The Glacier Peak Wilderness Area - South Face Sinister, 15 days soloDate:
Greetings, from Red Rock Nevada; the fall season in the desert is in full swing. Even though the loop road and camp ground are closed the climbing is open and the climbers have the keys to the castle. The canyons are ghost towns and the routes are wide open….picture me rolling. Here is a video Merritt Pelkey made with a small quad-copter; it’s cheesy but the angles are cool.https://www.dropbox.com/s/3pwqdggme38iw66/Eric_redrocks_02.movhttps://www.dropbox.com/s/1c502gf9l5emz18/eric_full-desktop.m4v
I’m spiting it real this TR and throwing PC right out the fucking window, you may not want your kids to read this, in fact, I recommend against it. This was a 15 day solo so I’ll be talking about a lot more than climbing; my opinions, my emotions and you might even get a peak at my massive and unwarranted ego. Ha If you know me then you know I’m mostly kidding around and that I don’t take myself to seriously, but if it’s about beta it’s word for word the truth.
My folks dropped me off at 25 mile campground on the shores of Lake Chelan on the 29th of August. I camped that evening and walked the three miles to the 25 mile boat launch the 2nd morning and took the lady up to Holden launch. The bus runs you 11 miles up the hill to Holden. After lunch I walked the four miles up to Hart Lake and settled in for the evening. There was a nice couple from Seattle there and we sat and matched bowls through dinner and into the evening. This guy was a Lawyer but he could burn herb with the best of’em.
At first light my movement to climb Bonanza was under way. As much as I tried to pace myself and told myself to go slow it was to no avail. I came up out of Hart Lake all engines running. That was a mistake, it was an 85 degree day, I was a little dehydrated from having a few drinks and puffing and by the time I had gained 4k of elevation I could feel it. It gets worse. The snow ramp to access my rock route on Bonazas south face was way out of shape; it looked as fragile as a chandelier. As soon as I saw it my inside voice said “NO”. I have a long standing promise with my inside voice never to ignore it. I tried to argue, bargain; “we” had a brief board meeting. I was soon seen headed down the mountain with my chin hung low. I felt as though Fred Becky himself just stepped out from behind a boulder with a clipboard and a black beret to evaluate me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eB8sG4smWbo
It gets worse.
After losing that 4k+ of elevation, all of it off trail in rolling rocks and intermittent cliffs and some slide alder and gaining the trail, I was hurting. Cramping badly in both legs and my core; standing was hard, this was a mild heat stroke and I was a bit uncomfortable. Two college aged Christian Girls from Holden had appeared in my camp site in my absence. They were a little surprised to see me and in such bad shape; I doubt they’ve ever seen someone push themselves that hard. Dinner was tough to cook and harder to eat. A fawn wondered into camp and the girls are so innocent one of them says “I wish I could take the fawn in my tent and cuddle with it.” I was thinking, “I’d like to slay that fawn, roast its tender loin over the fire, eat it with some couscous and have a cuddle puddle with both of you hotties under the stars.” Blurred Lines, I’m not just going to jail, I’m going to hell. It gets worse.
A full body sweat covered me and woke me from my sleep; vomiting or defecating was imminent and I wasn’t sure which. Standing or squatting was impossible due to core cramps and my pants barley got down, with my butt propped up on a little rock before I desecrated that camp site in total darkness. It gets worse.
In the morning the girls had left by the time I got up. I was fixing breakfast and trying to rehydrate when one of them comes jogging back into camp with a radio. She informed me that the weather was going to turn bad and that she and the Pastor at Holden had discussed it and I should come back to Holden and rest before getting a special ride down to the boat so I could get out of the woods. I didn’t offer a word of protest, simply thanked her for her concern. As soon as she left camp I packed and headed deeper into the woods. Did Holden think I was Roberto Duran, quitting on my stool? Is Holden in the business of advising people on what they can and can’t do in the woods? Are they experts? I didn’t register with the hikers hut at Holden for a reason; I didn’t want them thinking about me.
Three miles killed me before crashing on the side of the trail that day. The next day I made it to Lyman Lake and took a rest day. No one was there. I was so weak that a five year old in a wheel chair could have kicked my ass. The following day I moved up to Cloudy Pass then down to Suattle Pass and briefly south on the PCT to Miners Ridge Trail. At Image lake I turned north and headed over the ridge and down into Canyon Lake Basin where the trail turned to an intermittent path.
