First Ascent of Epiphany (10 pitches, 5.8) and Revelation Peak, Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie.
On Sunday, 8/28/2016, Kurt Hicks and I (Rad Roberts) climbed a new route (Epiphany) on what we believe is an unclimbed peak (now dubbed Revelation) West of the Pulpit. This is about 2 miles south of Garfield Peak, a few miles north of Mailbox Peak, and a mile north of the Pratt River.
Our line was ground-up, on-sight, bolt-less, and all-free, involving 10 pitches of climbing up to 5.8 and several hundred feet of simul-climbing and roped scrambling over 1300 vertical feet. Grade III. Old growth forest, a pristine alpine cirque, a large cliff, and an unclimbed summit make for a great setting.
Climbers comfortable with off-trail navigation, sub-alpine scrambling, and runout climbing up to 5.7 would enjoy this route. Most pitches are 5.fun with just a few crux moves. A few well-placed bolts would make this a more user-friendly outing and allow one to stick to the cleanest rock rather than wander around looking for gear placements. This peak was added to the Alpine Wilderness in 2014, so bolting would need to be done by hand.
When I was eight, my friends and I explored the forests of suburban New Jersey, climbed trees and rocks, caught critters in creeks, and generally roamed free until it started to get dark and we had to head home for dinner. The excitement of finding new climbing trees, fishing holes, or hidden corners of the forest was incredibly energizing. I've gotten bigger and older since those days, but my passion for wilderness exploration still burns bright.
Technology has changed the game. Poking around the internet one night this summer, I found a cliff near the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River that basic research suggested was large, clean, granitic, and unclimbed. On a sultry summer evening, I headed out to get a closer look. My initial approach involved a heinous section of prickly devils club and a tangle of rotting trees. This is par for the course in sub-alpineering, and I was prepared with gloves and long pants. I made it over to a tongue of old growth trees, swam through some alder, and reached a giant talus field in a sublime cirque below an immense granite cliff.
The rock was so hot you could have cooked eggs on it. I sat under a tree, soaking in the silence, and spotted the obvious place to start: a hand crack in a giant, clean dihedral. I could only see the first 60 meters or so, but satellite images suggested this would lead to a clean slab below a maze of towers and ramps that guarded the summit. It looked like a worthy adventure.
On my way back down to the trail, I found a much better approach line, with only 100 feet of bush whacking. I marked the line on my GPS, left a few cairns, and hiked back to the trailhead in the dark. Before driving home, I dipped in the cool Middle Fork river. I was so excited about going back I couldn't sleep, my mind going over and over how we might climb this sleeping giant.
The next day, I pitched the adventure to Kurt with a few choice images and the lure of a grand adventure on a big unclimbed wall. Like any good sand bagger, I downplayed the potential for scary runouts, dense and prickly vegetation, and hazards on the unknown descent. Kurt has enough experience to know when he's being hoodwinked, but he still agreed to join me. We've climbed and explored together in research for his I90 corridor guide, which will hopefully be out next year, but this would be our first new route together.
Climbing with Kurt is like hitting the EASY button. He is an AMGA-certified guide with many years of experience guiding clients in the Cascades. He quickly dances up all kinds of mountain terrain, keeps ropes neat and tangle-free, and rigs rappels and anchors in seconds. Plus, he has great hair.
We left the Middle Fork trailhead at a very civilized 6:15 AM just two days after my recon mission. 45 minutes later, we left the trail on a faint path, dived into the undergrowth at the appointed spot, and were ascending among old growth trees just a few minutes later. We managed to avoid the slide alder, crossed cleanly to the upper talus, and soon found ourselves at the base of the route. Easy.
I started up the first pitch dihedral a little after 8 AM. The rock was polished and clean with a few moves of damp 5.8 hand jamming at the crux. I stopped around 30 meters because our larger gear, which I'd already placed, would be needed for the next section. Kurt fired off some nice clean 5.8 moves early in the second pitch and cruised up easier ground on clean rock with sparse protection, a theme that would repeat for much of the line. I climbed up to a slightly steeper section and cruised off right, lured by splitter hand cracks that promised some protection. It turned out these "cracks" were under, behind, or alongside blocks or flakes that seemed poised to pitch off the wall if a cam or climber's hand pulled hard on them. So I slung some shrubbery, went back onto the main slab, and continued to a crack with a few good cam placements.
Kurt lead a lovely low angle slab for a pitch and I led another nice pitch with great rock, aiming for a small tree on the left of the giant granite bowl. This slab climbing was mostly 5.fun but required attention due to the sparse protection. Right near the end of the rope I found two of the best cracks of the day for the anchor.
After two more slab pitches we were at the base of several steep rock ribs separated by deep, dark clefts. We followed clean rock for two more pitches up and right toward a treed ramp I'd spotted on satellite images.
