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[TR] Horizontal Spire - Ingalls Creek, Flagpole Needles 8/22/2015


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Trip: Horizontal Spire - Ingalls Creek, Flagpole Needles


Date: 8/22/2015


Trip Report:

This post ends my pattern as a cc.com ‘crawler’. Why this trip? Well, for better or worse, my short climbing history follows the trends of this forum. Sometimes I’m ahead of the wave, sometimes behind, but either way the climbs on my tick list are well chronicled. This one was different. Our big day was spent entirely off trails and we didn’t see a single boot-print or climber.


Our destination is famous and I figured it would be simple enough to find: the Flagpole. I’d seen it from other climbs and always thought it would make a neat, easy trip. Somewhat naively and somewhat intentionally, I left details of the route to the imagination. I took the following photos from the Beckey cascade guide vol. 1, along with his sparse entry.



This picture was misleading: these formations are not on the same ridge


We didn’t bring any climbing topos or maps. How could you fail to find your way to such an iconic formation? We’d follow his suggestion: ascend via the Crystal Creek gully, work our way up to the monolith, aid the thing, rappel off, find a way up the south face of Little Annapurna, and come back down through the Enchantments and Crystal Creek.


It’s Friday, and cousin J and I leave work after a half day and park at the Ingalls Creek TH. Catching up on family and life makes the 8.5 miles go by quic-, wait, is that the Flagpole to the east? Beckey marked our target gully probably a mile back. Turn around, is that the Crystal Creek drainage? Are those the Nightmare Needles and are those the Cathay Towers? Turning around again and I spook up a bull elk who smashes away through the brush.



Blood red sun, and the brush we hoped to avoid


The sun is setting and we decide to retire to a nice campsite, we're probably nearby the Crystal Creek drainage... Weird there’s no trails heading up any of these gullies, and honestly, we can’t even tell where these washes intersect with the valley.


We get up early and walk back and forth along the base of the formation that must be Little Annapurna, looking for signs of travel. Time’s ticking so we simply start up through the brush. It’s steep and with bear scat, downed trees, lots of brush, but no hints that we’re on the right track. J points out some young lodgepole pine growing back in the burned hillside. The incline tapers and we spot two cairns and crest into a dry basin with settled sand - perfectly flat and unblemished.


We’re now flanked by Porpoise point, a huge cliff that surely has more potential than reported.



Porpoise point, out of focus


Ahead we spot a gully that heads up towards the summit with the Flagpole, only we still can’t see it. And the ascent to the summit looks big, with some real climbing. Wasn’t this just a single A0 pitch, fenced by easy 4th class climbing? It’s 9:30am.



The climb up to the Horizontal Spire in upper left


J and I scramble up the gully for probably 1000 feet before cutting left onto the face.


We find a chimney that looks fun and easy, tie into the rope, and I lead into it. The climbing feels like 5.7 but it is loose and a kindof technical. I stretch the 60m half rope to the top. J decides to use climbing shoes and follows. This is our first climb together and we make a good team, but we have no idea where to go, so I keep leading up, taking the most inviting path.



Looking east at the Nightmare Needles


After four pitches of low 5th class and some 4th I top out under the horizontal spire, and the Flagpole comes into view! But it’s across a gully, on a different ridge. Joseph starts climbing up - I laugh at myself for screwing up the trip so bad. I was too optimistic about the time requirements, considering that we’re doing this with minimal information.



The Horizontal Spire



Prusik Peak and some of the Enchantment Lakes



View back down to the dry basin


We’re now maybe 4500ft above camp without trail, and pretty far off from our planned summits. He wasn’t sour about my routefinding uncertainty and extra 2 miles yesterday, let’s see how he feels about this! He gets close and calls out, “I’m worried about time”.


I think, “yup”.


“Can you see the Flagpole?”


“Yea, it’s right here! (haha!...)” He tops out and opts out (on the flagpole), and I agree. The time is 1:48pm.



