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Leland54

[TR] Mt. Hood, Oregon - Yocum Ridge 3/19/2010

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Trip: Mt. Hood, Oregon - Yocum Ridge

 

Date: 3/19/2010

 

Trip Report:

Yocum Ridge, Mt. Hood 3/19/2010

Lee Pyke and Judah Slavkovsky

Account by Lee Pyke

 

It is 3:45 am, the night is cold (18 degrees F) and I am stumbling out of my bed in the trench of snow we have been calling shelter. The snow is slowly melting in the pot as we run up and down the slope and start mock fights to warm our feet in our frozen boots. We watch a line of headlamps slowly approach as other climbing teams make their way towards our camp and Illumination Saddle (9280 ft). The popularity of this mountain is not lost on me as a total of six climbers pass through our camp on their way to the Reid Glacier. By the time breakfast is in our bellies and all water bottles are finally full it is 5:45 am. Fifteen minutes later we are on our way across the Reid Glacier ourselves. Dawn is approaching and the three giant gendarmes of Yocum Ridge tower above us. Above all of this is the massive upper buttress of the Queen’s Chair. The entire ridge seems to have a decent amount of rime ice plastered onto it. Things had looked promising from camp the day before and we are optimistic about our chances. We make the traverse of the glacier in what seems like only twenty minutes or so.

At the base of the ridge just west of the first gendarme we discontinue our glacial rope team setup. Judah starts to make his way up the first of many steep ice gullies as I coil the rope. I head up the gully after Judah. The ice and snow is still cold and of good quality and the climbing is fun with solid placements readily available. Things are looking good if the rest of the climb is consistent with that first gully. The first gendarme is before us and we decide we want to take the direct route, up and over. We spot a section of rock free of rime about halfway up the nose of the first gendarme. The climb to the rock is easy but exposed and we are able to establish a solid belay anchor. This is to be the first and only true belay of the entire climb. Our anchor consists of two slung rock horns and a piton and opposing chock all equalized. Judah gives me the lead and I start on up the rime ice. Making my way past the upper portion of our anchor I begin to really notice the exposure we are willingly subjecting ourselves to. It is incredible! Here I am climbing my way through thick and brittle rime ice coating this tower of questionable rock with hundreds of feet of thin air on all sides but right in front of me. As I move up I find another patch of rock with a decent crack in it. I place a chock and have my first piece of protection about twenty feet above my belay. The level of concentration gripping both Judah and I is unbelievable. This concentration is not to let up for many hours. I find some good tool placements and have to commit to moving my feet up and over and overhanging chunk of the crumbling lattice of ice. Move after move I have to commit to trusting my tools and the ice they are sunken into. Many of these moves take some pumping up. I find another tiny crack in some exposed rock and pound in another piton, second pro. There are a few more airy moves and I’m on what seems to be the summit ridge of the gendarme. I luckily find a nice large horn of rock and sling it. I set up the belay and call for Judah to follow. It is about 9:30 when Judah reaches me at my tiny perch just below the peak of the gendarme. We coil the rope and carefully head to the peak. What we find on top is precarious beyond imagining. The summit of the first gendarme is about twenty feet long and three feet wide at one end quickly tapering to no more than four inches wide at the far end. On the south side of this knife ridge we are standing on is about sixty feet of vertical cliff and open air ending in a steep snowfield about a hundred feet long. After the snowfield is another drop of about three hundred feet back down to the Reid. On the north side is a sheer drop of a thousand feet or more down to the Sandy Glacier. So in other words this is a place for zero mistakes and missteps as the exposure is do or die! We gingerly make our way to the narrow end of the pinnacle and find ourselves in a precarious position. The rime ice is not very substantial at this point and I find myself with one foot on a small chunk of ice overhanging the sixty foot drop on my right and my other foot wedged into a crack in the rock by my toe points. One tool is on the other side of the ridge while with the other I find a placement in the crumbly rock on that four inch wide summit. I banished many thoughts of falling as quickly as I could in order to keep myself composed. Both Judah and I do not like the idea of down-climbing to the next step unprotected so we sling the entire point with a long 8 mm cord and clip in. This pseudo-belay is the start of the creativity this climb will require of us. We both make it down to the next step and unsling the point. From here we make a short fifteen foot rappel into a tiny saddle between the first gendarme and the next knife ridge leading to the second gendarme. Judah and I were both ready to skip all the knife ridges we could for time and safety’s sake. After some searching we find a suitable crack to place a piton for a rappel down the south side of the ridge. This is our second rappel of the ascent and lands us on the snowfields below.

We coil our ropes and begin traversing west and up on slopes that would make most people freeze in their tracks. We head for the gullies leading up to the second gendarme. I am very thankful for my helmet when I feel a few small chunks of ice patter my body and hear the unmistakable whoosh as something big flies by my left ear. We quicken our pace to get out from under the cliffs which are producing such hazards. The rime ice and snow chutes make for good climbing and we take a little break when we regain the ridge. The views are amazing! To the north is St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams. To the south stands Jefferson, the Sisters, Broken Top, and Black Butte showing below the horizon.

