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[TR] Kyes Peak (7227') & Monte Cristo Peak (7136') - South Ridge & Northwest Face 07/10/2021

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Trip: Kyes Peak (7227') & Monte Cristo Peak (7136') - South Ridge & Northwest Face

Trip Date: 07/10/2021

Trip Report:

I climbed Kyes Peak - South Ridge (7227') & Monte Cristo Peak - Northwest Face (7136') over the weekend.  I started the climb from the Blanca Lake Trailhead Approach (Trail 1052) outside Skykomish, WA. 

The weather was looking perfect again and I had some more free time, so time for the mountains.  I planned for a basic 2 day climb but it turned into a 3 day epic instead.

Saturday:  I drove to the Blanca Lake Trailhead and was starting the trip at 11:00am.  I headed up the well traveled  trail to Virgin Lake (4540’).  I headed to the northeast side of the lake and looked for the climbers trail going north up the ridge toward Kyes Peak.  I didn’t find a defined trail but I found something close and started up the ridge.  The trail up the ridge comes and goes the whole way up.  Sometimes the trail is beautiful and other times it disappears into oblivion.  When the trail disappeared it was usually because it took a sharp turn straight up toward the crest of the ridge.  The trail is vertical in several spots where you need to use tree branches to make it up.  There are several sections of bushwacking in the middle of the trail & also a fair amount of loose rock. 

Once I dropped down below the west side of point 5845’, I was looking for a good route across the cliffy ridge to the open slopes above Columbia Glacier.  I read a report that said you should go back up to the ridge once around point 5845’.  I did not do that.  I instead saw a nice looking traverse around the toe of the cliffy ridge.  The traverse start elevation was about 5300’ and dropped down to about 5200’ while crossing.  I hugged close to the toe of the cliffy ridge and found good game/climbers paths throughout the cross over.  Some bushwacking through trees and brush on the way over but not bad.  The traverse spit me out right in front of a stream and into much better terrain.  I climbed up to about 5500’ and found a nice bluff to setup camp, right between two streams and flat.  Called it a day at 6:00pm. 


Sunday:  I left the bluff camp at 7:00am and climbed straight up toward the Roundabout Point gap.  Took me an hour to get to the gap and then another hour to reach the summit of Kyes Peak.  The climbing was relaxing and straight forward.  The ridge to Kyes Peak looks pretty steep and exposed from a distance but once on the summit ridge it is basic Class 2-3.  A great start to the day and I was making good time.  I was thinking that I had plenty of time to hit Monte Cristo Peak next and get back to camp and then head out.   Ignorance is bliss. 

From what I had read, Monte Cristo Peak has several  class 3-4 routes up the mountain so I was just going to pick one and make it happen.  I traversed below Roundabout Point and decided I wanted to do the Southwest Ridge route to Monte Cristo.  I needed to make it down to the Columbia Glacier where I would head straight over to the ridge.  Sounds easy.  I spent the next 3 hours trying to find a route down to the Columbia Glacier finding nothing but cliffs and deep gullies that both required rapelling to make the glacier below.  My only problem being that I did not bring a rope, thinking both peaks were going to be basic class 3-4.  I needed to find a section I could down climb without too much risk.  Finally at the end of the 3 hours I found the only rock ledge system that would get me to Monte Cristo Peak without a rope.  I had to go high up to the base of the cliffs above, and traverse around at about 6650’. The ledge system led to the snow basin between Monte Cristo and the NW ridge of Kyes.  I crossed the snow basin to the SE Ridge of Monte Cristo. 

The SE Ridge of Monte Cristo is supposed to be class 3-4 with a section of 5th.  The route looked more like class 3 straight into vertical class 5 for several pitches.  I decided to circle around the east side of Monte Cristo to see if there was another section that fit the Class 3-4 description.  I made it to the North Col between Monte Cristo and Cadet Peak and still everything looked too vertical.  I circle around to the NW Face of Monte Cristo and finally found a section that looked like Class 3-4 down low.  I decided to climb this route thinking this must be another one of the Class 3-4 routes up.  Wrong!  The Class 3-4 turned into 5th Class about 50 feet up the route.  I came across 3 different sling/piton setups for placing protection or rappelling along the route.   Evidently I was right in the middle of the mid 5th Class route going to the summit, possibly climbing up the rappel route.  All of the rock I was encountering was loose, downsloping, steep and nasty.  Full suck mode was engaged.  The rock quality was so poor that there was no way I wanted to attempt to down climb any of the route.  My best option was to keep climbing to the summit and find an easy route down.  Finding good holds going up was difficult at best.  The rock on the entire side of the mountain was garbage.  I would try going left or right to find better rock, but it did not matter, it all sucked.  After a few more hours and several years off my life, I finally made the summit at 7:00pm.

