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[TR] Nightmare Needles - Fire Spire 8/9/2015


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Trip: Nightmare Needles - Fire Spire


Date: 8/9/2015


Trip Report:

Summary: 26 Miles of hiking for 26 feet of hand crack


As part of the Boealps ICC class, Ryan, Melissa, Chris and I were assigned to do some adventure climbing on the East Ridge of Dorado Needle. With the weather looking bad up in the North Cascades, we decided to instead explore the Nightmare Needles area.


Our plan was to hike in from the Ingalls Creek side, head up Crystal Creek, and tag either the Flagpole or the South Face of Little Annapurna on Saturday, and then do a climb or two in the Nightmare Needles on Sunday.


On the way up, we chose some sub-optimal schwacking near crystal creek, I'd say it goes around BW2:



The terrain opened up around 5500 ft and turned much more pleasant, reminiscent of the nearby enchantments basin, minus the crowds:




Our plan was to camp around the flat area by "Dry Tarn", where we expected to find water, if not from the lake than from Crystal Creek. As it turned out, the lake was completely dry:




I'm not sure if the lake completely dries out usually, or if it is a result of this year's record low snow level. Anyway, the creekbed was completely dry up there too, no sign of it at all. We had to descend back down along the creekbed to 5700', where the creek bubbles out from under ground for a short stretch before disappearing deep below rocks again. There is currently absolutely no accessible water anywhere above this 5700' location anywhere in the Crystal Creek basin (we explored thoroughly). It's actually kind of interesting, I think the water flows completely underground all the way down from Crystal Lake.


While up at dry tarn, we took a look at the couloir heading up to access the S Face of Little A:




It looked pretty terrible, I'd much rather ascend that thing when there's snow. Not having brought enough water capacity to refill low and go back up and bivy, we decided to bivy where the stream pops out at 5700'. Ryan was stoked to get some climbing in, so we went to the nearby wall west of Crystal Creek, found a likely looking crack, and climbed it. First ascent everyone, one pitch of 5.5 with a V0 boulder finish with only 13 miles of approach! We called the route Ryan's Roof:




After developing this sure-to-be-classic new route, we returned to camp and bivied for the night. From the top of Ryan's Roof, we got a good look at the ridgeline of the Nightmare Needles group. I've tried to identify the summits/towers as best I can based on the illustration in the Beckey Guide. If anyone knows this area better and and notices any errors, please let me know (note, the easiest way to approach most of these pinnacles is from the other (east) side of the ridge, not up the face in this photo):




Sunday morning, we decided to go climb Fire Spire. After contemplating heading directly up towards it on the west face, we decided that the little beta we had described approaching it only from the east, and we chose to do that. So we contoured over around the bottom of the Nightmare Needles ridge to reach the gullies on the east side. There were a few sections of loose/annoying terrain, but most of the traverse over was quite pleasant:




From the east side, we could see this view of the ridgeline, with Little Snowpatch featuring prominently on the right, it looks like it's a pinnacle worth climbing:




We headed up the gully towards the notch north of Fire Spire, which included a lot of pleasant 4th class scrambling on solid rock:




As you approach the notch, the Ostrich Head becomes very obvious:




However, to reach the route for the West Face of Fire Spire, you head for the higher notch just left of Ostrich Head. I reached the notch first and decided that I didn't want to go any further without getting on my harness and roping up. Doing it right at the notch was super awkward, and I yelled down to the rest of the group to harness up lower down. I built myself a one cam anchor (our #6, which we had brought in case we did Flagpole) and clipped into it while getting out the rope and getting ready.


From here, you traverse out across the west face of Fire Spire along ledges with airy steps between them for ~30 ft, until you arrive at the base of a lichen-covered 5.6 hand crack that goes up vertically for 20-30 ft. There's a 2nd corner crack just left of the hand crack, which you could use to stem against or bear hug the two cracks if you want. But for me just going all in on the hand crack worked best. The first few hand jams came right out with the lichen, but after that it was totally solid, with bomber perfect little curves in the crack to get the most secure foot jams ever. Ryan followed me up, then Melissa led the crack as well. We climbed everything with our packs on since we wanted to keep our descent direction options open. Here's Melissa coming up the crack, she chose to layback it, it looked quite strenuous to do it that way!




Melissa topping out:





You can see the crack gets wide at the top (that's our #6 in there... I was determined to get some good use out of it since we lugged it for 26 miles round trip!), but by then you get jugs everywhere to grab onto. Next, Chris came up:




That one pitch is the whole climb to get to the top of Fire Spire, from which you can see another spire (Wildfire?):




Looking across at the ridge above Little Snowpatch. These might be the lizards?




Fire Spire showed no sign of ever having been climbed (though I know there was an FA mentioned in Beckey's book and then a later party that traversed over it in 1980). It would have been possible to downclimb it, but we decided to descend the West side back to Crystal Creek and do some adventure rappelling. We ended up doing 3 single rope rappels and 2 double rope rappels down the west face, with some scrambling in between the rap stations. We'd brought extra tat to leave for the rappels.








After getting off steep terrain, we decided to try scrambling down the creekbed of the small creek just east of Crystal Creek. This turned out to be much better than the bushwhacking we did on the way up. We were able to follow rocks strewn into the creekbed almost all the way down, schwacking for only the last few hundred feet down to the Ingalls Creek Trail:




Here's our approximate paths we took, drew these over on hillmap:





Approach Notes:

No water (or snow) above 5700' in Crystal Creek basin. The permanent snowfield on the map does not exist. Plan accordingly.

Edited by ilias
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Cool TR, I don't remember there being a water source that you could get at up there the one time I have been up there. I'm betting you guys had more fun than we did, as it was just a year after a fire that was up there so the hike up was really ashy. I would have definitely described it as sub-optimal. We were up to climb the Flagpole and it didn't work out, but it was a really fun trip up there regardless. It is a beautiful and rarely traveled place.

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Thanks! And thanks for the link Val, yep, we looked through all the reports on here for everything in the area.


Olyclimber, yep, it was actually pretty fun despite the fact that we did an absurd amount of approaching for very little climbing. It was just cool to be out in an area which sees so few visitors. There were certainly a lot of burnt trees and my hands and clothes were covered in ash after ascending crystal creek basin. That area is so dry and underbrush is everywhere... a single lightning strike could burn that whole area down easily.


We did run across a couple cairns, as well as a fairly modern metal water bottle in the middle of the bush whack on the way down.

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Nice TR, I've wanted to get up on that ridge but haven't gotten around to it yet!


I think the best time to be up Crystal Creek is late spring when there is still a bit of snow and/or water in the tarn. Then it is pleasant camping. It faces sort of south so the rock dries out earlier in the season.


It's a bit of a hike in though, if you find it there is a reasonable climber path with only a tiny bit of bushwhacking near Ingalls Creek. The creek bed has always been wet and slippery when I've been there!

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