I didn’t get a lot of writing done this year. We moved, bought a house, changed jobs, traveled the world, traveled the west, got a dog, and celebrated family. A few photos just for the photo, a few photos just for the moment and the people. I’m just a damn lucky dude.
“Are we in the flow state?”
“Then we must be doing fine.”
Last Saturday I took a long walk with my friend Webster and climbed the Bergner-Stanley route on Prusik Peak. We discovered that the hyperbole often used to describe that mountain and route was in fact true. Considering my last car-to-car (mis)adventure and with the chill air of autumn settling in, this trip was the perfect cap to a summer full of adventures.
Webster wanted to push himself, and while I wasn’t sure I had another big summer adventure in the tank, his stoke goaded me to the trailhead- from there, I was all in. We left the car at 4:25am, made it to the base of the climb by 9am, and started climbing at 9:30. We got to the base of the route just as another party was leaving the ground, and caught them again at the top of pitch 2.
I quickly made the acquaintance of Mr. Ben Boldt, and didn’t complain when he started taking photos of us as we followed them up the route. Ben and his partner had tried the route before, but gotten stymied by the challenging squeeze chimney on pitch 5 (or 6 depending how you do it). We waited for a bit while they fought their way thru, and Ben hung out to shoot my own battle. Webster was relieved to follow this one. Check out more of Ben’s photos here, and only use with permission. Thanks again man.
The last pitch is the money pitch, and I was happy for Webster to fire it. Despite some melting snow on the final crux section, he sent with aplomb. Following the pitch, I was surprised to find it steeper and more technical than it appears. Strong work Webster!
We summited at 3pm, made 5 rappels and walked around a snowy north face to collect our packs at 515pm, and started the walk home at 530pm. We stayed focused and positive despite the many miles, and moved well, tagging the car at 9:15pm. We stayed in the flow state for almost the entire day, feeding off each others energy and enjoying every aspect of the experience. Not much time for photos, but we did hike past an amazing hydrologic feature- this drain pipe throws water between lakes:
As usual, the full effort in the mountains cleared my head in a way that nothing else does. It cemented another friendship that has been growing for a long time, and for which I am deeply grateful. It bolstered my self-confidence and increases the gratitude I feel for so many things in life, including my lovely lady (even though she doesn’t necessarily want to do these things with me). This piece by Hayden Kennedy says it better than I can. I love this stuff.
Copyright Skander Spies, 2017
For a small tribe of rock climbers in the Cascades, climbing the complete North Ridge of Mt. Stuart, in less than 24 hours, without sleeping (“car to car in a day”), represents something of “a standard”. Certainly not a noteworthy climbing achievement, but enough effort to warrant a little respect. 8 miles and 3,000ft of gain on the hike in, 3,000ft of rock climbing up to 5.9, some scrambling and route-finding down a steep snow couloir on the way out. For most recreational climbers, it’s a pretty full day. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, just ride along for the photos.
I climbed Mt. Stuart via a different route in 2010. Our “car to car in a day” took 23hr30min, and was an eye opening experience in alpine snow and mixed climbing. I was grateful for strong partners, but was mostly just along for the ride with more experienced people.
Last year, Pat and I climbed the upper North Ridge, approaching via an overnight camp at Ingalls Lake, the Stuart glacier, and a snow gully that cut off a bunch of more technical rock climbing. We had a blast, and after a punishing descent, made it back to camp in 15hrs. The position of the route, the quality of the rock climbing, and the reputation amongst my friends made me think that doing the Complete North Ridge was fully warranted. Sometimes it’s fun to bite off a little more than you can chew.
(First look at the whole shebang)
Between weather and other commitments, I usually only get to partner with Ky one weekend a summer – so when we lined up for the July 8th weekend, I wasn’t going to waste the chance. Reliable beta indicated that the descent was in good condition.
