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mneagle

[TR] Nooksack Tower - North Face 8/25/2007

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Trip: Nooksack Tower - North Face

 

Date: 8/25/2007

 

Trip Report:

I've been meaning to post this up for awhile but wasn't able to get it done until today. The correct date should be August 2007, but the TR format won't let me use last year's dates. Anyways, on to the story.

 

On my first foray to do Nooksack tower, I was still a North Cascades noob. After a full night of listening to rockslides coming down the glacier, we made it to the edge of the snow before my partner declared he wouldn't be climbing that day. He was right, we really didn't have any business being there at that point in our climbing careers. On the way down I lost both big toe nails from poorly fitting boots and walked the last 2 miles in socks.

 

On the second attempt I never actually left the living room of Sam "Spinal injury" Warren's house. I had decided that after being denied the tower once that we should now add the traverse of Nooksack ridge and tag Shuksan as well. After shouldering the pack necessary to accomplish this feat I immediately dropped the pack back to the floor and we headed off to climb Liberty Crack instead.

 

The plan of climbing Nooksack still smoldered in my mind for years. Not willing to let a mountain beat my ego I eventually conviced myself that I needed to up the ante. I would not settle for the standard Beckey route on Nooksack but would instead take on the North Face and, of course, still plan on the ridge traverse and bagging Shuksan to boot. I needed a victim to dupe...er, I mean inspire! into taking on this challenge. My buddy Rich who is a wiz at hard desert cracks was the perfect person (Moab trip) . I still owed him for the time he fooled me (as well as several other people including both of our wives) into doing a mountain bike circumnavigation of the Henry Mountains in Utah. Only after we crawled back to our cars did he inform us that we had just completed one of the top 6 "climbs from hell" in utah mountain biking. We had kind of figured it out by that point anyway. The fact that Rich really had minimal alpine experience and recently moved to the Omak made it perfect.

 

We arrived at the trailhead to find ourselves in matching orange and black. Team-Nooksack had arrived.

1_Nooksack_Tower_002.jpg

 

We headed off carrying pretty large packs, proceeded to miss the trail down to the river on our way in before backtracking and eventually locating the infamous log crossing.

2_Log_Hump.jpg

 

For those who care to follow in fools footsteps, this is a pretty accurate representation of the bashwhacking involved in getting up the wooded slope to the lake.

3_Approach.jpg

 

Finally we had our goal in sight. The North Face is along the right side of the tower, starting just left of the snow tongue. We intended on bivying somewhere over the summit near the notch with Nooksack Ridge and then complete the traverse the next day.

4_Nooksack_TowerNorth_Face_Shuksan_022.jpg

 

We made camp just before the snow slopes/glacier crossing to the tower. Running water and a bed of heather made things very comfy.

5_Camp.jpg

 

The next day we managed to avoid most of the rocks and ascend over mostly snow to get to the glacier. We traversed to the rocks just below the start of the route and then solo'ed up the choss to the start of the route. Rich is standing on the bivy ledge mentioned in Nelson. Personally I thought it would be pretty exposed to rockfall.

6_approach_2.jpg

 

The opening pitch had decent 5.8 climbing with good pro. We ran the first few pitches together.

7_Pitch_one.jpg

 

 

8_Pitch_one_2.jpg

 

There was a lot of fun, moderate climbing.

9_around_p3-4.jpg

 

Rich on lead. Still smiling.

10_Rich_on_lead.jpg

 

This is several pitches higher. You can see the faint approach trail along the ridge, just below tree-line. It's best not to descend to the lake at all. Up to this point the climbing is still pretty straight forward and mostly solid.

11_Sev_pitches_up_Nooksack.jpg

 

There's a traversing section similar to Mt. Stuart's below the headwall. Soon after this section there is a seriously chossy/shitty traverse up and right that really sucked.

 

12_Traversing.jpg

 

From that point Rich led out right around a blind corner and found the first section of 5.9. We both managed to send off car door sized chunks of rock and began to take the route a little more seriously. This is a view of the gargoyle studded ridge which was our next day's objective.

13_NookSack_Ridge.jpg

 

This is the next 5.9 pitch, which was longer and quite strenuous when carrying a large alpine pack. There is a bomber blue camalot placement that makes up for some of the dicey smaller placements along the way.

