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daylward

[TR] Ptarmigan Ridge - 6/17/2007

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Trip: Ptarmigan Ridge 6/17/2007

 

Date: 6/17/2007

 

Trip Report:

Four of us made some plans to climb Ptarmigan Ridge on Sunday/Monday. The forecast was looking pretty good, especially for Monday, though the weather at the time brought out a little skepticism. Chad had climbed Rainier about 74 times already, but somehow in all that time he had missed out on a successful shot at the Ptarmigan; he and Lara had planned to rectify that situation this year. I had tried the Ptarmigan twice before and been rejected by weather both times. Tim was with me on one of those times. Frankie had climbed the mountain 6 times, some quite speedily, but never by a technical route. So, in short, we were all psyched to get 'er done. Until Frankie became un-psyched, that is.

 

Like so many other trips, this one started with difficulties leaving town. I was at a BBQ party, during which I got the message that Frankie (to be my partner) was bailing. He had a feeling in his gut; not a physical illness, but just a sense that something bad would happen if he came along. There's a trick, when we do these things that always result in some feelings of trepidation, to know the difference between normal trepidation and a real feeling that something will go wrong. It takes experience and insight to fully differentiate the two, and making a mistake will either needlessly prevent you from accomplishing your goals, or kill someone. Clearly the latter is worse. No one pressured Frankie to change his mind.

 

After dorking with gear at the trailhead until after midnight, we finally embarked on our journey under a beautiful moonless but starlit sky. The trail to Glacier Basin is thrashed from all the flooding last fall, and trying to follow the tied yellow caution tape through fallen trees, rocks and debris proved difficult in the dark. We lost the trail a few times, which definitely slowed our progress, but we weren't too concerned because we had plenty of time and we were enjoying every minute. The snow started below the Glacier Basin camp. We rested and ate in the last trees before the open slopes below the Inter Glacier, and struck out for St. Elmo's Pass just as it was getting light. The clouds swirled in and out, and we sometimes caught glimpses of the summit. We roped up after St. Elmo's Pass and Chad led us across the Winthrop and Curtis glaciers. I took over the lead to cross the Carbon and ascend the Russell onto the lower Ptarmigan Ridge. All glacier travel around the girth of the mountain was in fine shape, very straightforward with minimal crevasse avoidance. The surface stayed firm & easy due to repetitive cloud cover and cool temperatures. We were able to link snow patches almost all the way to the spectacular bivy that appears at first glance that it will be crushed by the icefall looming above it but is actually quite safe; the calving seracs go off to either side of the ridge crest.

 

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Reached the bivy at 3:00pm. Brewed up for a couple hours. Went to "sleep". Chad snored loudly. At 9:00, with the sun illuminating the mountain brightly from the west, Chad woke up and commented that we overslept. I said, "Sure we overslept... if we wanted to have already woken up..." Chad was confused by my response. I was confused by his confusion. He mumbled about how screwed we were. I said "What are you talking about?" He said "It's 9:00 am!" I said "No, it's 9:00 pm!" He paused a few seconds, said "Oh." and went back to sleep.

 

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Route2.jpg

 

The alarm went off at 2:00 am, and it was about time. As we spent 3 hours brewing up, we were in the process of realizing that we should have spent more time melting water the night before, when a huge chunk fell off the serac and pummeled the route we were about to take! If we had already been climbing... I like it when "if's" turn out in our favor.

 

It was fully 5:00 am and quite light out by the time we got moving. We opted for a more direct line than shown in the Selected Climbs guide, through a rock band just to the right of the seracs. To get there, we hurried across the seracfall track right where it formed a bridge across the bergschrund. The rock band proved to be the crux of the route. I led up and left, linking ice through rocks and making some of the diciest mixed moves I've made on an alpine route. I kept going left, and looking up and seeing that there's no way up to the snowfield above, and going further left, until finally a small ice-filled corner offered itself as a timely exit from exposure. I had used all my gear by then so I belayed off my pounded-in tools.

 

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Chad took the next running lead, covering a lot of fun ground on excellent compact snow and ice, with pro (usually in the form of good screws) wherever needed. Tim stayed in the middle, utilizing his 10 lbs. of camera gear whenever he could. Chad stopped in the small rocky gully below the traditional crux, a 15-foot rock step that dumps you out onto lower angle ice ramps that form the end of the technical part of the route. My turn to lead again, I chugged the remainder of my liter of Kiwighen that had sustained me through the morning, and began scratching my tools around on rock that turned out to be more solid than it looked. I heard Tim yell something about a piton, and I thought "Yeah, right! No way can a place a piton here!" Turned out that Tim was talking about a fixed angle piton on the step, which I had totally missed. Doh!

