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Eric Gilbertson

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  1. [TR] Sherpa Peak - East Ridge 02/05/2022

    Thanks! Yes, conditions have been great these past few weeks so I managed to get up stuart last weekend too. Sorry, Colchuck was blocking my view of dragontail so no pictures of triple couloirs. The snow on the north side of sherpa was very insecure. It was hard to trust steps many times. I did notice a fat ice line on the northwest side of argonaut that is on a similar aspect as triple couloirs, so could potentially bode well for ice conditions there.
  2. [TR] Forbidden Peak Winter Ascent - West Ridge 01/23/2022

    Thanks! I'd be very interested to hear about other trips up there in winter. Wow, double cornices sounds way different than what we encountered. I'd really like to see those pictures. I guess we also got skunked on Forbidden in December 2020, so I'm familiar with the experience.
  3. Trip: Sherpa Peak - East Ridge Trip Date: 02/05/2022 Trip Report: Sherpa Peak (8,605ft) via East Ridge Feb 5-6, 2022, Eric and Nick 10 miles Snowmobiling, 18 miles skiing/climbing On the summit (photo by Nick) Sherpa Peak is an interesting technical mountain in the Enchantments area east of the Cascade crest. It is probably most famous for the huge balanced rock perched along the summit ridge. The mountain is fairly popular to climb in the summer, but becomes much more difficult in the winter. Roads to the standard trailheads on the north (stuart lake trailhead) and to the south (Esmeralda or Beverly Creek) are unplowed, adding many additional miles to the approach. Rroutes to the summit are technical, and they become much more difficult when covered in snow and ice. The route Nick and I were looking to climb Sherpa in winter, and I tried to research previous winter ascents to see what was the best winter route. I found reports of people climbing up snow couloirs on the north side in winter, but I couldn’t find reports of anyone reaching the summit, so it was unclear what the optimal route would be (I’d be very interested to hear about other winter ascents). The main routes are the west ridge and east ridge. We had both already climbed the west ridge route in summer, and it involves five or so pitches of 5th class rock. Nick had also climbed the east ridge route, which involved mostly 4th and some low 5th class climbing. Those seemed like our best options. I’ve found it’s very important for success on a winter ascent to have already done the route at least once in summer. Some people claim the balanced rock is the true highpoint of Sherpa, and this seems somewhat controversial. The balanced rock is a more difficult climb than the western summit, and most reports I’ve seen of people who have climbed the balanced rock claim it is the true highpoint. But people who don’t climb the balanced rock generally claim it is lower. In my experience the only way to know for sure is to measure the elevation difference with a sight level. Measuring the balanced rock shorter in 2017 In 2017 Katie and I climbed the west ridge route to the western summit and I brought a surveyors sight level. From the western summit I measured a 0.5 degree declination down to the top of the balanced rock, meaning the balanced rock is 2ft lower than the true western summit. Thus, I’m 100% confident the western summit is the true summit. This meant Nick and I didn’t have to worry about climbing the balanced rock on this trip (though Nick has already climbed it in summer). Our route choice then depended on the conditions. Friday there were supposed to be strong winds from the west and southwest, which might load leeward sides. This meant our best bet was to avoid the couloirs on the north and east side and access the routes from the south side. From this approach, the route to the base of the west ridge route was all low angle or southwest facing, meaning it would likely be scoured. So the west ridge would likely be very safe for snow conditions. But it would also take longer to climb with more technical pitches. Loading up at the sno park (photo by Nick) The east ridge route was accessed by climbing a south facing gully, which could potentially be cross loaded. But if snow conditions were safe the route would be faster since it had less technical climbing. Friday night we saw there had been much less snow transport than forecast, and it appeared the east ridge route might be doable. But we packed and prepared for either. We decided to bring a 60m half rope that we could double up to simul climb either route. This would let us do 30m rappels. We each brought two tools and a bunch of rock, ice, and snow protection. We would climb in ski boots and crampons. Previously this winter I climbed Forbidden in mountaineering boots, and I hadn’t done much mixed climbing in ski boots, but it seemed like it might not be that much more difficult. At the Beverly Creek trailhead To approach the route we had two options – start at Esmeralda trailhead and ski over Longs Pass, or start at Beverly Creek trailhead and ski over to fourth creek. I have a snowmobile so either trailhead is equally accessible. The Longs Pass route is slightly shorter mileage skiing, but requires dropping into some steep northeast facing terrain. The Beverly creek route is 1.5 miles longer, but doesn’t cross any avy terrain to get to the base of Sherpa. I had just done the Longs Pass approach last weekend to ski Stuart, and it was fine then when the snow was stable. But we were still a bit worried about wind loading, so opted for the Beverly Creek approach. It was the same elevation gain as Longs Pass, and I had previously done this approach in December to ski Colchuck, so I knew it would work well. The snowmobile approach is also 5 miles instead of 10, so there was a bit of time savings there. Crossing Bean Creek (photo by Nick) We planned to do an overnight trip to give ourselves the option of climbing Argonaut Sunday if the conditions were good and we weren’t too tired out from Sherpa. Friday night we drove to the 29 Pines sno park and slept a few hours in the car. By 3:30am we had the sled packed up and were cruising up the road. We hoped this would be an early enough start to tag the summit mid afternoon and get back to camp. I brought a chainsaw and ax just in case there were blowdowns on the road. Skiing down Fourth Creek before sunrise We made quick progress to the Beverly Creek turnoff on groomed track, then I broke trail with the sled up the ungroomed road to the Beverly Creek trailhead. Shortly after 4am we were suited up and started up the trail. We followed ski tracks to Bean Creek, but then they diverged. We carefully crossed Bean Creek on a crumbling snow bridge and then started breaking trail up Beverly Creek. Crossing Ingalls Creek We alternated trail breaking and travel was efficient. By 7am we reached the pass and were soon skiing down the other side. The snow was generally fun powder. We stayed on the west side of Fourth Creek, trying to stay high enough and avoid getting too close to open water holes. Down near Ingalls Creek the snow got icier and we sideslipped down to the edge of the water. Last weekend I had crossed Ingalls Creek a few miles upstream en route to Mt Stuart and it was only ankle deep and trivial to walk across. But here it was shin deep and nontrivial. We scouted around a bit, and I made a short fouray walking into the creek but turned around when I slipped and dunked a foot in. Luckily there was a 1ft diameter log across the creek nearby. We took turns scooting across au cheval style, and made it to a flat spot on the other side by 8am. Skinning up the southeast facing gully We ditched our overnight gear there, took a break, then headed upstream. Around 4,600ft we left the trail and started zig zagging up the southeast-facing gully that leads to the Stuart-Sherpa col. The gully is mostly low angle all the way to the col, and travel went smoothly. Lower down in the gully the powder snow was heating up in the sun and starting to glop on the skis, but when we got into the trees it improved. Climbing up the south gully As we neared 7000ft we noticed the southwest facing slope at the base of the west ridge was scoured to talus, as expected. So there were no stability concerns there. The south gully to gain the east ridge was still partially in the shade. We found only about 6″ or less fresh snow on the late January crust on the south aspect, and it hadn’t softened up yet in the sun at that elevation. So we decided it would be safe and most efficient to go for the east ridge route. Worst case, if we were worried about it heating up later in the afternoon we could wait around til dark to descend once it iced over. At the notch (photo by Nick) The base of the gully had a few short cliff bands, and we decided to ditch our skis at the base of the cliffs so we didn’t have to worry about skiing down above cliffs. Climbing would also go much faster if we didn’t have to carry skis on our backs. We took out our tools and started kicking steps up around the cliff band through some bushes and up the gully. Nick found a short ice pitch to climb in one of