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FA of N Arete of Varden Creek Spire 6/22/2007


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Trip: North Cascades - First Ascent N Arete of Varden Creek Spire


Date: 6/22/2007


Trip Report:

After looking at this fantastic piece of rock for several years while skiing around Silver Star Larry Goldie and I finally overcame our sloth and made the long trek up to try to climb what we thought would be the N Arete of pk 8252. This striking piece of rock rises up from the head of Varden Creek and forms a significant high point along the complete E ridge of Silver Star. We made this foray late last Sept and were sent packing by very thin pro and a thin coating of frost that did not melt. After two longish and very run out pitches on slippery lichen we rapped off trees vowing to return with knifebaldes. The rock quality, position and asthetics of th eline were irresistable.


In mid June of this year we ventured back armed to the teeth. The climbing turned out to be all we had hoped and so I think others might like to know about a route of this quality. We reached the toe of the buttress proper and stayed very close to the arete all the way to the last pitch. The rock quality is some of the best I have seen in the WA pass area. And it remains such all the way until a short very easy section just below the summit tower. The climbing is consistantly 5.FUN with a few spicey moves thrown in to keep you on your toes. We placed (and left) around 7 knifeblades in strategic locations so that you won't have to lug in pins and a hammer. Just stick close to the arete unless the climbing becomes harder than 5.9 then follow the easy way but steer back the arete ASAP. We never went more than 20 feet or so off the ridge and most of the time were right on the arete which gave great climbing and nice exposure. I'll post a few photos and a topo here but there are more photos on ncmountinaguides.com. The climbing in general is not sustained with just the odd hard move here and there. The exception to this is the 5.9 variation on P7 which is a sustained finger crack and licheny. VC_spire_and_SS.jpgView looking up Varden Creek at the proud line


the_prow.jpgSorry for the squiggly line


pitch_one.jpgSweet rock typical of the whole route


VC_spire_P5.jpgLarry following P5


larry_P6_VC_spire.jpgLarry leading P6. Yep, it goes up the RH skyline


VC_summit.jpgLarry next to the summit




Gear Notes:

Light rack of single small cams to number 2 Camalot, runners etc. Like I said we went in loaded for bear and were way to heavy. Most hard pitches have crux protected with fixed pin.


Approach Notes:

We are nothe guys to ask about approaching this thing as we went the hard way both times. What I suggest would be one of the two following options.

1)Camp at the Larch bench below Burgandy col and approach over the col and cross SS glacier and over the Varden/ SS creek divide to the toe of the route.

2)Ascend Varden Ck but reputed to open trees and not bad by moderately reliable local source.

We went up Mudhole lake trail and then cross country to the base. Took us 4 hours to the base.




It turned out that this was not the N ridge of 8252 but was its own seperate little sub summit and hence the unique name. So we did two short raps to get us back to the start of the last hard pitch and then down climbed to the snow basin below the E side to the Arete. Pretty easy down climing but it could be rapped from tree anchors too.

Edited by scott_johnston
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We attempted to do this route this weekend, a couple of notes. We approached via Burgundy Col which I would not recommend without snow. After crossing the SS creek/Varden Creek divide the descent to the toe of the buttress was on a particularly nasty talus field, huge mini fridge size blocks that were ready to roll with just a touch. It took us three hours from the col. The climb itself is in an awesome spot, feels super remote. We bailed after a few pitches due to the sparse gear. We might have been off route after the first pitch though. The first pitch was really good climbing, but had long up to 30+ foot run outs which was a little much for my head. Second pitch I am guessing went right, but I couldn't find any of the fixed pins and the climbing got steeper and continued to lack gear so I backed off (to the first ascensionist, after a small fir with a yellow piece of cord around it, do you head right into the shallow open book just to the left of the roof on your topo), went left and up until we bailed off of some trees. It is a cool looking hunk of rock for sure, but also a lot more involved then we expected.

Edited by skibum1087
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I asked Scott for some more beta on tis myself. I know they approached via the Mudhole lake trail (small user trail accessed a short way up the Cedar Creek trail). He said it was a slog but didn't think there would be a better way to do it. You can email the North Cascades Mountain Guides office and they can put you in touch with him (I don't think Larry or Scott are on this site much).

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I am glad to see that so many folks are getting on this route now. It is a worthy alpine adventure in a semi remote location while being doable in a day by a strong party using the Mudhole lake trail approach. I am sorry I can not give better or more specific beta than is showing up here. Stay as close to the ridge as you can for the purest line and best rock.


Larry and I originally tried this route in Sept 2006 and it was covered in verglas which was pretty spooky especially since we had only normal sized gear and the cracks were only suitable for knife blades. We bailed and rapped off of a small tree so this is probably the yellow cord that skibum refers to. However when we came back the next spring we chose a line well right of that first attempt and just a few feet right of the main buttress prow. Having gotten spanked on the first attempt we went back armed for bear (well, over armed actually as it turned out not to be quite so ferocious without ice) with lots of knife blades and a power drill. We didn't want to get skunked again. We placed and left knife blades where necessary knowing that most folks won't have them on their rack and we didn't place any bolts. It was some sort of penance to lug the drill and 20 bolts and hangers (I told you, we were serious about getting up the thing) in there and up all those pitches though. On P7 we climbed both cracks and the 5.9 direct variation to the right of the 5.7 is the better line.


The shots of the proud line at the top of the post were taken by me from the Driveway Butte trail out of the Klipchuck campground which has this nice view up Varden Ck.


It is completely possible to continue the ascent to the true summit of 8252 but it would entail a rap into and climb out of a notch to the S of the summit of VCS. We stopped where we did because it is the natural end of the route and keeps it a grade III outing. The ridge to the top of 8252 has the same super high quality rock as the bulk of VCS has; which is the best I have seen in the WA pass area and as good as Forbidden. Several parties have climbed 8252 as part of an ascent of the complete E ridge of Silver Star which is major alpine line. I reported on this route a few years ago in the NWMJ and Mark Allen/Mark Layton have written it up here.




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