J and the Flagpole



North Pennant Peak on the upper left, and Little Annapurna in the background


Now, last night was pretty cold and I pride myself on a résumé without epics. It’ll happen some day, but it really doesn't have to happen tonight. Additionally, I’m a little worn down mentally from climbing into the unknown for a few hours. The climbing is easy, but the rock’s degenerate and our unpredictable timing is stressful. Finding our way up the south face of Little Annapurna looks OK, but we’d descend in the dark, and I always descend in the dark. For once I’d like to really nail the timing and enjoy the evening. We even stashed two cans of Fremont IPA in a creek to pair with dinner, a motivating potpourri of canned chicken, dehydrated beef stew and Mexican flavored rice and beans.


Our airplane’s view of camp reminds me of the Cascadian Couloir following my late spring ascent up the North Ridge of Stuart. I really want to get this descent behind me. The negative talk in my head wins, and I won’t push to climb the Flagpole, or even Pennant, as J would like.


Let’s call it a scouting trip and rescue our failure. And so Beckey’s one liner: “it is also feasible from Flagpole Gully” motivates us to explore a different way down. I’m happy with this decision: we’re doing a bit of reconnaissance in a beautiful and remote spot. We start our descent, and for about 1000ft it’s a perfect road of steep slabby granite, clear of sand.




The Flagpole, high in the Flagpole Gully


We hit our first cliff band and skirt it on the side, with some downclimbing. Then here again, and again, and again, we encounter steep cascades and have to downclimb them on the side of the wash. J keeps morale high and leads the way - a relief for me because I don’t enjoy this part. It’s the Cascadian Couloir all over again, except it seems like it’s been ages since anyone was here. The brush grows thicker as streams from above consolidate and make a permanent flow. I realize that there is no free ride up from this valley (the Plotz and Flick approach from the enchantment basin is probably smoother). The view behind us continuously changes, and it’s beautiful. It’s a granite theme park.




Continuing down the Flagpole Gully


Our open gully narrows and we start bushwacking through slide alder. Finally, the tree tops in the valley appear through the opacity of the wildfire smoke and we’re getting close. It’s just a little ways further to the trail, and we steamroll the last half mile of bushes and thorns and downed trees. At the trail we guess that camp’s to the east, and start walking left. We’re at camp five minutes later, rinsing off in the stream and sitting around. It’s 7:15pm.



The final brushy push back to the trail


Dinner in daylight!. Now, the view makes perfect sense. Little Annapurna Gully, the Flagpole Gully, Crystal Creek.


It’s a slow sunset, and breathing is easier because much of the smoke blew out today. The sun is orange, and less red than yesterday. Of course sleep will come easy, because we’re worked.


Sleep is not easy. My legs are crampy and mice repeatedly run over my inflatable sleeping pad, which feels like an elk stampede in my midnight stupor. One runs directly over my forehead. They terrorize us and run around with impunity while we’re in the bags, reluctant to wake up fully and hang whatever they’re going for. I’m going a little crazy in the dark, and daydream that a mouse accidentally traps himself in my sleeping bag. Immediately, I pull its drawstring to a mouth’s circumference. The dreams get trippier and the sound of the creek moves under me, eroding the ground like an hollywood earthquake movie threatening to sink me. When the sun starts to rise I fall asleep soundly, like I always do when it’s time to wake up.


This morning we blast the hike out real quick. As I approach the trailhead, J’s in front again, he stops to observe the car. Sadly, my passenger window is smashed and the various compartments are turned inside out. Doors are unlocked and the alarm goes off, I look inside. There’s my bike, and my spare cams, the mate to my half rope. My wallet’s there. They didn’t find J’s either. Amateurs! And so I leave for a swim in the river, only to be be stung by a yellow jacket on the tender underside of my left middle toe. I figure this all paid back some close call on the mountain that never materialized.


