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layton

best of cc.com Big Four Spindrift Couloir TR

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Here's the deal. I'm very tired and wired so my writing may not be that interesting.

 

The Approach:

I had my alarm set for 1:45 Tuesday night and awoke at 12:30 to the police knocking at my door. "Move your truck!" they shouted through my door. Weary from 4 hours of sleep I moved my truck and was wired by the time I picked up Matt at 2:00am.

We drove to Big Four all the way to the parking lot and hiked in. The avy chutes to access the face were raging so we buskwacked and hangdogged up the cliff and trees to acces the face. It was full scale bushwacking. Instead of our hour estimate, it took 3 hours of fighting to get into the upper basin. It was light enough to see by then, and we saw that we could've done a sweet ice climb directly up the cliffs instead! Too bad!

 

The Climb.

We soloed up to the base of the 1st ice pitch on firm neve and deep powder sections. I took off and we simul-climbed for a 1,000 feet on very steep ice, snow and rock. It was hard, fun, and classic stuff. Good pickets and screws! I climbed to the base of the crux 1/2 way up the route and hammered in a picket and a screw for a belay.

Matt's turn. Lucky bastard got the crux. It was a full 60m of near vertical to vertical ice with shitty ice and shittier snow. Matt did a great job on lead, slinging an icicle. I also slung an icicle on one of my turns, making it the route with the most icicle slinging I've ever done. I'd say the crux was WI5. It was not fat, but it wasn't super scary. Here's a photo:

136big_four_crux-thumb.jpg

We swapped simul-climbing leads for what seemed like for ever on many long sections of steep ice and snow until I ran out of gear except for my belay picket just below the corniced ridge. Matt then saved both his pickets for right below the cornice (maybe 30-40 feet tall) and the snow like above the crux, was pretty shitty. Matt then spent the next 1.5-2 hours tunneling through the cornice in a tour de force of thrashing. He gave a cry of relief as sunlight poured through our escape hole! The climbing took around 8 hours. Here is Matt digging the hole, the summit ridge, and me on top:

 

136big_four_cornice-thumb.jpg

 

136big_four_tunnel-thumb.jpg

136big_four_summit_ridge-thumb.jpg

 

136big_four_me_on_summit-thumb.jpg

 

The Descent:

On top we had about an hour of daylight left. We downclimbed the ridge climbers right until we saw a notch in the trees far below us (1000’). The ridge got very steep and we started rapping through awful rimmed up trees for ever. It got very very dark and we found a couloir that paralled the ridge on the south face. We took that couloir until we figured we were below the notch then climbed back up to what we thought was the ridge. Unlucky for us, we actually climbed a smaller satellite ridge that paralled the main ridge so when we topped out on it, it appeared we were on top of our descent route. What we really did was go down the satalite ridge and it funneled us into the south face again!

We descended the entire south face into steep walled canyons getting cliffed out again and again climbing up down left right, and everywhere to get out into the woods finally. By this time we were in the valley basin following a wide braided river. We figured the couloir we went down put us out by Hall peak and we were headed toward the Stilguamish?? river and the road. Hours later (2am) we stopped in the woods and sat around shivering until it was light again (6:30am). We maybe hike between 4-7 miles down river by this point.

We backtracked up river to get a lay of the land and after an hour we saw big four…the south face. Around this time the first helicopter sounds arrived. We were very surprised to have a rescue being mounted so early. I always figured give us a day to be late, then mount a rescue. Anyway we hiked forever and finally wound up on the shoulder of Hall peak. We wanted to get to our notch again, but over a mile of steep walled canyons, cliffs, and steep terrain blocked any possible route over. Hall peak looked like vertical slush on rock since it was so sunny out. Looking back, we could hike down river again and find a road. No, we knew the notch descent was the way down and didn’t know anything about the other ways. We had to get there. So we fucking forced a route across all the awful terrain doing raps and downclimbing and upclimbing and tree and root pulling. Our only food for this day was a Pemican bar split between us so we weren’t running. I kicked steeps and tree and bush pulled up the entire south face up to the notch with helicopters flying overhead all the time. I figured they saw us but I guess they didn’t. We got to the notch at 2:45, did a couple raps, and downclimbed to the top of the lower cliff band. We downclimbed and rapped through the trees again and met up with search and rescue at the very very last rapped to the ice caves trail.

