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[TR] Mile High Club - new route near Vesper


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Trip: Mile High Club - a new alpine rock route near Vesper, Sperry and Morningstar Peaks. 7 pitches, 5.10a.


Date: 9/12/2015


Trip Report:

Mile High Club is a new alpine rock route that Darin and I put up this year. We hope you will climb it and enjoy it. The purpose of this TR is to provide information on how to find and climb the route. First ascent stories can come later.


We believe this route has all the ingredients of a modern classic: excellent climbing, solid rock, a striking feature and summit, grand alpine views, and a quick and easy approach and descent. The route ascends the southwest-facing buttress of a striking 5280 foot sub-summit of Morning Star Peak. The buttress is a very prominent feature on the east side of Headlee Basin, and it dominates the view from Headlee Pass. The rock, part of the Swauk formation, is metamorphosed sandstone, littered with positive holds, and devoid of continuous cracks.


Mile High Club offers seven pitches of excellent face climbing and exposure on the crest of the buttress. Its low elevation and southwest exposure should give it a long season compared with other alpine rock routes. Although this route is fully bolted, climbers must be prepared to handle steep snow in spring, multiple rappels on the descent, and some loose rock on ledges. Care should be taken to avoid knocking rocks off the right side of the route as these will shoot down the approach gully. For this reason, climbers are advised to wear helmets for the short scramble in the approach gully and avoid lingering there.


Hikers on the Sunrise Mine trail can hear and see climbers on the route. They could misinterpret shouts among climbers as calls for help and might even activate an un-necessary rescue. This is exactly what happened to the first ascensionists, who were greeted at the base of the route by a hovering helicopter with a spotlight and at the trailhead by a full search and rescue operation.


Season: May through October.


Approach: ~2 hours, 2100 feet elevation gain.


Drive about 28 miles east on the Mountain Loop Highway, turn right on FR 4065 (1 mile past the Dickerman trailhead), and follow it about two miles to the Sunrise Mine trailhead. NW Forest Service pass required. Follow the Sunrise Mine trail approximately two and a half miles to the last major switchback (~4300 foot elevation) before the trail begins zig zagging up to Headlee Pass. Leave the trail and begin a surprisingly easy traverse northeast across talus toward the Mile High buttress. Pass just above a large flat-topped boulder near the first set of trees. Follow a natural passage through the small stand of trees to a second open talus field. Continue across open heather and talus, cross a strip of trees near a rocky bluff, and ascend to the obvious red gully right of the Mile High Buttress. A convenient seep just before the Mile High gully provides water through mid-season and for a few days after rain. Scramble up and left on rubble-strewn ledges to a lone fir tree. Pass the tree on a ledge to a single belay bolt at the beginning of the route.




Pitch 1: Hero climbing up and left on steep jugs leads to a beautiful face and arête. 115 feet, 5.10a.


Pitch 2: Continue up the featured face to a belay on the crest. 70 feet, 5.9.


Pitch 3: Cross a large ledge and ascend a 30 foot headwall with some cracks and good holds. Easier climbing leads to the base of the next headwall. Note that an intermediate anchor about 15 feet right of the climbing line and 10 feet above the lip of the lower headwall is used on the descent. 150 feet, 5.9.


Pitch 4: Step right and climb a clean face to the base of a dihedral. 70 feet, 5.10a.


Pitch 5: Climb the stunning dihedral and exit up and right to an airy belay. 80 feet, 5.10a.


Pitch 6: Head up the lower arête, balance on top of a large flake, and climb a beautiful face to a spectacular arête. 115 feet, 5.10a.


Pitch 7: Make a tricky move or two on a vertical face, cross ledges to the final headwall, and follow a clean ramp to the summit. 100 feet, 5.8


Summit: According to USGS maps, the peak is 5280 feet above sea level. This inspired the route’s name. There is a summit register with a secret. Please do not post photographs online or otherwise spill the beans. The idea is that only those who have visited the summit and become members of the Mile High Club will know its secret.



Rappel the route using the pitch 3 intermediate anchor. Avoid a pendulum on the Pitch 7 rap by lowering down to the large flake before walking left to the belay. The starting ledge is several hundred feet above the ground and rather exposed. Climbers might want to traverse back to the starting bolt before unroping. It's possible to pull the rope on the final rappel from that position.



One 70 meter rope, 12 quick draws, and a few shoulder length slings.


First Ascent:

Darin Berdinka and Rad Roberts, September, 2015.


View from the point where you depart the Sunrise Mine Trail. The 5280 peak is on the left.



View of the approach from the route. The trail is in the sun in the upper right. The MHC gully is in the lower left of the frame.



Route overlay



Another route overlay



The start of Pitch 1



The top of Pitch 1



Pitch 2



Pitch 3



About to head onto moderate terrain on Pitch 3.



Pitch 4



Start of Pitch 5



Nearing the top of Pitch 5



Approaching the arete on Pitch 6



Arete on Pitch 6



Arete on Pitch 6



Pitch 7 just below the Mile High summit



On the summit at sunset with Sperry and Big Four in the background.




A taste of the alpine ambience:
















Mile High Club is the right profile in this photo taken from the road.




“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” - John Muir.


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i'm sure someone will be asking soon enough - hand drilled? ground-up? worry not, my ethics are thoroughly bottom shelf :)


I will respond by writing a separate TR on the story of the FA. Actually, there are at least two good stories. So save your style questions and comments for that thread.


You'll have to wait a bit, though, because I have work to do, dishes to wash, and will be taking my 7yo to Camp Orkila this weekend.


Meanwhile, the weather is looking good for repeats this weekend. The summit register is ready for your entries.


And remember, the first rule of Mile High Club is you don't give away the secret. The second rule of Mile High Club is.....YOU DON'T GIVE AWAY THE SECRET. ;)


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I had the pleasure of doing the second ascent of the Mile High Club with Rad. Simply, this is a great route with good climbing, solid rock, an excellent position, and a unique location in the Range. There were numerous moments when I was grinning from ear-to-ear from the pure joy of this alpine gem. That said, the route is not without hazards and should be viewed as an alpine climb.


Go climb this thing and you'll be psyched! I was.



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You're thinking of Vega Tower located a couple hundred yards further south. Starbird Ridge 5.8,put up by Reese Martin and Jerome Eberharter back in the 80's. It's the right skyline in the second to last photo. Great looking summit and line, wonder if it's ever been repeated?


Reese Martin was apparently a well know climber and paraglider married to Charlotte Fox who died in a paragliding accident sometime ago.

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I went up this on sunday. We had a climber get injured on the rappel and as a result we had to leave a 70 meter rope on a horn above the gulley to get him down. If anybody is going up i would really appreciate getting it back. On a side note, this was an awesome route. I'm glad we could get on it before it gets crowded. I wouldn't want to be in the gulley with climbers on the upper part of the route.

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I went up this on sunday. We had a climber get injured on the rappel and as a result we had to leave a 70 meter rope on a horn above the gulley to get him down. If anybody is going up i would really appreciate getting it back. On a side note, this was an awesome route. I'm glad we could get on it before it gets crowded. I wouldn't want to be in the gulley with climbers on the upper part of the route.


Sorry to hear that. I'll send a pm about your rope and injury. Yes, that gully is a bad place to be if people are knocking rocks off up high. We've put in a lot of work to remove most loose rock where it's likely to come off, and the gully scramble is short (3-5 minutes max). But there is some danger and helmets and speed in the gully are recommended.

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