In hindsight, we probably had enough information to avoid the errors in routefinding. The singular words you ignore on first read become critical in hindsight. Anyways, it's a good reminder that getting my bearings in unfamiliar territory is often tougher than I imagine. Maybe my intuition will get better with practice.


Gear Notes:

1 60m half rope

approach shoes

5 cams


many slings, cord, webbing


I may borrow a trick from climbing at Index and leave my doors unlocked, with a sign, to prevent smashed windows at the next trailhead.


Approach Notes:

Hike ~8 miles in from the Ingalls Creek TH on SR97


Neither the Crystal Creek nor the Flagpole drainage is well traveled. There are a few cairns high in the Crystal Creek gully but no trails. There are no signs of travel in the Flagpole gully. Crystal Creek is faster because there is no scrambling, but the Flagpole Gully is really beautiful up high.


We left the trail (north) for the Crystal Creek gully at a sign for Cascade Creek (that points south).


If you want to ascend the Flagpole Gully, you'll have to fight very thick brush for ~.5 mile. Turn up the hillside when you are directly below the Flagpole.

Edited by abogaard
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You're right, and I referenced your TR :)


I realize that there is no free ride up from this valley (the Plotz and Flick approach from the enchantment basin is probably smoother).


The neat part of this trip, for me, was that it was more demanding and adventurous than others this summer -- it was a slight glimpse into what Beckey and other FA parties were up against. Besides, I've hiked that trail 5 times this year and I was ready for a new view.

Edited by abogaard
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Haha - that's the spirit I'll have to embrace the longer I live here, huh?


I misread your post the first time, telemarker - I agree, the approach to the flagpole, up the gully from the dry pond, was not great. Exposed and loose.


edit - The Flagpole gully was slow going down low, but those views from the top half are unique and I'm glad we got them.

Edited by abogaard
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Ha! I was wondering how often people climb Horizontal Spire and I was really excited to see a TR with this title. It figures that you guys climbed it on accident :) There is so much climbing in this area that rarely sees an ascent. The wall on Porpoise Point is certainly inspiring too. Do you think that there might be an enjoyable route to the top of Horizontal Spire? What do you think that the best approach might be? I love the obscure towers in the Enchantments. Thanks for the TR!

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Thanks for the nice responses.


Val, at this point, the Horizontal Spire wouldn't have made my short list on it's own. Maybe someday...


The approach up Crystal Creek is actually pretty alright in hindsight, but my skepticism made bushwhacking hard. If I had been more familiar with the valley (it was my first time that far east along Ingalls Cr) and if I had known there wasn't an obvious point to leave the trail, it would've reframed that whole approach.


Climbing the east face wasn't great. Since the trip, I've read that there are 4th class ledges you can use to get to the top, but we did some 5th class climbing on a lot of loose stuff. If I wanted to find another 5th class route up, I'd start from the west, in Flagpole gully, because the rock looked much better on that side. TO do that, you could approach it through the core enchantments basin, as you did to get to the Flagpole (btw, your photos are down!).


I should point out that we didn't attempt to top out on the Horizontal Spire, which I regret. The plan was in flux, and we were still gunning for Little Annapurna when we left along the ridge. We were just beside it to the north, the direction it points. It looked hard from that angle, but may be possible from the SW.


Here's a shot with the Horizontal Spire from the west




I'll be back soon, probably via Aasgard to get them all - Little Annapurna, Pennant, and the Flagpole. I'll take you up to the Horizontal Spire if you lead the way to the Flagpole :grin: .



Edited by abogaard
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Nice. If you don't fail you're not aiming high enough, so don't feel like this trip is an error in any way.


Also, GPS can help you know where you are on the map even when you're in the brush. Plenty of phone apps out there to help. No need for a separate device.



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If you go back... The ascent of the south face of little Annapurna is on very good rock and doesn't exceed 5.5 or so... Very enjoyable. I'll have to return for horizontal spire sometime. Scrambling up that gully with the steep slabs between horizontal spire and LA was wild! Nice TR but sucks about the car window

Edited by Matt Lemke
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