Warrior Peak - NW SummitDate:
After reading reports of 4th/5th-class climbing up the standard route of Warrior Peak’s true (SE) summit, over the years I pushed this mountain aside to focus on Olympic peaks more accessible to a solo climber like myself, such as Mt. Stone and The Brothers.
But, having climbed or attempted most of the southeastern Olympic scrambles over the past few years, I decided it was time to give Warrior a shot and explore a new section of the Olympics.
I resolved to climb the reputedly easier NW summit (15 feet short of the SE peak) and check out the Olympic climbing guide’s Route 2 up the southeast peak.
After my usual late start from Portland, I hit the Big Quilcene Trail around 6 p.m. Friday (Aug. 10). I still took the time, though, to enjoy the imposing, old-growth conifers and Big Quilcene River on my way to Marmot Pass. This approach sure is beautiful. I hit the pass around 8, and descended under clouds to a camp site beyond crowded Boulder Camp before dark.
I set out under a clear sky around 6:30 the next morning, heading south toward Constance Pass. The climbing guide recommends approaching Warrior Peak via the stream that drains the Warrior-Inner Constance cirque -- about 2 miles south of Boulder Shelter. My map showed only one creek crossing the trail, and this waterway led to the cirque tarn.
However, I found three creeks 30 to 40 minutes from camp, which led to a bit of confusion. Assuming the map would show the most significant features, I chose the biggest water and headed up to the right of a small waterfall. As it turned out, this was the wrong stream -- but in hindsight this probably is the best route to avoid unpleasant bushwacking through alder and avalanche debris after the snow melts.
My chosen stream soon vanished, and I burned a few minutes searching for the right creek. After reviewing my map, I decided to just head for where I thought the cirque should be.
I traversed southeast on talus and via animal trails to the boulder field that leads to the cirque; the stream at this point flows under rock. I arrived at the cirque tarn around 10:15, and eyed my route: a steep couloir that leads to a saddle between the two summits. I carried an ice axe and crampons, but the gully was snow-free. The couloir appears intimidatingly high-angle from this perspective.
The ascent to the saddle was pretty demanding, but not quite as difficult as I expected. I felt a bit exposed at times, and was glad to have my ice axe for security. I arrived at the saddle around 11, and turned to admire the incredible view of Inner Constance.
I headed northwest past the pile of “spearlike” broken rock described in the guide, climbed onto a ledge, and eyed two route options up to the NW summit. The first appeared to be 4th-Class -- not a path I was willing to follow. The other option, a little farther along the ledge, was similarly steep, but with larger holds. I left my pack at the base of this gully and started up. I nearly abandoned the climb, though, after a large rock slipped off in my hand and smacked my pack off its perch. A couple of years back, I retreated from a solo Olympic climb when I had a similar experience. This time, though, I gathered myself and continued very carefully.
This roughly 80-foot (according to the guide) gully has one very steep step, but most of the route seemed like mid-to-high Class 3. I topped out, and continued to the next gully described by the climbing guide. As the book says, this stretch is easy -- Class 2/3. I then crossed to the east side of the summit and scrambled up easy rock to the top.
Whew. Of course, the views were awesome.
I relaxed for a few minutes, enjoying the views of Inner Constance (has anyone climbed this one?) , the Needles, Mt. Mystery, Mt. Constance (though obscured by the SE peak), and dozens of other peaks I did not take the time to identify through the gathering clouds. To the east, I could clearly see Mt. Rainier, Glacier Peak, and other North Cascade peaks.
A summit register contained a couple of photocopied pages from the climbing guide, with a few scribbled names and comments. The last climber to sign the thing said he spent the night on the saddle in September 2006.
The trip down was easier and faster than I expected; only the steepest rock step required downclimbing facing in, and most of the couloir descent consisted of careful scree-skiing. Thanks
to my little detour on the approach, I did not have time to scout the SE summit route. I descended along the cirque creek, and ended up thrashing through tedious avalanche debris and slide alder that I had avoided on the way up. I hit trail about 45 minutes from the cirque, and headed out.
Although this climb is not all that technical, due to the high-gradient scree and summit rock -- with moderate exposure -- it seemed a notch more serious than many of the Olympic scrambles I’ve done, such as Stone, Skokokomish, and Bretherton. The trip covers around 20 miles, and the elevation gain is pretty large -- about 6,300 feet, taking into account the 1,300-foot descent from Marmot Pass before starting the climb. The climb took me 5 hours from the vicinity of Boulder Shelter, as predicted by the Olympic guide. Considering the hour or so I spent searching for my route, though, I’d say this climb could be done in 4 hours or fewer from the camp.
Although this is likely a better climb earlier in the season when snow coats the loose crap, alder and debris, this still was a great trip in a fantastic region. The weather was good, the scenery was amazing, and the climbing was fun and challenging.
Most of my photos had files too large to upload, but here are a couple: Inner Constance; and, Constance beyond the SE Summit. Gear Notes: