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[TR] Big Four - Upper North Face 12/5/2009

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Trip: Big Four - Upper North Face


Date: 12/5/2009


Trip Report:

Justus_S drove up to the Mountain Loop Highway before work this past week, and took some photos of the N Face of Big Four. It looked like it could be in climbing shape given the great snow conditions and clear weather, but we weren't sure about the portion down low, so we were intent to check it out ourselves.


Justus, therunningdog, and I left Seattle at 1:30AM this morning and drove to the parking area for Big Four Ice Caves. We walked out and looked at the North Face, basking in the bright moonlight. Although the upper portion of the face looked great, the lower face where polished slabs guard the way was absent of snow. We decided to check out a route up Dry Gulch that crosses over into the bowl below the upper half of the N Face. This would enable us to bypass the tricky lower portion of the face in the dark.


We arrived at milepost 27 off the Mtn Loop at about 3:15AM. After 30 minutes of packing up our gear and remarking how cold it was, we were off. We headed downhill to cross the River, 'schwacking through brush in the dark. Once at the river, we could not find a suitable crossing right away, and so we headed up stream to find one. About a half mile later, we stumbled upon a suitable log (albeit iced over). Carefully, we made our way across without incident.


From the river crossing, we headed up the hill in slide alder and devils clubs (still dark), aiming for the waterfall. Once at the waterfall, it was very tough to see the route, especially since the moon was crossing over the top of the peak and out of view. We poked around for about an hour or so, trying different variations through iced-over cliff bands, but eventually gave up and waited for sunrise.


When the sun came up enough for us to see clearly, we spied a gully to climber's right that heads up into the basin below the Dry Gulch route. We climbed this gully about 600' to a leftward trending diagonal ramp. This ramp was great, because it offered us practically the only route up into the basin.


Once in the basin, we traversed climber's left, then straight up into an avalanche cone coming off the E Face. From there, we cut right up another steep, diagonal snow ramp that enabled us to gain the bowl below the upper N Face of Big Four. We had not heard of anyone going this way before, but Justus spied it in hi-res photos and we figured it would go.


The ramp leads into some very steep terrain (65 degrees) with very large drops below. The snow was perfect though, and so we felt fairly comfortable through here. Perfect styrofoam!


At the end of the ramp, we cut straight uphill and gained a large saddle below Pt 4720+. From here, we could see the remainder of the route. 1500' of steep, beautiful ice leading right up to the true summit.


We didn't belay any of the final pitches, but rather did running belays with me leading (tied into the middle of the rope) and Tim and Justus following (tied into the ends, staggered). I placed a total of 8 screws on the entire 1500', and slung about 4 trees. Other than that, all the sticks were bomber, so we felt pretty good about things.


We topped out at 1PM, just as we had guessed from the get-go. We made our way over to the true summit, ate some food, re-hydrated, took some photos, then headed down to find the Dry Gulch route and descend.


The descent was steep in places, and we had to down-climb one vertical WI pitch (15'), and several 80 degree WI pitches. We didn't make any rappels. Again, the placements were all very solid, so it was very confidence inspiring.


We finally made it back to the car at 5:15, 13.5 hours after we left. What a great day in the mountains, one I will remember for a long time to come. Thanks to Justus and Tim for being such great partners. :tup:



Big Four's East Face at sunrise.



Tim happy to be out on such a beautiful day.



Justus starting up the access ramp.



Justus halfway up the ramp.



Pt 4760+



The upper North Face of Big Four in stellar conditions.



More of the upper North Face of Big Four.



Justus and I heading up to the first pitch.



Justus and I starting up the first pitch.



Views from mid-pitch.



Me on the first pitch.



Zoomed out.



Icicles on the North Face of Big Four.



Looking up to the remainder of the route.



Justus and Tim somewhere on the North Face.



More ice!



Tim, all smiles.



Mountain Loop peaks in the distance.



Nearing the summit of Big Four.



Shadow of Big Four from just below the summit.



Vesper, Sperry, and beyond from the summit of Big Four.



More summit views.



Tim and Justus traversing the summit ridge.



Me on the summit of Big Four.



Weather moving in?



Me downclimbing from the false summit.



Justus and Tim downclimbing to the notch.



More downclimbing.



The last of the downclimbing.



Parting shot from the descent.

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Strong work guys! We were on Vesper wondering about how things were going. After seeing the condition of the face, we were relieved when we saw your car at the dry creek pull off. Little did we know that you were heading back to the North Face! Do you have a shot from Dickerman that you could draw a line on?


Cheers! :brew:

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I,ll 'second,' Heinrich's "strong work" gentlemen. Great use of that portion of the Face, that was in shape. Quite timely thinking in my humble opinion.


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Nice one. Big Four is Big Fun, eh?


I don't know whether it'd be preferable or not but I think one can also avoid the lower North Face by making an end-run around the lower cliffs into steep and decidedly unfriendly woods right of the lower cliff bands - though I've only been down this way and not up. A short bit of nastiness should lead the climber into an open bowl below the Big Four - Hall Peak saddle, and a rising traverse left would put you back on the upper North Face. Where's that shot from across the way?

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Super cool! This weekend I was just thinking about Big Four... thinking the same as you confirmed - the snow conditions would be perfect... where the snow started ;)

Looks like a great climb, way to get on it!

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maybe next time you could post more photos! JK, great TR, i loved it a lot. stay well everyone.

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What peak is that just to the right of Glacier? Kinda looks like Sloan's west face, but doesn't look like Sloan...




Weather moving in?

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Hey gang, a rough line of our route up and down can be found here:




It was a great day out and a great access ramp to the NF picked out by Justus. Goes to show that a little bit of recon can pay off. Thanks Justus!


Sorry mountainmatt, I thought we were going up the ol' Dry Creek Route or I woulda called ya...honest!! :-)

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