Dome Peak - S. Face - Indian Summer (III, 5.10) FA, South Gunsight Peak - West Face - Lily of the West - FA (III, 5,10)Date:
Dome Peak - Indian Summer (III 5.10, 8p, 1000')
Photo by Tim Halder
South Gunsight Peak - West Face - Lily of the West (III 5.10, 5p, 600')
Nate Farr and I ventured into the Dome Peak area last week and were able to climb new routes on the South face of Dome Peak and West face of South Gunsight Peak. We had spectacular weather and a scenic camp at the Dome/Chickamin Col.
Dome, Sinister, and the Gunsight Peaks are situated in some of the most remote and inaccessible terrain in the state of Washington, if not the lower 48. Ever since tagging Dome on the tail-end of the Ptarmigan Traverse five years ago, I was interested in exploring the Gunsight Range and surrounding area. Nate and I had talked about doing this trip as far back as January, but we couldn’t line up our schedules for most of the summer, and figured this one would have to wait until next year. But we both were able to finagle the first week of September off and were ecstatic to see an extended forecast of stellar weather. So we loaded up the bikes and headed for the Suiattle River road.
Photo by Nate Farr
Several friends had mentioned the Westside approach in preference to the eastside Chelan option. Riding bikes for ten miles on the Suiattle River Road to Downey Creek trail was not difficult and went quickly. Downey Creek trail is in wonderful shape and is plush with many bog bridges and boardwalks.
Soon we reached trail's end and headed up Bachelor Creek on an unmaintained climbers path. Our spirits and energy faded with the daylight as we continuously lost the trail in the thick creekside brush.
Bachelor Creek workout. Photo by Nate Farr
We searched for a flat place to bivy, but the brush didn’t relent. We finally entered the forest as twilight faded and found a flat campsite.
After a leisurely morning, we began the final push to high camp. We suffered with our heavy packs and followed pink flagging through the woods and across the creek, where we picked up the trail. All signs indicated that we were in the heart of bear country.
The path continued through mud and up along the avalanche path at the headwaters of Bachelor Creek to Cub Pass.
Avalanche path at the head of Bachelor Creek
We caught our first glimpses of Dome and rested at Cub Lake. With waning energy we traversed to the Dome Glacier and ascended to our high camp.
We reached the Dome/Chickamin col in the evening and set up camp at what would be home for next three nights.
There was plenty of snow for melting and great bivy sites. We were worked from the two-day approach and went to bed early in anticipation of Dome’s South face the next morning.
Getting to the base of the face was rather easy. Mike and Wayne mistakenly referred to this face as the Southeast face of the Southwest peak, but it actually is the south face of the main peak, according to the map and the Beckey guide. The face actually ends at a peak marked “8786” on the USGS map, which is technically the SE Peak of Dome, although not named as such in the guidebooks.
We rapped and downclimbed the east ridge and then cut across grassy ledges that split the face.
Rappelling the east ridge
Side profile of the face. Our line went up the far left side of the face and up the obvious chimney near the top of this photo.
The bottom half of the south face is a system of grassy ledges and slabs that provides easy access to the base of the technical climbing.
Ramps splitting the South Face of Dome
We walked past the beginning of Gran Torino. It looked rad, but we continued on the ledge and scoped the wall for new route potential. We continued to the far side of the face and began climbing clean mid-fifth class terrain on solid rock.
Photo by Nate Farr
The angle steepened with the third pitch and Nate lead through some loose rock to an airy belay below a cruxy roof and leaning crack.
Photo by Nate Farr
The next three pitches delivered the goods: solid, steep climbing on great granite. Nate led through the crux chimney on the fifth pitch, which was consistently steep with great stemming.
He exited the chimney onto a ridge crest. I took over the lead and was greeted with a nice flourish to the route.
The sweet, jagged handcrack led to an arete and another nice hand crack on the other side. A short pitch led to the end of the technical climbing and we scrambled to the summit.
The descent to camp took less than 5 minutes. We celebrated the climb with whiskey and marcona almonds as the sun set on another perfect day in the mountains.
We awoke to another fair morning and decided to take advantage of the weather. To the best of our knowledge, the west face of Gunsight's South Peak had not yet been climbed. So we descended the Chickamin glacier and wended our way through crevasses en route to the fabled Gunsight Range.
Sinister Peak from the Chickamin Glacier
Sinister, the Gunsights, and Agnes, r to l.
We dead-ended in an ice-fall and had to backtrack to descend the glacier near Sinister Peak. As we approached the face, what seemed like splitter cracks from afar appeared as shallow, thin cracks.
So we settled on a chimney starting on the left side of the face. The climbing up this feature was fun with good stemming on solid rock.
Photo by Nate Farr
I belayed at a bush as Nate led out of sight, aiming for the grassy ledge that bisected the face and led to the dihedral that punctuated the upper portion of the face. But before Nate could reach the ledge, he encountered some bad rock. “Nate are you building an anchor,” I asked, after moments of silence. “No I’m just trying to survive,” was his reply, as he delicately tiptoed through loose terrain. Relieved, he reached the ledge. A short traversing pitch led to the base of the dihedral, which looked difficult. Nate led it with caution and grace past two cruxes. The first was a short lieback on a large block that didn’t seem to be attached from my vantage point.
Nate trusting the questionable pillar
The climbing was exhilarating and a little scary. The second crux involved delicate face climbing to surmount a roof.
Nate contemplates the roof.
I led a short pitch of easy, but horrendous rock to the summit.
Photo by Nate Farr
The euphoria of the previous day’s climb had given way to a bitter aftertaste and disappointment that the face had not delivered the incredible rock that the Gunsights were famous for. We rappelled down the gulley to the glacier and began the long climb back up the Chickamin Glacier to camp. As I trudged up the glacier, I wondered if anyone had ever climbed or even tried to climb the gigantic southeast ridge of Old Guard, which dominated our view to the south.
Eldorado through the gunsights
Side profile of Dome's South Face from Gunsight Peak
Getting off of South Gunsight Peak
We really were feeling the effects of four days of continuous motion, and decided that we would hike out the next day. We passed our last night at the col trying to finish the whiskey and any other heavy food items.
We were blessed with another bluebird day on the hike out. It went quicker than expected, taking about 9 hours to get from the col to our car. The bike ride on the Suiattle river road was mostly downhill and a relief. The heat in the lowlands was shocking as we picked up the beer we had stashed in Downey creek.
Glacier Peak from the Dome glacier
Headwaters of Bachelor Creek
Re-navigating the Bachelor Creek jungle. Photo by Nate Farr
Bounty of Bachelor Creek
Nate and I were grateful to have had the opportunity to explore this remote section of the North Cascades. We didn’t see a soul for five days and were fortunate to have perfect late season weather for the entire trip. Thanks to Tim Halder, Morgan Zentler, Blake, and Layton for beta and pics, and to the Mazamas for funding this adventure. And thanks to Nate for great companionship, suffering through the difficult approach, and leading some bold pitches on both routes. Gear Notes:
bikes, twin 7.7mm/60m ropes. Single rack to 4", doubles from .4" to 2", whiskey, swedish fish, landjaegerApproach Notes:
the Suiattle River Road is a pleasant bike and makes for a quick ride back to the car.