From the second to third gendarme is a little break for the mind. A wide ridge (fifteen feet) leads to the peak of the third gendarme. We reach the top of the pinnacle. From here there are two choices. One may drop off to the west and continue along about a quarter mile of knife edge ridge or drop off to the north and climb steep snowfields to regain the ridge at the base of the upper buttress. We do not like the look of the rime on the knife ridge so we decide to drop off to the north. This requires a rappel of fifty meters down the sheer north side of the ridge landing on sixty five degree snow slopes of questionable stability. We opt for the rappel. The top of the gendarme is only about two feet wide and we start to excavate the snow and ice in search of good rock for our anchor. The spire the guide book spoke of is long gone, which is no surprise when we discover the condition of the rock under the snow and ice. After two hours of digging and testing rock all we accomplish is the realization that the rock of the third gendarme is nothing but a pile of ruble glued together with snow and ice. Every time we find a rock that we think will do we break it free with the slightest of force. Judah swears he feels the entire spire shudder in a gust of wind. We decide our best option is to place my three foot snow picket in the snow and rime just on the south side of the spire. We finish setting the picket and my shovel is lying flat and careless on the eastern slope. Judah takes a step down a little too close to the shovel and knocks it loose. It starts to slide and after about twenty feet disappears down a chute on the north side and we both know it is gone. We never see it again. Judah feels bad but there is nothing to be done but continue. Judah takes the rappel first and prays for the picket to hold. It does and I follow him down. The rappel is over one-hundred-fifty feet with some free sections over cliffs. We are glad to be off the third gendarme. Relative relief!

A large rock we had knocked off of the top made a huge crater in the snow pack before bounding on down over the next cliff. This provided a good landing for our rappel and reassured us that the snow pack was stable enough. Our third rappel of the ascent is over when we pull and coil our ropes. So far the route has claimed one piton with a prussic cord, one three foot picket with a long sling and two rappel rings, and one snow shovel.

The slope we are now on is steep and exposed. Sixty-five degree wind slab makes for some creepy climbing. Small surface slabs break free as we kick steps up the slope and some sections sound hollow. On slopes like this speed equals safety. The slope holds stable and we make good time up two-thirds of the north side of the ridge. We come to a wind lip which is nearly vertical on the far side. Luckily we find a good rock and ice horn on the upper portion of the lip. We sling one of our ropes directly around this horn and rappel about thirty feet back to another sixty-five degree slope. This makes our fourth and final rappel. We come to the end of the traverse and start straight up to regain the ridge. If anything the angle of the slope only gets steeper yet luckily the condition of the snow and ice only improves. We regain the ridge and reach a nice flat saddle at the base of the Queen’s Chair in minutes. It is 5:00 pm, the sun is burning and the snow is seriously soft. Rime is continuously tumbling off of the upper buttress. We did it! The hard part is over but it is late and conditions are at their most undesirable. We decide this is a good spot to await the return of the cold. We eat a very late lunch and try to keep warm in the sun as we recline on our packs. Throughout the day skiers below and airplanes above have no doubt marked our progress. We loosen our boots and rest as comfortably as we can. At 10,200 feet with a chill wind naps don’t come very easily so we must settle for resting our feet and legs as we watch the sun slowly settle towards the horizon. The Queens Chair towering above us is a five hundred foot buttress with massive flanks. Heavily coated in vertical and overhanging rime lace the Queen’s Chair is truly elegantly mighty.

Two hours later with boots retightened and sunset drawing nearer we gear up and set out on the last leg of the ridge. The traverse around the base of the buttress is steep yet somehow relaxing. With still wet snow balling in our crampons we make our way around towers and horns. We start up gullies and faces when I notice dusk setting in. I turn may head to the west and am awestruck at the sight my eyes provide. The sun is just beginning to sink beyond the horizon. The brilliant red-orange orb of the sun streaks the low long clouds in a glowing dark red with a deep purple sky behind. To be in that magnificent position during a sunset like that is something this account is meant to save. I never want to forget it. I point it out to Judah and continue up with renewed energy and high spirits.

Dusk settles and night follows. The moon is only a few days old and it’s crescent provides enough light to give the mountain a faint glow. The gullies are still steep but the exposure has all but gone away. A fall will no longer mean certain death. We are comfortably gaining altitude steadily. Our headlamps give us a good view of immediate features but for anything beyond we have to rely on the light of the moon. By dead reckoning we find the right gully to ascend and top out on the last tower of the Queen’s Chair. Yocum Ridge complete!

At 10,600 feet we now have only 640 more vertical feet to the summit. This upper slope is the most gentle slope we have been on since leaving the Reid Glacier 1,400 vertical feet below us and fifteen hours earlier. Not long after starting the slog up the upper mountain Judah hits his personal wall. I am starting to feel it as well and we take turns kicking steps. Trading the lead rapidly at first we begin to slow down and I start to take longer stretches. We finally come upon the boot tracks of other climbers from the Leuthold Couloir, another west side route. These are the first tracks we have crossed since leaving the glacier before dawn. With a final push we struggle up the last two hundred feet to the summit plateau. The summit appears under our feet and we have no more altitude to gain. Success!

