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daylward

second ascent Big Four Mountain - Spindrift Couloir - Second ascent

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How come you have good alpine conditions and we supposedly have shitty alpine conditions right now?? Man its only 100 miles, not even... confused.gif" border="0

I want to go alpine climbing now C'mon Cheam Range form up solid... grin.gif" border="0

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Congratualtions, nice route , huh? Not the 2nd ascent though. I heard through Bart that a friend of his soloed the route a few years back. As for defending Bart, the conditions on our ascent were much leaner than yours sounds, and from looking at your pics, there was much more ice. There was no ice on the crux pitch that would have even came close to holding a climbers weight, yet alone a fall, and the 60 degree styrofoam lower down was nonexistant, just sugar covered shale. Bart never said that the overhanging portion was long, as I recall it was about 10 ft of weird bulge. Again, congrats. Hope you had as much fun as we did!-the other guy [big Drink][big Drink][big Drink]

[ 02-28-2002: Message edited by: avypoodle ]

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quote:

Originally posted by avypoodle:
There was no ice on the crux pitch that would have even came close to holding a climbers weight, yet alone a fall, and the 60 degree styrofoam lower down was nonexistant, just sugar covered shale ... Hope you had as much fun as we did!

Sugar coated shale would not be near as fun as what we had. Maybe we had MORE fun than you did! Its an excellent route and, despite Dan's critique of Bart's prior report, I can tell you that both of us tip our hats to you guys for doing it.

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Thanks, and much props right back. I'm sure you are right about you guys having more fun, I was way too stressed out/in over my head to really be enjoying myself at that point. You should go back and try to get those first few WI pitches, way fun. Again, cheers. One of these days I'll have to pub club with you folks so I can buy you a [big Drink]

[ 02-28-2002: Message edited by: avypoodle ]

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Too bad it isn't a first ascent cause they could call it "Effortlessly Couloir" [Wazzup][big Drink]

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After doing extensive research on ice climbing in the state; I thought it should be noted that Doug and Bart probably were not the first to climb this route.

The seventies and eighties saw many hard climbers in the northwest that were not always interested in reporting their ascents. This is not to dismiss anyones ascent of Spindrift Couloir, but to point out that Doug and Bart's route was a "first recorded ascent."

Regardless of who did it first, it was pretty cool that they pulled it off when they were so young... And it's pretty cool someone nailed it recently.

Way to go guys!

Jason

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quote:

Originally posted by mattp:

Sugar coated shale would not be near as fun as what we had. Maybe we had MORE fun than you did! Its an excellent route and, despite Dan's critique of Bart's prior report, I can tell you that both of us tip our hats to you guys for doing it.

Absolutely, my hat is off 100% to you guys. I heard about it that year (1996), before I had done much winter climbing at all, but I had seen the face when visiting the ice caves. I remember being blown away that anyone would consider going up it in the winter! Since then I've heard multiple people question how serious the route actually was, and I've heard many more times about Bart's reputation as a big-talker (though mostly by people who know him and like him in spite of it), so I was pre-disposed to thinking of his description as a bit of an overstatement, and certainly the conditions we found supported that predisposition! But I don't mean in any way to belittle your accomplishment, Avypoodle; it was very impressive. And I'd love to have a [big Drink] sometime if you're in town!

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I remember when Bart actually sent news to Climbing Mag, R&I and R&I conditions page that he had done the "presumed 2nd ascent" of Body Shop at Marble Canyon except he didnt know what it was called so he called it "an unnamed WI6" and hedidnt know that it had had like 10* ascents the year before or something....

* i made this number up. i dont know how many ascents it had had. more than 1 though cause i saw some photos from somebody else that had done it the previous year and never sprayed about it to the mags.

