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[TR] Sharpen the Saw: Sawtooth Ridge Traverse

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It’s that time of the year again, prime time for choss. This year I gotta give Cedar Wright a huge thank you for helping me out with the Dirtbag Fund!! Having very little money left I was worried to have depleted my account on plane tickets and didn’t know what I would do once I was out here… crisis averted: thank you Cedar!

Once again, wily weather kept Mo and I off Rainier’s Kautz glacier. With lightning on the forecast, we’d have to change our tune. Good skies west of the Sound looked promising, so we figured we’d return to the Sawtooth Range in the Olympics. It seems like every climber with a love of choss follows the footsteps of Wayne Wallace, so Mo and I had the idea of Sharpening the Saw and completing a North East Traverse of the range. Here’s Wayne’s TR. We had tried it last year and got turned around by the weather… that trip, we opted to climb the standard route on cruiser in the rain before turning back to camp, so we had a sense of the climbing



As we were planning our chossy adventures, for some reason neither Mo nor I had considered returning to the Sawtooth Range this year, but the universe works in mysterious ways. Soon, we found ourselves waking up at five in the morning for an easy drive to the trailhead, where we eat miles for breakfast. Once at Gladys Divide, we found a high camp, dropped some gear, strapped on the crampons and walked to the base of Alpha. We stared at the Noodle Needle in the distance and looked back to see the ridge ahead. We knew from here on out it would get real, we were committed.

A low angle snowfinger brought us to the base of Alpha. We had “forgotten” Wayne’s beta about the “tree in the gulley” and were desperate to try out this volcanic rock, so we ended venturing into a deep chimney roofed with a massive chockstone near its north face. A highball (though low grade) boulder problem brought us up to the chockstone, where it was time to rope up for the face. On the sharp end, Mo climbed straight on the face and angled left, aiming for the NE Arete. Some pro and a lot of loose lock. More loose rock than pro. Felt like R-rated 5.5ish., it was heady but fun, and similar to what we expected.

Alpha.jpeg.a0a041818e5ea9d525623de043523557.jpegView from NE


From here, we simuled up Alpha Beta and some other steep pinnacles. This was very fun climbing, steep, exposed, but relatively easy and inspiring. When the ridge unfolded to give us a view of Cruiser, we were thrilled. Having not seen the mountain all day long, it was an amazing sight. The steepness of the North East face, and Waynes descriptions of the climbing, gave us a calm and determined focus.


Cruiser began with a large easy chimney on its north side that I followed to a ledge below the North Face. With a big looming bulge above me, I contemplated the lead. I studied the face for a while unsure of rock quality. Climbers right? Looks steep… loose… damn... Wayne is such a badass…. I opted to start near the middle of the face and angle left. The climbing was comfortable enough, but I had to wonder what kept this mountain together. Every time I thought I found a placement, the rock would crumble at my hands, or shatter when I pulled on the stopper. Slowly and methodically, I did my best choss dance to get to the northeast arete, where the climbing was unprotectable but eased up.  It was amazing moving through slabby tufts of rock with slopers for hands. I belayed Mo up and we scrambled down the third class summit to the rap station. Two raps brought us back to the ridge and up through the blob and other highpoints on the ridge. Movement through this section is absolutely incredible and easy and the views are overwhelmingly beautiful.


Passing the satellite peak near the needle, we dropped down needle pass back to base. For anyone in the future, there’s a great bivvy spot carved out at the top of Needle pass. It’s reminiscent of the bivvy on the Otto-Himmel Col in the pickets and would be a great place for a single person to sleep.



Back at camp we ate some of our “Chad’s Backcountry Catfood” (made at home by Mo) eggs with hen and chicken of the woods. Deep sleep on a flat rock brought us to the morning. We woke with the sun at around five and prepared for the day ahead. Back up to Needle Pass, a fun quick pitch to start the day. Climbing on the needle was easier than much of the ridge prior, very solid rock. We rapped down and skirted climbers right to the base of Castle Spire.


Mo was ready for the lead and started on a steep, overhung arête. After attempting to pull an overhanging bulgy roof move, and finding no options for hands or feet, he decided to reverse the moves and traversed left and up to stay on the North-East side of the formation, before joining back on the arête. This was the hardest climbing of the trip. Plenty of loose rock but this time somewhat predictable. Direction of force and distribution of weight are key in keeping loose rock in place. Mo agrees with Wayne in that it was “one of the greatest leads on the trip,” and it sure was fun to follow.


From there, we scrambled up what we counted as four castle spires. The exposure and ironically rock quality here is some of the best that you could ask for in the Olympics.



We dropped down to the east side of the ridge to head towards the Fin, looking for the monster chimney. From a distance, the chimney looked intimidating, a huge slash cutting across the face of a giant. Unable to stay true to the SW-ridge raps, we cut further east to descend a steep gulley, soloing until we could find a place to rapel. The rap brought us onto snow, which we crossed to get to the base of the fin. What at a distance had looked impossible suddenly became inviting. Weird moves the face led to a long ramp with a deep chimney getting right to the heart of the mountain. The further in you got the safer it was. Big chockstones to sling, great texture on the walls, and the best rock quality of the trip. This climb was pure enjoyment. An easy scramble brought us to the summit as we stared at the Horn.