That evening lightning was popping off in the cloud tops down in the western WA low lands; it looked like a fireworks display. As the storms reached the hills they accelerated and intensified under the Venturi effect, passing over me like runaway freight trains in the night. I took an Oxy-codeine that a good Friend had given me and burned some herb; Mazzy Star crooned softly in my ear. The violence of the storms was magnificent.
In the morning my whole world was wet and it was still raining. “Rain before 7, gone by 11” I assured myself. A wet hike to Canyon Lake ensued; Canyon Lake was deserted as well. I would have to wait out the weather here before committing to the high country. It was another evening filled with lightning and thunder. Dry creeks roared to life and the lake level went up then dropped leaving a high ring of debris. I would learn later that more than 10 inches of rain and thousands of lightning strikes fell in those 48 hours around Stehekin.
Looking West to Sulfer Creek
Can you make out Miners Ridge Lookout below?
The weather finally broke that afternoon and I moved up to Totem pass. About 30 minutes after arriving a cold steel rain started to fall and I climbed in my OR one man shelter and suffered another wet evening. It was another soaked morning and Ross pass was on the days agenda. This was the most pristine and clean place I have ever been in my life. There was zero sign of Man, no trails or paths, no carins, no fire pits or trash; it was amazing. The blue berries had been really good the whole trip but outlandish here. The cool night air at 6500ele had perfected the sugars in the berries and I couldn’t eat enough. Some people would say shut up Eric, don’t let the secret out. But this place is guarded by a very remote location and the kind of terrine that would give a mountain goat vertigo.
Dome and Sinister
The next morning the weather finally broke and Dome and Sinister were just to the north peeking out from dissipating clouds. I was thoroughly enjoying my federally protected wilderness experience when some “No Talent Ass Clown” showed up flying the route I had declared to the NCNP in a turbine powered rotary wing aircraft thousands of feet below the summits. It’s a violation of Federal Law to fly an aircraft that low in a wilderness area without a declared emergency. I was fucking pissed off. What was he going to do, see what my comfort level was? Drop me a Duraflame log, a dry sleeping bag and some Animal Cookies? Not that I would have refused the cookies. I’ll tell you what those worry warts in Holden don’t know, what those NTACS at the NCNP can’t tell you; “Mamma can’t cut the crust off the world for you.” If you come to these Cascade Mountains it actually might rain, it could be uncomphy, and one may just have to Cowboy up. I know I’m so preaching to the choir on this. That day ended at a high camp on the SE corner of Sinister with a cool carin. http://www.noparkexpansion.blogspot.com/
That evening, from my camp below Sinister, I saw the jet stream pass over me and usher a window of good weather in. At first light on the morning of September 9 the sky had gone blue bird, there was no ring around the sun and my stoke was high. That morning I laced my boots up like a prize fighter whose pride had been sorely strung and packed my go bag like a commando prepping for a one man alpine assault on the summit, clean, cold blooded, through and methodical. The south face on Sinister is a striking Granite wall 600 feet tall. It looks like there are lots of lines left to go. Maybe when the boys tire with Gun Sight they’ll head over. As the wall got closer my eyes settled on a line that would go for me.
South Face of Sinister
The late season shrund had one place that could be crossed but it was guarded by steep snow. Carefully I made my way traversing up the steep snow and delicately stepped across the shrund. A big smile crossed my face as I touched the sun warmed rock for the first time. An anchor was quickly set and the ears were turned closed on my silent partner. It was on like Donkey Kong! The first pitch was the best, 5.7 on clean granite. It came right off; I set another anchor and was on my down to clean pitch 1. I then moved up and left free solo over easier 5th class to the southwest ridge. As I soloed the ridge with the south face exposure to my right, Tool sober was blasting in my ear buds and the irony made me laugh as my adrenal glands swelled, brimmed, pushing my favorite drug into my bloodstream. At the summit my gaze fell on the crowd of peaks to my north as Sinister was counted out by the ref in my peripheral vision.
Here's me on Sinisters Summit...ha
It was surreal to be alone and in such a remote place.