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Legend Slammin is what cc.com is all about! YOU ALL SUCK! mad.gif" border="0 I SUCK! mad.gif" border="0 so there rolleyes.gif" border="0

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Throughout the winter, I find myself under constant pressure from multiple directions: work, skiing, and climbing. I gotta ski every weekend, but I really want to do some winter climbing, therefore to do that I have to take days off work, but my schedule at work is so tight that I find it difficult to ask for days off. I also have pressure from my schedule-free roommate Tim to go out and do something whenever the conditions get good. Well, this last week in February the forecast indicated the conditions were going to get good, and I was uncommonly ahead of schedule at work, so I asked for Tuesday off, told Tim I'd go do the N. Face of Index with him, and then I headed off to Crystal Mt. for the weekend. However, upon my return to the Billiken Ski Club on Saturday evening, I found there was a message waiting for me on my cell phone... Tim had decided to do Index with Kevin Kanning on Sunday/Monday instead, and if I wanted to join them I'd have to pack up and go right away. I opted against that, and in retrospet I'm glad I did.

In the meantime, Jim Nelson had suggested to MattP that I might be a willing partner for his ambitions on Big Four. Seeing as how my plans had been so rudely ripped out from under me (no offense, Tim ;-) and I was partnerless, I jumped at the opportunity. And so it came to pass that MattP and I were headed toward the Mountain Loop Highway on Monday afternoon. We figured the conditions would be perfect; that four days of rain and up to 8000' freezing levels the previous week would have brought down most of the unstable snowpack from the otherwise extremely avalanche-prone face, and then the subsequent 1000' freezing levels on Sunday and Monday would have refrozen everything and increased the quantity of pure water ice.

We made a brief stop in Granite Falls for some food and headlamp batteries, and arrived at the end of the plowed portion of the road (Deer Creek) at about 4:30. I parked my Subaru near two other cars by the turnaround. Matt said we were about two miles from the Big Four Ice Caves trailhead, so we decided to run up there before it got dark and take a look at our potential lines. The snow on the flat road was packed solid by many layers of footprints, ski tracks and snowmobile treads, so our progress was rapid. We passed several people on our way. We asked one snowshoer with a stout build and a large white bushy beard if he had gone to the ice caves. He replied that no, the ice caves are way too dangerous, there's "extereme avalanche hazard" (an exact quote from the prolific nearby signage on the subject); they had gone up the drainage opposite Big Four. As we passed by him, we chuckled... Avalanche Shmavalanche, we ain't afraid of no Avalanche! Seriously, we couldn't imagine circumstances less prone to avalanches, though we were well aware of the general power of that mountain to continually beat down the forest at its feet with vast torrents of ice and snow...

We arrived at the trailhead, which afforded a grand view of the face in the pre-twilight. What an impressive mountain. Nearly 4000 feet of elevation lay between us and the summit, and any way you cut it, it's clearly not a lolly-gag to get there. The question was, which non-lolly-gag route should we take? Matt had envisioned something like the N. Face Couloir, which is sort of on the left side of the mountain. We could see patches on it that appeared to be water ice, and it certainly looked like a fun route. But another line struck my fancy... an obvious couloir that ended between the two rightmost peaks of the mountain. When I had told people earlier that day that I was planning on doing Big Four, a nearly unanimous response was "Are you going to try Bart's route?" They were referring to the Spindrift Couloir, which Bart Paull and Doug Littauer had done the first ascent of in 1996 (article in 1997 AAJ) when Bart was only 15. An impressive feat for a climber of that age, but I think Bart's widespread reputation as a "dramatic overstater" was born with the publication of his article; no one had tried the route to prove him wrong, but many were skeptical that it was how he described it, either from knowledge of the mountain or knowledge of him... Anyway, I had answered "No, probably not". But when I saw this couloir and the condition of the mountain, I suggested to Matt we might oughta try it after all. He responded "Well, I really shouldn't... but when am I going to be here again?" (or something to that effect). So that was it, our decision was made: Spindrift Couloir!

We sauntered back to the car, cooked up some noodles, packed our packs, ate the noodles, ate our packs (mmm, vinyl) (no, not really, silly), hopped in our sacks, and drifted off into a sleep punctuated by startling "Is it time yet?" reawakenings. Of course it never was time yet, and at about 3:00 am we both happened to do it at the same time, so we thought we may as well make it be time yet, and we thusly got up. We had planned to wake up at 4:30, so we didn't feel too rushed as we boiled some water, ate our breakfast, and got ready to go...

