Trip: Argonaut Peak - NW Arete

Date: 6/17/2017

Trip Report:
Ambrose, Aurelio, David, and I climbed Argonaut NW Arete for BOEALPS ICC Alpine 2. I wasn't particularly stoked to be assigned to climb Argonaut NW Arete again as an instructor, after having such a miserable time on it as a student two years ago. However, given it was earlier in the year and a higher snow year overall than 2015, I was hopeful that the approach couloir would be in this time around, which would make for a much better climb. It turned out that it was, but that didn't prevent the climb from being adventurous in its own special way...

Rough timeline:

  • 5am: Leave Seattle
  • 8am: Leave Stuart Lake TH
  • 9:30am: Leave Stuart Lake trail
  • 12pm: Finish 'schwacking / get on snow
  • 2:15pm: Base of Couloir
  • 3:15pm: Notch @ 7600'
  • 3:45pm: Start climb
  • 7:45pm: 1st team tops out
  • ~9pm: 2nd team tops out

  • 7am: Wake up
  • 7:30am: Leave bivy spot
  • 8am: Leave summit
  • 9am: Find rappel slings
  • 11am: Finish rappels
  • 12:30pm: Colchuck-Dragontail col
  • 1pm: Colchuck lake
  • 3:30pm: TH

GPS Tracks

Full photo album here

Despite having done this climb two years ago, the routefinding through the Mountaineers Creek area still proved difficult. To some extent this was because I mostly tried to let the students do the navigation, and also because I didn't think we'd taken the best route last time either. Last time we had followed cairns that had led us, if not astray, then at least not on the most direct route. This time we followed a different set of very convincing cairns that led us in a slowly ascending traverse up a boulder field. We eventually realized our mistake and had to backtrack a bit to drop back down to the creek.

We also crossed the creeks several more times than necessary, mostly because we were using GPS maps on our phones to help navigate and the creeks on the maps didn't quite line up to reality. However, it wasn't ever particularly challenging to find crossing points.

Next time: try plotting a course directly between these two!

We followed my beta from last time and stayed in the trees to avoid 'schwacking through slide alder, and we eventually popped out into the boulder/snow field. It was still mostly snow, although we were occasionally on rocks or dirt as well.

It sounded like the team from two weeks ago was able to bypass the slabby step / bergshrund entirely on snow, but it had melted out quite a bit since then. From below, we could see that we couldn't go around around the bergshrund on snow, so we decided to go for the slabs. The other three took a route going somewhat up the middle, but I thought I remembered going up the left side last time, so I tried out that route. With water running down quite a bit of the slab, and in mountaineering boots instead of hiking boots, it was definitely spicier this time around. At one point, I tried to exit the slabs about halfway up on some decent-looking cracks up the short wall to my left, but gave up after a big piece of rock broke off as I tried to climb. Instead, I just committed to the slab moves and generally found decent feet the whole way up, albeit under running water sometimes. I did ultimately exit the slab to the left on some nice big holds. The other three weren't enthused about their way either, and broke out the ropes. When I topped out, I also dropped a rope for them.

Their route in blue, my route (roughly) in red.

Later, we looked back at the bergshrund and saw that it looked like it might have been passable to just go directly over it - the edges were not undercut at all, and it looked like it would be just a several foot step down, over some slabby rock, and then back up.

There was running water at various points on this approach, so we all filled up before heading up to the couloir. This year, there was plenty of snow in the couloir, making for a blissfully straightforward and uneventful climb. It gets a bit steep - three of us had mountaineering boots and crampons on, but Ambrose only had hiking boots and microspikes, so the rest of us ended up kicking the steps for him.

Finally - the climb!
We spent a little while racking up, and then started the climb, hoping that we'd be able to finish it and bivy on the summit. Our backup plan was to re-evaluate after the first two pitches, and if we were running low on time, fix the ropes and return to the notch to bivy.