 I found the summit registry in a PVC pipe.  The registry was completely water logged and dissolving into pieces.  Only the main portion of the summit log remains intact.  The PVC pipe summit registries that I have been coming across do not keep out water and seems to absorb water into the pipe.  Waterproof paper is a must for the summit registries. 

Now it was time to find the easy route down off of Monte Cristo.  Yeah right!  Monte Cristo Peak is basically a giant gravel pit with downsloping loose rock everywhere.  The easiest route that I could find was going down the South Face.  This was slow and tedious, like walking on marbles spread out all over a hardwood floor sloping off to a cliff.  Did I mention that the rock on Monte Cristo Peak sucks?  I finally made it down to the snow just as the sun was going down.  Thank you Jesus!

Out come the lights and I travel back to camp over much easier terrain arriving at 12:30am.  I under estimated Monte Cristo Peak and paid a hefty toll.  The best lessons are learned the hard way, that way you remember them forever. 


Monday:  I left the bluff camp at 9:30am.  I reversed my route all the way back to the car arriving at 4:30pm.  I decided to make a stop at Blanca Lake to relax on the way back.  Looking up the lake to the Columbia Glacier, there is a giant horseshoe of cliffs surrounding the glacier.  The only easy way to the glacier is walking up the side of the lake to the base of the glacier.  One thing I wished I knew before starting the climbs. 


Some Tips and Notes:

1.       I’ve climbed a lot of peaks and I can say without a doubt that Monte Cristo Peak has some of the worst rock quality of any peak in the North Cascades.     

2.       If climbing Monte Cristo Peak, bring a rope for rappelling.  Down climbing on the loose garbage rock is about as fun as slamming your hand in a car door.   

3.       The lower traverse from 5300’ to 5200’ across the toe of the cliffy ridge before the nice slope under Kyes Peak worked well both ways.

4.       If you are not bringing a rope, the only route I could find to get to Monte Cristo’s SE Ridge from Kyes Peak is a ledge system at 6650’, on the NW side of the              NW Ridge of Kyes Peak.   

5.       The ridge between Virgin Lake & the Camp below Kyes Peak is dry.  Be sure to carry enough water.             

6.       There are several good camp options on the way up to Kyes Peak, look for the bluffs.


Travel Time for reference:

 Saturday:  Car to bluff Camp – 7 hours. 

Sunday:  Camp to Summits, back to Camp - 17 hours

Monday:  Bluff camp to Car - 7 hours


Gear used:   Whippet, Crampons,  Helmet  - Could have used an ice axe & a rope



Virgin Lake still mostly snow covered.


Ridge Trail down low.


Ridge Trail up higher.


Looking straight across cliffy ridge traverse from 5300'


View up toward Roundabout Gap and cross over bluff from camp.  


Summit ridge of Kyes Peak.


On the way to Monte Cristo.


Part of 3 hour tour getting to Monte Cristo.


Cross over bluff, excellent camp spot.


Looking back at the 6650' rock shelf to the SE Ridge of Monte Cristo.


Monte Cristo South Face & SE Ridge.


On Northwest Face route of Monte Cristo.


Relaxing at Blanca Lake.






Gear Notes:
Gear used:   Whippet, Crampons,  Helmet  - Could have used an ice axe & a rope

Approach Notes:
Blanca Lake Trailhead (Trail 1052) - Climbed ridge north of Virgin Lake to camp.
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Yikes!  Glad you made it out safe.  That could have ended.....uh....poorly. 

Monte Cristo is a rugged peak!  Though I seem to remember the north side from the U-notch wasn't too bad....


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On 7/16/2021 at 3:16 PM, Kuato said:

Looking up the lake to the Columbia Glacier, there is a giant horseshoe of cliffs surrounding the glacier.  The only easy way to the glacier is walking up the side of the lake to the base of the glacier.

From the summit of Columbia this weekend, we could see there's a steep slope you can scramble down from Monte Cristo Pass to the Columbia Glacier.  The moats are pretty significant right now including the snow finger in the gully you'd normally use to get from the glacier onto the west face of Kyes. It was a little surprising considering the high snow pack we had this spring but I guess that heat wave did more damage than I figured.  Glad you found a way down Monte Cristo!

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Way to persevere.  On-sighting an unknown descent off that peak without a rope would be intimidating af!

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