It is 10:00 pm, we have been on the move for sixteen hours and are exhausted. The lateness is getting hard to bear and if we stop too long I am tempted to fall asleep on my feet. We stay only a short while on the summit looking at the night sky and the lights of Portland, Hood River, and Government Camp far below. Two large meteors pierce the sky as we make our way towards the chute leading to the Hogback. The smell of sulfur reaches us as we start our descent. The first chute is steep but only for a short while. We pass that and start plunge-stepping. Our descent seemed very slow as we plodded down through the highway of tracks on the south side. Stepping into hidden fumaroles here and there we finally make it around Crater Rock. The sulfur and other volcanic gases from Hot Rocks are starting to make my head hurt and the air is thick and pungent with the breath of the slumbering volcano. With under 1,000 vertical feet left to descend we plod on down. I am so tired I am starting to stumble. Descents are always the worst for me. There is no more goal pushing me on, just the real need for shelter, warmth and sleep. The heel points of my crampons keep catching webbing on my harness and tripping me up. About two-hundred feet above camp it happens again. I fall to my knees, roll downhill and start to slide. It’s not too steep and I arrest easily with my axe after about ten feet. I get up and keep moving.

At midnight the long awaited return to camp has come. Exhausted and sore with no water left we drop our packs and get out the stove. After melting enough snow for a few gulps of water I could do no more before crawling into my freezing, frost covered bed. Judah stayed up and melted a whole quart for himself while my sleeping bag slowly warmed to a comfortable temperature. I fell asleep almost immediately and hardly remember Judah climbing into his still frozen bed.

Judah and I both surmise that Yocum Ridge is one of if not the hardest established alpine route in the Northwest. It is definitely the hardest climb I have taken on and succeeded, both physically and mentally it was exhausting. There were times when I was scared but I forced myself to overcome those fears and concentrate on doing everything right. Those fears must not come to pass. Being absolutely self-reliant and having utter confidence in your skills, judgment, strength, and climbing partner are required. Pure focus, attention, and determination are also key. The next day at the parking lot unloading my pack I was overcome with a feeling of glory I do not expect anyone but Judah to understand. We had done it, we had done it safely and it was truly epic! I can now say I have done Yocum Ridge so that I may never have to do it again.

 

Yocum Solid!

 

 

Gear Notes:

We had a minimal rock rack, two short and one long picket, 100 meters of rope(1 50m dynamic, 1 40m static, and 1 10m static). Everything was useful and we were not wanting for more. Except for maybe some good rock to anchor to!

 

Approach Notes:

Approached from timberline previous day. Made camp at Illumination Saddle.

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I don't think he has built up his gallery and figured how it works yet.

 

Lee, you have to upload to the gallery so when you push the photo button while building the post the gallery shows up and you click the photos you want to add to the given location in the post.

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Wow, gripping

My friend, you have a talent for writing. Left to say though, hopefully not only while pressed for survival. Gripping tale, and thanks for your climbing and writing initiative. Tough to do either.

As for the difficulty issue... there may be technically more difficult routes, but done under safer circumstances. The pucker factor cannot be denied and you captured it well. My direct comparisons suffer due to the fact that we skipped the first gendarme, and I caught the route in great ice conditions, We were placing screws and good pickets the whole way.

Great work and welcome to the arena, Wayne

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Thank you all for responding to my TR. I believe i have some of the pics in the alpine climbing section. There are duplicates cause i wasn't sure how i worked at first. We were not sure how it compared to other routes and i am sure you are right Wayne. The conditions may have very well been the deciding factor on the difficulty of yocum. Looking back we should have brought them just in case but the route was almost all rime and we never found good ice for screws where we needed protection the most!

LEE

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congrats on bagging yocum, what an achievement! absolutely fantastic write up as well (send that into a few magazines, I'm sure it'd get published), keep 'em coming.

 

P.S. Pics? Not that they're needed...

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read your facebook post -- glad you put it up here. wonderful feat and smartly played. loved a lot of the descriptions, esp the first gendarme, 3 foot wide going down to a 4 inch wide (probably all rime? =] ) fin...crazy

 

muchos kudos to you both

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Lee,

 

Beautiful description. I was so happy to hear from Judah and find out he had finally conquered Yocum. We have eyed it for years. Judah is a college friend, we have climbed together on a number of occasions and enjoyed some great adventures. He called me the day after the climb to relay the news (because he knew I'd understand). Breath-taking writing too. Congrats to you both!

 

-Sarah

 

 

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pics people? come on, the man is a veritable genius in storytelling. fantastic experience and equally fantastic presentation of it! thanks for taking the time to write it up so well. I could almost feel myself there watching, albeit without the gut-burning "I could actually die at the whim of this cruel master" feeling, haha.

Edited by ClimbingPanther

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