We left the car shortly after 4:00 am. The walk along the road went quickly, and before we knew it we were thrashing our way through the windfall, following the tracks of crazy people who did not heed the "Extereme Avalanche Hazard" signage. Pretty soon the windfall became avalanchefall where the forest came within reach of the torrents of ice and snow hurled toward it by Big Four. We topped a rise and the lower half of the mountain was barely visible in the moonlight diffused by the thick layer of clouds 2000 feet above us. It was anowing. A minor tickle of concern entered my mind...

We debated how to ascend the lower cliff bands into the main snow bowl. Bart and Doug had apparently found a thin runnel of ice that ran a diagonal up and right from near the ice caves. It didn't look like there was much ice formed on the lower cliff bands this time, so we decided not to even briefly entertain that option. Instead, there was a large cone of avalanche debris piled up in front of the slabs to the right of the ice caves that looked relatively easily passable, at least from what we could tell from there.

The snow started falling thicker as we moseyed across many layers of avalanche debris, of increasing thickness and number the closer we got to the foot of the mountain. We gradually mounted the cone, made of large chunks of icy snow covered by 3 or 4 inches of fluffy stuff. The sky began to get light from the east, and when we were right under the slabs it was very difficult to tell how difficult it would be to ascend them. We pressed on. At the top of the cone, we donned our crampons and harnesses. Not quite ready to rope up yet, we thought we should be prepared to do so at any moment! Matt started up first, crossing a moat and moving from snowpatch to snowpatch between the thinly snow-coated slabs, and I followed in a slight variation of his path. The going was easy. Shortly, we attained a wide bench, on which we traversed right on snow to where a narrow tree-step led to a thicket on the next level up. Matt briefly considered roping up for the tree-step, but I convinced him he could hook a tree with his tool and yard up, which worked quite well. I followed. We did some fun vertical bushwhacking. Matt said "This is the Big Four I know!". Hmm, indeed...

It sure wasn't long before we broke out of the trees to find ourselves at the bottom of the main snow bowl. We happily noticed the snow had sort of stopped and the clouds were lifting. By this time it was light enough to read the watch without a headlamp: 7:30. Time to start the grunt! Step step step, slog slog slog, up the snow bowl we went, heading for the base of Spindrift Couloir. Every time we looked up at it, it was living up to its name... almost a constant stream of spindrift coming down it! I secretly hoped it would stop before we had to climb through it... Because of the volume of the torrent, we headed slightly left of the main gully. I looked up in the sky and noticed a blue patch and pointed it out to Matt. He said "Sucker hole". As we ascended, we scoped out our descent. Looking to the right, we could see a gully that came down from the right side of the large treed col to the nortwest of the summit of Big Four, just as the col starts trending up to its neighboring peak. The higher we got the better it looked; we could see it went nearly all the way to the top, and emptied out in lower-angle terrain in the middle of the main snow bowl. Perfect!

The first sort of technical sections were perfect styrofoam, maybe 50 degrees, 60 in short bits; I started up ahead of Matt. "Rumble" went the spindrift. Suddenly, some spindrift came down our path! I hunkered down and felt it blow by... and keep blowing by for what seemed like several minutes... "Gee, this is going to be unpleasant" I thought. But then it stopped, and we continued up. We moved right, and found some bumps of water ice. I asked Matt if we should continue soloing. He said, "Sure, why not". Ok... It kept going. Awesome ice, awesome styrofoam... and the spindrift seemed to have stopped, and the sucker hole was getting bigger. I said to Matt "We sure must be suckers!" There seemed to be many possible options to continue upward progress; I chose a 3-foot-wide chute (possibly the same as the one described by Bart, though there was no exposed rock), kind of steep (75 degrees) but short and lined with white stuff of great consistency. Matt followed. We kept winding our way up WI 2 bumps interspersed with slightly lower angle consolidated snow, averaging maybe 60 degrees. It kept looking steeper ahead, and we talked about roping up, but figured we'd just "get up to that next bulge first...".

