff though, particularly at the top, but easy simul-climbing. Plenty of rap stations - as we realized with darkness closing in halfway down them! We had about 10 raps, plus one roped and two unroped traverses/easy descents.
Gorgeous summit views, perhaps 35 peaks in sight - Baker, Shuksan, the entire Picket range
pack in 9:30
break at ridge crossing 12:15-1:00
arrive camp 3:30
cross glacier, scramble to notch in NE ridge 6:30 - 9:30
too many pitchs to count...but all fun!
summit 2:15 (first party)
3:00 (second party)
leave summit 3:20
stuck rope on 2nd rap - down/up climb to free 4:30 - 5:15
Big traverse, I'm last off it at 7:00
last 4 raps in the dark 9 - 1AM
rest stop, lie on granite next to glacier,
look up at stars 1 - 1:45
back to camp: 4:30
- 22 hours on route!
hike out: 11:15 - 3PM
This year the glacier has receded significantly, and is pretty broken up,
so we took a bit longer to decide how and where to cross it.
The guide book's 3-6 hrs from camp to summit is nonsense unless it's two
people simulclimbing almost the whole thing, except for the three steep
sections, or else starting at a bivvy above the first pitch.
We climbed as two rope teams, Denker and Chris were the lead team. Bob
and I alternated pitches, I took the odd pitches, which turned out to
include the three hardest sections (Bob, on the other hand lead the most
exposed sections, including the long ridgetop traverse and the small, airy
ledge traverse around the pinnacle.)
1st pitch can go diagonal either left or right up the face, about same
difficulty. The big upper step pitch starts with a right-leaning
offwidth crack, I lead it to the top, Richard went left onto the face
halfway up at the chockstone, both are high 5.6. Both fun! (Chris was
glad to be off the face).
Bob's and Richard's racks were generally a full set of stoppers, #1, #2,
and #3 camalots, two smaller cams, one #8 hex, all useful. I augmented the
rack with .5, 1, and 1.5 tricams, and #1 tcu, used them all.
Before, during, and after the stuck rope incident, I grumbled that I should
have brought rope bags for the raps. Would have saved about 1:30 of
descent time, including all the time spent untangling ropes. In
retrospect, I also should have also carried to the top, instead of leaving
at the initial notch:
- more water (an extra quart for the whole climb)
- a bit more food
- space blanket and bivvy bag
- figure 8 and my new auto-locking belay device - the tuber was just too
slow and clumsy on rap
- day pack instead of waist pack, or possibly a small bag off my harness.
Though no pack was sure nice...
- My tight rock shoes were too tight, whish I had used my 3 oz heavier
This is the first time I've ever seen Bob be the last person to the car!