I loitered on the summit in the sunshine and solitude for quite some time, burned some herb and wrote this poem.
Lost in time, movement and motion,
adrift and in bliss on an alpine ocean.
Lost in the light and immenseness of this space,
I want to tear out my soul and leave it forever in this place.
Yet I scurry away in the inky twilight,
for there’s no alibi from the truth or the night.
An American Alpinist in the American Alps.
There is very little tat on Sinister. I’m the type of climber that will move tat around to suit my needs. That option isn't available here, it’s just too remote. I burned all my tat and a sling to get back to the snow and was back at camp well before dark. The next day I moved around to the cool camp site just east of Gunsight peak. The site is up on a cliffed ridge that has Blue Lake under it.
The morning of Sept 11th I moved up to the notch south of Gunsights south peak. I gave a big Monkey Call but it came back all echo’s…Where were you guys? I looked and looked for the way down with no luck. I had to find the way because I was out of Tat. I couldn’t find it Blake. Did you guys leave tat last time you were there? I saw on your TR you said “the third notch south of the south peak”
Gunsight Peak looking North
Sinister and Dome looking West
I forgot about getting down and started to take a look at Gun Runner. That’s the traverse Blake and a buddy put up. After assessing my tat situation, time of day, physical condition and remoteness; I decided that it would be irresponsible to start a grade IV rock climb and headed back to camp a little disappointed. It was a good decision as the next few days would be some of the toughest of my life.
Gunsight at dawn
Pano, Glacier Peak, Sinister, Dome, Gunsight.
It was time to head back to civilization, my food was getting low and I was eating oatmeal for breakfast and dinner. Sugar on it in the morning and taco seasoning on it for dinner; it’s not as bad as you may think.
The way down for me would be north into Icy Creek then down the West Fork of Agnes Creek. This was a bad mistake. It started normal enough with alpine slabs and intermittent cliffs. After that large scree fields until the slope became choked with brush and steepened alarmingly. The muddy slope turned to a blind cliff that seemed pretty big from above. I climbed a tree to get a better look; I learned I was up shit creek. I kept making my way lower to find the edge of the cliff and set my first rappel from a small tree. As soon as I lowered out the cliff looked scary, loose and wet. My rope disappeared over a bulge making the rappel blind. I was out of options and went for it. The rope ended on a small ledge 200 plus feet off the deck. I pulled it and scrambled over to another small tree. Two more long raps brought me to a steep slope that I scrambled down. This cliff cost me $50 bucks to get off, I guess I needed a new cordelette anyway. This cliff was the most dangerous thing I did in 15 days and I’d call this cliff a good place to die. Trying to descend it at night would be sheer folly. I’m soft peddling this to an enormous degree.
Cliff on Icy Creek
I thought that was the worst of it was behind me, I was wrong. As I descended steep slopes to the creek bottom it looked thick as a jungle. There were old growth Cedars jutting out of this tangle every so often, hundreds of feet tall. The old growth slide alder tangled with devils club and nettles started as soon as I was down. The stuff was giant, obscene with lower boughs two feet in diameter and black water under them leaving no place to rest. While I was in it I thought about opening a new gym in Seattle called “Slide Alders”. I would have people work out on a Slide Alder machine. You’d come in and I’d be like….”Hi, welcome to slide alders. Toss that 70 pound pack on and step up on the boughs…grab the ones over head with your hands. I’m going to turn it on now and spray you with a hose….” Guaranteed to burn a ton of calories.
The valley had swamps, beaver dams, multiple stream channels including the main one with swift water and boulders. The trail #1272 marked on the green trails maps hasn’t been maintained in years. I found it in spots severely over grown with slide alder.
Movement continued until dark and thought the worst of it was behind me, I was wrong. I was on the move by first light and hoped to make the pct by noon. A Bull Elk in rut was following me all morning and continuously bugling at me. I’ve hunted Elk and heard them bugle at other males to fight. This Bull thought I was a girl Elk and his bugle was a song and whistles, it was beautiful. Finally he got so close I turned and yelled, “Dude, I’m not an Elk”. That’s the last I heard of him. At 5pm I crossed the confluence of South Fork of Agnes and the West Agnes and camped on the creeks edge thoroughly smoked. It took me another hour the following morning to find the pct which seemed like a sterile passageway compared to the diversity of off trail travel and the high country.