 

The Aftermath:

The rescue operation was FANTASTIC. Thank you everyone for trying to help us. I would gladly do the same. The parking lot was crazy! There was even a food wagon with hot sandwiches and chili! Several of my friends were in the lot geared up and ready to climb to save us and many more took today (Friday) off to climb it today. The S&R folks were so nice and helpful. I almost wished we needed help to justify all the effort. Thank you all once again for caring. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy. There were a million messages on my answering machine when I got home and tons of folks waiting for me in my apartment. I couldn’t believe it! I went to the Ranch Room and got a beer before I passed out from being up for 48 hours!!! I’m sure I missed a lot I wanted to say, but my memory is foggy and short-term right now. Basically it was an awesome climb with an awesome partner with a crappy descent. I read the B’ham herald this morning. Every word is wrong and they should be beaten for their horrible journalism. We were never rescued or “found.” But we are grateful that if we needed it, you guys were there. Thank you so much everyone who helped or was going to help today.

 

-Mike

 

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nice pics! glad you made it back. nice that they had hot food for ya! i'm thinking getting "lost" is the way to go wink.gif

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king5news said:

what great pics! can we use them on the news??

(I know - scum sucking evil media -- but I gotta ask!)

 

DONT TAKE LESS THE $500 A PIC. THEY ARE PART OF THE BELO CORP!! BIG BUCKS!!

 

 

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Cover of the B'ham Herald said something like.."Bellingham climbers RESCUED!"

 

Is it considered a rescue if the S&R talk to you before you get to the car? or would you have to make it home first?

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king5news said:

what great pics! can we use them on the news??

(I know - scum sucking evil media -- but I gotta ask!)

I'd find out how they will be using them first....

 

 

Next on King 5 News

 

Hikers cost taxpayers over $100,000 for unnecessary rescue. Exclusive pictures obtained by our reporters at 11.

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You are REALLY tired. I can tell from your writing. You kept refering to the "south face" of Big Four. YOU were on the north and east faces on that mountain.

 

I like the hole you dug through. I wouldn't want to be you taking that picture seeing my friend making a cornice weaker AND being underneath it. That takes balls....

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Necronomicon said:

Mike kept refering to the SOUTH face because they were on the SOUTH face. That's how they got fucked...

 

Holy shit. Are you serious? I thought he was just tired. Fuck. That puts a whole new light on how he was off in time. That is epic.

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Is it their obligation to pay me for photos or am I being a selfish jerk for asking for $. How much should I ask. I have no clue. Please be serious, b/c I will use your advise.

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Michael,

 

Not knocking you! but why did you not drop back into the big four basin. Was that your plan to start with and you got lost or did you have a different descent plan? When you top out you can go right and downclimb a 1000' or so with only a couple of raps to a easy gully back into the basin you started in?

Anyway- super job!!!

 

dale

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Maybe I wasn't clear in my TR.

Picture this. We are on the NW ridge trying to get to the notch to desend the N.Face like you said. The trees and rapping were taking too long so we took a couloir on the S.Face that trened westward. This way we could traverse over and down toward the notch, then climb back up to the notch instead of forcing our way through trees.

 

There was a small ridge on the s.face above our travrse couloir the ran the same direction and right below the NW ridge. We gained that smaller ridge. It was very dark so we couldn't see into the distance. We thought we were on top of the NW ridge, not the smaller parallel sub-ridge. We went down (north) the small parallel ridge to the coulior between the NW ridge and the ridge we were on. To us, it looked like we were now in a coulior that was going down the N.Face. We thought we crested the NW ridge and were now heading down the N.Face when in reality we were spit back out into the S.Face. It was too dark to tell we were on the S.Face, not the North.

 

Does that make sense. Look at the Beckey guide for the S.face of Big 4 and maybe you can figure it out on that photo.

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michael_layton said:

Is it their obligation to pay me for photos or am I being a selfish jerk for asking for $. How much should I ask. I have no clue. Please be serious, b/c I will use your advise.