But then, at 11:30, it got too steep. This pitch was definitely made to be done with a rope. It was roughly 40 meters of nearly vertical spectacular blue ice, what I would consider solid WI4 or WI4+. We planted our tools in the firm snow beneath it and gazed at the spectacle, then got down to business. We pounded in one of our two pickets as a belay anchor (about the most solid picket placement I think I've ever seen). I opened my pack (containing the rack & one of Matt's two 50m 9mm Stratos ropes; he had the other in his pack) and arranged the 6 ice screws, 4 cams, 4 pins, 2 Yates Screamers, and several assorted slings/cordalettes and biners on the various gear loops afforded to me by my harness and pack waistbelt. I tied in; I was amped & giddy. Off I went. The angle steepened quickly as my tools found solid purchase in the plastic ice. I angled up and right, and found a stance on a knob about 30 feet above Matt, where I twisted a 22cm BD Express all the way to the hilt. Bomber! I clipped it with a single 'biner. I moved on up another 15 feet of vertical ice, my horizontal-point S12's reluctantly succumbing to my beating them against the solid ice. Ok, time for another screw. I set my left tool in a patch of styrofoam, it felt solid; then set my right tool in a blue lump of ice. Solid too. I took my hand out of the leash and grabbed a screw, hanging all my weight from my left hand. "Twist.. twist...twist.. it's not quite in... gotta press a little harder..." Crunch!!! Suddenly, my left tool popped out! The pressure I was putting on the screw had applied equal and opposite tension on my left tool, tension it apparently could not cope with. Doh! My horizontal pointed crampons did little to arrest my rapid descent. Matt acted quickly however, and the combination of the 9mm dynamics and decreasing slope angle and softish snow below made the experience relatively pleasant (compared to many ice leader-falls, that is). I had fallen about 35 feet, so I was just about level with Matt! The one ice screw was a solid as I'd imagined it was, I still had my screw in my right hand, and I was completely unscathed. However, my other tool was still firmly placed in the ice lump above. Definitely interesting getting back up there with only one tool!

I got myself together and started back up. I had to switch hands on my tool a couple times, depending on where "handholds" were (kicked steps, thick icicles, etc.), but managed to make it back to my tool, huffing and puffing. I grabbed it. I set my left tool again, this time in a much better spot. Screw, screw, screw... this time it went in. Solid. Hooray!

Onward and upward. Thwack, thwack, chunk, chunk. Awesome. The sky was almost completely blue, with a few puffy clouds here and there. I got up another 20 feet or so, and put in another screw, this one hit a hollow section inside so I didn't trust it as much. I was running out of steam, but I kept going because I didn't want to hang on that screw. I went over some bulges and it started to become very difficult for me to swing my tools... I hung for a while, but with my hands over my head and my feet not so solid, I couldn't really relax. "Ok, I'm just getting more and more tired, and I can't even get to that little platform 5 feet up there... And I don't want to fall on that last screw... I gotta put in something!" I thought. With all the strength I could muster, I forced my spongy fingers to respond. I screwed got the screw out, pressed on it with my body as I wormed my fingers around it trying to get it in. Thankfully it relented, threaded, and started sinking. It was solid, woohoo! I got it all the way in, clipped a biner, yelled "Take!", slipped out of my leashes, and hung! What a relief. I hung there and shook out for a long time, looking around in awe of the position. What a spectacular place to be!

"Alright, enough introspection... I know I have a Gu in one of these pockets." I sucked down a Gu, did a final shakeout, and started up. As I had thought, there was a good rest 5 feet up. I hung out there for a little while, then kept going. One more section of steep, one more screw, then the angle kicked back. I went another 5 meters and I heard "That's me!" echoing up from below. Time for a belay. I put in my last screw, a solid placement, and backed it up with my tools and spent the next half hour belaying Matt up. "That was a hard pitch!" he said as he arrived. Yeah, especially since he did it with one Grivel Light Machine and one SMC mountain axe!

