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first ascent [TR] Castle Peak - "The Drawbridge" FA of the Middle North Buttress 6/24/2017

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Castle Peak: "The Drawbridge" First Ascent of the Middle North Buttress (5.10+/A1, 10p) (Schilling-Zentler)




Morgan Zentler is a baller. Last year he finished the Bulger list with a frenzied push. His suffering knew no bounds in his quest for completion. I've seen him pass out without a net or tent in a hideous swarm of mosquitoes and picked him up after an epic Stehekin-Phelps Creek traverse with Tim Halder that was the alpine equivalent of 4 marathons in a row. My tolerance for choss is limited, so it's infrequent that we can find overlapping objectives. With his choss appetite satiated, his palette has become more refined. He set his sights on an extension of the bulger list, the top 100 Washington peaks with at least 400 feet of prominence or the P400. We ticked Colfax via the Cosley-Houston in May and he followed that up with a rare ascent of Lincoln several weeks later. So when he texted and asked if I wanted to try for an FA on the north face of Castle, I couldn't refuse. It was the last peak left on his list and I was due for a good N. Cascadian adventure.


We approached from Canada via Lightning Lake in Manning Park, which involves a climb up and over Frosty Mountain. Encountering deep snow at tree line, we gained the crest just short of Frosty's summit and had our first views of Castle's N face. It was obvious that the face was bare enough for an attempt, so we descended, crossing back into the states and into a snowy Princess Creek basin before traversing up on snow up to the Princess/Crow creek divide. Dropping into the Crow Creek drainage we set up camp on the only dry spot on the ridge, 2/3 of the way down to the glacier at the base of Castle's North face. We scoped the face in the last few hours of light and worked out a reasonable line up the middle north buttress. A formidable list of cascade hardmen and women have walked by this buttress over the past 30 years, and for whatever reason, passed on it, to put up first ascents on other buttresses on the complex face. We agreed on a safe and clean-looking line that surpassed the obvious roof that guards the lower third of the buttress.


The approach to the face was easy at first light and we were on rock less than an hour from camp. Gearing up, we were paralyzed by the whizzing sound of falling and exploding rock overhead. The first rays of sun had loosened up choss on the upper slopes and sent down a barrage of stones. They sailed overhead and cratered on the glacier. We hustled up easy fifth to get out of the firing line, setting up a belay at the base of an incredible looking dihedral and multi-crack system. Morgan took the lead on what would be the hardest pitch of the day.


Progress slowed as he encountered hard (11b) climbing after 20 meters and had to aid a short section. He traversed out of the dihedral on a tricky flake with thin pro and was soon at a flat ledge with a good belay. I traversed left up a ramp and into a crack system that led through the roof. A delicate slab (with a good nut) led into the roof, which was surmounted on the left on fun but hard cracks and stemming. The pace slowed to a crawl as the next two pitches involved a lot of cleaning. When things turned desperate, we pulled out the nut tool and excavated a crack. Where there was moss, there was often pro. The angle had eased off a bit here, but it was difficult to get good feet on dirt and moss covered slabs from the unearthed cracks. Mercifully, at the top of pitch five, the face deteriorated and we followed the obvious route in a short traversing pitch to the ridge proper.


The rock quality remained sound on the ridge and the cracks no longer required excavation. With the exception of one short harder hand/fist crack, the climbing was more moderate and less stressful. In typical Cascadian fashion, the last technical pitch involved dancing delicately around teetering blocks. After ten pitches of climbing, we emerged onto moderate snow slopes 400' feet below the summit and unroped for 3rd and 4th class terrain up the ridge to the top. We lounged on the summit, 14 hours after starting the climb, and took in the views of the Pickets, Hozomeen, and the lonesome peaks in the heart of the Pasayten. The walk off of the south side and east ridge was breezy and we were back at camp as twilight faded. We celebrated with scotch whiskey and tunes on the speaker. Morgan had finished a compilation of mostly chossy peaks with a first ascent on great rock. The walk back to Lightning Lake the next day felt entirely downhill.

























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Yeah Jason and Morgan!! That looks like a grand adventure and an impressive route. Agreed on being nervous with all the hardcore climbers that walked past it.

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Thanks for the great write-up and kind compliments Jason, I'm just a stubborn guy with a high tolerance for suffering. It was great to get out in the mountains with you again on something more solid and with a super solid climber like yourself.

This climb was a blast and just about every pitch was generally sustained at it's grade. The rock was very good and absent of lichen or grunge, P4 and P5 took some excavation of cracks for pro but cleaning 5.10 slab cracks on lead is a good character building experience. Jason wrote the grades for each pitch down on the drive home but if I remember them correctly they went something like this:

P1 - mid fifth

P2 - 5.10C C0/C1

P3 - 5.10C

P4 - 5.10B

P5 - 5.10C

P6 - Belay Move low fifth

P7 - 5.8

P8 - 5.10B

P9 - 5.7

P10 - 5.9


Many of the pitches went for a full 70M but all stopped at pretty pleasant belay ledges with good protection. It's too bad this area doesn't see more traffic.

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Nice work guys. Herrington's book showed a very obvious opening for that FA buttress. I was wondering how long it was going to take for someone to put up that line.

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Thought I would add a few more photos, beautiful area with some unique views.


Jason scoping the route.



View from camp on the ridge.



Morning view of the N. Face, route just right of center.



Jason about to traverse into the tips crux of P2, this pitch was phenomenal!



Jason out on the start of a sustained 70M P5 scrubbing cracks for pro.



Summit Pano.



Nice view of the Nohokomeen on Jack.



Summit shadow as we descend the east ridge.



Descending the col from the east ridge.



P2 of the Kearney-Harrington seems to have gone missing.



Sunset through larches on the way to whiskey.



Princess/Crow Creek Divide.



Frosty/E1 Pano.


Edited by just some guy

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Spice and Morgan: Awesome! You guys are making it happen! Looks to be a great adventure. Congrats!

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Holy Shit. I think that's more like P3-P5 having gone missing. What a shame as P5 was one of the most amazing splitters I've climbed in the mountains. Ugghh..crazy to think I once climbed through all that.

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It's crazier to think how old you are Darin!

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well that looks like fun. "on the way to whiskey", the essence of a fine moment


strong work fellas, way to snag a prime line

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Great work, guys! And congrats to Morgan for finishing that list in styyyyyyle! Hey, if you're gonna do a list, you might as well do it in style, Bro!


Sorry I missed out on this one, though I probably couldn't have kept up with you cats!



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