Tyler to Walkinshaw to Needles to Martin Traverse - a whole lotta ridgeDate:
The Needles range in the Olympic have always held a certain appeal to me, probably not least because they contain a variety of rock climbing routes and are visible as some prominent spikes through the binoculars from my parents house. In 2004 I set out along the ridge from Mt. Baldy solo to check them out.
Unfortunately snow and an engulfing cloud layer cut that trip short at the top of Mt. Walkinshaw and I retreated to the Royal Basin trail and home. The idea sat idle for a few years as I explored other areas until it popped back into my head this spring.
After trading some messages with Bremerton John who had been in the area a few years earlier a trip plan was hatched. Terry had similar thoughts and called John up and was thus added to the party, and then so was his friend Tyler (who would be making his alpine climbing and Olympics rock debut). The four of us gathered at the trailhead on Thursday night for some gear sorting and an early start.
We decided to do as much of the ridge as possible, starting with Tyler Peak and heading roughly south-west along the crest traversing the Needles and perhaps ending with Mt. Deception if time allowed. We packed light for climbing with packs on, but brought a classic Olympics rack including a few pins to be able to catch the little spires and pinnacles along the way. Around 6:40 AM we walked about 200 feet of level road to the end of the parking area then caught the Tyler Peak climbers trail roughly straight up the hill for the next few thousand feet, soon breaking from the trees and finding our own path up broken slopes to peak #1 (and Johns 50th Olympic summit).
The views and the weather were simply amazing and we lost little time traversing to Baldy with only a short dip from the ridge to refill our water bottles at a small creek. Here we ran into a single day hiker, our only company on the ridge, who forged ahead with us to the North Peak of Graywolf Ridge. Dropping down again, and then back up on the ridge and up a snow slope, we made it to the south peak of Graywolf. The hot day and hard work of talus slogging made us stop to melt snow and refill water again.
Now mid afternoon but with time looking good we heading down again on the ridge and up to Mt. Walkinshaw where the nature of the ridge become craggy and much more exciting. Some snow moat stemming took the place of the slabby ledge traverse I had done before low on the north side, but this led to the same weakness up and left and then easy slabs and scrambling to the summit. To my joy I discovered my 2004 summit register entry was still there in the log anchored to the summit with a piton. In 2008 a new notebook was added with 5 parties shown since then (one earlier this year). This was our goal for the day, but we hoped we might be able to continue on the Adelaide.
Some route finding down and left (S) of the summit, a quick traverse over to the next gully, and a fun foot ledge got us to the easier ridge crest on the way to Adelaide. Here we took a wrong turn attempting the north side of the ridge and had to backtrack before descending steep snow and ledges to the south and finally making it to the unnamed summit between Adelaide and Walkinshaw around 8PM. We dug out some relatively flat bivy spots, melted snow for water, and crashed for the night (at least until Terry woke us trying to kill a rat with his ice axe).
The next morning we slept in a bit and then started the super fun steep ridge scramble towards Adelaide. Not knowing of any routes on this side of the peak and not wanting to drop down and traverse, we broke out the rope for one section of exposed scrambling and then belayed a fun 5.4 steep crack on the NE face of the peak from the ridge. This got us into a gully and a short walk to the summit with a register but no pencil. Now a bit behind schedule we dropped onto the snow in Belvedere Basin (and Tylerís first ever glissade) and traversed towards Mt. Clark aiming for the 5.0 route on the NE side. Spotting a gully/chimney leading up from a snow ramp we decided to again check out unknown territory and found a reasonable 3rd class route all the way up to the summit block (this route went from the upper left side of the snow ramp and may not be as easy with lower snow levels). We scrambled up the gash on the east face of the summit block but chose to rappel back down. Sadly the summit register there is broken and the Ziploc that was placed in the unsealed tub had been shredded by rodents.
Not wanting to corkscrew down the standard route we descended a steep gully and made on 60 meter rap through overhanging chock stones and then scrambled down to the snow and the Clark-Johnson Col. Here we entered territory John had covered before so he guided us to the standard route up toward Sweat Spire and Gasp Pinnacle and the easy 5th class route to the notch right between them. There were three named spires here (Sweat, Gasp, and the Devilís Fang) and we wanted to tag them all before moving on. We were not a bit behind schedule from the earlier rope work and route finding so decided to bivy here and get a few spire climbs in before dark.
I made quick work of the ď4th classĒ route up Gasp Pinnacle and brought everyone else up then we slung a horn and backed it up with a pin to get down. Next I led up Johnís 5.6 crack on Sweat Spire and set up a TR for the rest since it was less than 30 meters. Everyone chipped in on melting snow and leveling bivy sites when not climbing and it was soon dark and time for dinner. The rats visited again as well.
We had planned to make it to near Martin Peak the day before but still had several summits to go so we arose just after dawn and John did the short pitch up Devilís Fang for breakfast (the only summit he hadnít done before in the area) and then we packed up and hiked to the Johnson summit block. We quickly roped up the steep chimney (well I soloed and belayed) and then tackled the complex looking ridge towards the Incisor. Amazingly we found a decent route almost entirely near the ridge crest with very little extra descent necessary. We hit the north side of the Incisor and I contemplated climbing a cool looking crack between the Incisor and a large block until I realized it would end about 2/3 up on a blank face and we traversed around to the standard route.
John elected to take a nap having been here before and I should have taken this as a sign but instead racked up and set out up the pillowy face. Protection was sparse through the middle although the climbing was easy enough. I hit the summit ridge and brought Tyler and Terry up, then we rapped back down to the packs. This was my least favorite of the pitches, but itís a cool summit nonetheless. From here the going was fairly easy to the summit of Martin Peak via a ramp and snow traverse on the south side under the summit and back.
Martin Peak made our 13th summit of the trip but now mid afternoon with a long descent and hike back to the car still looming we realized we might not make it up Deception and home before dark. Having had such an amazing trip so far we opted for the slightly more relaxed option and chose to leave that one for another day. Hey, itís not officially part of the Needles anyways. ;-) Some scree skiing and ugly gullys from below Martin Peak led to the snow and some great glissades almost down to the upper tarn in Royal Basin. We cruised on out the rest of the way pausing only briefly to dunk our heads in the creek and snack and then slog up the Lower Maynard Burn Trail and back out to the car around 7:30.
A great trip through some awesome terrain with better than usual weather an even mostly fun rock! What more could you ask! I had a great time finally climbing something with John, Terry was great, and Tyler lost his Olympics alpine virginity (I think heíll be back though)! Thanks guys!Gear Notes:
Standard Olympics rack (nuts, cams to #2 and a few pins), ice axes.Approach Notes:
Head off the spur road to the right just before the Dungeness trailhead, from the end of that (parking) there is a trail that goes straight up hill to Tyler Peak, or follow the old road (closed) toward Baldy Peak and the Maynard Burn Trail.