the cliff bands while I went around up a steep snow ribbon. Higher in the gully the snow was nice and firm on top of some old avy debris, and we soon popped out in a notch on the east ridge at 8,200ft. There we were able to lighten our loads a bit more. I ditched avy gear since that was the end of the avy terrain, and I ditched my ascent plates which I hadn’t ended up needing. Climbing the first 30m step (photo by Nick) Interestingly, the wind was coming from the northeast and had formed some small cornices overhanging the south side. There was some blowing snow as we marched up the ridge, but it eventually died as we moved onto the south side. We scrambled and front pointed up to the base of a cliff below the balanced rock on the south side of the ridge. From there we soloed up some fun mixed fourth class rock to a slung horn on the ridgecrest. Traversing on the north face (photo by Nick) Nick had actually done this route before in summer so volunteered to lead from there. We would simulclimb for efficiency and doubled up the rope. I recalled Beckey says to traverse onto the north face to get around the balanced rock, so that’s where we went. Nick led across, and after 30m I followed. The traverse might be class 3 or 4 in summer, but it feels much more difficult than that in mixed conditions. I traversed across the top of a slab with pretty big exposure beneath on the north face. There was a lip I could hook my tools on, but the feet were thin snow dust and ice on slab. It was quite insecure and I was happy Nick had gone first to find the route. I carefully inched my way across, and then started diagonalling up and right. I followed Nick’s tracks in the snow, and occasionally hooked ledges to pull myself over steps. Climbing on the ridge Nick belayed me back up to the ridge crest between the balanced rock and the true summit, and then I belayed him back out. We wove back onto the north face, then kicked steps up to the ridge crest and scrambled along the crest. We then reached a cliff face below the summit and moved back onto a ledge on the north face, then climbed steeper mixed terrain to the ridgecrest just past the summit. Nick on the crux slab We had now at least reached the crux pitch. The last 30m to the summit were a downsloping slab with big exposure on the north side. This is the point where the east and west ridge routes meet, and I remember this section not being too hard in the summer. I had just relied on friction to walk on the slab. But you can’t really rely on frictioning a slab like that in crampons. Nick after reaching the summit The slab had an inch or so of light powder on top which wasn’t bonded at all. It looked pretty sketchy, and there were no obvious features to hook with the tools. Nick bravely volunteered to give it a shot. I slung a horn and we flicked the rope around a bulge on the ledge so he’d at least be protected from a slip to the north side. Nick got farther along, and wasn’t able to find any gear, and it was looking grim. But then the powder changed to verglass and he was able to barely stick his front points in. That was enough to make it across to the other edge of the slab and sling a nub on the top. That was the crux, and Nick made it across a gap and over a ridge on the other side. I belayed him all the way to the summit, which was about the end of the 30m of rope. I then belayed him back partway and he found an anchor. I then started across. It was still unadvisable to slip since I was traversing but I had more protection from the rope than Nick had had. The best technique seemed to be to try to balance my frontpoints on micro features in the slab until I got to the verglass, and then I could delicately stick them in. I was able to barely hook micro nubbins above me with my tools and eventually balanced my way across the slab. Summit panorama On the summit I then crossed the ridge and downclimbed to a good ledge. I really didn’t want to downclimb that slab on the return, and vowed we’d leave whatever gear was necessary to rap off another way. Luckily underneath the snow we excavated an existing rap anchor. Nick clipped in to that and belayed me the short remaining slab to the summit. I found the register, but it was frozen shut. This seems to be common in the winter. Either the register is buried too deep under snow, or if you find it it’s frozen shut. I think I’ve only been able to sign a few registers in winter. The view towards the balanced rock I took a few pictures on the summit and got an amazing sunset view. Rainier and Adams were basking in dark orange and red sky with undercast to the west. Sunsets and sunrises are always great in the winter. We really wanted to be done with the rappels before dark, so I soon retreated back to the anchor. Nick went first, and rapped directly down the north face. I followed, and then we simulclimbed back. We definitely didn’t want to repeat the traverse on the north face below the balanced rock, so agreed to find an alternative rappel back. We simulclimbed directly to the balanced rock, and I briefly looked up at it. Sunset at the last rappel (photo by Nick) That would have been very difficult in crampons to get up the friction bit at the top. Perhaps if we had brought rock shoes and had been there a few hours earlier we could have tried it. But it wasn’t the summit, so we skipped it. We followed the ridge down to the east of the balanced rock and came across a good rap anchor. Maybe this is the standard way down after all. Nick went first, but unfortunately the rope was a few meters short of reaching a good ledge on the bottom. Nick untied and downclimbed, but I instead rapped to an intermediate anchor I saw, then did another rappel down. By then we needed to turn on headlamps, which was good timing since we had just finished the last rappel. Scrambling down the ridge We scrambled back down to the notch, then I packed up my stashed gear and we descended the gully. By now the gully was icy and there was no concern about loose wet slides. We marched down to the top of the icy rock cliff, then downclimbed the steep snow ribbon to the side. By 7pm we were back to the skis. Downclimbing to the skis (photo by Nick) At that point I really wished it was still daylight and the snow was soft. By the time we started skiing the snow was all ice. We carefully sideslipped and skied down, but it eventually turned to breakable crust. We made some jump turns, but that was tiring with all the climbing gear in our packs. So we reluctantly put the skis on our packs and booted down. Back in the trees the snow turned back to powder and we put skis back on. From there the skiing was pretty fun. We occasionally broke out into open terrain and icy snow, but then returned to powder in the trees. Finally we reached our camp and set up the tent and cooked some dinner. Leaving camp Sunday morning Sherpa had taken longer than anticipated. I think I had been estimating time based on climbing Stuart last weekend. But the snow was all firm then and travel fast, while for Sherpa it was much slower going in the softer snow. We talked about whether to still go for argonaut the next morning. Sunday was supposed to be much warmer, meaning the south side up argonaut would be prone to loose wet slides. Our plan had been to climb it at night while the snow was icy, topping out at sunrise and descending before it heated up. But based on our speed on Sherpa we figured we’d have to wake up around midnight for that to work. We didn’t make it into the tent til 10pm, and 2 hours of sleep was unappealing after the tough 16 hour day. We also didn’t want to be racing against the clock while sleep deprived to hustle up argonaut before the sun hit. That seemed risky. Back to the sled So we decided to save argonaut for another trip and just sleep in. Sunday morning we rolled out of bed at 8:30am after what seemed like just the right amount of sleep. We took our time getting ready and had an interesting scoot back across the log over Ingalls Creek. We skinned back up Fourth Creek and the snow was glopping pretty bad in all the heat. At the top of the pass we transitioned and had a fun ski back. Travel was fast zipping along our up tracks, and it looked like nobody else had been up in the valley all weekend. We reached the snowmobile by early afternoon, and soon loaded up and rode back to the sno park. Link to more pictures: http://www.countryhighpoints.com/sherpa-peak-winter-ascent/ Gear Notes: 60m rope, two tools, light rock rack, skis, (brought but didn't need pitons, screws, picket) Approach Notes: Snowmobile to Beverly Creek TH
  4. [TR] Forbidden Peak Winter Ascent - West Ridge 01/23/2022

    I think all the extra effort and hardship is definitely well worth it in the winter for these hard-to-access peaks. There are never crowds on the mountains I go to, and the views tend to be much better in my opinion than other times of year. Undercasts seem way more common in the winter which make for amazing sunrises above treeline. Last winter the only time I ever saw other people on Bulger peaks were heli skiers near Silverstar and Big Snagtooth. For some reason the more difficult a peak is to access the more appealing it is to me.
