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first ascent [TR] Sloan SW Face - Fire on the Mountain (FA/FFA) 8/30/2009

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Trip: Sloan SW Face - Fire on the Mountain (FA/FFA)


Date: 8/30/2009


Trip Report:

Short version:


Fire on the Mountain: FA/FFA on the SW face of Sloan. 8 pitches, 5.10+, III+ (1100ft of technical climbing on steep, clean rock plus 500ft of scrambling to the summit). Blake Herrington and Rad Roberts.


Long version (photos and video by Blake Herrington):


Descending Sloan after a moderate jaunt up its West Face, AlexK and I gaped in awe at the sheer Southwest face of the mountain. Alex later commented, “Walking along the base of the SW face was like walking along the base of the Upper Town Wall at Index...line after line of really awesome steep granite rising directly from the steep slope vertically for many pitches!”


Alex looking up at the SW Face of Sloan, 2006 (new route starts just off the frame to the right.)



With a bit of hype and a few Scurlock photos, I was able to convince Blake to take a shot at this worthy objective. Morning mists enveloped us as we coaxed my old car up FS4690 to the Bedal Creek trailhead. We walked through old growth forest and followed the cascading creek to the base of the immense West face of Sloan. Although this impressive face surely holds more good lines, we continued on to the SW face.




The mists burned off as we left the forest for heathery meadows and ripe blueberries, wasting precious minutes on the jaws of a giant.




Upon cresting the final ridge, I was pleased to see that the SW face looked just as steep and clean as I’d remembered. Several lines looked good, though they would need some gardening on the first pitch. We chose a prominent left facing corner leading to a chimney (upper right in the photo below) and some thin cracks up a face.




Blake getting dressed for work. We should all be so lucky




I asked for and was granted the opportunity to lead the first pitch. I did a little gardening at the start, but the rock was quite solid and protectable. My calves started to burn as holds ran out and the corner turned into a chimney, but an exit onto a small stance provided a rest and revealed a series of spectacular, clean finger cracks soaring straight up the wall. Working up these, I felt the fire spread to my forearms. I rested when possible and carefully contemplated each tricky section, hoping to honor this fine line in good style. Blake was very patient. Fortunately, the rock and gear were solid so it was easy to go for it. I cranked through the crux and savored juggy moves over a final bulge to a belay atop a pillar, whooping with delight on completing the onsight.




Blake joined me, casually shooting video just after the crux.




This would prove to be the hardest pitch of the day, perhaps 5.10+ or 5.9++ or 5.11-. Ratings reflect only one aspect of the experience, and often they distract from the essence of a climb. For me, this pitch alone was worth the price of admission, with 45m of sustained, outstanding, well-protected (I placed about 13 pieces!) climbing on solid rock, with multiple 5.10 sections and a really fun crux.


Blake then headed up the next pitch, linking clean vertical and horizontal cracks and a few face moves to a belay at a ledge.




This section was reminiscent of the upper pitches of Loving Arms on the Upper Town Wall at Index and various routes on Lover’s Leap.




I let Blake take the third pitch as the second pitch was rather short and I’d poached the best pitch from him on Tower a year ago. P3 started in a finger crack and then headed up a series of golden flakes, dikes, and buckets.



I did a hand traverse left under a large roof to move the belay



and then shot up a steep right-facing corner, brushing lichen off key footholds along the way. The angle eased a bit and I cruised up to the giant heather ledge that splits the face.




Lots more steep, clean, featured rock loomed above us, and we were shocked to see it was already 4pm. Go time. Blake floated up a left-leaning crack system and a perfectly clean OW corner to a belay on a pillar. There we found two old pins. Someone had come this way before (see comments below). I danced up a steep face peppered with protruding dikes, managing to sling a giant knob and slot a cam in a small crack. The end of this pitch featured a steep finger crack in a corner with an old pin. I clipped this piece of history, but images of it failing motivated me to crank through without weighting it.


Entering the crux of p6 (note slung knob in foreground)




Sunshine, silence, and sweeping views of the Mountain Loop and Monte Cristo peaks enveloped us. We savored the pristine wilderness setting.




Blake then lead a 60m rope-stretcher to a stance just below another large ledge. Dehydrated and fried from hours of exertion in the sun, I offered Blake what we hoped would be the final lead of the day. It didn’t disappoint, with a hand crack around a roof bulge and a rising traverse on positive flakes to a final corner. We unroped. It was 7pm. Our water was long gone, and my moxie had long since moseyed.


Although I had descended Sloan before, I didn’t relish the idea of rappelling and down climbing in the dark with one headlamp between us. But Blake had never been to the summit, and we needed to complete the route, so we stashed our gear and scrambled to the airy summit. We signed the register, snapped a pic, and turned to head for the stable.


