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mthorman

[TR] A Peak - Knickerbocker and the Bull Moose (FA) 04/25/2022

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Trip: A Peak - Knickerbocker and the Bull Moose (FA)

Trip Date: 04/25/2022

Trip Report:

With a short good weather window and high hopes Earl and I set off into the Cabinets to see what we could find on the North Face of A Peak.  We left the trailhead under warm and sunny skies and enjoyed the dirt trail and glacier lily's for the first couple miles.  It was definitely spring and we wondered if maybe we were too late in the season already.  But about halfway in on the Granite Lake Trail we started hitting snow and by the time we arrived at Granite Lake there had been multiple postholes.  Thankfully we arrived an hour before dark so we had time to scope the face of A Peak with binoculars.  There was still ice on the Thunderdome and 3 Tiers but it was looking warm and rotting.  The north face of A Peak looked good however and we soon decided on our line.  The goal was to climb up a main couloir that slices up the face and then follow the corner system above to the summit ridge.  

After a short night we were hiking out of camp by 3:15am.  A couple hours later as the sun rose, we had crampons on and were booting up mostly neve snow in the entrance couloir. The couloir climbing was steep but easy and I was surprised at how good the ice flows were that poured in from the left wall.  My partner Earl had climbed these ice features to the snow field above and then connected a line to the summit ridge 3 weeks ago as a solo first ascent (Bull River Prowler, M4, AI3, 600m).  At the top of the couloir the real climbing began. We followed the corner system above mostly containing mixed rock with a few patches of ice in the corners. The gear was generally good but the climbing slow and tedious cleaning snow off the rock or testing holds for loose rock. On the 3rd pitch Earl was cleaning some loose rocks when the snow mushroom he was standing on collapsed.  He was suddenly left dangling from one hand on a great steinpull.  Somehow he kept his composure and reestablished his feet on the rock before taking the fall. After 4 pitches of engaging climbing we reached a saddle in the buttress that had been on our right. From here the obvious line continued another 4 pitches up the corner systems above.  These pitches were all easier in difficulty and had more ice.  The 6th pitch was probably the most aesthetic if only because it started on a thin ice traverse that allowed for some great pictures.  By this point on the face we had an incredible view of the basin below and even across the ridges towards the town of Libby.  The last pitch ended with a chimney, then a "birth canal" squeeze to some cornice digging to reach the summit ridge.  All in all it was a proper adventure.

We were 12hrs climbing the 8 pitches and 18hrs camp to camp.  The decent was pretty straightforward because we could see.  We hiked the ridge to the south towards Snowshoe Peak until we found a steep slope between cliff bands to descend back down into the basin to the east.  From there it was a couple miles and several thousand feet of postholing down the basin and back around to Granite Lake.  We called our line Knickerbocker and the Bull Moose in reference to both the Wool Knickers that Earl wore on the ascent as well as the moose that continually likes to post hole and destroy our trail into granite lake. It was an awesome experience to be able to put up such an amazing line on A peak. The climbing is quite good and in my opinion on par with many of the classic climbs I have done in the Ruth Gorge of AK (in terms of difficulty and quality).

Knickerbocker and the Bull Moose, IV, M5, AI4, 600m.

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Looking up at A Peak from Granite Lake in the fading light.

 

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Roughly the route we took.

 

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Passing by the route that Earl had put up 3 weeks before called Bull River Prowler.  Our route continued up the couloir and then the corner system above.

 

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Looking down the couloir from the top as we rack up for the mixed pitches.

 

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Earl starting up pitch 1.

 

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Looking up the top half of pitch 2 which turned out to be the crux.  

 

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Looking down from the top of Pitch 2.

 

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Earl starting up Pitch 3.

 

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Earl starting up pitch 5 where the climbing got easier.

 

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Enjoying some thin ice on the beautiful Pitch 6.

 

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Me looking up Pitch 7 before starting out.  The upper half of the route was mostly this terrain...fun moderate mixed climbing.

 

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Looking up the beginning of pitch 8 with the cornice looming overhead.

 

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Earl and I on the summit ridge while on the decent with the true summit directly behind us.

Gear Notes:
We had double set of cams from .4 to #2 with single #3, 8-10 pins (heavy on the LAs and KBs), set of offset nuts, set of tri-cams(doubles in the 2 smallest sizes) and 5 screws (all short). We placed a lot of pins and the tri-cams came in very useful as well. In addition we wished we had a couple more small cams below .4.

Approach Notes:
Hike the Granite Lake Trail to Granite Lake in the Cabinet Mountains. From the lake hike up 2000ft to the base of the North Face.
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Awesome. Cass and I were eyeing that area on A peak when we were out there in early March. I'm surprised to hear the ice flows on the left went at AI3.  Seems like really great terrain with good, featured rock. From the one route I've done out there, the rock didn't seem to be open enough to take much gear. Although that's only one route and rappel to inspect things.

I also thought it would be too late in the year to head out again, but obviously I was wrong. Amazingly I won the enchantments lottery so I'll go there in May. Doubt I can get away with taking more time off from work until July, though, so I probably won't get out to Granite Lake again until next season. Still have a couple lines I'm interested in, and thanks to your high-res photos I can see they'll probably go. But might be too hard for me.

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