Trip: Skookum Falls - Far Right Side Trip Date: 02/15/2021 Trip Report:
On President’s Day I finally got to climb my first pitches of ice in Washington and I got the full PNW experience. After skiing the Cascade concrete for the last three of months I found that the Cascade ice is quite the opposite.
We left Seattle at 6:15 that morning, raining. Heading south through Auburn, raining. As we joined the line up in Enumclaw to Crystal Mountain (9 inches, who could blame them), raining. We started making backup plans to head up to Snoqualmie but kept our fingers crossed. Even heading into Greenwater, raining. By some stroke of luck, as the GPS struck 5 minutes ETA, the rain turned to snow. When we pulled into the Skookum Falls Viewpoint (47.0529, -121.5721) we found the ice to be in pretty good shape.
Dark blue - our pitch 3
Orange - our rap route - rap 1 through v-thread down to a large tree, rap 2 down to a second set of trees, rap 3 to ground
Light Blue - Skookum Falls (courtesy of Justin Sermeno)
Green - Skookum Falls Right (courtesy of Justin Sermeno)
We made our way to the river working with vague beta of a crossing made of fallen trees. We basically flipped a coin and decided to head north along the river hoping to find this fabled bridge. Less than ten minutes in we stumbled onto it. (47.0539, -121.5754)
Excited to have found the crossing, we jumped onto the trunk and gingerly walked across not knowing if the fresh snow had covered a solid step or a slip into the river. In our excitement, we failed to notice that the other side of the tree was a boulder problem of roots and frozen dirt. Luckily for us someone had placed a precarious crash pad (log) on the other side.
Having successfully down climbed the root system, we made our way in a general south-west heading completely ignoring the beautifully tracked in Skookum Flats Trail opting instead for the ankle breaking snow-covered scree field.
Red - not recommended
Yellow - recommended
As we geared up at the base of the climb (47.0523, -121.5763), we noticed the occasion slough. There was minimal overhead hazard and that the ice was decently fat we didn’t make a big deal of it. James offered to take the first lead and I happily conceded as I hadn’t swung a tool since my mid-December Hyalite trip.
As James started off, he bottomed out his first 16cm screw. Oops. Finding a better place for it he continued on his way and made quick work of the first 45m pitch. As I belayed, I noticed the falling snow getting fatter and wetter. It wasn’t long before the falling snow melted as soon as it hit me. I followed up, happy to get back into the groove on top rope.
As I took over for the second pitch the reality of WA ice set in. Every swing planted my hands in the wet snow. By mid-pitch, my gloves were completely saturated. I was pretty stoked with my new tape job but I may as well have taped cold, wet sponges to my handles. As I swung my tool back I could hear the *squish* of my soaked gloves as the tool passed my ear.
The ice softened as the day went along and I was happy to have the horizontal front points of my Snaggletooths. At a certain point though horizontal or vertical didn’t matter, I was really just smashing through the slush and stomping down a foot hold.
This was my first multi lead and my first realization that bringing 13 screws actually means you have 7 screws for the climb. 3 screws at each anchor. I had to call it quits at 35m.
I set up my station, put my climbing gloves in my jacket and put my belay gloves to bring James up. Throughout the belay I watched as my fancy Goretex jacket slowly wetted through from the inside.
This picture was taken with a very wet and slippery iPhone.
James made it to the belay and we make the call to go or no go. Despite the moderate temperatures we are both shivering from the wetness, but enticed by the gorgeous sheet of ice above us we decide to keep at ‘er. It was only noon anyway.
James throws down and takes the line of best protection. 35m. As James set up to belay me, I was shivering and my layers were saturated. I start climbing with reckless abandon, moving without testing my sticks and kicks until I reach a short section of dripping icicles. It was at this point that I learned that my layers weren’t saturated and could actually take in more water.
Kicking it up a gear, I ran through this short section and met James at the belay. Now we were done. James built the V-thread and rapped a short section to a tree we had been eying all day. We pulled the rope and...fuck… it’s frozen in the V-thread. It took some hard negotiating but the rope eventually came through. I made sure to keep the rope moving back and forth as James cleared some tangles in the rope.
At the tree we clear the old tat get ready to head down. Stepping over a branch, James heads toward the obvious gully (beta from not this section of Skookum Falls) climber’s left. Passing through the gully it’s clear that our 60m doubles aren’t going to hit the ground and James cuts back right to build an anchor at another tree. Cold and wet, I quickly followed over the branch not knowing that he had zigged and then zagged. As I got to the anchor and started the pull, the rope was stuck again. It was the orange rope wasn’t it? Or was it blue? No amount of forceful pulling would even budge the rope.
This was the rock rescue moment we all say that we’d practice but never actually do. It was time to jug the rope. PNW lesson number I don’t know anymore, wet Prussiks are extremely catchy. Jugging up 35m on Prussiks was not happening. For the second time in my life and was supremely glad that I brought a Ti-Bloc with me. James fixed one end of the rope and I was able to jug up the other strand. Left quad cramping, right shoulder burning, I got up to the station to find this mess that I am almost too embarrassed to post. I cleared the tangles, rerouted the rope around the branch and un-zigged the zag. The remainder of the rappels went without a hitch and I thought to myself that I’m glad to be done. Mistake.
We reverse the yellow arrows (see above) and find the trail. As we returned to the river crossing I am extremely unmotivated to climb what must now be a partially melted mud boulder problem. Recalling that there were other fallen trees that crossed the river I decided to pick the wrong one. We shimmied across another trunk trying not to fall in the river and we landed on an island that did not connect to the other side.
Me yelling expletives at the river
At this point we were less than 10 minutes from the car and the only thing that wasn’t wet were my socks so why not make it a royal flush.
A load of 13cm screws. Probably should've brought up more 16cms. 60m doubles. Approach Notes:
Parking (47.0529, -121.5721) Crossing (47.0539, -121.5754) Base of climb (47.0523, -121.5763)