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Norman_Clyde

Mount Constance TR 6/22

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Climbed most of Mt. Constance solo yesterday. Took the 5:10 AM ferry from Seattle to Bremerton, arrived at the washout just before 8 AM, arrived at the trailhead via bicycle at 8:45. Weather looked promising on the way in with periodic sun breaks. The lake is completely melted out, likewise the first portion of the hike up Avalanche Canyon. Clouds continued to obscure the upper peaks, a trend which continued all day. I had planned to take the North Chute, but on a whim I took the South Chute instead; I had the idea that, since this seems to be the most popular route, the routefinding would be more straightforward. Alas, that may be true on a clear day, but not yesterday. I climbed into a dense whiteout at about 6000 feet, and from there on could not see further than 50 yards. There was one set of old tracks on the snow, which only went as far as the first traverse. Beyond there, I was on my own for routefinding. I must have explored a dozen versions of the "notch in a minor East-West Ridge". I skirted a couple of steep snowfields , avoiding another when I couldn't tell if the whiteness below was lower angled snow, or just nothingness. I made sure to use the Eskimo trick of examining the return route frequently to memorize details. If I hadn't done that, I might still be up there. Even so, after an hour of zigzagging from ridge to ridge in a whiteout, faced with a larger snowfield whose other side I couldn't see at all, only able to see upwards a few yards, no hope of visualizing the summit, I decided to bag it. The return was, like the ascent, notable for a lot of loose rock. This peak is a real choss-pile. At least when you're solo you can't kick rocks down on yourself. (I saw not a soul the entire day.)

 

Some of you GPS users might scoff at this TR, but for me routefinding is one of the primary challenges of alpine travel, and I don't want the GPS to become a crutch that weakens my skills. (I will make an exception for the Muir snowfield.) A GPS might have helped me retrace my steps, but I doubt even with waypoints programmed in that it would have gotten me to the summit, because Constance is so complex topographically that it's very hard to correlate the topo with the guidebook. I think one has to climb this mountain first on a clear day, or with someone who's been there before.

 

 

 

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Your experience was very similar in some ways to my first attempt on Constance. I knocked a grapefruit sized rock loose that went bouncing down pinball style and by an unbelievable probability, perfectly threaded the needle between 2 large rocks hitting one of my friends who had hid behind it. It nailed him in the shin and sent him a foot in the air. After ice and ibuprofen, we decided to keep going. After blindly making our way across the "terrible traverse" we decided to call it quits as the wind/snow picked up and my friend's leg began to significantly swell. We went to the urgent care department that was connected to the hospital I worked at. My friend asked me who the attractive nurse practitioner was who examined his leg. I said I didn't know. He said I should find out and date her. Long story short, I'm now married to her.

 

THREE CHEERS FOR THE LOOSE ROCK ON THE SOUTH CHUTE OF MT. CONSTANCE!!!!

 

(She and I had a much better ascent up the North Chute in winter. Pics in Alpine Gallery.)

 

Edited by mneagle

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Great story, mneagle!

I was meticulous on the way up to avoid knocking loose any rocks, believing as I do that any party-induced rockfall is bad juju, even when solo. By the time I came back down, I was tired and cared a lot less, plus I had become accustomed to the clattering. I did set loose one 50 pounder with my right foot only to have it roll hard into my left, but fortunately that was the worst of it.

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Kudos for just giving it a shot on such a cruddy day. My wife and I walked up Mt. Townsend and the ridge back to the Silver Lakes pass yesterday and got pretty soaked. My first experience on Constance included watching a bodybag being airlifted off the E face, so your discretion is applauded. Re: your GPS comment--I've had one for 3 years and only really used it usefully on Rainier. Never in the Olympics. Seems like just another gadget that I'd never take out of my pack. I don't consciously leave it behind--just never consider bringing it.

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Flying_Ned said:

Re: your GPS comment--I've had one for 3 years and only really used it usefully on Rainier. Never in the Olympics. Seems like just another gadget that I'd never take out of my pack. I don't consciously leave it behind--just never consider bringing it.

 

Huh, I've found a GPS very useful for quick navigation is subpar weather. Relying on it solely is a mistake, but used properly I think they can be great for a navigation tool. I was extremely happy to have one on the ptarmigan traverse a few weeks ago when the weather turned to shit. We certainly could have made our way with compass and map, but the GPS made things very very fast. I would say we probably traveled at 95% of the speed we would have in clear weather. Pretty good for moving over a few fairlly nondescript glaciers.

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The only thing the gps would have helped you with is retracing your steps. I don't see how it would have helped to keep going. I soloed Constance 2 years ago and it was fun. I always recomend going up the north chute and down the south chute although if it's your first time, route finding is not straight forward. Some people scoff at the Olympics, but they are real mountains. Also, after the notch, the rock is much better. On my solo, I knew there was nobody else on the mountain and I skied the scree down south chute with no worries about what I was sending down. One advantage of soloing!

 

BTW< I'm looking for someone to climb with this weekend and was thinking of anything in the Olympics. Give me a shout if you want to do something.

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Going up Friday am to check out the high traverse into the great basin (from luch rock) on The Brothers. Probably will bivy on S. Summit Friday night. N-S traverse is a possibility depending on time limitations. GPS will stay in the garage.

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ok you fellow Oly climbers, I've got a really cool objective for this weekend. I'm a little nervous to solo it because its some serious route finding and involves at least two raps. Can't tell you what it is, but I wonder if it's been done before. It's a "traverse" in a way. Anyone interested??? call me at 714-4300.

 

Flying ned, got room in your party for me. I can do mine another time.

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David_Parker said:

Some people scoff at the Olympics, but they are real mountains.

 

Hell, I'd argue that aside from the Cascades, the Olympics are the most "real" mountains in the lower 48. They are still significantly more rugged, high-relief, glaciated and willing to nail you with shitty weather than the rockies or any other range in the 48.

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I totally agree with the route findin-in-whiteout position you stated , Especially on that mt. It is something you could get real hosed on quick.

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Anyone contemplating Constance, the north chute is ALWAYS the best way up as long as you can see snow in it at the top. Don't let the scree fan at the bottom disuade you. As of today, it is still climbable. Just remember there is about 40 feet of down climbing from the top on the other side before you go up the gully to the notch. The first chute up is actually more complicated route finding, especially if you've never been on the mountain before. It is also way looser bullshit scree and loose rocks. And if it helps, the word descriptions in the Olympic Climbers Guide totally suck ass. I finally came down the finger traverse after never attempting it on the way up because the words made no sense even standing there looking at the route on a clear day. It was pretty straight forward. The finger traverse should be your summertime/dry conditions route; the terrible traverse more of the winter/ snow covered rock route (as long as avy conditions are safe). BTW, from car to summit is over 7,000 vert!

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Nice work David! Were you solo? Did you need crampons? Rope for the finger?

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rollo said:

Nice work David! Were you solo? Did you need crampons? Rope for the finger?

 

My solo was a few years ago and I used the terrible traverse. Wayne and I just did the west ridge (see TR)and got a look down the N. Chute on the way down and it looks good. I did not bring crampons for the west ridge but you should have them for the north chute. The finger traverse is no big deal and doesn't require a rope. You have bomber hand holds and you just need to pay attention to your feet. It's only about 30 feet.

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