North Hozomeen Mtn - Zorro Face, IV 5.9Date:
Written at the end of a planning email for Hozomeen which addressed some nagging details, this would become our refrain throughout the trip. Labor Day offered a nice climbing window, and our list of objectives included just plain ol’ good times at Squamish, which typically promises immediate rock, clean rock, solid rock, protectable rock—all conspicuously (or suspected) absent at our objective.
Most likely, many of you are aware of the opening passage in Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels:
“Hozomeen, Hozomeen, most beautiful mountain I ever seen, like a tiger sometimes with stripes, sunwashed rills and shadow crags wriggling lines in the Bright Daylight, vertical furrows and bumps and Boo! crevasses, boom, sheer magnificent Prudential mountain, nobody’s even heard of it, and it’s only 8,000 feet high, but what a horror when I first saw that void the first night of my staying on Desolation Peak waking up from deep fogs of 20 hours to a starlit night suddenly loomed by Hozomeen with his two sharp points, right in my window black – the Void, every time I’d think of the Void I’d see Hozomeen and understand – Over 70 days I had to stare at it.”
Later in the novel: “The void is not disturbed by any kind of ups or downs, my God look at Hozomeen, is he worried or tearful?... Why should I choose to be bitter or sweet, he does neither? – Why cant I be like Hozomeen and O Platitude O hoary old platitude of the bourgeois mind ‘take life as it comes’…”
“take life as it comes” indeed. This is a useful mantra when approaching the west face. We had suspected an approach from the N down a gully would grant us access—Colin Haley’s blog post
seemed to confirm this suspicion. However, this approach is nontrivial; the initial gully third-class down-climb, while loose, and dangerous, pales next to the shenanigans required to cross several precipitous ribs to our targeted launch point. A slip at any point spells an unpleasant end in the valley a couple thousand below. The approach took us a tedious and painstaking 4.5 hours (this after a first day of humping heavy loads 11+ miles to a camp just N of the peak.)
Camp in that basin; S and N Hozomeen left to right, with the west (Zorro) face mostly out of view; some of its northern margin on the right skyline. Our approach continues down (out of view) from the furthest notch on right.
Views during approach included the Picket range.
Approach soloing; downclimbing skills or funeral bills. squamish?
“take life as it comes”, also a useful mantra when trying to piece together leads up loose, sometimes friable and/or vegetated and/or wet, mostly welded shut (read: sparsely protected) metamorphosed basalt. The stuff is also called Hozomeen chert and was valued by the Salish for making knives and arrowheads. Hozomeen apparently is native Salish for "sharp, like a sharp knife."
Looking up at much of our (foreshortened) route, which tends left to the central summit in this pic.
Finally at the base, we decided to take it one pitch at a time, figuring we would try to retain the option to bail. squamish?
Rock, paper, scissors, Rolf wins first lead this time. End of rope. I follow and gain an appreciation for the climbing challenges this Hozomeen chert will proffer; sparse pro and selective handholds will be the order of the day. I lead up a second long pitch to the only evidence of human visitation: a ¼ inch bolt and a bail ‘biner. Someone came, saw, and turned around; foreboding. (We did not see any other indication of passage higher than this.) After a couple pitches of metamorphosed basalt, we were talking about turning around too. But we could see trees on ledges above, and figured we could still bail in a relatively safe and reasonable manner. squamish? The land of milk and honey beckoned us.
The third pitch required an exposed step-around with muddied feet; expletives drifted down to my belay. No pics. My pitch 4 went steeply up to a ledge, and traversed left; we were somehow making our way, and could still bail.
Rolf’s face at the pitch 4 transition betrays some of our uncertainty. During his pitch 5 lead, some curses and words in the wind, “I wanna go home”. It was probably just the wind; he would’ve said simply, “squamish?”
I’d like to forget pitch 6. I was forced up a steep 5.9 corner/arête with a paucity of gear. And what few pieces there were went into mungy and rotten fissures. Loose rock abounded, and without gear, there was no way to constrain the ropes from sending it down. Rolf didn’t get hit, but reported that he dutifully tied knots below his brake hand in case he was knocked out—so sensitive to my needs. I grunted up to a fat ledge, and Rolf managed to follow without getting shelled.
Then Rolf drew one of the plum pitches, the seventh. 5.9+, climbs a nice corner (but with a section of unavoidable decking potential), then a tricky traverse to another corner, up and then traverse again to the only belay opportunity. Again, only so much gear and rope management was possible; missiles flew by my safe belay spot, but a few also threatened while climbing—somehow, no carnage. This wouldn’t happen in …
Rolf up the p7 corner. Hand jams!?!
Pitch 8 had a couple steep sections. Here Rolf discerns which holds to clean and/or trust.
Pitches 9 and 10 stretched the ropes, continuing up the “corner” system we had identified as a weakness. More 5.9 (mostly easier) runouts. At the belay at top of pitch 10 I placed the only iron we used, a crappy pin to back up a solid piece and a marginal piece.
For pitch 11, Rolf raced the sunset to a ledge. Uncharacteristically, this pitch didn’t stretch the rope; he thought we should take the bivouac bird in hand. I thought we were close to the summit and could possibly manage to climb to the top in the twilight-soon-to-be-night. He pointed out that idea was risky, and his logic prevailed. In retrospect it was definitely the right move.
“take life as it comes”, also useful for shivering through the beautiful folly of an exposed bivy on a sloping ledge one nasty pitch from the summit. We’d brought some warm clothes but could have been warmer. All in all, the bivy wasn’t so bad, and definitely not as miserable as our unplanned bivy on Lemolo Mox across the way.
Hozomeen wasn’t done with us. In the morning, I put together a long and winding pitch on some of the worst rock and pro conditions on the face—one strong cup of coffee, scary to the last drop. But it got us to the summit ridge! Unfortunately, the only spot to belay again made rope-disturbing rubble unavoidable. On the finishing moves, Rolf got clocked right in the helmet with a softball-sized rock, but was ok. Shudder.
Top of our climb, just North of the summit, shortly after getting rocked.
Glad to have done it.
Another Scurlock masterpiece. Our route makes its way up to the left-facing corners directly below the summit. Our bivy occurred on the relatively large snow patch right below the summit. In the background is the Southwest Buttress, climbed many years ago by some hardcores.
Kerouac again: “And I will die, and you will die, and we all will die, and even the stars will fade out one after another in time.” But we won’t die on Hozomeen. Hopefully not in Squamish either. But I will climb again at the latter.
Both Rolf and I have mildly obsessed over this face for years, and were gratified (gruntled, even) to execute our vision. I expected technical demands exceeding 5.9, but given the challenges of Hozomeen chert, was glad for the limit. Probably half the pitches had some 5.9 moves, depending on what you trust for holds. We stretched the rope for most of the 12 pitches of pure adventure. I am fortunate to have a teammate like the curmudgeon: rich in experience (old), strong (for his weight), solid (old), and somehow able to check my relentlessly positive delusions. Thanks hardcore.
A couple summit shots:And more pics.
BTW, we descended the North Face route, rested, ate and drank, packed up and marched to car. The mosquitoes for the last couple miles were some other $#!+.Gear Notes:
Single set of nuts. Tricams up to hand size v useful. We took lots of small cams, but the doubles would actually be better in the mid-range.Approach Notes:
Nontrivial. Day 1, due to tons of rain the day before, we elected to take the scenic Skyline trail instead of the steep bushwhack. Day 2, follow your nose and low sense of self-worth.