 

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I surmounted the step and continued simul-climbing up the ice ramps, trending rightward, and unsuccessfully attempting to stem the flow of dinner plates from my tool placements down over the step. One dislodged a rock that hit Tim in the nose just as he was pulling over the step. You can see the result of that in his self-portrait on Liberty Cap... Ow.

 

20070618_02RNR_178.jpg

 

From there, we wound our way around crevasses and did a lot of glacier slogging in the bright sun and loud wind. The surfaces was wind-scoured and progress was not difficult. Chad switched leads with me once, until we reached Liberty Cap with much imagined fanfare. We stood there, staring out across the Washington landscape and imagined Lara with us. Chad got a little emotional, which he expressed by his signature silence, while we let him be silent and dealt with our own emotions. Tim and I needed food. Chad was on a mission for a safety break, which could not be obtained in the wind. Tim and I thought he'd stop just around the corner so we could eat, but instead he headed across the plateau straight for Columbia Crest and its shelter from the wind. We couldn't communicate, being half-ropelengths apart in 40-60 mph gusts, so we were at the mercy of Chad's determination. Finally Tim couldn't take it anymore, he just sat down, put on his down jacket and started gnawing on a bar. I had managed to dig a bar out of my pocket earlier, so I had stymied my bonk well enough. Tim had no desire for the summit, Chad had to get there. Finally, Chad and I left Tim and went up to tag the summit ourselves. Sure enough, just over the other side of Columbia Crest, there was the wind-free zone Chad needed.

 

We went back down to Tim, whose condition had improved slightly, and began our arduous descent. Tim never really regained his strength from hitting the wall on the summit, so he had to take every step down carefully. Chad displayed amazing patience as what should have been a 1-hour descent down the Emmons turned into a 4-hour ordeal. The Emmons glacier was in similar condition to the other glaciers we'd encountered on our outing – very few gaping crevasses and firm but easy snow. David Gottlieb was watching us from Schurman the whole time, not thinking it was us because we should be going faster... Finally, at 7:00 pm we joined Dave in his ranger hut, where he surprised us with consummate kindness and nourished us with ramen, something Tim needed very badly.

 

Chad had to work the next day, and we had taken my car, so I had to drive Chad home that night. Tim was in no shape to hike out, so he stayed with Dave at Schurman. Chad and I did the Glacier Basin trail in the dark again, losing the trail again in a couple places, reaching the car at midnight and then back to Seattle at 2 am. The next day (Tuesday) I had to drive back up to the White River ranger station and get Tim. We drove up to Sunrise and had the rare experience of seeing up-close and personal where we had been the day before.

 

For more pictures from this trip, check out Tim's web site:

 

http://www.timmatsui.com/fs.shtml?media/20070618_02RNR/index.htm

 

Edited by jon

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WOW - amazing to see things so dry. In M-day of May 2000 when we did the rock bands they were just a few moves of rock that were covered in ice. I almost thought about pro but skipped it. Much of the slope though hard snow was cupped so it was fairly easy. Cool to see some right side pics - we went left which was fun. The exciting part was the step around to the right to gain the upper glacier. Great Exposure. Good fun.

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nice climb - you really that afraid someone's gonna try to claim your pictures? sorta detracts from enjoying'em...

 

the righthand variation of the route looks to have more mixed goodness to it than the left-one i did...good enough reason to go back for sure.

 

:brew:

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nice climb - you really that afraid someone's gonna try to claim your pictures? sorta detracts from enjoying'em...

 

 

Well, Tim does photography for a living, so he just makes sure all the photos he releases for free have his watermark. I know it's distracting but that's his business decision, sorry! :-(

 

Dan

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Looks like a great climb. I did Lib Ridge last year, late in the season (right after 4th of July). There was a huge avalanche off Ptarmigan Ridge one of the biggest I've ever seen, glad you made it safely with the ice fall. Congrats. Excellent pics too!

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nice climb - you really that afraid someone's gonna try to claim your pictures? sorta detracts from enjoying'em...

 

 

Well, Tim does photography for a living, so he just makes sure all the photos he releases for free have his watermark. I know it's distracting but that's his business decision, sorry! :-(

Dan

 

I called in a favor and Tim shared a few images with me for my blog w/o watermarks. You can find them there (though I didn't put everyone up).

 

I also editted Dan's great report for stylistic reasons, but I'm sure you understand Ivan... Right???? ;)

 

Anyway, great trip guys, thanks for sharing your information.

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tim matsui took those pictures if anyone was wondering.

 

IMO - if you are willing to haul 10 lbs. of camera equipment up a route like that, you can put anything you want on the photos that result

 

Not sure who "fixed pin on left" is though

Edited by ericb

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I also editted Dan's great report for stylistic reasons, but I'm sure you understand Ivan... Right???? ;)

 

:lmao:

yeah, i noticed that - that route just seems to attract all of us losers :):brew:

 

 

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