14_Crux.jpg

 

Finally we came to the last traversing pitch to the summit.

15_Nooksack_Tower_Summit.jpg

 

To our surprise, as we came over the ridge we realized we had been shielded by the tower from the gale force winds howling in from the south. We could barely stand up and only spent a few cursory moments entering our names in the summit log before descending towards the notch to get out of the wind. The weather didn't look good at all, but fortunately there are 2 very nice bivy spots about 100 ft below the summit that were well shielded from the wind. We got out our bivy sacks and waited to see what the North Cascades would throw at us.

 

My spot:

16_Bivy_1.jpg

 

Rich, still smiling:

17_Bivy_2.jpg

 

I apparently really offended the mountain gods, because they threw a wind and rain party for hours before finally deciding that snow was in order. We had run out of water the night before but had no trouble rehydrating off of the 2-3 inches of snow that covered us and everything else. That was the end of our aspirations to climb the ridge and bag Shuksan. We were more concerned at the time of how to climb a hundred feet of verglas encrusted rock and find our way down the Beckey route with about 100 feet of visibility.

 

Rich's bivy the next morning (probably not smiling):

 

18_Bivy_3.jpg

 

Me on belay, while Rich prepares to tackle the verglas:

19_Bivy_4.jpg

 

Through our disorientation we ended up descending way climber's left. After several raps off of a single 70m rope we had run out of pitons and found ourselves above an overhang looking down on the Nelson route. After swinging leads, traversing across wet ridges, Rich finally spotted a red sling in the distance. In what seemed like hours later, we finally had the comfort of knowing at least we were on the correct chossy descent route. No pictures were taken for a long time as we made our way down the hundreds of feet of wet rock and then descended the slippery couloir. Lots of crevasse hopping later, we finally made it back to our camp where we shivered in our soaking wet bags through another night. The next day was beautiful and we got one last look at the monster before heading down.

20_Nooksack_Tower_retreat.jpg

 

The long bushwhack through the now wet foliage was tempered somewhat by the copious blueberries that had somehow been overlooked on the way up.

21_Berries.jpg

 

Though denied the grand plan, getting up (and down) the North Face of Nooksack was still a pretty awesome experience. Gotta love Washington climbing.

 

Gear Notes:

1 set of nuts and 0.4 to #3 camalot single set was more than adequate

 

bring pins if you are going to set rapel stations

 

Approach Notes:

The trail down to the river is just after the wilderness area sign nailed to a tree. After the log crossing trend up and right to find the "trail". Stay high above the lake and follow the top of the morraine to a good bivy spot before the glacier crossing with running water.

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This TR makes me want to go see the Price Glacier firsthand again. It's such an awesome display of steep glacier ice - like a raging four-thousand-foot frozen waterfall.

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man - what a crazy place to be! mike and i did that climb a bit different but i'll still never forget it ('cept the hyrocodon laced descent which i can't seem to remember now actually :) we had 2 ropes and i can recall at least a half-dozen double rope rappels to get off after the sketch of the last bit of the norht face...

 

fuck! that's Man territory up dere!

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Sounds like a good adventure. How did the traverse to Shucksan look? Did you think routefinding was very hard? I was planning on going up there this summer but got hit by rockfall somewhere else and was afraid of choss for a while there.

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Sounds like a good adventure. How did the traverse to Shucksan look? Did you think routefinding was very hard? I was planning on going up there this summer but got hit by rockfall somewhere else and was afraid of choss for a while there.

 

This was as close as we got to the ridge:

13_NookSack_Ridge.jpg

 

I've heard from others that it is a lot of loose, moderate climbing in a stellar position.

 

Route finding on the North Face was a little tricky but not too bad. We used McLane's Alpine Select mostly and found the topo and description to be pretty good. Getting to the two 5.9 pitches up high was a little confusing. This is a close up on the route with an arrow pointing to the super chossy ramp that wasn't very well described in the book. Traverse around on a ledge to get to it and then tip-toe over loose rock for a full pitch and belay as high as you can in the high right hand corner. Then head out right around the blind corner and straight up to a larger sloping ledge (short pitch) with the next 5.9 pitch in front of you and slightly to the left. (see photo of 5.9 pitch above)

 

NT.jpg

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Nice jorb!

