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[TR] Bears Breast - SE Mega Slab 9/7/2014


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Trip: Bears Breast - SE Mega Slab


Date: 9/7/2014


Trip Report:

I still haven’t figured out why some climbs grab my attention and keep it, but the SE slab on Bears Breast is one that I’ve had on my list for about ten years. This wasn’t from the typical sources of inspiration- Beckey makes no mention of it (though it is prominently featured in a photo), and I had never even been anywhere close to Bears Breast in person. I heard about the climb through my friend and early climbing mentor Mike, and the description he relayed from Bryan Burdo was intriguing and stuck with me. About a year later, I read Chuck's excellent TR where he referenced the “mythical East slabs of BB mountain” and the hook was set.


Fast forward to 2010 and I finally got around to doing some research on the route. Somehow I got Leland Windham’s and Bryan’s emails and started pestering them with questions. They were both very generous with beta and patient with my questions, and detailed the history of the feature as they knew it. Neither were aware of any ascent prior to Leland and Bryan’s 2004 climb (anyone else know of other ascents?), but the nature of the slab makes it difficult to know if parties have come before. The climbing isn’t very technical if you follow the paths of least resistance (sustained 4th, with bits of low-mid fifth to link weaknesses) and Leland and partners didn’t rope up on either ascent in August of 2004 and 2005 (different lines each time). To reach the summit, one traverses north from the top of the slab to the Beckey route. Snow patches cling to the slab into the summer, so usually August or later is the best time for an ascent.


I was pretty excited to get a detailed picture of what the climb is like, but it was still four years until I found the time and partners to head in and check it out for myself. Joining me were some of the usual suspects- Sepultura, Trent, and Sparverious. It is a fairly long hike in to the base of the mountain (~12 miles?) past Waptus Lake, so I convinced the gang on a leisurely 2.5 day affair. We did not get off to an auspicious start, however. We (I) plowed through a trail junction just out of the parking lot, and ended up on Polallie ridge trail instead of one along the Waptus River. D’oh! Some cross country travel and a drop of 1000’ had us back on the right trail heading to Waptus Lake. Sorry guys.


Waptus Lake is a popular spot, and rightly so. On a clear and still day, Summit Chief and Bears Breast are reflected beautifully in the lake, and it is a glorious destination in its own right for the valley pounding set. At the east end of the lake we wove our way through the tents and stood on the shore and took stock of the route we had hiked so far for. It is quite a sight! I’m not sure if there are many (any?) other mountains around that have a 3000 vf slab of solid rock. The SE mega slab of Bears Breast is about a third higher than Squire Creek wall, for example. Head on, It looked pretty steep for soloing (to a hack like me), but I reminded myself that things usually look steeper and harder than they really are. After a short break, we left the masses behind and walked around the Lake to the junction with the PCT and, shortly thereafter, camp next to the bridge over the Waptus River.


I had forgotten how popular the PCT is, and there were a couple other parties at our camp. This wasn’t a bad thing considering that one of the hikers offered to share her excellent fire pit and benches. We helped to gather wood, and a shared a bit of our treasured Hunter. The hiker (a nurse) had some entertaining/disgusting stories that revolved around obese patients and unfortunate tattoos (Wet, Wet, Juicy, Juicy, Hit it Hard??!!). Needless to say, we were outgunned in the story department.


We were moving at first light the next day, traveling cross country from camp trying to find the old trail that is reported to go up Shovel Creek to Shovel Lake. We found a trail not far from camp, but thought that it was the old Cascade Crest trail and didn’t stay on it. Mistake! When you find the trail, stay on it, it will take you all the way up to the slab. We eventually rejoined the trail and were soon at the slab, maybe an hour or less from camp? From below the slab is incredibly foreshortened, but still a little steeper than I was expecting. Changing into rock shoes (except sparverious who did it all in approach shoes), we followed one of Leland’s routes (I think?) by starting on a rib on the lower left side of the slab. The sandstone is grippy and well featured, so scrambling went smoothly. Sparverious was in the lead and picked a nice path up and right following natural weaknesses in the slab. Occasional overlaps and blank bits provided bits of trickier climbing, but nothing was ever sustained and no moves felt harder than 5.4-5. But it just kept going and going! Never severe, but always good quality with very little looseness, it was a more fun scramble than I was expecting. Since there isn’t much in the way of ledges, you tend to just keep moving. Climbing unroped we made progress rapidly, but it still took us about two hours to top out on the shoulder. Certainly a lot longer than it looks from below.


