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[TR] Graybeard- North Face 5/10/2006


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Climb: Graybeard-North Face


Date of Climb: 5/10/2006


Trip Report:

Scott has had his eye on Graybeard for some time, and so jumped at the idea of an attempt when I mentioned it. Having to bail off of a climb seems to make it all that much more of a priority to get. I just liked the name (I thought it appropriate for our over 40 crew). Having had a great time in perfect conditions climbing Triple Couloirs on Dragontail the past week, we thought that the time was right. The weekend weather turned out to poor with some new snow, but the forecast called for a clearing trend with cool temps on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday it was.

After the requisite 0200 meeting in Anacortes, we hit the road for the Easy Pass trailhead. Rolling into the snow-covered pullout, we woke two poor pilgrims who were bivying on the asphalt, and were on the boot path by 0415. The trail was easy to follow, and Granite Creek was easily crossed on a Park Service prepped log. We easily boot packed up to the last small trees at the base of the climb and dumped our snow shoes and poles there.

At 0530, after scoping the climb briefly with the new monocular, we decided to bear right if we could on the face. A quite impressive cornice blocked the exit on the direct line, but a line to the right looked like it could go. After a quick goo shot, we donned the crampons and followed some kicked steps up to the first ice. Scott freed it, but I felt more comfortable with a belay, so he dropped the rope for me (its always nice to have the rope gun along).


We followed some nice buckets up the upper snow bowl to the base of the face proper. The decision was made to start to the left of what looked to be the main ice gully as recommended in Nelson’s book. I led up the first pitch of thin ice to a belay consisting of two useless pickets sunk in unconsolidated snow. After bringing up Scott, we decided to traverse right into what looked to be the main gully and try our luck there. A full rope length led Scott to what turned out to be our best belay; two stacked pins backed up by two nuts. While leading this pitch, a coffee can size piece of the hill came hurtling past Scott, barely missing him. Besides the occasional spindrift shower, this turned out to be the only thing that was rained down upon us.


Scott again led the next pitch, which consisted of one full rope length on thin mixed ice to an open snowfield below what we surmised was the rock band described in Nelson’s book. After belaying Scott while breaking down the belay (we left the pins and a nut in case of retreat), I pulled the ultimate ice climbing faux pas and dropped one of my tools while unclipping it. At first it dropped to my boot where the pick was snagged on my shoelace. Trying not to breathe, I slowly bent over to reach it. Just as I was about ready to grab it, it popped loose and went for the big ride all the way down the face.

I yelled up to Scott that I had dropped one of my tools. “Belay’s on!” was the faint reply. Well, I might as well give it a shot. Knowing the quality of the belay, I definitely did not want to fall. Using a combination of the one tool and the rope to keep me on the ice during the steeper sections, I managed to flail my way up the pitch, which consisted of thin rambly ice with the occasional marginal pro. After some discussion, it was decided to continue the climb and trade off tools for the leader. We had carried an ice hook that the follower could utilize for help during the steeper sections. Looking down, we saw another party of two approaching the base of the face. We endeavored not to drop anymore critical climbing devices.

Looking up and seeing a steep rock-band, we decided to traverse right across a steep snowfield to try and bypass it at a weaker spot. We figured that this was the fifteen foot rock-band described in Nelson’s book as being more moderate to the right. The next pitch up was a full sixty meter run up a run-out mixed section with thin ice. As Scott put it, “Its OK for body weight.” Another pitch up led us over some better ice to a steep snow face. We kept waiting for (and wanting) the route to ease off, but it never did.


The snow here was steep unconsolidated sugar snow over slabby rock. We were only about four hundred vertical feet from the top of the ridge, but the next five pitches took us over four hours. The wallowing was legendary. After Scott finally worked up under a rock headwall, I was able to sink two pins and swim out left underneath a small cornice and work my way up and over it to the ridge. A short scramble led us to the summit. We had spent just over twelve hours on route.



The descent off the backside was a straightforward descent down a gully and traverse around to Easy Pass. After we arrived back at our gear stash in the valley, I discarded the idea of climbing back up to look for the lost tool. The other party had already descended, so we were unable to ask them, but I thought that if they had seen it, they would have dropped it at our gear cache. I considered it an offering to the mountain gods (along with three pins, two biners and a screamer). We arrived back at the highway at 2030 to quaff some home-brew in preparation for the drive home.

Our approximate route:


My impressions of the climb: The day we picked was a good one. Not much at all was coming down the face, and with the high overcast the temp stayed fairly low the whole day. Although occasionally we would encounter some thick stuff, for the most part the ice was thin and rotten. Between the thin ice, unconsolidated snow, and slabby rock, the pro was sparse and poor. The more aesthetic line straight up the face probably would have had better ice, but the rock band was steeper and surmounting the cornice would have been problematic.


Gear Notes:

Four pickets, six screws, five pins. Shoulda had third tool.

Edited by Trent
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