We knew the Horn was where Wayne and David’s pure ridge traverse was compromised. We, too, would have to compromise the pure ridge at this point. Skirting around the Horn, we found what appeared to be either a climbers trail or an animal trail, maybe before they sent the goats away from Olympic National Park. This trail brought us back to the ridge, where we crossed a wide variety of small pinnacles and bigger peaks, but it was hard to differentiate one from another. We looked for tin cans and film canisters, based on previous trip reports, but found nothing, and only few signs of visitors.




Here, we backtracked down the ridge to find a place to rapel, and found old tat from a previous party on a very sturdy tree on the base of the cleaver. Travel was tough at this point and we knew we were running low on time, so we opted to take three raps down to get to the snow to approach North Lincoln’s ridge. On the way there, fatigue started to set in for Mo. Lack of water and many hours of being on loose rock were taking their toll. He waited at a comfortable spot on the ridge as I did my best to move up what I assumed was picture pinnacle to traverse to the base of North Lincoln. Here, fatigue caught up with me, too, and I realized it would be irresponsible to keep moving forward. So I turned around and rapped back down to Mo.


It was around seven or seven thirty, so we had been moving for close to twelve hours. Everything was much more difficult. On one of our raps down, the rope above knocked loose a lot of rock. One of these pieces was a plate-sized clump of rock moving at the speed of a bullet. I tried to yell rock to Mo, and even though he doesn’t remember it, he must have heard it because he ducked. Thank goodness he ducked. The rock bounced off a ledge and hit Mo in the shoulder. If he wouldn’t have protected his shoulder, the rock probably would have shattered the bone, but it seemed to hit the square section of the deltoid. After an assessment of health and cognitive function, and reminders to breathe properly, Mo gathered his wits and used the adrenaline to one-arm down climb back to the trail. Our attempt to sharpen the Saw had demanded much from us. At this point, with the aid of walkies and a good of sense of direction, we decided to split up. Mo would travel light, leaving everything behind, to get a head start and be able to rest a little. I gathered Mo’s stuff and hiked back up to our basecamp near needle pass to pack up everything.



With Mo’s pack on my back and my pack on the front, and after so much continuous movement, it was time to begin the nearly ten mile journey back home. I was grateful to be out in the backcountry, close to choss, with the privilege to be able to travel through them. These thoughts kept me going as I hobbled like a joyful and overworked pack mule. A little ways the trail I was greeted by a sight for sore eyes, Mo was waiting for me at a high bridge, just as I beginning to get strange feelings about being animal bait once the sun truly set. Mo had walked down to flapjack and rested, moved on and rested some more, waiting three or four time before I arrived. He describes practicing walking meditations in order to move forward and wait at the same time. I am grateful to have climbing partners who are also my best teachers, because I thought this was truly profound. Long hard miles and a stop for water brought us back to the car at around 12:38 at night. The thing about this part of Washington is there is no hot food seemingly available at this time, and at this point it was more about the stomach than heart. Unsuccessful, we drove home to an early breakfast at the Moline compound and passed out.



Overall, despite not completing a full traverse and compromising on elements of the line, we're happy with the effort we gave and what we were able to accomplish. From Mo’s adventurous line on Alpha to the challenges of North Lincoln, all of that movement on steep and beautiful terrain saw that our saw was definitely a little bit sharper.


The FA’s grade of V+- 5.7R (old School) felt right to us. The climbing itself is not too difficult, but it is incredibly cerebral due to the nature of the rock. Wayne's a way better climber than either of us, so it felt tough, but that's why it's old school. Many placements felt more psychological than actual, because a lead fall would very likely shatter the rock. That’s not to detract anyone from climbing this thing: it deserves more traffic as its a gorgeous line in an incredible location—probably one of the best in the country—and an experience I won’t soon forget. With more traffic (i.e. rap stations, perhaps bolting the Trylon), staying true to the ridge for the whole traverse would become more manageable. Either way, it's an incredibly aesthetic ridge and an incredible climb so get on it!!!


Anyways, more from us soon…


Gear: 1 70m, med rack to 2”, lots of small stoppers (the tiny RP’s work great), lots of slings, tat cord. If you can, triple your small cams, haha!


The Cleaver.jpeg

Edited by emilio taiveaho pelaez
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Well, this is, indeed, a unique pleasure! I never would’ve thought this would have seen a repeat attempt, and of course this is the first one I’ve heard of. I am so glad you enjoyed it. Such adventure !!

I grew up climbing on choss, so that rock actually felt pretty solid to me, but we probably varied our lines from in our respective route fighting efforts. Cheers again to you, and we are running out of climbs of mine that haven’t seen a second attempt! I can only think of a few left at this point.

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We absolutely loved the climbing and specifically the rock, Wayne! The monster chimney on the fin, the arete on the first castle spire, and the chimney/face on alpha all offered unforgettable climbing. Certainly that range hasn’t been explored enough. 

Lots of admiration for the line and questions about your path compared to ours came up during the trip. Would love to know more specifics about your route up cruiser and castle spires. Thanks for the inspiration which facilitated an amazing trip to the mountains! 


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