  5. [TR] Forbidden Peak Winter Ascent - West Ridge 01/23/2022

    Thanks! I'd be very interested to see some slides from 1981. I was thinking it would have been even more snow for a February ascent. We were guessing maybe pickets would have been more useful for protection then but sounds like not the case. That's amazing Joberg and Torment and Forbidden were all climbed the same weekend! Thanks! Yeah, it's amazing how different conditions can be year to year just getting up cascade river road. Some winters I hear it's possible to drive to the Eldo lot but this time we had to start so much farther down at MP 5. All the blowdowns and pathcy melt-out sections definitely make things challenging on that road.
  6. [TR] Forbidden Peak Winter Ascent - West Ridge 01/23/2022

    Thanks! Wow the N ridge would be impressive to get in winter. This past weekend there were pretty big cornices on most of it. Maybe other years the cornices don't form like that. Yeah, some suffering may indeed happen. But I think getting to involve lots of fun skiing and snowmobiling in the ascents helps make them worth it.
  7. Trip: Forbidden Peak Winter Ascent - West Ridge Trip Date: 01/23/2022 Trip Report: Forbidden Peak (8,815ft) via West Ridge Jan 22-23, 2022 Duncan and Eric On the summit (photo by Duncan) Forbidden Peak is a classic peak in the North Cascades and a very popular summer climb. All routes to the summit are technical, and glaciers flank the cliffs at its base. The West Ridge route is listed in the 50 classic climbs of North America and can be quite crowded in the summer. But winter is a different story. In the winter the approach road, Cascade River Road, is generally snowed over and unplowed, adding many miles to the approach just to get to the trailhead. Snow and rime covers the route, with potential cornices on ridges, cracks filled with ice, and more challenging weather. Forbidden Peak was first climbed in winter by Catellani and Corriveau in February 1981 via the west ridge. There was also an ascent to the false west summit via the west ridge in March 1968 by Sumner, Bertulis, and Williamson. I haven’t been able to find accounts of winter ascents since the 1981 FWA, though. (I would be very interested to hear about other winter ascents). The route I’m working on climbing the Bulgers in winter and Forbidden is one of the toughest peaks on the list this time of year. I’d previously climbed it via the west ridge in August 2018 with Katie, and remembered it being fun but crowded, even mid week. Duncan was also interested in climbing Forbidden in the winter, and we started planning for the ascent in December 2020. The first question was which route to take. We looked over aerial photos from John Scurlock on various winter dates and it looked like the west ridge was generally less corniced than the north or east ridges. This made sense, since the winds generally come from the west which means the west ridge would be windward and the north and east ridges leeward. The south face was another option, though the routes there are more technical. Given that the only winter ascent we knew about was via the west ridge, and we had each already climbed that route in summer, we decided that was the route to try in the winter. The approach involved climbing some steep snow slopes, so we needed to wait for stable snow conditions and stable weather. Those stars seldom align west of the crest in winter, but in late December the window arrived. Our highpoint on the ridge in December 2020 On December 27, 2020 we were able to drive to milepost 16 on cascade river road. From there we mountain biked to just past the Eldorado lot, then skied up to Boston Basin. The next morning we climbed the snow couloir variation to the notch on the west ridge. Duncan then led a ropelength along the ridge, but couldn’t get any gear in. The cracks were too full of ice and rime for cams or pitons to stick. We reluctantly bailed and skied and biked out. We hadn’t given up on Forbidden in winter, though. With time and reflection we decided we could return with different gear and hope for better conditions. In late January, 2022 conditions again aligned for an attempt. The snowpack had been reset with warm temperatures followed by stable weather, and we were optimistic about fast and safe travel conditions. However, getting to the trailhead might be difficult. The approach on Cascade River Road can be tricky in the winter. We’d gotten lucky in December 2020 that we could drive so far in. But in my experience in winter, snow generally starts around the hidden lakes lookout turnoff. It is not always continuous, though. The road goes up to 1800ft beyond this turnoff, then drops to 1400ft afterwards before climbing again. The snow can be deep on the hill and then the road can be completely melted out after the hill. This was the case when I skied in with Matthew in early March 2020 up to the Cascade Pass area. The problem with these conditions is the snow can be too deep to drive through, but the melted out portion can be tough to get through with a snowmobile. So it’s not clear what the best way through is. NOHRSC snow coverage prediction map for the weekend This time there had been a lowland snow event from early January that apparently hadn’t yet melted out, meaning we could maybe snowmobile to the trailhead to make for a quick road approach. Recent satellite images and NOHRSC snow coverage maps showed nearly continuous snow all the way from Marblemount. A friend had told me in mid January deep snow started at milepost 5 on the road. In theory that sounded like it would be possible to snowmobile in on continuous snow all the way to the trailhead. But I still wanted to be cautious. Unlike east of the crest, on the west side roads often see less snowmobile traffic and aren’t necessarily groomed or cleared in winter. I remembered in March 2020 Cascade River Road had tons of blowdowns on it. That could derail the approach if the road was covered in blowdowns. Just the previous weekend I’d snowmobiled up a road near Winthrop (to climb Cathedral and Amphitheater) and been blocked by blowdowns that would take too long to axe out. Just to be safe, this time I bought a chainsaw I’d plan to bring for cascade river road to supplement my ax. I’ve actually spent a summer on trail crew cutting out trees in the Sierras in 2006, so hoped I could put those skills to use if needed. Most recent available clear satellite image from sentinal hub Melted out road sections could still be problematic, since they would cause the snowmobile to overheat and could break the skis. NOHRSC was showing trace amounts of snow in some low-elevation sections. I had previously installed retractable wheels on the skis on my snowmobile so I could get through long pavement sections without damaging the carbides (I had one of those break off last November). I also installed two sets of ice scratchers (tunnel and rail) to help with overheating if it was patchy ice on melted out sections. It looked like the weekend of Jan 22-23 was finally time to pull the trigger on the trip again. This time we planned to do gear a little differently than our previous winter attempt. We decided to bring snowshoes instead of skis since it appeared conditions would be very icy and firm below treeline. I’ve broken a ski in half in conditions like this in the past, and wanted to avoid that. For the route we would bring pickets, screws, cams, nuts, hexes, and pitons. Hopefully this would allow us to protect the route somehow. Instead of one mountaineering ax I would bring a technical ax with hammer and a hybrid ax with adz, then use umbilicals instead of leashes. I’d used the hybrid ax on Pik Pobeda last summer and it had an adjustable pinky rest and straight shaft. This meant I could ice climb up to WI3 and hook ledges for mixed climbing, but I could also slide the pinky rest up and plunge the straight shaft in the snow if needed. I would use water proof insulated Showa gloves for climbing, but also brought a backup pair of BD guide trigger finger mittens. Last summer I’d gotten frostbite on my fingers climbing Pik Pobeda, and a K2 guide I’d met in basecamp recommended these gloves for cold technical routes. It had been 5 months since my frostbite and my fingers had done fine on a short technical bit on Cathedral Peak the previous weekend, so I figured they’d be ok on this trip. Friday evening we left town after rush hour and met up at the Marblemount NCNP office. I filled out a permit, which was amazingly easy to do compared to summer time. There’s no competition in the winter. Then we loaded up in Duncan’s Tacoma to scout the road. Camping out with the sled at the edge of snowline on Cascade River Road I pulled my snowmobile on a trailer with my Forester and was nervous about turning it around. Usually I park at sno parks where turning around isn’t an issue, but