A few easy hours later and the bus stop at high bridge was gained. The bakery was in striking distance and I thought about all the snacks in that little store. It had been 9 days since I had seen another person, the first three groups walked by me without so much as a hello. It made me feel very lonely for the first time. Soon two ladies could hold their curiosity no more and asked me what I was doing. I asked them if they had any food and they gave me there left over lunch; I licked the wrappers shamelessly as they looked on in amusement.
In Stehekin a large group of PCT through hikers were breaking from the trail and resupplying. They had started on the Mexican Border in early April and had a few weeks left to the Canadian border. They asked me what I was doing and showed them some video footage of soloing on the south face of Sinister to ooohhss and ahhhaasss. A crowd formed around my camera and the inevitable questions started…”You do this alone?” “Are you crazy?” “Does your Mom know?” She dropped me off, I reply. I felt like a chess player that had inadvertently wandered into a checkers tournament.
I was up at first light on the 15th and walked down to the dock to make some photos. On the dock were four people who informed me they were going to Chelan. How I asked? Beaver sea plane and do you want to go was the reply.
I ran to get my pack and got a free Beaver sea plane ride down the lake at sunrise from the two coolest Microsoft cats ever! Then they drove me back to Bellevue and even bought me breakfast. I told them they had a free climbing guide in the Seattle area.
So, I’ll share this much but don’t ask me for any info on the following. On one of the days in this 15 day solo I came across a rock with a piece of very pure Galena on it. That’s mainly silver. I about crapped my pants! I had been looking for this my entire life and was now holding it in my hand. Ten feet higher I found a rock covered in crystals the size of a toe and copper. It was beautiful, and then 10 feet higher I found the vein these rocks came from, the ledge had free Galena, silver and copper running in crystals and quartz. I was frozen in real time, a deer in Mother Nature’s headlights.
Then I had the epiphany of a lifetime, enlightenment. This is how all the serious dirtbags have done it all these years. Of course! I’ll bet Becky has half a dozen ledges stretched out from the Yukon to Yuma County. Kick’em down Fred. I’ll bet the Skoogs have a ledge; they had three sets of eyes out there for years. How about Nelson, that shop can’t make that much. Does Blake want me to believe that he saved his tips to buy the chopper ride into Waddington? Bullshit Herrington, where’s your ledge?
Slide me the catalog, Daddy’s gonna show you how to ball…..haGear Notes:
Gear, I bought some new gear and tried some new stuff this trip. I looked on Andrew Skurka’s web site to get all of his go-lite tips. I tried the cat can stove and love it! For the cascades it really is a great solution and I highly recommend it. Besides cooking your food the rubbing alcohol came in handy for hand sanitizer, screen cleaner, wound cleaner and it’s the ultimate fire starter. The cat can stove is the best fire starter hands down; it beats mag block, Vaseline cotton balls and a candle. The best thing about the stove besides being light is that it will cost you less than 5 bucks.
Go-Lite packs are not suited for North Cascade punishment. I’ll be sending mine back for a refund, I’m surprised it finished the trip.
The Salewa Alpine Trainer is a good boot but I broke it in and wore it out in 16 Cascade days. There’s no way that boot would last 30 days in the Cascades.
I bought a new z-lite foam pad and would go with a rolled one next time; I just didn’t trust any of my inflatable pads for 15 days.
Scholler dry-skin is IMHO the best wicking layer out there and this stuff stands up to serious abuse.
I carried 1 70m 10.2, silent partner, set of nuts, set of aliens, 25ft tat, 5 rap rings, ice ax, crampons. I would recommend a lot more tat in this area.
I did not take a map, GPS, compass or signaling device of any type.
I needed to keep my headlamp, i-pod and camera charged this whole time so I designed and built this small widget. It’s an 8AA battery holder from radio shack with a 12vdc to 5vdc cigarette lighter to USB port and a zerner diode to keep the juice flowing in the right direction. I used 8 lithium AA batts and they kept everything charged for 11 days. It’s a great solution and cost me less that $20 bucks to build.Approach Notes:
Lady of the Lake to Holden.