It was 2:30. Nice, up ahead looked like more of what we had below. We decided to simulclimb since we were already tied in. Matt took off, blazing the way between knobs of blue ice and channels of styrofoam, sometimes the other way around, roughly 60-65 degrees. Matt decided to belay just about one ropelength up because he was unsure about which way to go, so I followed up and continued on above him. I tended to the right side of the main gully, it looked like there was more solid ice there, then a ramp that led back left, however I found that at the bottom of the ramp there was only thin verglass ice and snow over slabby shale. Matt was already coming up behind me, so he stopped about 30 feet down, with the rope looped below us, and pounded in a picket. I downclimbed to him, then he belayed as I led up and left, avoiding the slabs. It was all good.

On and on it went, until I sort of came upon a bit of a headwall. I pounded in a questionable picket in the softer snow near the base of the headwall, and headed up toward an exposed rock where I thought there might be some pro potential. I bashed at it a bit and found no cracks. So I continued up... I rounded the crest of the headwall on its left side (maybe 80 degrees at the steepest for a short section), after which the angle mellowed a bit and I traversed right. I looked up. Above I could see a corniced ridge running perpendicular to our couloir. "Is that the summit ridge?" Then I saw the wind blow some snow up from above the cornices, and it was lit up by the sun shining from behind. "It has to be the top!" It looked like one more simul-climbing pitch. I belayed Matt up, and he shimmied below me to avoid a rope snarl. It was pretty mellow... 65 degree consolidated snow, leading up 500 ft. to what appeared to be several possible escape routes. Matt led, placing sparse protection, until he arrived at a choice and felt he should belay me up to partake in the decision making process. I took over leading, opting to go straight up (rather than right or left), entering flutings on the right side of a section of partially exposed shale. I placed a screw in some ice covering one of the rocks before entering the flutings, but it only went in 3/4 of the way before hitting rock. Doh! Oh well, I'll just be careful. The flutings were crusty on the surface because of the rain, but soft underneath. I saw a notch in the looming cornices overhead and headed rightward toward it. I straddled the flutings, impaling their flanks with my ice tool shafts. I could kick reasonable steps, but it was so steep it was hard to keep my weight over them. I wallowed my way up and right without any protection, and just as it reached 90 degrees I reached my hand over onto the ledge that had formed just below the cornice, jammed my ice tool in, bashed away at some loose snow, and emerged through the notch on the summit ridge! "Yeeeeee-Haaaaaaaaw!" I screeched with glee! The south side of the mountain was all socked in, couldn't see a thing, even though the sky overhead and north was clear and blue.

I glanced over and found a large tree to make a perfect anchor, girth-hitched the cordalettes together, and sat on the edge to belay and watch Matt come up through the flutings, which he did using a combination of opposing pressure and footkicks and gratuitous wallowing to achieve upward progress.

We were both standing on the summit by 4:30. Yeah! Now all we had to deal with was the descent. I reckoned we'd be at the car at 10:30. We packed up our stuff, ate some food, and began a descending traverse around the southwest side of the mountain. The sun came out in all its glory, and we were able to link snowfields and descend about 300 feet, until the terrain became more complex and we opted for a rappel southwest rather than downclimbing trees south. We did one 50m rap of a tree, which ended at another tree with an aged sling around it. We simul-rapped off that tree (without using the sling), and found that the gully we were rapping into got steeper, so we started moving northward toward the NW ridge where things looked mellower. We kept moving across, dragging the ropes with us, and when we got to the ends of the ropes Matt got off rappel and I tied mine off, to drag the rope with me as I went. We went over some ribs, downclimbing 50-60 degree snow, until we got right on the NW ridge and could look straight down the face we'd climbed. I descended to a tree, and thought we oughta make one more rappel before the angle lessened as we reached the col, which we did. The sun was going down fast, and by the time we were walking along the flat, forested col, the sunset was beautiful and the full moon was rising and shining on the peaks in front of it, making a peculiar and beautiful spectacle.

