Climb: The Mythical Bellingham Big Wall
Date of Climb: 7/21/2005
For many climbers in Bellingham the Twin Sisters Range is the place were we first cut our teeth in the mountains, climbing the west ridge of the North Twin or more often than not failing on an attempt of the South Twin Sister. The rest of the range is somewhat of an enigma.
During the month of July I made several forays into the east side of the range. While the west side of these mountains is a wasteland of clearcuts and decomposing logging roads, on the east side we discovered soothing old growth forest, wild rivers, impressive glaciers, lots of solitude and some great multipitch climbing on the unique and enjoyable olivine these peaks are composed of.
Last February my wife and I decided to check out the Elbow Lake Trail. After we navigated the washed-out crossing of the Nooksack River the trail immediately began a gentle climb through impressive stands of huge trees in the drainage of Green Creek. Occasional openings in the forest afforded glimpses of steep walls near the creeks headwaters.
Green Creek Arete II 5.6
On July 1st Allen Carbert and I returned to see if these walls measured up to the grandure of my memories. After a half hour on the trail we plunged straight into the forest and began traversing further into the Green Creek drainage. While the underbrush was thick and wet we made good time and after an hour of thrashing we broke out along the bank of the creek. This is a wild spot with great views of the Green Glacier to the west and Mount Baker and Lincoln Peak to the east. After crossing the creek we headed up the enormous talus slopes that define the upper regions of this drainage.
One east facing wall stood out, steep, clean and bordered by an impressive gendarmed arete. Four hours after leaving the car we stood near its base. Intimidated and running short on time we decided the arete would be a perfect choice for the day. Like many routes in the Sisters the climbing was much easier than it looked. We scrambled up delightful 3rd and 4th class rock before slipping into rock shoes for a clean exposed slab on the crest of the arete. The horizontal section turned out to be exciting 3rd class scrambling right along the massive drop of the east face. We roped up for a 100' pitch of 5.6 cracks on more clean, solid rock before a final bit of scrambling led to...nowhere. The arete simply ended on a minor high point of the long ridgeline seperating the drainages of the Green and Sisters Glaciers. We built a small cairn and ate lunch while enjoying the unique views of the Sisters Glacier which looked to be no more than a 45 minute walk away.
We had choosen to carry over and decided to descend by heading east along the ridgeline. After cresting a highpoint marked 5179' on maps we headed down through open meadows then more thick forest. At 3600' in elevation we hung a hard right, dropping back into the drainage of Green Creek. A steep descent led to an even steeper gorge where we once again crossed the creek before climbing back up to the trail. Eight and half hours after leaving we were back at the car, satisfied with a great day in the local hills.
The Mythic Wall III 5.10
On July 21st Michael Layton and I climbed the wall. The huckleberries in the forest were now in prime season and we stopped every five minutes to gorge ourselves. Somehow we still managed to reach the face in a little over three hours. As we roped up an enormous black spider crawled across the start of our route. What in the hell is this thing?
The climbing was excellent. Almost every pitch was steep, solid and sustained with adequate protection. Stemming up corners, linking face cracks, pulling over roofs on jugs, we had a great time. What loose rock there was we would pitch off into space watching it freefall for hundreds of feet before exploding into shrapnel. Michael led the crux pitch, a series of discontinuous cracks up the center of a steep, clean face. On the next pitch, intimidating roofs were passed on great holds. As Mike followed he easily pulled off the only belay-slayer on the climb, a 5' tall flake that exploded over the previous belay ledge. Four and half hours after starting we topped out in the still blazing sun. We had climbed the route in 6 pitches ( 5.8, 5.9+, 5.4, 5.10-, 5.9, 5.7) and decided to call it The Mythic Wall as it felt like we had just done that mythical alpine rock climb we've always wanted to find in the mountains near Bellingham.
We downclimbed the Green Creek Arete (easy 4th class from topout) reaching our packs in about an hour. On the way out we cooled off in the creek before thrashing back out to the trail, the truck and, to celebrate, the North Fork Beer Shrine. Either of these routes are well worth doing, particularly if you live in the Bellingham area. While the approach certainly takes some effort it sure is nice having multi-pitch alpine rock climbs so close to home.
Mythic Wall Route Description
At the top of the scree gully below the wall the route begins on the left side of the large wet chimney (year round water?).
P1 (5.8, 55m) Start directly below the only tree on the lower face. Pass a horizontal fault at 40', pull through steep black rock then follow ramps and corners to the tree.
P2 (5.9+, 45m) Hard moves off the belay, then climb up and right until you can traverse right into discontinuous corners. Follow these to a large ledge splitting the face.
P3 (5.4, 25m) Walk left then traverse up and left on a loose-looking but solid rock. Belay near another tree below face cracks on the smooth wall.
P4 (5.10-, 40m) Link face cracks up and right (crux). When they end at a L-facing corner pull out right around the corner onto an easy face.
P5 (5.9, 40m) Climb a nice L-facing corner, then pull a roof. Hand traverse left below the next roof into a fun dihedral. Below more roofs move out left to a belay.
P6 (5.7, 20m) Steep flakes lead to the ridgeline.
Gear: rack to 3.5", including a full set of TCUs or Aliens, micronuts and a double set of cams from 2" to 3.5".
The wall can be seen in shadows on page 41 of Red Fred. It's above the "ek" in "Green Creek".
From Mosquito Lake Road follow the Middle Fork Nooksack River Road about 11 miles to the signed Elbow Lake trailhead (elevation 2200'). Ford the river on log jams and reminants of the old bridge then pick up the trail again 100' downstream. Follow the trail about a mile to a sharp switchback at 2700'. Leave the trail here dropping down into gentle forest and a crossing Hildebrand creek. Continue traversing up valley through thick huckleberrys and occasional dense firs trees. The best travel seems to be around 2750' in elevation. Once you reach Green Creek the wall and the long talus slopes to reach it should be obvious. 3-4 hrs.
Down climb the arete or hike east along the ridgeline passing a high point then descending into forest. At 3600' turn right and head straight down to Green Creek. We forded the creek around 2300' then climbed back up through devils club reaching the trail around 2500'.