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lunger

first ascent [TR] Crescent Creek Spires, Southern Picket Range - East Twin Needle - North Buttress 5.9 D+ 2,000’ 07/31/2022

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Trip: Crescent Creek Spires, Southern Picket Range - East Twin Needle - North Buttress 5.9 D+ 2,000’

Trip Date: 07/31/2022

Trip Report:

Sam Boyce and I climbed the North Buttress (aka the Thread of Gneiss, as coined by John Roper), on July 31, 2022. The buttress rises 1,800 vertical feet and our route took 9 pitches, the majority of which were ~250’ due to simul-climbing–we estimate around 2,000’ feet of roped climbing.

Some of you might be curious about this (probable FA) given there are no reported ascents, although a couple parties have reportedly tried. I had tried and failed on this line before, and it had really got under my skin. This time Sam and I started the line in a more sensible place, and it went smoothly.

Here's some art by John Scurlock showing the E and W Twin Needles from the north. Our line begins lower right and works its way up the north buttress trending left, eventually squeaking by the sub-summit spire on its left to hit that highest left skyline:

62ec825bea29d_ScurlockTwinNeedles1.jpg.8cc5497d28aed1f5118148176250d8fb.jpg

The lingering snowpack made the approach relatively easy, for the Pickets. From our camp near the Chopping Block, after traversing the snow, slabs, and talus of Crescent Cr basin, we cramponed up to Otto-Himmelhorn col. From there, the descent of the Mustard Glacier required only one single-rope rap from an established station ~150’ below the col.  

Gawking up at the very steep and intimidating looking summit spires, we figured that we would need a lot of time to reckon a way to summit. As a result, our route-finding choices generally favored efficiency, as we wanted to be as expedient as possible to save time for expected difficulties up high. As it turns out, our concerns were largely needless.

We started climbing a little below the outlet of the gully splitting the E and W Twin Needles (aka, the Thread of Ice), gaining E Twin Needle on its right-hand side, not far up from the buttress toe. A pitch-plus of glacial-flour-covered mid-fifth was followed by a pitch-plus of nasty gully travel with some mid-fifth work-arounds, and that landed us at a notch above the first pillar/tower on the buttress. Future parties should take the rib to the left of the gully on pitch 2 for better climbing, and top out on the pillar—an approx. 20’ rap to the notch might be required, but this would be much better than the loose gully.

Our start, from near the buttress’s toe:

62ec7dda641f2_buttresstoe-sbphoto.jpg.959b6bb0c8545ea6162e5d64a1839a8e.jpg

In the above pic, we gained the rock left of the gaping 'schrund, up to the brownish left-slanting gully, up that thing to the notch between the indistinct pillar and the next tower at the sun-shade line. (Again, likely better to stay on the rib to the left of the gully.)

From there, Sam led through some blocky 5.7 terrain that backed off to more low-fifth scrambling. For pitch-plus 4, I continued on pleasant rock at low-fifth class, nearly to the top of another gendarme. For pitch-plus 5, Sam then easily gained the next notch and continued on some solid and fun 5.8 that relented to mid-fifth. 

For pitch 6, I led an airy 5.7 traverse left of another tower. This was one of the few pitches that did not stretch beyond a rope length. Going up and over this tower would probably be just as fun.

Sam’s lead of pitch 7 was a long simul affair involving grassy ramps for about 400’ with difficulties up to 5.7. He finally pulled up to belay at a spot that gave us options for tackling the summit block. My lead of pitch 8 involved a chimney, a leftward-rising traverse of a face, and then working around and up an exposed and somewhat insecure arête to near the summit. This long pitch was the proverbial sting in the tail, requiring some careful and sometimes licheny 5.9 moves. Fun and spicy. (There were certainly more spicy options to gain the striking sub-summit, but we leave that for future parties and variations.) From my belay Sam scrambled to the summit, at perhaps 5.6.

Descent: We descended the south face. From the summit, there is a short down climb to an established rap station with a fresh sling from the Wrights’ traverse a few years back. This was a full 30M rap that took us to Eye Col (the notch between E and W Twin Needles). From Eye Col we scrambled down the main south gully, exiting rightward when it got steep and traversing skier's right over 2 or 3 minor ridges to find easier terrain to down climb. After a bit of sandy 4th class, we identified a convenient point to rappel from (cord now in situ) that landed us back into the main gully with its (currently) hanging snowfield. This was a full 60M rap. After downclimbing and traversing right off the snow, we found ourselves at a notch that splits the two main gullies described in the Beckey guide. We decided the gullies looked unpleasant and scrambled the ridge between the two, trending rightward as we went down–our route traversed above the skier’s right gully. This was straightforward 4th class. When the ridge got steeper near another notch we made another rap. This was another ~60M rap down lower angle terrain, which could probably be downclimbed somewhat reasonably with a couple steep steps. From here we continued downclimbing to the moat below the ridge. There was not a comfortable-looking transition to the snow so we rigged one more single-rope rap to clear the moat and get back onto the snowfields in Crescent Creek basin. Once in the basin, it was a quick romp back up to our camp at the Chopping Block col.