We had no trouble finding the top of our descent gully. We went up and down, until it started going more up than down, and when we looked down to the north, we could see the gully stretching below us into the middle of the main snow bowl. There was a horizontal tree at the top that made a perfect rap anchor, and one single rope rap got us to downclimbable terrain. I rapped last and kept the rope tied off in my device, pulling it down as I went. Man, that gully went on and on; it was much longer than it looked. But it was very pleasant. 60 degrees, mellowing to 50 here and there, brilliant moonlight, and finally we found ourselves in the avalanche fan below the gully. I packed up the rope and we turned around and walked downhill, trying to shoot for a collision course with our uphill tracks. We crossed avalanche track after avalanche track, and before we knew it we found our tracks, followed them down into the grove of trees, down through the one-tree-move wonder, onto the slab ledge, across it, picked our way over the islands of snow on slabs to the top of the avalance cone we'd come up, and there we were, terra firma!

I was sort of anxious to get out of the way of objective hazard, even though it was good conditions and unlikely to slide, so I booked it across the debris below the mountain to the rise we'd stopped at in the morning. I looked back at the face from there, which glowed coolly in the moonlight, nearly every feature visible. I watched Matt work his way toward me, his headlamp making erratic yellow flashes across the landscape in front of him. It was 8:30. Clear. Calm. Perfect.

I read Bart's article in the AAJ last night. I'd have to say either he went out of his way to make things more difficult than they had to be (in which case he'd have to have taken a slightly different route than that described in the article), or conditions were a lot less fat than we found them (which doesn't seem likely, given the time of year and the way he described the weather pattern at the beginning of the article), or he was embellishing the truth a bit. Understandable for an aspiring alpinist at age 15, I suppose; and regardless, it was a fantasic route and a commendable first ascent for him. I would rate it at grade IV, WI4+ (no rock or mixed ratings, since we encountered very little rock). It never got steeper than 90 degrees and even that was only one pitch.

Matt took several pictures with his digital camera. They can be found here.

Dan grin.gif" border="0

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Ok, MattP wrote me a message saying he had received some inquiries as to whether parts of the route were as steep as I claimed. Who do you people think you are, questioning my superior route describing ability??? [Moon]

Seriously, I tried to describe the route in a way that people would not disagree with if they climbed it themselves, and re-reading it, I believe I achieved that goal. However, all I had to go from as reference when writing were the impressions in my mind and not tape-measure or inclinometer readings, so bear in mind that some of the figures may be slightly inaccurate. It is not my intention to mislead or make my accomplishments sound bigger than they actually were. Ok? Time for a [chubit]

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Thats ok, padding the numbers on steepness and pitch length is to be extected. I've found it to be pretty much the norm in Washington(and every where else for that matter). Nice climb fellas, way to get after it!

Cheers [big Drink]

[ 03-01-2002: Message edited by: Lambone ]

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quote:

Originally posted by Lambone:
Thats ok, padding the numbers on steepness and pitch length is to be extected. I've found it to be pretty much the norm in Washington(and every where else for that matter). Nice climb fellas, way to get after it!

Cheers
[big Drink]

[ 03-01-2002: Message edited by: Lambone ]

"If it feels overhanging, its probably vertical. If it feels vertical, its probably 80 degrees. All other steepnesses subtract 10-20 degrees."

Dont remember who said this but it sure is true. If you really want to impress people use percent slope. 45 degree slope is 100% and vertical is infinitely steep!

rolleyes.gif" border="0

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Awesome photos and TR of an awesome route, on an awesome peak! If you've never hiked up to look at this wall, you can't appreciate how big it is.

Here's a "rule of thumb" on approximating angle: when you're standing vertically on a slope in such a way that you look down a contour line (in other words, standing sideways like you would on your boards), if you can just reach out a straight arm and touch the wall with your fist, the angle is 60 degrees. If you can't touch the wall with your fist, or if you have to lean in, it's not that steep, and obviously if you instead have to bend your arm, it's steeper than sixty degrees. If your fists scrape the ground when you walk down the street, this rule has limited validity for you.

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