Note moon in background.



I staggered heavily (Blake scampered lightly) back down to our packs and we admired a stunning sunset as we started the rest of the descent.


We rapped to the sloping ledge as twilight turned to night, but the moon cast its gentle glow on the descent slabs and the air was perfectly still, as if Sloan were gently ushering us back down to safety. Our ropes just barely reached the snow, but it was quite hard and our tennis shoes, one ax, and lack of crampons didn’t inspire confidence. Blake chopped a bollard and we rapped down to lower angle snow. The sound of running water drew us to a small waterfall of snowmelt where we drank deeply and split a Theo chocolate bar, smiling in the moonlight.


We retrieved our packs, including my headlamp, and headed toward the trailhead. But there was still one more obstacle: BLUEBERRIES! Evening dew had started to collect on the blueberry bushes at the top of the open slopes of the Bedal creek basin, and our feet skidded out each time we tried to take a step. Glissading seemed possible, but test runs showed the acceleration rates would be more like hard ice than soft snow. The ground was very hard and there was no way to hang onto the wet plants. Self arrest would be impossible. Death would be swift and sure.


I could see the headline already, “Climbers die on blueberry slope.” I pictured the deadly rabbit in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. We’d climbed a striking new route but been bested by some damp blueberry bushes. Actually, I’m OK with that. We decided to stick to the dense, prickly evergreen shrubbery on an adjacent ridge. We thrashed down that and rapped off a 4ft pine when we got cliffed-out above more evil blueberries.


The remainder of the descent went smoothly. The Darrington payphone ate my quarters while trucks of teenagers cruised the minimart in the wee hours. We drove to Arlington through misty fields, wolfed down tasty food at Haggen, and headed back to Seattle, arriving after 3am. My body attended morning work meetings, but my spirit was still in the mountains.


When the rains settle upon us and sun-kissed alpine rock is removed to daydreams, this is the trip I will replay again and again. Thanks for a great outing Blake, and for giving me the first pitch, the last swallow of water, the only ice ax on the hard snow, and good conversation to pass the hours on the trail.




Fire on the Mountain, 5.10+, III+, 8 pitches, 1100ft of technical climbing and another 500ft or so of scrambling to the summit. All free, ground-up, onsight.


The route starts in a prominent left-facing corner that turns into a chimney. This is about a hundred feet right of a prominent right-facing corner, and 200ft right of a vegetated crack leading up the diamond feature in the photo with Alex.


Pitch 1: Tinderbox. Start in the obvious left-facing corner below a chimney. Stay right to avoid vegetated cracks at the top of the chimney, and step right to a small stance. Climb straight up finger and hand cracks to a belay at a decent ledge. 45m, 5.10+.


Pitch 2: Lightning strike. Move right to a pair of hand cracks in a corner, ascend the right one and hand traverse right to a small stance. Link face features and small cracks to a good ledge and a belay. 33m, 5.10-.


Pitch 3: Bucket brigade. Start up a thin crack and then move onto a face with golden buckets, flakes, and edges. Ascend a prominent corner under an OW roof crack and then hand traverse left under a giant roof to a belay stance out left. Future parties may choose to link p2 and p3. 34m 5.10-.


Pitch 4: Controlled burn. Delicate moves up a right facing corner lead to friendly flakes and dikes and a giant heather ledge that bisects the SW face. 40m, 5.8.


Pitch 5: Firebreak. Ascend a left-trending crack system near the top of p4. This leads to a clean ramp and a stellar golden dihedral with an OW crack (one #4 useful here). Finish on a pedestal near old pins and some cracks. 45m, 5.9.


Pitch 6: Alpine ladder. Scale a steep face on amazing dikes, follow the ladder leftward up hero climbing, and finish up a steep corner with a pin. 40m, 5.10.


Pitch 7: Smoldering embers. Shoot straight up the featured face to a giant heather ledge. 63m, 5.7.


Pitch 8: Final flare-up. Ascend a hand crack that jogs left around a small roof. Continue up cracks, trend left on positive flakes, and finish up a corner to a ledge. 45m, 5.10.


Scamper up to the obvious corkscrew route trail. Change into comfortable shoes, stash gear, and scramble unroped to the summit.


Beckey lists a route on the SW face, but what he calls the SW face is more like a route that starts on the South face, crosses a ridge mid-height onto the SW face, and follows easy ground to a shoulder. This is very different from what we experienced.


Based on the position of the few pitons we encountered, we believe someone climbed p5, p6, and p7 at some point, aiding through the steep finger crack crux on p6. We’d be interested to hear if anyone knows more about the nature of that route. The condition of p1, p2, p3, p4, and p8 suggests they had not been climbed prior to our ascent.