this time we’d just be starting wherever the snow started, which could be on a narrow section of road. I was worried about driving up to snow, then having to back up a long distance to find a pullout. Backing up the trailer at night on a narrow rough road can be tough. We drove past the last house on the road, then it started getting full of blowdowns that were luckily sawed out. At about MP 4 we encountered patchy snow and by MP 5 it was bottoming out the Tacoma. There was a wide patch of melted-out pavement there wide enough for our purposes, so we turned around and I marked the coordinates on my phone. We then drove back to Marblemount to my forester. I drove in front this time to the scouted place and pulled over. This was my first time turning the trailer around on a narrow road in practice, though I’d planned it out in theory. I first rode the snowmobile off and parked it in the snow. Then I unhooked the trailer, then Duncan and I both picked up the front and turned the trailer around. I then turned the forester around and hooked the trailer up to it. It all worked very smoothly and I’m now less worried about turning around on a narrow road. As we were going through these shenanigans another truck pulled up. Two guys got out and said they were also planning to climb Forbidden. I was very surprised. What are the odds that a peak that hasn’t been climbed in winter in the past 40 years now has two teams going for it at the same time? It was actually great news for chances of success. They had a snowmobile and a chainsaw also, so there was increased chance of getting to the trailhead and more climbers to help break trail. All of that was very good news. Chainsawing out trees Their truck was much more capable than my forester so they said they’d continue driving a bit farther before unloading the sled. We said we’d meet them sometime in the morning. Probably whoever started second would eventually catch up to the first team sawing out trees or breaking trail anyways. By 10pm we were asleep. Saturday We optimistically assumed it would be a relatively easy day, so got a non-alpine start at 5am. We loaded up the sled, strapped the chainsaw on top for easy access, then got started. It was tough getting through the deep wheel ruts in the snow with two people on the sled, and I drove cautiously. We soon passed the other guys, who were still sleeping. After two miles we hit our first big tree across the road and I whipped out the chainsaw. I made quick work of the tree, and we pushed through. Now I realize why people don’t cut the full tree out when they are clearing a road. There’s uncertainty how many trees will be down farther along the road, and it makes sense to make the minimum cuts to get through to save time. This often means one cut and ride over the fallen tree, or two cuts where the tree is narrowest. Lots of minor blowdowns to saw out We encountered a dozen or so more places where I needed to pull out the chainsaw. I got pretty good at riding over logs, and appreciated the tips of the snowmobile skis being angled up so high to get over the logs. For a few I hopped off and squeezed the snowmobile under, flexing the windshield a bit, and for some Duncan helped lift so I could squeeze under. Progress was slow, and we were only averaging about 5mph with all the blowdown clearing. We eventually passed the hidden lakes turnoff and realized we still had a ways to go. Interestingly, the ascent up to the crest of the road at 1800ft was completely melted out down to gravel. I knew the sled was working hard taking two people and gear up the steep bare slope, and I was very worried about overheating. I swerved to hit any small patch of mud or ice, and amazingly we reached the snowy crest without overheating. The tree we couldn’t ride past In flat snowy patches I tried to gun the engine to prevent spark plug fouling and clogging, though this was probably uncomfortable for Duncan in the back. Snow was mostly continuous from there, but at milepost 15, after two hours and 10 miles riding, we hit a major obstacle. There was a massive 5ft diameter old-growth tree across the road. My 10in chainsaw had no chance. We stopped to consider our options. There was a steep mud bank on the right and a melted out steep dense forest on the left. Riding around was not an option with such little snow cover (and my limited snowmobile skills). The only way to get the snowmobile past was to build a ramp. Unfortunately, snow cover was very thin, so it would have to be mostly with debris. That sounded like it could potentially take an hour or two. We could do it, and it would be kind of fun, but there was a risk that there would be more massive trees like that farther along the road. We still had eight miles left to the trailhead, and it appeared the January storm had been capable of bringing down lots of trees. If there were more large trees like that, it could take all day to get the sled to the trailhead. Snowshoeing to the national park boundary We really needed to get to the bivy site below the climb that night, though. Back in December 2020 it had taken us seven hours to skin up from the trailhead to the bivy site below the climb. We reasoned if we snowshoed the road from there, it would be four hours to the trailhead, plust seven to the bivy. That would put us there a bit after dark, which would still work. If we spent two hours building a ramp and got the snowmobile across, but then encountered more trees like that, it was likely we wouldn’t make it to the bivy that night and would have to abandon the climb. Views near the Eldo lot We decided to park the snowmobile there and continue on foot. That sounded like it gave us the highest chance of success on summitting. I unloaded gear, turned the sled around, and packed back up. We climbed over the tree and continued down the road on snowshoes. There was another tree just behind the big one that would have taken a lot of work to saw through. And then another big tree had fallen on the bridge near the Mineral Park campground. That would have been another project to get the sled past. I think we made the right call with ditching the sled. We hiked up the road after the campground, going across melted-out south-facing sections and more blowdowns, and soon reaching the park boundary. They had installed a new gate since last time I was there (May 2021) and it was left open, though half buried in snow. There were a dozen or so more blowdowns between there and the Eldo lot, though they all would have been manageable. Hiking up with views of Johannesburg We took a break at the Eldo lot and decided to ditch a few items of gear at the outhouse to pick up on the return. It seemed important to conserve energy if at all possible given so much extra distance we had to cover. The gate was closed at the Eldo lot and a semi-permant looking sign installed that said “Gate Closed Ahead”. I wonder if it was closed all last summer. Interestingly, past the Eldo Lot there were zero blowdowns and we made quick time on the firm snow. Though there was one avy slide that would be tricky to sled past. We had great views of Johannesburg above as we climbed higher. Looking up at Boston Basin Morning Star Creek we saw the huge washout that closed the road last spring. It looks like it’ll take more work still to clear all the debris from that. In December 2020 we had skied directly down from Boston Basin down that drainage, but it involved a lot of dense bushwhacking and cliff avoidance and we decided to avoid that route. Finally by 12:30pm we reached the Boston Basin trailhead and stopped for a break. In the summer that tiny lot is always overflowing, but not in the winter. It appeared we had the whole zone to ourselves. We started up the Boston Basin trail, and snow conditions were nice and firm. We zigzagged up the old mining road, then directly up an open slope and traversed to cross Midas Creek. That appeared to be the last flowing water of the trip so we each topped off our water bottles. We then traversed across Morning Star Creek and went directly up the open slopes from there. Johannesburg at sunset By 3:30pm we popped out above treeline and were treated to amazing views of Boston Basin, the Quien-Sabe Glacier, and Johannesburg across the valley. Above treeline around 6,000ft the snow got more powdery and we actually started sinking in a bit. But we had made excellent time up to there and it looked like we would beat our 7 hour time from before. We alternated breaking trail and soon made it to the typical summer campsite in Boston Basin. This is where we’d camped in December 2020, but there was still daylight left and we recalled a flat bench higher up. Somehow we had cut our time prediction in half, likely because the snow was much more consolidated this time. We decided we wanted to minimize our ascent on summit day, so we would continue and bivy