Mt Thielsen - East Face, "Brainless Child"Date:
Mt Thielsen, East Face, Brainless Child, WI5+ “steep mush”, 5.9 X, 2000'Party:-
Tyler Adams and Steve Elder3/22/14
Tyler and I left the car at about 1:30am and hiked up the Thielsen Trail by headlamp/moonlight. After about an hour, we lost the boot track and put snowshoes on and went straight up through the woods. I've done this trail many times in winter now, but can still get disorientated in the dark. A quick GPS check showed we were just below the ridge line, so all was well. We ditched the snowshoes at the junction of the PCT and started the laborious post holing around the west face and north face. Under the north face, the snow improved to crampon conditions and our pace picked up. We reached the small saddle between the north and east faces right at sunrise. Another 30 minutes got us to the base of our route. After a quick assessment, I decided the first pitch would be best to go up the rock buttress trending left to gain the ice. Originally I had entertained the ideas of going left or right on ice leads to access the main gully, but both looked sketchy. First pitch was about 65m and probably about 5.9....it was surprisingly fun climbing on even more surprisingly solid rock. Mostly short grunty moves to another ledge system and not bad protection. First belay was on rock just to the right of the gully ice. Second pitch started by stepping left into the gully and up a short thin steep ice section and then up nice rolling ice about WI3+ with a couple of screws. This pitch was close to 70M to another rock belay on the right of the gully under an overhang that was dripping water big time. The belay itself was fairly dry, but once I moved up and left to start pitch 3, it was like a waterfall. I got one dubious screw in this pitch, which was probably WI4+, but soft deteriorating ice with perhaps a 10M vertical section near the top. This lead into low angle snow to a rock belay on the left side. The 4th pitch looked easy from below (how many times do I make that mistake!). The ice didn't look good, but I was soon to find out that it was worse than not good. With huge relief, I found a good medium cam on the left side about 10M up. Then there was no pro for another 10M where I was able to sling a rock horn and weighted the rope down with a couple of screamers. There was no lip to really retain the sling, so I doubt it would have fared very well in a fall, but it gave enough reassurance for the final vertical section to the top. About the only thing I've ever climbed this hard with rotten ice like this was Riptide back in 1994. Gently place tool as high as possible and pull down till it kind of stops. Quick weight test, close eyes and move up. Repeat. Delicate feet required here as the ice was tending to crumble under weight, and crampon placement was causing unnerving hollow noises from the semi detached “ice” shield. Another 10M brought me to a great rock belay on the right. Two more pitches of snow gully with a small step each brought us into the easy upper snow couloir leading to the top. The final step before the upper couloir had such thin rotten ice that I opted to climb the rock to the right, which was actually really fun dry tooling/rock climbing about 5.8 with fair pro.
Once in the upper couloir, we pretty much simul-climbed keeping a picket between us to the top. Luckily our aerial reconnaissance proved correct and the gully was continuous all the way to the ridge just below the summit.
If this climb was in good condition, it could be recommended as a committing but safe WI4+ outing. The problem lies in finding it in those conditions. It is east facing and gets the sun the moment it rises, and doesn't lose it until mid afternoon. All that freeze/thaw is what makes the ice, but for it to be good ice, it really needs to be climbed when there's no sun on it. The problem I've found with Thielsen is that right after a cold spell when the weather clears enough to climb, it either tends to be incredibly windy up there, or you have too much sun as we did. If we'd gotten on it two days earlier it might have been in better shape. As it was, we were pummeled by ice pellets and chunks all day, often conveniently arriving in waves just when crux moves were happening. Higher up in the snow couloir, Tyler was in lead and I glanced up to see a number of rocks hurtling towards him, one the size of a loaf of bread. I yelled a warning, and he scuttled up like a Pug on a hot cook top, but still caught the big one just above the kneecap. Down below, I had plenty of time to scoot left and right and they all missed me. Luckily, no serious damage to Tyler's knee, and we were able to carry on up. Surprisingly, these were the only rocks all day, and there virtually no rock debris on the snow at the base.
Protection on the leads was marginal as screws just wouldn't work.....I think I only placed three the whole route, of which perhaps only one was any good. Rock pro was actually good when available, which wasn't very often. Luckily, the belays were all pretty solid, although I belayed off my harness for all except the bomber anchor at the top of the crux 4th pitch.
Huge thanks to Tyler for being an amazing partner in this Quixotic quest of mine. I'm sure the vast majority of climbers would have been whining and wanting to bail off before we had done two pitches. Tyler kept a smile on even after the rock tried to crudely trim his knee's meniscus.
Tyler at sunrise near the east face
Looking up 1st rock pitch
Leading 1st pitch
Tyler belaying 1st pitch
Leading 1st pitch
Start of 2nd pitch
Tyler approaching 2nd belay
Crux 4th pitch
Route from air...."Brainless Child" is the thin ice gully left of center and left of the icy cave at the base
Aerial shot of route from the side....steep and sweeet!
In the upper snow couloir
Tyler topping out on ridge
Steve at top, smiling at survivingGear Notes:
Rack:- 8 screws, cams almost to #3, motley wire collection (never used), KB's, LA's, Specters (very handy), and beaks (didn't use).