As you are climbing up the slab you want to aim for the highest right side of it, where it abuts the near vertical cliff descending from the summit. This is where you will find a short gully that descends to another, longer, gulley that will take you up and left towards the North col and the Beckey rte. At the top of the second gully head left on a Class 2 shelf up and left to the actual col, passing underneath the start of the Beckey route. You can leave most of your gear at the col and head up. We followed the beta in this TR from NWhikers and it worked out perfectly, but be mindful of loose rock. A belay ledge collapsed from underneath Trent and Sepultura, raining the lower part of the route with blocks. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but if it would have happened when we were above them, it would have been a completely different story.


The collapse spooked us all, and we didn’t linger on the summit, returning to our packs via three single raps on fairly good stations (backed up a chock stone with a nut after Sepultura pulled a pin on rappel). From the notch we were intrigued by Leland’s description of a “fun adventure” descending to Shovel Lake and so off we went to the east and south, descending more clean slabs and snowfields to the treeline. Getting to the lake did involve some ‘schwacking, but it was never too severe, and I think about 2.5 hours after leaving the summit several of the team were taking a well-deserved dip. Below the lake you want to stay on the skiers left side of the outlet stream where you can initially find faint bits of tread, but mostly just rock hop back down to the base of the slab. A little bit below the slab you can find the better tread that will take you almost all the way back to the camp on the PCT (note, there is a great camp on this abandoned trail about halfway between the slab and the PCT, next to Shovel Creek).


I think we rolled back into camp about 11 hours after leaving, and we were ready to relax rather than move camp closer to the car (which was the original plan). More sharing of the fire pit with PCT hikers (father/son from Wenatchee), the last of the Hunter, and brilliant stars made for a satisfying bookend to the trip. The hike out the next day was predictably long and somewhat painful, but we did see a bear near the trail that broke up the monotony. Around the fire that last night, we all agreed that many would find the climb a fun and engaging adventure. Sandstone is unique enough around the Cascades that all of us marveled at some of the strange colors, shapes and formations we passed by. Bears Breast only sees about a party a year on average, so you will likely have the mountain to yourself. It is certainly within the reach of the average climber and located in a part of the range most climbers don’t get to- check it out!











































Gear Notes:

Helmets, 60m half rope, light rack to 2", river shoes for crossing Waptus river where bridge is out on trail. Some may want rock shoes for the slab. Don't forget the Hunter!


Approach Notes:

Waptus River trail to old trail up Shovel Creek

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Neither were aware of any ascent prior to Leland and Bryan’s 2004 climb (anyone else know of other ascents?)


I remember asking about it on CC in 2001 and getting told that it was done at least as far back as the 80s. The description was pretty accurate too, in terms of matching your description - lots and lots of 4th/low 5th slabbing.

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Interesting, thanks Drew. I remember some really old conversations about the slab on cc.com, but I didn't remember that folks thought it had been climbed before.


The register has entries going back to the 80's, but we couldn't find mention of the slab other than Leland's climbs. It would be cool if someone has heard first hand from earlier ascensionists. I have no trouble believing that it had been climbed a long time ago, since it is a feature that is seen quite easily from several major trails, and isn't terribly hard. I am a bit surprised though that old Fred doesn't talk about it.

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Climb: Bear's Breast Mountain-traverse


Date of Climb: 8/21/2005


Trip Report:

Short Version:

I summited Bear's Breast via many of the pointy things that make up the massif. I descended the standard route (SE face).


Long(winded) version:

Four AM, driving on I-90 toward Mt. Stuart a news "story" comes on the radio about the high price of gas. I change my plan to an objective with a shorter drive, Bears Breast Mtn via the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road.


A couple years back, hiking up the Dutch Miller Gap trail, I noticed that it looked like a pretty easy scramble up to the most western of the many spikes that make up the Bear's Breast massif. Today I needed to be back home by 8pm, so I figured I could head up the west side and tag as many breasts as I could before my turnaround time. I set my alarm for noon, and was hiking at 6.


The Dutch Miller Gap trail is beautiful and beautifully maintained (probably easier hiking than the Middle Fork Road would be!). I took the Williams Lake turnoff and followed it until it opened to a clearing below talus and cliffs leading up toward the first objective.


After much zigzagging through obstacles I was confronted with some more difficult climbing to reach summit blob. Switching to rock shoes I made a somewhat harrowing solo (lots of loose rock) to the first goal ~9:30.


The next summit looked quite precipitous, and the main summit a long way off. This was pretty disheartening, but I figured just stick with the plan and poke along. One bright side was the presence of an easy gulley down to the north which would allow me to avoid reversing much of the recent climbing.