as high as possible. We wrapped around some hills and then snowshoed up the south face. The sun was setting by then and we had amazing views of Johannesburg across the valley. By 6pm we crested a small bench at 7,600ft and stopped there for the night. Sunset near the bivy site I set up my mega-mid ultralight pyramid tent and we threw out our bivy sacks inside. I like this tent since I can use hiking poles as the middle pole, and the bottom is open so I can dig it out to make lots of room. We melted a bit of snow, cooked some dinner, and were sleeping by 8pm. Sunday We wanted to get as early a start as possible with the constraint that we needed daylight for climbing on the west ridge. The snow couloir could be done in the dark, though. So we planned to climb to the col on the west ridge by sunrise and start the ridge climb then. Sunrise from the couloir We got up at 4am and left camp soon after. We snowshoed up for the first 15 minutes but then it got too steep and icy so we transitioned to crampons. I led the way kicking steps up to the rocks on the left edge of the base of the couloir. In summer I had climbed the cat scratch rock rib variation to gain the west ridge, but now that was covered in rime and snow and looked tricky to climb and protect. The snow couloir was well filled-in and worked for us last time, so we decided to go for it this time. Sunrise from the couloir In December 2020 we had wallowed up deep snow in the gully and progress was slow, but now the snow was much more consolidated and travel was quick. We decided to rope up in the gully for a few reasons. First, there were occasional bits of rime chunk falling off the rocks into the gully, and we wanted to be roped up in case a bigger chunk happened to fall. Second, it could get icy up higher as it got steeper, and a rope seemed wise. At the notch (photo by Duncan) I put in a cam and sling on the wall and we roped up. I led up kicking steps. I hugged the left wall as much as possible to stay away from the rime chunks falling down. I got a cam and nut in, but when the gully curved left it seemed like no more gear options. I pounded a picket in at the end of the rope length and we simul climbed from there. I traversed to the right edge of the couloir and was able to get gear in on the rock wall. Then at the top I traversed left under a cliff band and climbed a very steep snice section up to the crest of the cat scratch route. I was happy to have already done this part of the climb before, since I was able to avoid a dead-end variation I had taken in 2020 that had cost a bit of time. From there the slope angle eased and I marched up to the notch. I cleared out a crack in the notch, got a red cam in, and belayed Duncan up. Duncan starting up the west ridge The sun was just rising and we were still on schedule. The view was amazing of colorful snowy mountains in all directions. I peered over at Primus, Austera, and Jack to the north and over at Johannesburg, Sahale, Gunsight, and Rainier in the distance to the south. Duncan soon arrived and we stopped to take a break. I put on my big orange puffy jacket and scarfed down some food while Duncan warmed up his feet. On one of the au cheval sections (photo by Duncan) We looked up at the route and it looked almost identical to the conditions in December 2020. Luckily there were no cornices, and the false summit looked tantalizingly close. Duncan is a very strong mixed climber and we agreed he’d lead the ridge to the summit. Our plan was to simulclimb as much as possible for speed, but perhaps pitch out a few steep steps. In the summer time I recalled staying generally close to the ridge crest but often venturing onto the north face to wrap around obstacles. The north face is steep but still lower-angle than the south face. That strategy wouldn’t necessarily work in the winter, though. It looked like there were more rocks poking out on the direct ridge crest, and we would need exposed rocks to find gear options. So we would try to stay on the crest as much as possible. I belayed Duncan up and the first ropelength started on gentle snow slopes, which soon gave way to a more narrow snowy ridge crest. Near the end of the rope Duncan found an exposed rock and hammered a hex in a crack. Hexes or pitons that can be hammered in generally hold better in icy cracks than cams, and I was happy we had gear in. This was already an improvement from the last attempt. Starting up the crux tower The rope ran out, I took down the anchor, and started up. The crest stayed mostly low-angle and we slowly simul-climbed up. Duncan was generally able to get at least two pieces in per rope length, and the terrain was easy enough that this was sufficient. As we got higher the crest got narrower until it was less than a foot wide. I actually scooted au cheval in several sections, with one leg hanging off to the very exposed south face, the other on the snowy and steep north face. Sometimes if a bit of rock was exposed I’d step down onto the north face, hold onto the rock, and traverse. Me approaching the crux tower (photo by Duncan) After the au cheval stretch Duncan built an anchor and belayed me over. We were below the big step that I recalled was the crux in the summer. In the summer I recalled stepping across a gap and walking over some friction slabs below this crux, but this was all covered in snow and rime now and the friction slab was no problem. Duncan leading the crux tower I handed over the gear, flaked the rope, and put Duncan on belay. I was happy to not be leading this section in mixed conditions. Duncan got two solid pieces in and quickly made it up over the step. Then the rope ran out and it was my turn. I followed his steps in the rime, but the vertical part was tricky. I had to hook my right tool on a narrow slanting ledge while leaning left, then delicatly step left around a rock bulge onto a sloping ledge. This got me to the base of a small corner. I banged out a piton there and clipped it on my harness. Above me I was able to hook a small ledge with both tools then pull up and get my foot on an ice bulge. Above that I reached my left tool up as high as possible and could just barely hook an invisible edge of rock. I then hooked my right crampon up onto the rime and pulled myself up. The final bulge was loose snow but I jammed both picks in and pulled my way up. The crux was over. The terrain leveled out briefly and then steepened again. Duncan belayed me over to a small rock overhang and we exchanged gear again. Now I could see the false west summit and we were close. Duncan led up, kicking steps briefly on the north face to get around the bulge and continuing out of site. I started up when the rope reached me. The north face snow was pretty insecure and I was happy to have gear in above. I eventually climbed back up to the crest and noticed the south side snow was much more secure. It had likely gone through melt-freeze cycles that the north face had not. Summit panorama There were a few more au cheval sections, and then the terrain eased at the base of the false summit. In the summer I had climbed up to the false summit and downclimbed a 10ft step on the other side. But in the winter that downclimb was too sketchy. So we traversed around the false summit on the north face. This was our longest foray onto the north face and made me appreciate the ridge crest. The snow was very insecure. Some footholds held, but on others I’d break through to powder and sink down a foot. Luckily there were rocks exposed and Duncan got a piton in to protect the traverse. Me on the summit (photo by Duncan) On the other side we regained the ridge, then climbed a short narrow snow ridge to the summit. We topped out at 11am, three hours after leaving the notch, and approximately on schedule. It looked a lot different than in the summer. The summit was a steep snow pyramid and we tapped the top of it. Duncan was belaying me on the other side off two tools in the snow. The wind had picked up from the north and it was blowing spin drift all around. Luckily the air temperature wasn’t too cold (maybe upper teens), but it wasn’t a good place to hang out for too long. Duncan on the summit The views were amazing of snowy cascade peaks in all directions. To the southeast Boston and Sahale were plastered in rime ice, and the ragged ridge spread out to the north. Interestingly, there was a fairly large cornice just past the summit on the East Ridge. The north ridge looked heavily corniced also, and I think our route up the west ridge is the best way in winter. We hadn’t encountered any cornices en route (though that could change in other years). Starting the descent Looking back at me on the summit (Photo by Duncan) We stayed about 5 minutes, but wanted to get out of the spindrift and soon started heading out. I pounded in a picket and my ice ax as an anchor and belayed Duncan