At the right end of the ramp, we swam through dense, short trees a hundred feet right to a break in the cliff. It looked possible to climb a steep step to the next tier. But when I climbed up to try, I found the one inch tree I planned to sling for protection had roots behind a block that moved immediately, and there were no cracks nearby. No good. I backed down and moved right toward another steep section of cliff. To get there, I had to step out onto a giant detached block on a sloping ledge with a crack behind it. I was careful not to dislodge the beast with my foot or place gear behind it. But the rock band above it was harder than it had appeared from below. It would involve a strenuous vertical lie-back on a rounded licheny edge with a one inch tree in pine needles for protection. There was no obvious protection above, and the moves would not easily be reversed if it turned out to be a dead end, so I backed off again, unwilling to risk a dangerous fall. So we moved another 50 feet right where the vegetation ended in a drop off below a wide vertical arete. There, we found a 30 foot feature with fun, airy 5.8ish moves with a nearby tree for protection and stemming. It was a nice rock rib in a great position. Kurt then scrambled right and climbed an exposed ramp to easier ground. We simul-climbed and scrambled about 200 vertical feet to the crest, moved right to bypass an imposing tower, and continued up toward the top.
The final section was a narrow rock rib split by a lovely crack in a truly outstanding setting. And then we were on the summit.
There were no cairns or other evidence of prior human passage. Any route other than ours to the summit would involve technical terrain and significant bushwhacking. These factors, combined with the absence of signs of prior human passage encountered on our ascent or descent, make us think this peak had not been previously climbed. For curious peak baggers, the topo shows the summit just under 3900 feet. The saddle with the Pulpit Peak to the East is at 3540, for a prominence of about 350 feet. We may never know whether we were the first or not, and perhaps it doesn't matter, but that perception enriched our experience.
We soaked in the late afternoon light for a few minutes before rappelling down steep, clean granite on the Northeast side of the peak, aiming for a gully on the North side of the peak I had seen on my recon mission. Three double rope rappels and a single rope rappel put us down in the target gully. We followed it until it seemed prudent to move into the forested rib to the right. It turned out this was a bad idea. The brush was fairly dense, the woods were pretty steep, and we had to cross several stands of dense Devil's Club over our heads. At this point, I should mention that the gloves I'd loaned Kurt had large holes that exposed his bare fingertips. He ended up spending the next few days pulling tiny spines from his swollen digits. Sorry, Kurt. My gloves were quite new, but the spines still found unprotected flesh to prick. Sub-alpineering at its finest.
Down, down, down we went. Eventually it got dark enough that we had to turn on our lights. We did three short raps off trees over drops too steep to safely downclimb. Finally, we arrived in the creek bed I'd ascended two nights earlier. This boulder-strewn drainage was easy to descend, and we soon made it to the trail and hiked back to the trailhead. The night was capped with a cold beer and a cool dip in the Middle Fork around 10 PM.
In a world that seems to tug us in a dozen digital directions at once, it is a great luxury to find focus leading rock pitches and have long uninterrupted conversations on the trail.
We felt grateful to have shared an amazing first ascent to a virgin summit less than an hour from Seattle. The climbing was quite moderate, the rock quality was good to excellent, and the position and summit were outstanding.
Climbers aspiring to repeat this line should understand that there is a fair amount of loose rock to avoid in places, protection is sparse and sometimes tricky to place, and the descent is non-trivial. We have ideas for a better descent and may return to hand-drill a few bolts that would allow climbers to stay on the cleanest rock and mitigate runouts. Message me for suggestions and for help finding the painless approach line.
Epiphany and Revelation are part of the 2014 expansion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, so please tread lightly.
Anyone who has climbed Infinite Bliss on Garfield, which is about a mile or so to the North, knows the rock changes from clean granite down low to shattered rock up high. That never happened on Epiphany/Revelation. The climbing may look rather scrappy in photos, and I won't suggest it's perfect, but we were continually surprised at how solid the rock was and how much fun the climbing was.
I loved the days of my youth in the forests of central New Jersey, but my body, spirit, and aspirations outgrew those woods. I am very, very grateful to have a host of majestic wilderness adventures hiding in the mountains of our backyard.
Revelation Peak from the MF road. Note the lower 3 pitches are obscured by foreground trees.
Approach via Pratt River Trail. 2.2. miles.
Ascend x-country to the start.
Our descent back to the trail. It might be better to rappel back down the Southwest Face.
MF forest on my Friday recon
The lower cirque in the afternoon sun. MF SnoQ in the background.
When you enter the forest you're aiming for a giant fallen cedar log. Follow this to a second and then up into open forest.
Passing a large cedar in open forest.
This approach is about as friendly as sub-alpine x-country travel gets.
Looking back down pitch 3.
Starting up pitch 4.
Looking back on the start of pitch 5.
Later in pitch 5.
Looking back from the top of pitch 5.
Better two lobes than none?
Looking up pitch 6
Pitch 7 (8 for us as we went to the left to look at those deep clefts)
Finish pitch 7 at a tree belay reminiscent of the one at the base of the Split Pillar on the Grand Wall at Squamish.
Looking down the large slab from the middle of pitch 7.
Pitches 7 and 8 from a vantage to the left of the line. The tree upper center is the belay.
The traverse pitch 8.
End of the traverse pitch 8.
The top of pitch 9, the arete by the tree, with some wild towers in the background.
Steep scrambling above pitch 10.
Scrambling above pitch 10.
We bypassed this tower by heading down and right on the NE side of it, traversing, and then ascending again.
The final rock rib to the summit.
So how do we get off this thing?
The second double rappel.
Third double rappel.
It's not sub-alpineering unless you are rappelling through dense shrubbery in dark.
Actually, we now believe this can be avoided.