The next summit, though quite improbable looking, turned out to be a fun exposed scramble up a precipitous ridge to probably the first of the 4 major spikes mentioned in Beckey. Still plenty of time left, I continued East.


Climbing along the ridge, popping over, traversing, repeat, I knocked off a couple more minor spikes. Whenever it appeared I was going to be hung up I'd peer around a corner to find another convienent ledge or crumbly rock bridge to extend my outing.


Heading toward the next two major spikes I rounded a corner and realized that I was just a short bit of downclimbing to some ramp and ledges that lead to what looked like must be the standard ascent gulley, above which was the main summit!


I checked my watch, 11am. I had an hour, so I bypassed the next two summits and headed for the goods.


It was a long traverse, but I made it to the ascent gulley as evidenced by a cairn. Here the rock was way better. Fun scrambling on solid white rock, and summit fever helped to reenergize me, but time was getting short.


I popped over a notch, breathless, and there was the summit block, looking just like the Beckey sketch. Quite surprisingly, I also saw a bunch of packs strewn about.


A team of four climbers were ascending the route. I greeted a pair waiting at the base and prepared for the final obstacle. I changed back into my rock shoes, put on my harness and downsized my pack to carry only the rap setup and summit necessities.


I was jazzed that I might actually summit the main peak. I worked my way up to the lowest climber, who was now alone belaying, and asked politely if I could pass. He wasn't up-front enough to actually use the word "no"; but, he hemmed around, looked pained, and said he'd be real quick. This got across the message that he was refusing my request.


I was a bit perturbed, but when I took hold of a giant piece of rock which surprised me by sliding down the mountain a foot, I could at least understand his point of view. A couple of missles dislodged by the three climbers above emphasized the point, and also had helmetless soloer me thinking that maybe this was all for the better.


I did some standing around, listening to the comic interaction between this guy and those above.


belayer: "TWENTY FEEEEET!!"

from above "what?"


from above: mwom mwama muhbbbbmayttt

belayer: "WHAT WAS THAT? (to me) Did you understand that?

above: mwa mway mwomj mawywyy blubbub fwaaahuuuh.


(stage direction: no movement of rope)

from above: --off be_ay --

belayer: "WAS THAT YOU JACK?!"

from above: mwa mwu maa maaa....


So anyway, you get the picture...this would have been pretty amusing, but at that moment my watch alarm went off. I was going to miss this summit because I picked the one day in 700 where I'd run across another party up here, and I timed it perfectly!!


Quickly rationalizing that I now had a much easier descent route than the way I came up, I decided I had a bit of time to burn. I began scouting an alternate route.


I eventually found something out to the right. I believe it's the alternate mentioned in Beckey. It was a nice slab, then some steep cracks which would have turned me back had there not been bomber constricting handjams at the length of each reach. Above the steep cracks I was able to traverse out right over an exposed bulge (with perfect stairstep footholds but no hands) to easier ground.


Interesting summit register contents:

First, there were not many entries dating back over many years.

Second, two entries from parties (LW(2), BB, JM; well-known NW climbers) who climbed the mythical East slabs of BB mountain. Both entries were quite positive about the route. They described it as "mega slab, 3000 feet sustained 4th class, one bit of 5.4".


Summit festivities and time to go. I was hoping to rap the established route (I lugged a damn rope all this way), but the fourth climber had still not arrived. After a bit of waiting and not much movement I backtracked and downclimbed the summit block via my ascent route without incident.


The standard route was good, but a bit hard on my now weary knees. It was very clean and solid, but quite exposed. I now understood why the climbers up top had been pondering alternate descent possibilities. More than a few nervous downclimbing sections, one involving a succession of long dead trees as holds, got me to the relatively flat base near 3 pm. Crashing some bush and avoiding some cliffs got me to Lake Ivanhoe, a good trail and WATER!!!


Made it home at 8:10pm (late, but within limit of acceptability).



Gear Notes:

hiking shoes

rock shoes

rope (didn't use)

harness + a few doodads (didn't use)


Good climbing approach shoes would have been much better as I burned much time switching shoes 3 or 4 times, and also ended up climbing more technical stuff than I'd have liked with my hiking shoes.


Also should have brought a camera.


Approach Notes:

Middle Fork Road quite rough after Dingford Creek TH. High clearance probably required. 4wd advised.


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Read the boldened portion from above


First, there were not many entries dating back over many years.

Second, two entries from parties (LW(2), BB, JM; well-known NW climbers) who climbed the mythical East slabs of BB mountain. Both entries were quite positive about the route. They described it as "mega slab, 3000 feet sustained 4th class, one bit of 5.4".

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