down. Our plan was to simul downclimb as much as possible, with a few raps on the steep steps. Duncan climbed around to the false summit and got a picture of me on the summit before heading down. I took my time on the sketchy north face traverse, then on the ridge crest on the other side I faced in and downclimbed. Downclimbing the low-angle but sharp ridge was kind of tricky. I had to face up so couldn’t easily see below me, and there wasn’t a whole lot of gear in between us so I had to be extra careful not to slip. But I had our up tracks to follow which helped. Looking for anchors We found an old rap anchor exposed at the top of the highest step, so we backed it up and clipped in. Duncan rapped first and made it to above the crux and I followed. I’m sure there is a good anchor somewhere there to rap the crux, but we couldn’t find it under all the rime and snow. So we slung a small horn sticking out toward the north face and were careful to just weight it towards the step. Duncan rapped down and I followed and we met at another gear anchor. From there I recalled in the summer rapping again down the north face and traverseing back to the ridge, but we wanted to avoid traversing the north face in the insecure snow conditions. So Duncan climbed back down the ridge to the au cheval section and started digging around for anchors. The spin drift was pretty bad with the north wind but he found a small horn that we could use to diagonally rappel back to the crest below. Duncan excavating the last rap anchor horn I climbed over and we were very careful to weight that anchor only straight down. It was fine straight down, but I suspect the wind would probably blow it away if unweighted. We rappelled diagonally down, which was tricky in the north face snow. Then Duncan got a piton in back on the ridge crest and we clipped in. It looked the ridge was lower angle from there and we decided to simul downclimb. I belayed Duncan down, but when the rope got to me I struggled to get the piton out. The snow was sliding out from under my feet and I had to swing my hammer at full arm extension to reach the piton. I banged on it for 10 minutes, but then gave up. I recalled we hadn’t used pitons below that point, so wouldn’ be necessary for the remaining climb, and was too risky to get out since once it popped out I would be far above the next piece. Final look up at the ridge from the notch I carefully unclipped the beaner and started downclimbing. There were some tricky steep snice sections and I took my time, making very careful and deliberate pick and crampon placements. I extracted the next piton no problem, and soon reached the easy snow slopes that were a short march away from the notch. We reached the notch at 2pm, so it had taken the same time up as down. The west ridge is tricky that way, since you can’t just rap the whole route and be off quickly. You have to do some climbing on the descent also. Looking up at the couloir from the bivy site We decided the fastest way down the couloir would be to simul downclimb again. I led the way, placing gear in the exact places as on the way up. This time, though, the afternoon sun was hitting the rime above the gully and even more ice chunks were falling down. The right side of the gully was like a shooting gallery, so I stayed on the left out of the danger zone. This meant fewer gear options, but I got a few intermediate pickets in. We soon reached the bottom, found our stashed snowshoes, and quickly hiked out of the danger zone and back to camp by 3pm. I breathed a big sigh of relief that the roped portion of the climb was over. But we were still a long ways from the cars. Hiking out into the sunset We spent some time melting snow, breaking down camp, and packing up. By 4pm we were hiking back down, and got to enjoy another amazing sunset over Johannesburg mountain. Our tracks had drifted over on the upper mountain, but down lower we regained them. The sun set as we descended below treeline, and conditions got steeper. I was happy not to have skis, though, since the icey breakable crust would have been challenging. In the trees the slope steepened and we took off the snowshoes to posthole down. But back at Morning Star Creek we changed back to snowshoes and followed our up tracks. By 6pm we reached the road and stopped for another break. It was much colder down in the valley, and it may have been an inversion. Hiking out looking back at Forbidden (photo by Duncan) We made good time walking down the road in snowshoes, and even remembered to pick up our stashed gear at the Eldo outhouse. I sort of expected to see tracks from someone else in there, maybe someone going into the Eldo zone, but it appeared we had been the only ones in there all weekend. Conditions hiking out were much firmer now in the dark, and we made good time. The south facing aspect of the road was more melted out around MP 16.5, but down in the valley the snow was still deep. By 9:30pm we finally reached the snowmobile and stopped for another break. We saw one other set of snowmobile tracks that got to the old growth tree and turned around. Those must have been from the other two climbers that were planning on climbing Forbidden with us. It’s understandable that they’d turn around there since it was still such a long ways from the climb. Back at the sled We strapped everything down and the sled started no problem. This time I expected a much quicker ride since we’d already chainsawed out a bunch of trees, but I was a bit concerned about the road melting out more. That could cause delays if the sled overheated. Progress was smooth in general, and I weaved around, under, and over all the familiar trees from the way in. The melted out sections had gotten a bit bigger on the west side of the 1800ft crest, but now we were going downhill and the motor didn’t overheat. Finally we got to within a few miles of the starting point and encountered deep fresh ruts in the road. That made it very difficult to balance, and at one point the sled tipped enough that Duncan jumped off. I vowed to be more careful. We soon found the culprit of the ruts – a jeep that was stuck in the snow with boot tracks heading back down. I was happy to be on a snowmobile, which seemed like the right tool for the job in those conditions. Heading home at midnight Below the jeep the melted out sections got even larger, with long sections of bare pavement. I deployed my retractable wheels and was able to steer no problem while saving the carbides. I would swerve to hit any snow patch possible, and the wheels automatically retracted on deeper snow. Somehow we made it the whole way back to the Forester without overheating at all. We were soon unloaded and had the sled back on the trailer by midnight. Unfortunately the patchy pavement/gravel conditions had worn down my ice scratchers, but I know if I didn’t have the scratchers deployed the whole time I would have overheated. They were critical when I would swerve to hit the occasional ice patch on the pavement to cool the engine. Duncan pitched a tent to camp out but I needed to get back home to give a lecture the next morning. So I headed out at midnight, and made it home by 3am. Link to more pictures Gear Notes: Pickets, pitons, hexes, nuts, cams, one screw, snowshoes Approach Notes: Snowmobile from MP 5 on Cascade River Road
  8. Thanks! This is definitely the hardest mountain I've ever climbed, though I haven't done any 8000ers yet.
  9. Thanks! Yes I think winter Bulgers give excellent preparation for big peaks like this, with all the trail breaking, long approaches, challenging weather, mixed climbing, and other difficulties. I'm at 121 country highpoints so far, so 75 left to go (I consider 196 countries total). I would rank Pobeda as one of the five most difficult country highpoints in the world so it's a nice one to have finished. But there are still plenty of hard ones left.
  10. The rock on the west ridge of Khan Tengri was some kind of crappy shale down low. Probably wouldn't hold a cam too well. But the upper 1000ft or so were better quality and solid. Surprisingly I hear the south ridge is higher quality, almost like marble. That's a pretty serious route that hasn't seen too many ascents. I took the west ridge.
  11. The rock on the west ridge of Khan Tengri was some kind of crappy shale down low. Probably wouldn't hold a cam too well. But the upper 1000ft or so were better quality and solid. Surprisingly I hear the south ridge is higher quality, almost like marble. That's a pretty serious route that hasn't seen too many ascents. I took the west ridge. On Pobeda the two short rock sections I encountered were surprisingly solid and held gear. Freezing level often dropped to basecamp (4000m) at night. We had a handful of snowstorms down in camp. In the day it probably reached 5000m at the highest. I just posted some Khan Tengri pictures.