 

Mike - they are going to use your photos to make money, some of that money is rightfully yours. Only thing to consider, is that the pics aren't necessarily "pro quality" so you might not deserve to get paid the same amount Brad Washburn would! yellaf.gif On the other hand Washburn doesnt have pics of the climbing and you do!

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Winter said:

If NEWSTIPS uses those pics without permisison we're all gonna stomp some live at 5 ass.

 

Hey now! Why the animosity? King5News asked permission didn't she???

 

And come on down for your ass stomping. It's been a while since I kicked some ass and I'm rarin' to go! boxing_smiley.gif

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NEWSTIPS said:

Winter said:

If NEWSTIPS uses those pics without permisison we're all gonna stomp some live at 5 ass.

 

Hey now! Why the animosity? King5News asked permission didn't she???

 

And come on down for your ass stomping. It's been a while since I kicked some ass and I'm rarin' to go! boxing_smiley.gif

 

wave.gif

 

moon.gif

 

boxing_smiley.gif

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you're not a selfish jerk.

of course we'll pay you.

look for the check in a month.

 

they SHOULD be on the 5p news -- barring something stupid coming up like a shooting or something. I hate that -- but, you'll get the check regardless.

 

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Mike-I thought your first description was perfectly clear:

 

Unlucky for us, we actually climbed a smaller satellite ridge that paralled the main ridge so when we topped out on it, it appeared we were on top of our descent route. What we really did was go down the satalite ridge and it funneled us into the south face again! ....

 

I'm glad you guys got down OK, and under your own power. Way to go!

 

Newstips-Did you notice that S&R was quoted as saying that the avalanche hazard was "extreme" at the time? Yes there are signs all over the trail to the bottom of big four, warning of an extreme avalanche hazard. But I think that the current hazard rating was either "considerable" or "moderate," which is relatively low on the hazard scale. In addition, the way the incident was reported it sounded as if they were at least a couple of nights overdue. Despite my reading from this bulletin board to him, my office mate insists they spent at least two nights out and maybe three! He also got the impression they were poorly equipped, but it doesn't sound that way to me.

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michael_layton said:

Maybe I wasn't clear in my TR.

Picture this. We are on the NW ridge trying to get to the notch to desend the N.Face like you said. The trees and rapping were taking too long so we took a couloir on the S.Face that trened westward. This way we could traverse over and down toward the notch, then climb back up to the notch instead of forcing our way through trees.

 

There was a small ridge on the s.face above our travrse couloir the ran the same direction and right below the NW ridge. We gained that smaller ridge. It was very dark so we couldn't see into the distance. We thought we were on top of the NW ridge, not the smaller parallel sub-ridge. We went down (north) the small parallel ridge to the coulior between the NW ridge and the ridge we were on. To us, it looked like we were now in a coulior that was going down the N.Face. We thought we crested the NW ridge and were now heading down the N.Face when in reality we were spit back out into the S.Face. It was too dark to tell we were on the S.Face, not the North.

 

Does that make sense. Look at the Beckey guide for the S.face of Big 4 and maybe you can figure it out on that photo.

 

I can see a tiny satellite ridge on the USGS map. And the Beckey book. Wow. To go back UP after all that you went through to get down. UGH!

 

I know that specific area as I have been at that notch--during the spring. The brush is truly classic bushwacking in spring.

 

Truly a Cascade epic you went through.

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mattp said:

Newstips-Did you notice that S&R was quoted as saying that the avalanche hazard was "extreme" at the time? Yes there are signs all over the trail to the bottom of big four, warning of an extreme avalanche hazard. But I think that the current hazard rating was either "considerable" or "moderate," which is relatively low on the hazard scale. In addition, the way the incident was reported it sounded as if they were at least a couple of nights overdue. Despite my reading from this bulletin board to him, my office mate insists they spent at least two nights out and maybe three! He also got the impression they were poorly equipped, but it doesn't sound that way to me.

 

Unfortunately the media has to rely on S&R folks when dealing with things like this -- until we can find a better source. Clearly after seeing the pics and talking with Mike we now know this was not a case of "overdue HIKERS." He also explained the discrepancy in "not prepared to stay overnight." Not taking a bag doesn't amount to not being prepared. Sometimes perception is NOT reality.

Another lesson learned! smile.gif

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Good job Michael. It looks like it was a hell of a good climb.

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