Assassin Spire - NW Face - The Shooting Gallery (IV, WI4+) - FADate:
Assassin Spire - The Shooting Gallery (IV, WI4+)
Photo courtesy of John Scurlock
Assassin Spire is a subsidiary summit of Lincoln Peak, one of the intimidating Black Buttes on Mt. Baker. Until this weekend it had never seen an ascent via any route.
Daniel Jeffrey and I headed up to Marmot Ridge via Warm Creek off the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River on Thursday evening after work. We had planned to approach that evening, but it was raining when we arrived, so we decided to postpone the approach until the following morning.
Friday morning we awoke at 3:30AM, and got ready to head up. We were crossing a very icy Warm Creek by 3:50 in complete darkness. We then headed up new-growth timber through a clearcut for 700' to gain Marmot Ridge. From here, it was a long, undulating journey to camp at ~6200' in the basin below Assassin Peak and Heliotrope Ridge.
The next morning we awoke at 3:30 again to crystal clear, starry skies. We brewed some water and coffee, and proceeded to cross the basin to the base of the NW Face. We had spied a vertical line of ice (~3 pitches of WI6) below the hanging glacier, but it looked a bit intimidating for us, so we opted to try a less sporty line on climber's right.
2 25m pitches of WI4+ (90-100 degree ice - short stretches of overhanging on the first pitch) separated by a ledge led us up to a 55 degree buttress. The ice on the curtain was very brittle and it took multiple swings to get good placements. This was very tiring, and we pumped out fast. I led 25m on the first step before running out of screws. I then lowered off and belayed Daniel up to finish the last 5m (one more screw placement). From here, he belayed me up and I led the next 30m pitch. The ice was better here, but still brittle in spots. A swing of the tool would shatter the ice as it broke off huge chunks.
From the top of the first curtain, we climbed 55 degree snow (firm and punchy here) to gain the hanging glacier. Above the hanging glacier lies an amazing amphitheater of ice and rock that rivals anything else I have seen in the entire N Cascade Range. How impressive!! Many lines are waiting to be climbed here consisting of very aesthetic, sustained, and solid ice.
We traversed the hanging glacier to another gully (45 degrees), which we simul-soloed. This gully led into some 70 degree ice which we also soloed. We went right at John Wilkes' Tooth before arriving at the final ice curtain (20m WI4+). Daniel led this and we topped out in another steep snow/ice gully to 55 degrees. 3 more pitches led us to the summit. What a place!
From the summit, Lincoln Peak looks impressive, as does Colfax and Baker. We spied about 15 snowmobiles parked under Sherman Peak, and saw 4 climbers at the col below the upper slopes of the Coleman Glacier.
We were buzzed on the summit by an EA6B Prowler who did a double-take and circled us 2 or 3 times. The pilot tipped his wing. Very cool.
This was a fantastic trip of epic proportions with a great partner in Daniel Jeffrey. Thanks to John Scurlock for flying over before the ascent to take recon photos, and thanks also for flying over on approach day thinking we were on route (we had told him we would be climbing Assassin on Friday). We saw him circle about 10 times looking for us. If only we had a flare gun...
Scurlock's photo from March 5. THANKS John!
Tracks in front of the Sister's Range on the approach.
On the approach looking up at Heliotrope Ridge.
View of Assassin Spire from the approach.
Daniel at camp.
Assassin Spire from camp.
Fading light over the Sister's Range from camp.
Alpenglow on Assassin Spire.
Me leading the upper portion of the first ice curtain on Assassin Spire.
Looking down from the arete.
Looking up from just above the first ice curtain.
Daniel topping out on the first curtain.
Daniel climbing up to the hanging glacier.
Views to the Sister's Range from mid-route.
Looking down from high on the route.
The Assassin Spire conglomerate.
Tracks on route.
Weeping curtains of ice from mid-route.
Daniel climbing up to the belay below the third curtain.
Daniel leading the third ice curtain.
The steep gully above the last ice curtain.
The upper slopes of Assassin Spire.
Daniel a few pitches below the summit.
Daniel on route below the summit.
Daniel approaching the final steps to the summit of Assassin Spire.
Lincoln Peak from the summit.
Mt. Baker and Colfax Peak from the summit of Assassin Spire.
Daniel on the summit.
View to the west from the summit.
Looking down from the summit.
Me on the summit of Assassin Spire.
Unclimbed ice on Lincoln Peak's NW Face.
A close-up of unclimbed ice.
A huge curtain of ice (WI6) below the hanging glacier on Assassin Spire.
Sister's Range in fading light.
One parting shot.