  12. Thanks! I just put up a report for Khan Tengri with more pictures.
  13. Trip: Khan Tengri, Kazakhstan - West Ridge Trip Date: 08/01/2021 Trip Report: Khan Tengri (22,993ft) via West Ridge (Russian grade 5a) Khan Tengri viewed from South Inylchek basecamp Highest mountain in Kazakhstan Aug 1, 2021 Eric Gilbertson and Andreas Ritzau July 25 drive Bishkek to karkara July 26 helicopter to south inylchek, climb to 5300m, unplanned open bivy July 27 summit attempt to 6500m, bail in storm, return to BC July 28 rest July 29 rest July 30 rest July 31 leave BC in evening, break trail to 5300m, camp at c2 Aug 1 summit, return to c2 Aug 2 descend to BC in morning The route July 25 We were in Kyrgyzstan climbing 7000m peaks and had just finished Lenin Peak on July 20. We had spent three weeks on Lenin so were very well acclimated for other high peaks. After a van ride to Osh and a flight to Bishkek we took two rest days in the low elevation, which allowed our bodies to recover and get even better acclimated. It was hot, over 100f each day, but we knew we would soon be back in cold subzero temperatures. I tried to eat as much as possible at every meal to fatten back up before heading back into the mountains. On the morning of July 25 we started our journey towards our next peaks. We took a van to the ak sai office and paid Helicoptering to basecamp the remainder of our balance for full packages at south inylchek. This would include helicopter rides in and out, tents every night, meals, permits, and use of fixed ropes. Unfortunately payment was not easy. Cash is the preferred method, though this requires carrying several thousand usd per person which seems risky. Ak sai isn’t set up to take credit cards. Bank transfers work but it happened to be 2am eastern time and our banks were not allowing transfers at that hour. Basecamp view – Khan Tengri on left, Pobeda on right Eventually we figured out the payment, then loaded up the van along with a Ukrainian team and started the drive to karkara. Tricky route out of camp We stopped at a grocery store for an hour to allow the Ukrainians to buy food (we’d already stocked up the previous day) then continued driving east. The drive took about 7 hours, passing through dry desert, past the scenic isykul lake, then back into the mountains near the Kazakhstan border. We showed our passports and border permits to a guard station then made it to karkara by sunset. Karkara is a small outpost with a few buildings and lots of tents. It serves as the helicopter staging area for south and north inylchek basecamps. We weighed all our luggage and ourselves for the helicopter, then ate a big dinner and went to sleep in the tents. Starting up the south Inylchek Glacier July 26 It was very windy that night and difficult to sleep with the tents banging around. Luckily I had earplugs but those without them didn’t get much sleep. We at breakfast at the main building then loaded up the helicopter around 7am. We were sharing the ride with a dozen other climbers, going to either north or south inylchek. The helicopter was the biggest I’d ever seen. I think it was an old Soviet military helicopter. It had huge doors in the back and could hold lots of gear. We took off in heavy wind and headed east. The trees soon got replaced by grass and rocks and in 40 minutes we reached the glaciers. We first stopped at north inylchek to drop off some climbers, then we went down the inylchek glacier to pick up some climbers that had been trying to hike in but given up and called the helicopter. They had an interesting plastic sled with bicycle wheels to tow gear but I guess it was still difficult . Finally around 10am we landed at south inylchek and unloaded. Hiking into the sunset The camp is set on the moraine midway between Khan tengri and pobeda. It consists of about 20 sturdy yellow tents, a kitchen tent, two dinner tents, and a sauna. With full packages we got assigned yellow tents, while climbers with econom packages pitched their own tents a ways away. We had decided given the amount of time we planned to spend there for both khan tengri and pobeda the full packages made most economic sense. Starting up towards Chapayev Chris Tomer had been giving us weather forecasts every day over the inreach and it turned out a weather window was supposed to last through Tuesday, followed by a week of bad weather. If we could summit Tuesday we could just barely beat the weather. That would require going straight for the summit without sleeping. It sounded reasonable to me since we were already acclimated and had just rested several days at low elevation in bishkek. We didn’t want to top out before sunrise, though, so decided on a mid afternoon start. We took a nap for a few hours, ate 2pm lunch from ak sai, then were packed up and moving by 330pm. The route was a bit complicated navigating ice cliffs in the moraine near camp but after an hour we reached the edge of the glacier. Andrew was feeling sick and decided to turn around there. He had already climbed khan tengri a few years earlier anyways. Looking across the valley to Pobeda Matt, Andreas and I continued on in crampons over the icy glacier. We generally followed flags along the route and eventually reached camp 1 at 4200m around 7pm. There were a bunch of climbers there and we took a break to put on more layers. We then roped up and continued up in the waning light. The route wrapped around and ascended the glacier up to the col between Khan tengri and chapayev peak. This section of route is best passed at night to avoid snow and rockfall from chapayev. Our timing was good, hitting the section just after sunset when the snow was icy. Matt led the way following a good boot track. We wove around many crevasses and were treated to great views of sunset on pobeda and topographers peak across the valley. We continued climbing in the dark and caught up to two Iranians ascending unroped. That seemed very dangerous given all the crevasses. Unplanned open bivy at C2 By midnight we reached camp 2 and were making excellent time to summit at sunrise. I was still feeling strong but the rest of the team said they needed sleep. I think all my all-nighter weekend trips in the cascades have somehow built up my tolerance for sleep deprivation for pushes like this. Unfortunately this delay put us in jeopardy of missing the weather window if storms came early. I really wanted to continue but decided to stick together and maybe we could all continue up after sunrise if everyone could get a few hours of sleep. Sleep would be difficult, though, since we hadn’t planned on sleeping and thus hadn’t brought sleeping bags or tents. I didn’t really need to sleep so gave out my extra warm clothes and pack for others to sleep on and set about melting snow to give everyone two boiling water bottles each to keep warm. Climbing past camp 3 For the remainder of the night I mostly did jumping jacks and dug a snow platform with my ice ax to stay warm while the others slept (or tried to sleep). By 5am the sun started rising and I asked that we start up. Unfortunately I was the only one wanting to go for the summit by then. I think sleep had been elusive. Two Dutch climbers happened to descend from camp 3 then and offered their empty tent if we wanted shelter, since they were continuing down. Matt and Andreas took them up on their offer while I decided to continue up solo and go for the summit. I made quick time up the packed trail to camp 3, which consisted of a half dozen tents under an overhang just below the chapayev- Khan tengri saddle. The summit pyramid From there I climbed a fixed rope up steep snow to the saddle. I turned right and followed a climbers path up to the west ridge of Khan tengri. I was in radio contact with matt and he said he hiked up halfway to camp 3 but then started getting affected by the altitude and decided to turn around. He and Andreas would wait at camp 2 until I returned. Around 6000m the ridge got steep enough that I ditched my poles and took out my ice ax. Soon I reached fixed ropes on steeper rock sections so I packed up my ice ax and got out my jumar. I was nervous to fully trust ropes I hadn’t inspected so I generally climbed the rock without weighting the rope. I would just push the jumar up as a backup. Nasty conditions on the upper mountain In general most of the ropes were in decent shape, though some were cut to the core and sketchy. I passed a few tents on a ledge at 6400m that was probably camp 4, then saw climbers rappelling down. I asked if they summitted but they just said no, that it was too windy. When I’d started up the ridge the summit had been clear and wind calm. But now it looked like the jet stream had hit it. A river of clouds was pummeling the summit and the wind had picked up considerably. The climber I’d talked to dove in his tent and I could see 3 more coming down. But the forecast was for decreasing winds over the day, so I optimistically continued up. I climbed up to about 6500m but the storm only worsened. I estimated the wind was gusting to 40 or 50mph and the top 300m of the peak was in complete whiteout. My highpoint at 6500m before retreating It appeared the storm predicted to start Wednesday had arrived a day early. I could probably navigate by following the fixed lines, but it seemed too dangerous with the heavy wind and whiteout. I radioed matt and said I was bailing. I guess that would at least give us a chance to all summit together in the next weather window. (I later learned nobody summitted that day and indeed the weather worsened). I descended using a combination of rappels and down climbing holding the fixed lines. By 1030am I was back at camp 2. A bunch of climbers were heading up then, I think planning to summit on Wednesday. Mountain forecast.com had predicted clear weather Wednesday morning but I told them it appeared the bad weather was arriving early. I later learned nobody summitted Wednesday since, indeed, the storm had come in early. Retreating back to BC We packed up and headed down by 11am. In hindsight this was a bad time to descend since chapayev was in the sun and all the snow bridges were soft. But we made it through quickly and were back to basecamp by 330pm, 24 hours after we’d left. Unfortunately the heat had made my feet sweaty and hiking in my Olympus mons across the moraine had given me bad blisters. Those would take several days to heal, but for better or worse the next few days were supposed to be bad weather anyways. July 27 Matt and Andrew were both not being