 

2_Log_Hump.jpg

WEAK!!!!

ha - i was brow-beat into walking across that thing - luckily i was so heavily medicated at the time that i was in the spirit world and could convenietly transmut meself across the chasm :)

 

here's me in full mediation mode :P

136approach_04.JPG

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what could you possibly have not liked about this sweeeet bivy site? only 10 feet from the start of the route...

136shit_bivy_04.JPG

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Just a couple of hundred feet below Ivan's bivy is a roomier spot. on top of a tower that is quite prominent in the "overview" photo looking back at "the monster" above, standing directly below the base of the route. There is some steep snow climbing from this point to the rock, so it might mean some icy snow in the morning, but if you want to leave stuff behind it would be easier to return and pick up your stash after descending the Beckey route.

 

One other note: I believe we avoided what is described here as "the long strenuous" second 5.9 pitch by traversing right 150 feet or more to a corner system leading straight up to the crest just short of the summit. We'd been warned that the "tempting" cracks heading up and left were a mistake. Long and strenuous, maybe?

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Damn! And there was me thinking someone had ticked it in winter this weekend.

 

There's another picture of the ridge here.

 

http://www.ademiller.com/climbing/gallery/cascades/nooksack_2004/slides/17_the_nooksack_ridge_and_shuksan.htm

 

All I remember thinking was that it looked really loose and ugly. Here's some beta...

 

http://www.scramble.org/robert/Nooksack.htm

 

Edited by Ade

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Damn! And there was me thinking someone had ticked it in winter this weekend.

 

There's another picture of the ridge here.

 

http://www.ademiller.com/climbing/gallery/cascades/nooksack_2004/slides/17_the_nooksack_ridge_and_shuksan.htm

 

All I remember thinking was that it looked really loose and ugly. Here's some beta...

 

http://www.scramble.org/robert/Nooksack.htm

 

Ha that is what I thought too! That would be badass.

 

Even though it wasn't winter time sounds like a good adventure

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That was my TR. I did that a few years ago. I would say it is pretty classic and not that hard. Nothing harder than mid 5th class and the objective hazard is fairly low due to the traverse on the ridge tops. Be sure to check every hold. Take double 60M for the raps into the col. The position is awesome - I wish I would have climbed shuksan on the traverse - but was worried about being overdue (which we ended up being anyways) - so the complete traverse all the way to Shuksan Summit still awaits the hardy adventurer. Winter would be a great time to do it - it might make it faster.

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Robert, I think that the Nooksack-> Shuksan (summit) traverse has been done a few times over the years. Les Macdonald (who also did the Labor Day route)...maybe even Jens Klubberud did it recently as well.

Edited by Blake

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Maybe... If they did it prior to 2000 they must have levitated down from the nooksack tower summit. There was only one obvious way to rappel to the col and there was not a single sling nor pin encountered. We had to leave several along with 40 ft. of webbing. There were two spots on the ridge that required a free hanging rappel - again we had to cut one of our ropes to create more anchors. It might be a trade route but I have yet to hear of (or read) of anyone else doing it. But now that the rappels are set a strong party could probably do it in a day.

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Les McDonald did it in the late 50s or early 60s - methinks old rope slings are not surprisingly not all that durable.

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I know it "has" been done - which is different than "it gets done".

 

In any case - it is a cool climb that is very obvious and to be honest it did surprise me that we didn't find more signs of passage. Since I am no hardman (maybe the opposite) the reasons I can come up with are: 1) poor rock (it is good where you need it to be) 2) the circumnavigation challenge (a mtn bike left at the lodge solves this) 3) the rappels into the unknown (they are there now - might need a backup)

 

Go get it - I want to see someone tick the traverse this summer. It is one leg of the elusive "Cascade Blue collar Triple Crown", the others being the Mt. Index complete Treverse, JBerg NE Butt and the Nooksack Traverse.

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Wow! Nice job, great story, and amazing photos.

 

It bears mentioning, on a board like this where many new and aspiring climbers turn for insight and information -- and where over the hill ones like me come to live vicariously-- that camping directly on the heather isn't the ideal situation from a Leave No Trace perspective.

 

5_Camp.jpg

 

Having said that, I've done it too in the past when I saw no other options.

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Colin and I were there earlier in the season and there are good flat spots on the glacier but that was April/May, it may get icier later in the year.

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