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best of cc.com [TR] Cascades - Colchuck Balanced Rock/Girth Pillar/Thin Red Line 7/12/2008

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Trip: Cascades - Colchuck Balanced Rock/Girth Pillar/Thin Red Line


Date: 7/12/2008


Trip Report:




(copy and paste if the link does not work)


Here is a 3-in-1 trip report of a few stellar Cascade climbs. While staying with my friend Kyle in Bozeman on an ice climbing trip to Hyalite in January, the plan was hatched: a week of Cascade granite. My job was to develop the tick list. That was the easy part—the list has been accruing dust on a post-it note over my computer at work for a year: West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock, Girth Pillar, and Thin Red Line. And we couldn’t have asked for better weather. The Nelson guide and cc.com have some great info so I’ll keep it short—and of course, the full details are in the photos.

Day 1: West Face – Colchuck Balanced Rock

This route lives up to its reputation. Needless to say, I’ll go back and do this route anytime—just ask and I’ll drop everything. Its one of the best lines in all the Cascades. We left the car at 5am and returned at 9:30pm. The main bottleneck was that we were the FOURTH team on the route. We took an hour nap at the base of the first pitch, a short 10+, and another hour break waiting for the groups to clear the 5.11 corner crack and aid pitches above. As everyone says, the corner crack is really sustained fingers and small hands so I took a couple hangs. Unfortunately, the traverse pitch under the roof was really wet so Kyle had to aid a bit. Pitch 7 had a beautiful 5.9 crack leading into the 5.12- roof, which he onsighted free! I went for it, missed the awkward hand jam at the lip and took a hang over space, but I’ll definitely try it free next time! The 5.9+ chimney was a hoot (East Face of Lexington and Hyperspace were perfect “warm-ups” earlier this season) and it was an easy simul climb to the summit from there.


Gear: Double rack to 3”, 1 #4 cam

(5.12-, C1, 8 pitches, Grade 3)


The line up below pitch 5


5th pitch: the 11- corner PICT4664.JPG

The 7th pitch: below the 12- roof



Day 2-4: Girth Pillar – Mt Stuart

This route offers the full meal deal: technical ice, exposed steep climbing on a big mountain, and lets not forget, a technical glacier decent (especially when done in the dark). We bivied in the scree between the Sherpa and Ice Cliff Glacier, woke at 3:30am and headed up the Ice Cliff. Kyle climbed in his approach shoes and aluminum crampons with an axe while I carried a light tool with my leathers and steel crampons to lead the ice step on climbers left of the ice fall. We didn’t carry screws, but I recommend a couple screws depending on your comfort level, and when I come to think about it, for v-threads if you have to bail. I led the step with both the axe and tool, then dropped both down to Kyle and built a rock anchor on the adjacent rock wall. A dirty gulley of snow led to the approach pitches.


On the Ice Cliff, Climbers left below the step


The short step



I took the first block, 3 approach pitches of 5.6-5.8 steps and the first pitch on Girth Pillar. The bottom of the crack was a bit wet so I climbed up the corner 15’ before making a wide step left into a sweet 5.10 crack to a small ledge. I set up the haul line for the pack but this was a major slow down—I don’t recommend hauling on an 8.1mm rope with a tibloc—I shredded my sheath quite a bit to retire my third rope. Kyle led from here, including a cruxy finger traverse at 10+. For the third pitch, Kyle took the obvious line up the center of the pillar, which offered over 100’ of solid hand jams. At a white sling, you have an option to cut left into the original 11c, but this is where the left half of the pillar collapsed in the 90s. After a short OW, easier simul climbing led to the false summit.

Pitch 1 of Girth Pillar


Pitch 2


The short OW above the pillar



Here is where we messed up: the descent. If we got it right the first time, we would have saved 4+ hours and likely gotten back to the car on day 2. However, we misread the beta and traversed on the south side all the way to the base of Sherpa Peak before regaining valuable feet lost to descend the gulley at the far (climbers) right. After 1,500’ of downclimbing 40 degree snow, we found a rap station over the schrund at dark. I’ll spare you the details, but we zigzagged left and right in a moonless night before finding our way down to our bivy by 3am. Like the guidebook says, stay to the climbers right and downclimb slabs and snow to a short rap. Avoid the gulley and climbers left. We hiked out the next morning and drove to Mazama.


Gear: 1 axe/tool each, double rack to 2”, 1 #3, 8.1mm haul line and a 60m single.

(5.11, 9 pitches, Grade 5)

Day 5: Rest, EAT, pack


Day 6-7: Thin Red Line – Liberty Bell


We were both excited to aid climb—Kyle especially. For some reason, 7 pitches of aid and an A3 crux lured us over Liberty Crack which offers more free climbing than aid. Plus, this would be our first big wall, complete with hauling and an overnight bivy—a perfect warm-up for Yosemite. We slept in a bit and started the route at 7am. After an unobvious first pitch of 5.9, we had 7 pitches to aid and haul. With a pulley and ascenders, the hauling was quick and easy for each pitch. Kyle led the A3 corner hammerless, me the A2 roof, Kyle the A2 arch and wild 5th pitch which entailed a pendulum, hook move, and A2+ double roofs. I continued on 2 long pitches of aid and free climbing to reach a small roof below the M&M ledge at dusk. Kyle finished it up and set up our anchor on the M&M ledge. We stayed anchored in all night on a small sloping ledge. We finished up 4 more pitches of 5.7/5.8 to the top the next morning, downclimbed and rapped over the Overexposure route to the Concord-Liberty Bell col. We reached the Blue Lake Trailhead at 2pm, and after 32 hours, we could finally take off our harnesses.


Pitch 2


Pitch 4


Pitch 5


Following Pitch 5


Our bivy on the M&M ledge




Gear: Double rack to 3.5”, 2 sets of stoppers, metolious brass aid nuts, HB brass set (highly recommended), small cam hooks, a talon, large hook, 3 sets of aiders, 2 sets of ascenders (1 for hauling, 1 for jugging), pulley. 1 small pack, 1 large pack with haul line, food (no stove), 7 liters of water. We also carried a hammer, 4 copperheads, chisel, 5-6 various knifeblades and lost arrows that we never had to place—it goes clean so you can leave the hammer at home.

(5.9 C3, 12 pitches, Grade 5)


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Sounds like you guys are ready for Yose. I think any climber would like to put those three together in one trip. Congrats!

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Bozeman in the house! :rocken: Way to ride 'em boys! :rawk:


I gotta ask: did that take care of all the climbs on your dusty post it note? If not what's left? Or did you already make a new one? :)



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Nice, great pictures!

You have a good outlook on life to call those CBR chimneys 'a hoot'.



We were above you on CBR that Sunday, and I walked past you guys on the Blue Lake Trail this Saturday, when you were coming back down with gear still on. :wave:

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What a great week of climbing! Nice job on the climbs and taking the plan from post-it to reality.

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Joe you are the man!! Hope ya'll were "super-safe" on the bivy ledge!! Don't let vonHagel see this TR or his cast will explode with jealousy!! Great Work Bro!!!



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Joe - nice work from Redoubt to these climbs! Impressive season you've been having so far!

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