treated well by the altitude and they decided it was best to helicopter back out since more summits were not in the cards. By mid morning the helicopter came and they packed up and headed out. Andreas and I would be the only team members left. We spent the day eating meals from ak sai and reading. Hiking back to BC July 28-30 We spent the next three days resting also. I tried to eat as much as possible and made good progress on my Tom Clancy book on my kindle. There were no summits by any climbers any of those days and we met a lot of climbers at base camp from Russia, Iran, Switzerland, Romania, and Britain. July 30 it snowed and rained all day, and I think everyone was in base camp. That was the most crowded I’d ever seen the dinner tent. The skies cleared that evening and chris said it was the start of a 2 day weather window. July 31 We wanted to give the new snow a full 24 hours for any avalanches to run their course, so we waited til after lunch. It had been sunny all morning which we hoped would cause any fresh snow on chapayev to slide. Waiting for good weather in BC By 230pm we were packed and heading back up for another attempt on khan tengri. This time there would be no attempt at all-nighters. We planned to bring overnight gear for two nights at camp 2. We made fast progress to camp 1, by now quite familiar with the route. Many other climbers were camped there and I think they were planning to summit Monday. But Sunday had the best weather forecast and we planned to summit then. We took a break to put on layers, then continued up the glacier. With all the fresh snow the old tracks were covered and we were on our own breaking trail. Occasionally we found an old flag and evidence of the old track but in general we were on our own for navigation. As we got higher we noticed fresh slides from chapayev and we were happy to have waited til nightfall. Hiking back up under Chapayev It looked windy on chapayev with lots of snow blowing off the summit and we hoped chris was correct that the wind would die at midnight. We took turns breaking trail and navigation got difficult as it got darker. By 1030pm we finally reached camp 2. There were 5 tents set up but only one occupied, by a solo russian climber. I found an open platform and set up the tent while Andreas melted snow. We ate freeze dried dinners and were asleep by midnight. Aug 1 We were up at 330am and moving by 430am. It was a tough 2 hours of trail breaking to camp 3 and surprisingly there was only one tent there, unoccupied. I think everyone had descended to avoid the Friday storm. Heading up from C2 at sunrise We ditched glacier gear there then jugged up the rope to the saddle. By then it was light out with minimal wind. There weren’t any fresh tracks from the north, but there were two tents at the saddle with fresh tracks leading up. Way above us I could make out three climbers, and they were the only others on the mountain. We eventually got high enough that I decided to ditch my whippet and switch to an ice ax. I looked back then and noticed Andreas was missing a crampon! He couldn’t summit like that so he turned around to look for it. Luckily he found it above camp 3 and put it on more tightly. That error unfortunately cost us about an hour. I then led the way up the fixed ropes, which were as sketchy as before. The route was fresh in my mind and I soon got to my old 6500m highpoint. In general I would try to stay far enough ahead so we were never both on the same rope, and it worked pretty well. Climbing up the fixed lines Above 6500m the steepness decreased a bit and eventually the route traversed right. After traversing we reached the steepest part of the route. There was a full 60m ropelength up 5.6 rock climbing, then another 60m rope up a steep snow slope. At the top of the slope I caught up to a Russian climber moving slowly. I asked to pass at the anchor but he wanted to stay ahead. I waited a long time for him to jug up steep rock to the next anchor, then I quickly caught up. He nicely let me pass then, and I climbed a short snow slope, then traversed around and up a rock band. I then reached the final long snow slope towards the summit. There were fixed ropes here that didn’t really seem necessary since the angle was low. But I guess a slip would still not be recommended. Andreas coming up the fixed lines I used the ropes to pull myself up anyways. For a few sections the ropes were buried and I had to use my ice ax. Shortly before the summit I met one Russian climber on his way down and passed another on his way up. By 4pm I made the last steps to the famous cross on the summit. Just after me sasha, the russian climber, reached the top and we shook hands. We exchanged pictures and admired the view. The snow went a little bit higher above the cross, but that was a cornice overhanging the north face while the cross is located on the highest point not on the cornice. In general I say it is acceptable to reach the highest natural point excluding cornices, since they are extremely dangerous and not permanent parts of the mountain. On the summit I radioed down to Dima that we’d made the summit, and he cautioned us to be careful on the descent. I then went back down to get out of the wind. When Andreas made it up I followed him to the summit and we took some more pictures. The weather was perfect, just as chris had predicted. It was around 0F with minimal wind and almost no clouds. I think it’s hard to get better than that. We had great views down to south inylchek and north inylchek, with the glaciers flowing past each camp like rivers and eventually converging far below. I could see our ascent route and dozens of more climbers ascending. There were now many more tents at camp 2 and camp 3. I guessed they were going for the summit Monday. By 445pm we started our descent. On the lower angle sections we just held the fixed lines in our hands and walked down. A few places without ropes we downclimbed with ice axes. Rapping down In the steeper parts I rappelled with my figure 8. Unfortunately Andreas only brought an ATC, but the fixed ropes were thick and icy enough that they were difficult to feed through the ATC. This led to some delays and our downward progress was slow. Also, often the ropes had knots in them, and passing these was time consuming. On the steeper sections the ropes were very taught, and it was difficult to pull up enough slack to rappel on. All of this compounded to slow us down. I kept radioing to Dima every two hours and I think he was concerned about our slow speed. Finally by 10pm we reached the bottom of the fixed lines and hiked back to the saddle. Andreas couldn’t fit the final rope leading to camp 3 into his ATC so eventually just descended holding the rope hand over hand. We put glacier gear back on at camp 3 and hiked back to our tent by 1am. Looking back towards basecamp I spent the next hour melting snow for drinking water. We both were very dehydrated, only drinking 2 liters all day. By 2am I was ready to finally get in the tent, but I couldn’t get my right boot off! My Olympus mons have a fancy BOA binding system but after 30 minutes I just couldn’t get it to release. I really wished it had good old fashioned laces. I finally gave up and took out my knife and cut the binding loose. Hopefully la sportiva will be sympathetic and fix them someday. I figured I’d use a voile strap to tighten them in the future since the binding was busted. By 245am I was finally in my sleeping bag. But I couldn’t fall asleep all night. I kept coughing up phlegm. I think it was because I was too dehydrated all day. Descending at sunset Aug 2 Finally by 630am it was light out and I gave up trying to sleep. I woke Andreas up and we were soon packed up and moving down. Hiking back to basecamp Many climbers were ascending, and none of them were roped up! I can’t understand how they think it’s safe to cross so many crevasses and snow bridges unroped. Some crevasses on the route require long precarious jumps to get across! We made fast progress down, taking a brief break at camp 1 to talk to some friends. By 1pm we made it back to base camp, in time for afternoon lunch with ak sai. We told Dima we were back, and during lunch he gave us each a certificate for summiting. It turns out we were the 6th and 7th people to summit this year from the south. That’s kind of surprising given how many people were on the mountain. We soon got busy resting up for our next mountain, Pik Pobeda. Gear Notes: Standard glacier gear, jumar, Figure 8 ( to rap thick icy fixed lines) Approach Notes: Helicopter to South Inylchek basecamp
  14. Thanks! Doctor said fingers will likely make a full recovery over the coming months fortunately.
  15. Lenin was the first 7000er I did and it's a great acclimation peak. I would say it is similar to Rainier via Emmons but just everything shifted up about 9000ft. So you drive to 12,000ft and start the hike there up to 23000ft. The normal route is just standard glacier travel and it is quite popular (called the "easiest 7000er in the world"). But there is significant avalanche risk on the route. One avalanche ran 6000ft and completely wiped out a huge section of route between c1 and c2 just 5 hours before I passed through. It's a miracle it ran at 1am when nobody was there. But I watched two smaller avalanches near c2 whose debris just barely hit the route with people on it (unharmed luckily). Weather can be bad - I got delayed 4 days and one storm was windy enough to flatten my tent. Khan Tengri was next and it's a very unique 7000er. The top 3000ft is a true rock pyramid on all sides. You generally helicopter in to the north or south side. I was on the south side. It's then a heavily crevassed glacier hike up to the summit pyramid. Then fixed lines the whole way up (though some are super sketchy, rock is 4th class with bits up to 5.7). It's actually very popular so trails are generally broken. I just about did it in a 24hr round trip from basecamp but had to bail at 6500m my first attempt when a storm came in. Got it next weather window though. For logistics I used ak sai. For about $400 you can get basic support for lenin which I recommend (shuttle to BC, horse carrying gear to c1, a few nights and meals at bc and c1, permits). For south Inylchek (BC for khan tengri and pobeda) it's around $2000 for full package which I'd say is worth it if you're going for both. That includes permits, shuttle from bishkek, helicopters, meals and tents.
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