Remembering the pain of rope drag last time, I encouraged David to make P1 go as far as the rope would take him - all the way to the base of the P2 face if possible. This worked great. It also started snowing, very small flakes that seemed inconsequential

I led up the face, traversing right on small ledges until I couldn't go further, then headed back left a bit up some cracks. I think I led a little bit into what Tom describes as P3, as I ended at a nice big belay ledge under the "15ft slab with cracks". The snow briefly turned to hail. When Ambrose got up to me at the belay, we discussed briefly whether we should continue or try to return to the bivy notch, and agreed to press on.

For "fun", David went directly up one of the cracks in the "slab with cracks". It wasn't actually very fun or well-protected, and I'd probably recommend what I did the first time, which is to traverse all the way left, then follow the easy ramp up and right. P3 ended at the base of a fairly steep corner. By this time, the snow turned into a light drizzle, and with a windbreaker rather than a true shell, I was starting to get pretty cold.

I let David lead again, since I'd already led most of the pitches as a student. I remembered P4 being both a rope-stretcher and running out of gear. David found this as well - he was completely at the end of the rope, stretching to try to get anchor pieces in. By now, it was out-and-out raining, but we were committed on the route and thought that continuing up was better than trying to bail.

I remembered the corner after the small flake at the beginning of P5 being the crux last time, but it didn't seem nearly as bad this time around. David didn't even realize he'd done what I had warned him was the crux, and he spent the rest of his lead worried the crux was still ahead. Unfortunately, he also ended up a bit off route - after the flake and the corner, the route drops down to a decent ledge, and he continued on to a gully at the far end. He led up the gully, but then, with a lot of rope drag and still thinking the crux was ahead, he built an anchor and brought me up. As I followed, I realized that we were probably too far to climbers right, so when I took the lead I quested up and to the left. Luckily, I was able to find a pretty good place to traverse left over into the easier gully that led up to the end of the route.

After this, there is just a short scramble to the summit, and the terrain becomes fairly ledge-y. There was already a nice 2-person bivy spot, and while David and I were waiting for the others to finish the climb, we got to work doing some rock gardening to make two more small bivy spots. It had been windy and rainy for a while now, and starting to get dark, and we were all ready to eat some food and go to sleep. There was still a bit of snow here, and more on the summit, so we were able to melt it for water.

Unfortunately, after dinner, Ambrose returned to his bivy spot to find that his bivy had blown away, with his sleeping pad and bag inside. We rallied as well as we could, giving him all of our hot water bottles, and both ropes for pads, and he climbed into Aurelio's bivy, and the three of them all shared the 2-person spot. He and Aurelio shivered through the night, but surprisingly no one seemed even mildly hypothermic in the morning.

We woke up to a complete white-out, and hustled out of bed anxious to get off the mountain. We packed up, tagged the summit, and then scrambled down to the east. (The summit tunnel had a fair bit of snow in it, but was still just barely passable - although easy to miss if you don't know it's there!) The snowfield was still entirely covered, and a little hard, so we put crampons on to kick steps. We found the rappel slings without too much difficulty, thanks to the waypoint I'd marked last time around. Like last time, we double-rope rappeled down the face, then a little ways down and across the snow couloir - then dropped down over a small notch to slings on a tree. Actually, finding the second set of rappels was a little challenging, and involved several of us just rappeling into the couloir and searching around. (I marked this 2nd set of rappels this time around) From here we double-rope rappelled again, but in hindsight we should have done it as two single-rope rappels (we passed a good anchor midway down) - as it was, it took three of us pulling on the rope with full body-weight to pull the ropes.

The remainder of the descent was uneventful - we had snow all the way across the traverse behind Colchuck, found several places with water to fill up, and then had snow all the way down Colchuck Glacier.

Gear Notes:
Cams .3-2, doubles .5, .75
1 set nuts
13 doubles, 1 single
2 cordalettes.

It was really helpful to have a full rack on the long pitches - it was much more doable (and enjoyable!) than the small rack I had last time. I think we could have brought fewer slings though.

Approach Notes:
The approach couloir is still in - and I'd guess it will stay that way for at least another couple weeks.