A handful of pics:

Sam on pitch 3, E Twin Needle's sub-summit spire lurking behind immediately left:

62ec7ddecaab0_pitch3-ewphoto.jpg.0f202ae1782638a95c8a20e6cc295188.jpg

Me on pitch 4, with the Eye of Sauron menacing behind:

62ec7ddfa4fb9_pitch4-sbphoto.jpg.4b047f50272c027fbf5fdd1dca60d9bc.jpg

Here I'm following pitch 5, Fury and Luna background:

62ec7ddb21bdb_ewfollowingpitch5-sbphoto.jpg.abc061fd1e3ffb89cfd26dc5b7041f2c.jpg

For pitch 6, at this point I decided to head left for an airy traverse versus the up-and-over (that's W Twin on the right):

62ec7de3223f4_pitch6traverse-sbphoto.jpg.6f4c49973608126fb2afc13c246ad914.jpg

Sam shot this pic of me on pitch 8, about to swing around to the exposed arete:

62ec7de366755_pitch8-sbphoto.jpg.acfefcb27bee39cf331476574b0052a9.jpg

A couple of Sam following, first the chimney, then on the arete, obviously having fun:

62ec7de6df107_samfollowspitch8-ewphoto.jpg.44c13ca4501d10eb237e230a623e7f83.jpg62ec7de9dee6d_samfollowspitch8arete-ewphoto.jpg.3175e1524b5471beddd0de4dcd5a711a.jpg

Sam and I really enjoyed this climb. While Sam had impressively climbed three Pickets routes in under two weeks, for me it had been too long since I'd climbed alpine rock, and this was a much-needed alpine shot in the arm. Except for the uncharacteristically somewhat-heady last pitch, we'd recommend this as a "Pickets moderate". Parties comfortable with alpine 5.9 should take a ride on this climb.

The Crescent Creek Spires from our camp; the Twin Needles are the pointy ones next to last on the left, and the upper gully snowfield that we rappelled and downclimbed as part of the descent (before veering looker's left on a ridge) is visible dropping down below Eye Col:

62ec7ddacdb56_crescentcrspires-ewphoto.jpg.581fb904c8efc589be9b2139d2335e52.jpg

 

Gear Notes:
Double cams fingers to 1", single 2 and 3, supplemented by tri-cams and nuts. Double/twin 60M ropes.

Approach Notes:
Crescent Creek basin approach to Chopping Block col.

Edited by lunger
Fix photos/pagination
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  • Rawk on! 5

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Whoah, after all that build up over the years, I thought it was going to be 10+.  Way to slay the beast and bring back a report to the timid masses!  Truly an incredible spire!!!!

image.png.06f83a6a69314b9a94a723310d6e1877.png

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What she said, looks stellar!

Edited by pms

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Right on! Great to see that you're keeping the fire burning brightly. Rock looks better than some of your past missions.

I imagine Fred peppering you with questions so he can write it up for the next CAG, and I imagine you having to shout louder and louder for him to hear it.

RIP Fred. 

 

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That right-hand start looks much better than our attempted direct up the lower left. Congrats.

Glad to see the French grades getting traction. Now if we also started using the Scottish ones in winter.....

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Good to hear from y'all.  Yes, I'd say the rock on the route is above average for Skagit alpine, and is one of a few of my FAs that I'd actually recommend to friends. Judging by recent inquiries, might see a repeat as early as this season (?!).  Fun to see what seems like above-average Pickets activity this season.

geosean, if I recall correctly, it was like 4-4.5 hours to get on the rock, a hustling 6 hours on the climb to the summit, and ~5 for the descent and walk back to camp--with some liberal breaks post-summit. We began our approach an hour or so before dawn.

Courtesy of John Roper, here's another perspective of the route, without and with our ascent in green added:

62f2cfc501a24_TwinNeedlesfromnorth.jpg.4db32b3559d30bd3f4dd84b94c0e3abb.jpg

62f2d322c1c6b_TwinNeedlesfromnorth-ascent.jpg.9100ac39ff22cabaf19d25bd58be1d21.jpg

And below is another John Scurlock shot of the southern aspects of Himmelgeisterhorn (HGH), West and East Twin Needles (WTN and ETN), etc., with routes annotated by John Roper, that might make the descent description more clear.

After climbing up the other side, Sam and I descended from E Twin to Eye Col, then approximately the (red) 1981 route from Eye Col. The main difference: because the lower left hand gully had only intermittent snow and deep moats between, we instead down-climbed and rapped the adjacent ridge just above and right of the gully. (See descent description in original post for more detail.)

62f2d05306a15_TwinNeedlessouthsideroutes.JPG.4bf6099bf05daa13eded45cdf75090d5.JPG

Edited by lunger
fix pic
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Great pictures, and what an adventure! Very very smart of you to have started on the right side of the mattress. Everybody including myself trade from the left side and got shut down pretty quick.

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Everything is so phat in that Roper photo!  I imagine that was during high summer?  My how the glaciers continue to shrink.

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Wow, I was afraid of that.

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