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[TR] Argonaut Peak - NW Arête 7/12/2015


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Trip: Argonaut Peak - NW Arête


Date: 7/12/2015


Trip Report:

Nick, Jim, David and I climbed the NW Arête of Argonaut for the Alpine III outing of our Intermediate Climbing Class.




We left the trailhead at 9am - a relatively early start for the approach so we expected to have a good bit of extra time to hang around at the bivy site.


None of us had been on the Lake Stuart trail past the Colchuck lake turnoff, so we were all suitably awed by the gorgeous meadow that presented our first view of our objective.



First glimpse of Argonaut, looking out across a gorgeous meadow on the Stuart Lake Trail


Shortly after this meadow we found the turnoff for the Mountaineers Creek climbers trail - right around 4700'. As advertised, the trail was quite difficult to follow but the trees were thin enough that we just kept a course in approximately the right direction. The trail became much better defined when we met up with and followed the creek again.


Eventually we emerged into a boulder field, fenced in by the infamous wall of slide alder. We'd heard other parties were able to almost entirely bypass the slide alder by staying low in the boulder field and traversing west to get to the real treeline. We followed this beta and found it accurate - we only had to do perhaps 50ft of moderate 'schwacking through slide alder to get to the real trees, and ascending from there was significantly easier.


After this we ascended up through talus until we encountered some slabby scrambling. Nick, in mountaineering boots, was less than stoked about the slab but we were able to make it go.



Slabby scrambling


From here we were finally able to get our first good look at the snow finger. To our disappointment, it was immediately obvious that the snow no longer connected on either side of the big rock. We decided to "take a closer look" anyway, and plotted a course up the right side of the rock.



The couloir leading up to the base of the climb. Our route shown in red goes to the right of the lower big rock and to the left of the higher big rock. The bivy site is just over the saddle from the left side of the higher rock.


This "closer look" turned out to be more committing than we expected. By the time we realized how sketchy and unprotectable the thin snow bridge and exposed rock was, we didn't feel any better about going down than going up. We moved right into some very loose, wet, scrambling to get off the thin snow bridge.


NOTE: for anyone considering attempting this route for the rest of this year: I would strongly recommend against it. I think the route was not "in" when we attempted it and is only going to get worse as more snow melts out.



Looking back at the snow bridge. We stopped here and decided to try to protect the next section.


At this point we all felt very uncomfortable with the terrain, so we built the best anchor we could (a bomber 0.75 cam and a questionable sling) and Jim led out over some wet slab and the rest of the way past the big rock. We were grateful we'd left early enough this morning to have a large margin of safety before dark, and therefor feel like we could take the time to protect this section.



Jim leading out on the slab. We weren't in a great spot for digging out gear, so Jim tied in with a bowline-on-a-coil (guess it's useful after all!) and Nick did his first hip belay "in the wild".


We continued up the snow finger and worked our way left of the upper rock. Once again, the snow didn't connect the whole way and we had to do more sketchy scrambling. At one point, David's step blew out and he started skidding down the slope. Nick grabbed hold of him at about the same time he managed to actually arrest. He stopped just barely in time before he would have run out of snow and started tumbling down rock. We were shaken, but still agreed that going up felt less dangerous than down - there were no obvious places for a rap anchor.


Shortly after this, we topped out at a small notch and found the bivy site just down the other side.



Bivy site. I've seen many references to it being at 7400', but it's actually closer to 7600' and on the west side of the saddle (we had missed this important piece of information in collecting our beta). Not pictured to my left is the tree at the start of the route.



As others have said, Tom Unger has a great route description for this climb: http://www.tumtum.com/climbing/routes/01-05-13-Argonaut.txt. My main comment would be that his pitches are all fairly long - probabably at least 50m each - so rack up accordingly or plan to cut the pitches short.



We accidentally cut this pitch a bit short and ended up with heinous rope drag on P2, which meant we had to cut that short as well.



Looking up at Pitch 1 from the bivy site



Tom says 'traverse right, working up ledges where possible'. I would say 'ascend the face, traversing right on small ledges where possible'. As I mentioned, I ended up with heinous rope drag while trying to traverse, and also ran low on gear, so I stopped this pitch at a small ledge in the middle of the face rather than on a better ledge higher up. Once David got up to me, we moved our belay about 20ft up to the better ledge so that Nick and Jim could do the full pitch 2 in one go.



Nick working on Pitch 2. Photo taken from my small ledge anchor.



I did the 6ft step as a lieback. From there we ended up on a broad ledge below the '15ft slab' that Tom mentions. Rather than climb straight up the cracks in the 15ft slab, we traversed all the way left to an easy ramp that ascends and traverses right.



The '15ft slab'.



Pitch 4 was pretty much as advertised by Tom's description. It was long and I was low on gear and ran it out a bit, but managed to make it to the obvious right-facing corner that is the start of Pitch 5.



We all au cheval'd the flake. The corner after this flake had probably the hardest moves of the route - we agreed 5.7 at least if not 5.8. I also ran low on gear and high on rope drag about 30m into the pitch so I built an anchor midway up the gully and let David finish out the climb.



The right-facing corner at the base of Pitch 5. Tom's route actually goes right out of this picture almost immediately.



We finished up the climb with a scramble to the summit, which involved crawling through a tunnel and then a couple of moves in a nice protected area to get on top of the true summit.



The final summit block, past the tunnel.



From the summit, we actually went back down into the tunnel and followed it east. Supposedly you can also walk around the South side to bypass the tunnel, but who wants to pass up a summit tunnel!?



Looking back on the summit tunnel


From there we did some exposed scrambling down the east ridge, then a traverse below the snow field to the rap slings. We actually found some bolted anchors first, but they would have landed us on the north side of the col instead of the south.



Found the rap slings!


We did a double rope rappel down into the main gully then up to a small notch on the other side of the gully, then scrambled down ~10ft to a tree for a second double-rope rappel down to the South side of the Argonaut-Colchuck col. There were plenty of midway rappel slings to make it work with single rope rappels.


From here we went on a nice jaunt through meadows and boulders to traverse over to the Colchuck-Dragontail col. We were able to glissade down part of the Colchuck glacier, but it was mostly melted out so we also had to do ~1000' of descending loose glacial moraine. (A general moral of this story: the climb is probably significantly easier when there is actually snow in the correct places along the route.)




  • Leave Seattle: 6am
  • Arrive TH: 9am
  • Leave TH: 9:30am
  • Start climber's trail: 11am
  • Base of Couloir: 2:30pm
  • Bivy: 6:30pm


  • Start climb: 5:15am
  • Summit: 12pm
  • Leave summit: 12:30pm
  • Find rappels: 1pm
  • Finsih rappels: 3pm
  • Colchuck-Dragontail col: 4:30pm
  • Colchuck lake: 6:45pm
  • TH: 9:15pm


GPS Track here: http://peakbagger.com/climber/ascent.aspx?aid=546814


Gear Notes:

Ice ax and crampons for the snow finger on the approach and the Colchuck glacier on the descent.


We brought a light alpine rack and about 10 alpine draws. Given how long the pitches were and the frequent gear anchors, if I did it again I would bring a standard rack and a few more draws.

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