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[TR] Buck Mountain - North Ridge 8/23/2014

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Trip: Buck Mountain - North Ridge


Date: 8/23/2014


Trip Report:

Summary: We climbed Buck Mt. via the North Ridge in 20 hours on Saturday and had a great time. What an epic line! I haven't posted here before, but the beta is always helpful and it's nice to contribute some additional beta on this obscure route.


Details: We were planning on climbing Bear Mt. North Buttress this last weekend, but a last minute look at the weather models on Friday showed rain coming in on Sunday. Not wanting to do a heinous bushwhack on Saturday, only to get rained out the next day, we spread our maps out on the floor and tried to come up with a one-day idea that would be at least as epic as Bear. Buck Mt. North Ridge was mentioned, a "classic" that was rediscovered in 2009 by a party who thought they were grabbing the first ascent (2009 report). Unfortunately, they found a record of a previous first ascent in 1976 in the summit register. The reason for the confusion was that Beckey had mistakenly labeled the 1976 climb as the "North Face", when apparently it was the "North Ridge" that had been climbed. The 2009 party had words like "quite solid", "fun", "spectacular finish", and "worthwhile route", which was tempered by "the Gully of Doom" and "earned pro". Anyway, it was big, it was a sweet line, and it was short approach.


We drove up to the trailhead Friday night, finally arriving at the parking lot at 1 AM in the morning. After two hours of sleep we woke up at 330 AM, and were off to the races at 415 AM. After hiking on great trail for 5 or 6 miles, we turned off the trail and began bushwhacking through blueberry bushes and pine trees. This lasted for about a mile before we transitioned to alder-whacking instead. Normally, alder-whacking sucks, but we encountered glorious "old-growth" alder that allowed easy passage. After breaking out of the alder, we moved up a steep gully, followed by more bushwhacking, to access the glaciated hanging valley below the North Face of Buck.


Heading up to the hanging valley.



The North Ridge awaits.



The North Ridge of Buck was accessed by the 2009 party via the "Gully of Doom". Thinking it didn't look so bad, we started up a steep apron of compacted rubble and entered a narrow slot canyon. So far so good. Moving up the slot, things began to get kinda steep and we decided to break out the rock shoes and rope. I led one 200' pitch up the ever steepening slot to the top of the ridge, balancing delicately to avoid hitting my partner with loose blocks. Near the top, the rock became totally rotten, steep, and untrustworthy. I managed to get in two OK pieces before committing to the final heinousness, and fortunately nothing came off to tag my partner far below. Glad to be done with that! It turns out that this gully can be avoided, and I definitely recommend avoiding it (more on this below).


Approaching the "Gully of Doom".



Above the gully, we scrambled up easy heather and talus slopes. In the interest of time, we bypassed several rock towers on the ridge proper on our right. Down low on the ridge, the rock was superb. Absolutely solid granite. We were stoked! After bypassing a bunch of this goodness, we decided to hop on it. Starting around 1130 AM, we led up a long 200+' pitch on fun, solid low-5th rock to the ridge crest, belaying at a prominent notch. Fun 5.7 moves up and left out of the notch, followed by another 200', brought us to the base of a steep, prominent black tower on the ridge. Here, the rock deteriorated to black schist and became steadily worse, right to the very rotten top of the mountain.


Beautiful granitic towers on the lower ridge.



Totally solid, golden granite.



Stoked on the ridge, just before roping up.



Did I mention the rock was awesome?



Leading up out of the notch.



We climbed the black tower in 3 200' pitches, generally staying to the left of the crest. The second pitch was the most memorable. Steep 5.8 climbing with incredible exposure below, made all the more exciting by the rock quality and the lack of pro. With such steep climbing, it was impossible to fully test holds before putting all your weight on them. Each move was quite committing.


The final tower pitch.



At the top of the black tower, we simuled on rubble for a while. Sometimes, we were faced with vertical rubble, which made for delicate climbing. At a steep step, we belayed and I lead up a short 50' 5.7 section that was actually solid and fun, and then moved up on rubble covered ledges to the base of the final summit pitch. We then made for the summit in a vertical 200' pitch. This pitch started out nice, with some good jam cracks in the back of a dihedral, but quickly deteriorated into loose plates and blocks embedded in dirt. Ah dirt, that special spice. Fortunately, it was easy to avoid pulling on this mess by stemming up the dihedral. We topped out at 600 PM. The summit register showed no other North Ridge entries, so I guess that makes us the 3rd ascent?


Simul climbing after the black tower.



To descend, we went down the SE ridge. We made it down maybe 2000' on talus and heather before it got dark. Seemingly endless bushwhacking in the dark ensued. We slowly made our way down, self belaying by grabbing trees and bushes, constantly slipping on the steep duff and dirt. I think we both regretted bringing running shoes at this point. Eventually, we began to hear the sound of the river. It taunted us seemingly forever, slowly getting louder and louder. Just when we were about to attain the river, things got ridiculously steep and brushy. Then, we just plunged on across the knee-deep river, to tired to care if we got wet (actually, it felt great). Our torment then continued with an even steeper climb on loose duff and dirt up the opposite bank until we finally attained the trail at 1130 PM. And that was it, a short 1 mile walk brought us to the car, and dinner, and sleep.


A moment of reflection before heading down.



Neat dike.



More photos here

Movie showing how steep the ridge was


Gear Notes:

Ice axe and crampons did come in handy on the way down. Possibly, you could get away with not bringing them.

60 m rope.

Full rack with doubles up to red BD. Could have brought less given that not much pro could be placed.


Approach Notes:

You can avoid the Gully of Doom! Without that bit of nastiness, I would even recommend this route. Sure, it wasn't the most solid thing I've ever climbed, but what a line. It's like the north face of J-berg, once you see it, it just begs to be climbed. To avoid the gully, simply approach up the SE ridge of Buck Mt. to King Lake (see the description in Beckey, apparently it can be done with minimal brush), then traverse over to the North ridge by going over a notch.


King Lake with an obvious notch for accessing the north ridge of Buck Mt.



Maps showing our ascent and descent (red) and what we think is a much better approach (yellow).


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I gotta agree with the other approach, but you got up the Gully of Doom! and thats an amazing cirque to visit. Nice job and thanks for the report. It is a good line. BTW, the prior ascent was 2009.

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Nice. I and Gene tried that trip back in 2006 and it was a very intimidating place, in the end we did the SE Route, still a great time and definitely "different" up there on that vast summit plateau

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Thanks for the great TR. Always appreciate it when maps are included. The awesome Chiwawa valley needs more traffic/routes/beta.


FWIW, we climbed Bear's Direct North Butt last weekend and Sunday turned out perfect with only some high clouds. Glad you guys didn't go for Bear though - crowding at the belays would have detracted from the experience.

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Holy smokes! Another to add to the list...I have been searching for a nice techy route on Buck and now I found one. Nice write up!

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thanks for the beta -- I've looked at this line from the air, always been put off by rumors of dogturdite. your report and photos are far more encouraging than what I've heard in the past. thanks again - guess I'm out of excuses now...

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