I've attempted to draw our line on a classic Scurlock shot. Red is roped climbing on p1 to p8 and green is unroped scrambling to the summit.



Gear Notes:


Stoppers work particularly well, including a few micronuts. We brought double cams to #3 camalot and one #4 camalot and used it all. We took a few pins but never needed them. The OW on p5 might take a #5 or #6 but Blake did fine without them. A single 60m rope is sufficient. An ice ax might handy for the snow. Go get some!



Approach Notes:


Bedal Creek trail to the basin below the West Face. Ascend Blueberry Hill to a treed shoulder, traverse shoulder briefly, enter the basin below the SW face. The route starts in a prominent left-facing corner that turns into a chimney. This is about a hundred feet right of a prominent right-facing corner, and 200ft right of a vegetated crack leading up the diamond feature in the photo with Alex above. Perhaps 2 hrs from the car to the base of route.


Descent: Follow the corkscrew trail around to the South face, and down climb or rappel an obvious gully to a giant ramp. Descend eastward down the ramp until able to do a single rope rappel to the snow. Traverse toward the South shoulder, cross over this, and descend back to the base of the route. Retrace the approach back to the Bedal Creek trailhead.


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nice!! Since i did the corkscrew route i have always wanted to do a rock route on this bugger. The routes and fun to be found and had on its faces and ridges make me :)... . Some day...


Love the tr and GOOD jarb!!


thanks for sharing.

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Thanks. Twas a great day out. There are definetely more lines to be had on that wall.


The SW face of Sloan, and this route in particular, has a lot going for it. The rock is steep, clean, featured, and readily protectable. The views and alpine wilderness ambience are outstanding. The route tops out on the summit of a spectacular peak. There is a good road to the trailhead. The approach and descent follow a good trail and obvious cross-country alpine routes. The descent passes the base of the route, allowing one to retrieve/cache extra food, liquids, headlamps, shoes, etc. The SW aspect means that the face likely melts early in the season and dries out fast after rainstorms. There is no bushwhacking (unless blueberries are wet) or glacier travel required, though snow may be hard. There is water along much of the approach. Competent 5.10 climbers should have no trouble doing this route car to car in a day. The 5.10+ crux on the first pitch could easily be aided if necessary. It should be fairly easy to bail off the giant ledge at 400ft if necessary.


Re-reading, it sounds like we scoped out one or more lines on the wall before choosing one. In reality, you approach from the side, so you can really only scope the first 80-100ft. The only info we had on rock past the first 100ft came from that Scurlock photo and the one of Alex. As they say, it's better to be lucky than good.

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There are definetely more lines to be had on that wall.


someone needs to pioneer a new line and call it 'scarlet begonias'. Then people could do the 'Scarlet/Fire' link up!


congrats on a your FA!

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That rock is something else. Overhanging 5.8 face climbing on clean knobs and fins! It would be an awesome place to put up mixed routes, bolting on lead.


Here's John Scurlock's photo.


Route goes up dark face on left:





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It would be an awesome place to put up mixed route, bolting on lead.


Yes. The face climbing potential is mind-blowing.

You'd have to bolt by hand because this is in the Henry Jackson wilderness, thank goodness.

It felt good to not leave anything behind on our ascent.

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Someone asked about the driving approach, and since it caused us some confusion I'll post what I know:


WTA Bedal Creek trailhead directions:


Take exit 208 off I-5 and drive 4 miles east on SR 530 to Arlington. Continue on SR 530 for 28 miles more to Darrington. At a three way stop turn right (south) onto Mountain Loop Highway, and continue 17.2 miles (not sure how accurate this mileage is as we were not looking at the odometer) turning left on FR 4096 which is about a mile past Bedal campground. Continue on FR 4096 for 3 more miles to the trailhead!


Maps (Google and my old Gazetteer) suggest you'd take fS4080 and then bear left on 4081 to get to the Bedal Creek trailhead. This is wrong. 4081 is blocked off and you can't drive there from 4080. 4096 is not on either of those maps. FS49 wraps around to the backside of Sloan. Basically take the road that heads East that is between 4080 and 49. There is one 'road-looking thing' that deadends at a redneck gun range in 50 yds. The other is 4096.


FS4096 is not in my gazetteer or google maps, but I did find FS4096 on mapquest. Note that 4096 ends and does not link to 4081 as the map suggests. If you have further questions or want to know about current road conditions try calling the Darrington or Verlot ranger stations.

Hope that helps.


ps. My Toyota Corolla made it fine so you unless you take your Ferrari you should be good to go.

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Thanks. This is the one (not posed) that captured the essence of the experience for me.gazing_up_at_p4_fire.jpg

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Appears to be a high-quality rock climb. Very well done! Everything Infinite Bliss aspires to be.

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