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[TR] Tower Mountain - Southeast Ridge 9/28/2008

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Trip: Tower Mountain - Southeast Ridge


Date: 9/28/2008


Trip Report:

A fabulous weather window opened up so Blake and I headed for the hills, hoping to climb a new line on the NE face of Tower Mountain.


Whoever says everything has been climbed out needs to pore over Scurlock photos and do some homework, as Blake did.


This face has only been climbed once, as far as we can tell, by Doorish and Cudkowicz twenty years ago. Their route is on the far right side of the face. The sheer E side, including this giant cave, is terra incognita.


We parked at the Swamp Creek pull-out, crossed the creek, and headed up the shoulder of Hardy. There was essentially no bushwhacking, but sidehilling on pea-sized scree over hard dirt and rock was mildly annoying. We traversed through fabulous alpine meadows to the PCT and found a lovely campsite under the West face of Tower. With time on our hands, we opted for a lazy afternoon of bouldering in the sunshine.








There were oodles of people camped up by the little lakes, but we found a good site down by the PCT. Several parties did the scramble route on Tower on Saturday. We met other groups on the cusp of completing their PCT traverse. Spirits were high.


Night brought sleep and an amazing array of stars. In the morning we headed down the trail and ascended one of many gullies to the E ridge. We peeked over the edge to get our first look of the NE face.




We weighed our options. Hmmm. We got a late start, Beckey reports the face is shattered rock, there might be ice and snow in cracks and crevices due to a cold storm a few days earlier, the approach ledge is snowy and downsloping over a deadly drop, the lower reaches of the face have roofs with no signs of crack lines, and (let's be honest here) the vertical sweep of uncharted rock with no evidence of continuous protectable lines was a tad intimidating. There is no doubt that this face will hold one or more great lines, but we weren't psyched for the challenge today.


So it was off to climb the SE ridge (red line in photo above). It seems like an obvious route, but we're not aware of anyone having climbed it except for Steve House and Scott Johnston who bailed off during a winter attempt.


So off we went. There was one airy scrambling moment down low.




Then I headed up the first steep band.




The rock was great, cracks were solid, and lichen could be mostly avoided. Perhaps 5.7ish.




Views toward the PCT, WA pass, and the top of Swamp Creek were lovely.




More scrambling. Then Blake lead a lovely handcrack that was too short. 5.7ish.




Blake picked out a cool line through the upper headwall and started up. About 5.9+




I suggested Blake stop and belay at a stance so he wouldn't get caught at the end of the rope in a hard section up higher. He brought me up.




Despite my insistence that he should lead on because this was still his pitch, Blake handed over the sharp end to me. What a gentleman. I was glad to oblige.




This is one of the best pitches I've lead in the mountains. The rock was solid and clean, the line followed a vertical dihedral with a thin crack that opened up to finger slots or wider from time to time, some technical stemming allowed just enough rests, gear was always solid, and there were multiple little cruxes to surprise and entertain. 5.10ish.




The pitch ended a few feet from the summit. Unfortunately, we were turned back by a stack of teetering blocks guarding the last 7 feet, so I guess we didn't complete the route...




We descended our route and hiked out on the PCT instead of retracing our cross country approach. In the choice between long, easy mileage versus shorter but rougher terrain we chose the path we had not yet traveled. It made for a lovely alpine circuit.




After about ten miles, we hit the road at Rainy Pass and still had to get back down to the car. Cars whizzed by Blake's extended thumb in the twilight. Still feeling guilty after poaching the best pitch on the route, I volunteered to run to get the car (6% downhill grade for the first mile). I got two miles before Blake got picked up and spared me the final mile.


Well, it certainly wasn't the NE face, but we had a fun time on the SE ridge. We saw no evidence anyone has climbed any of these pitches before, but people have clearly gone down nearby, as evidenced by old and new slings. Was it a FA? Maybe, maybe not. It was new to us. Was it even a route? You be the judge. It goes like this: 3rd and 4th class scrambling, 60m 5.7, 3rd class scrambling, 20m 5.7, 2nd class scrambling, 55m 5.10, summit. Was it fun? Certainly. Would we recommend it to others? Yes, if you combine it with something else in the area to make the approach worthwhile. It's a bit far to go for the amount of climbing, but every pitch was high quality.


Blake is moving on to adventures in other corners of the globe, and I have limited time to explore backcountry routes. Thus, we urge YOU to put up a new line on the amazing NE face of Tower Mountain. If, as we expect, the rock is great and an 800 ft line of 5.10-5.11ish steep and sustained climbing is found, it will be one of the finest routes in the Cascades. Blake and I will gladly follow in your chalk prints.


Go get it!


Gear Notes:

Standard rack.


Approach Notes:

Park at Swamp Creek, cross creek, ascend Mt Hardy shoulder, traverse to the PCT, camp, hike PCT to SE shoulder of Tower, ascend a friendly gully.


We hiked out the PCT. You could hike in this way if you choose.


The loop would be better if you stashed a bike at Rainy Pass.

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Nice. That's a mighty perty place, and the rock on that route sounds better than I would have expected based on what I've seen on other parts of Tower.

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Great TR!


Looks like a fun trip and boy does that NE face look steep and hard and quality.


Was the shoulder you guys traveled to the E of Hardy?

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Was the shoulder you guys traveled to the E of Hardy?


Yes. From the Swamp creek trailhead/parking you cross Swamp creek and go straight up a timbered rib to the Southwest slope of Hardy, traverse ad nauseam, and follow an open ridge to Methow Pass East of Hardy. Access to this route and the NE face is via a notch on the SE corner of the mountain. You can easily get there by hiking the PCT East for about a mile and then ascending the best looking gully you can find (there are many). You might check with the map. We didn't bring either map or compass and I don't have one handy now.


That NE face is a worthy objective, in my humble opinion.


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