We left the car at 315am and somehow managed to nail the approach- I was leading in my rock shoes at 715am. We let another party (Nick and Austin) pass us at the crux 3rd pitch because I wanted to take my time on the lead. I don’t regret it, but did cost us 45min. After the crux we lost a little more time with some route-finding, reaching the “halfway” notch at 11am. We were already low on water and while we rested and nursed a snowfield, the hoards caught up to us from below. I think there were 6 or 7 parties on the route that day. There are fewer possible variations higher on the route- so traffic management slowed us further.
(Ky follows the crux)
It gets real at the Great Gendarme, and suddenly folks were more orderly in letting faster parties go. I blitzed the layback pitch (which I had followed in 2016), and Ky made excellent grunting noises while sending the off-width pitch on-sight. Both pitches are amazing climbing, but we were tired and I was really glad I didn’t have to lead the off-width. We raced for the summit, topping out at 645pm. I wish I could have enjoyed it without dreading the time of day on our descent.
(The only non-blurry summit photo I got of Ky. Instagram PC – Ky)
We gratefully followed Nick and Austin (because they knew where they were going), and found a legit snowfield water source just before really getting onto the snow downclimbing. Conditions were good, but I was very grateful to have aluminum crampons and approach shoes- we had to front point all the way down. We approached the bergschrund (where the glacier pulls away from the mountain) around 915pm, just as daylight started to fade in earnest. Steep snow was hardening, and our brains were fried from effort and dehydration. A safe path was not obvious, and it was not the time to be bold. We opted to give up on completing the sub24 hr standard, sit out for the night (with no bivy gear), and make a better decision in the morning. Nick and Austin agreed and we collectively found a nice little rock ledge to hang out on.
(Starting down the snow. PC Ky.)
After 5 hours of shivering, it was glorious to see the sun-rise. We warmed up for an hour, and left around 6am. Breakfast was a peanut butter packet and a fruit leather, the very last of our food. With daylight, the bergschrund crossing was more obvious and we were soon cruising towards the car.
(Ky finds salvation below the bergschrund)
I love mountains, even when it doesn’t all go according to plan. Thanks for following.
Copyright Skander Spies, 2017
3 months of overtime leading up to last Friday had replaced most of my mental resiliency with a weary, pressurized tension. Thermodynamics gives us the solution- pressure and flow are two sides of the same coin. To reduce pressure, allow an outlet for flow.
The Southwest Rib of South Early Winter Spire is an easy climb with some of the best rock in the Cascades- a perfect outlet for tension. Devon has quickly become a trusted and sought after adventure partner- he is also knows how to have fun. Last Sunday we flowed up the route, laughing and being totally inspired by the North Cascades.
Sometimes the flow is a hard thing to feel. I don’t get it every time, but it’s a part of every single adventure I chase. It’s usually easier to find with someone else. Thanks Devon.
(photo by dP)
(part 2 of 2)
This past weekend demanded no less commitment than the previous. Pat and I have enjoyed a lot of days outside over the years. Living in different cities has made that harder, but no less enjoyable when it happens. He introduced me to one of my first big alpine rock climbs, and we’ve cheered each other up more pitches at Smith than anyone else I’ve climbed with.
The North Ridge of Mt. Stuart is one of the most classic alpine rock routes in the range- and when Pat reached out to line up for a trip, we easily picked the objective. Neither of us had done it, so we (wisely) chose the more conservative “Standard” version from the notch above the Stuart Glacier. Perfect route, perfect weather, perfect partner. That didn’t stop us from suffering a bit as we began to understand just how big the effort would be.
We hiked in with bivy gear on Saturday, stopping for a dip in Ingalls Lake and scouting the landscape to get familiar. The route logistics are inconvenient- no matter how you approach it, getting to the base of the route requires +/-1500 vertical feet (or more) of scrambling, and (for us) a glacier crossing). Getting back to the car means retracing your steps and another 1500ft up and down of hiking, in addition to the +/-4000ft descent from the summit. Sunday was not a short day.
We left our bivy site just below Stuart Pass at 530am, and arrived on the Stuart Glacier around 730. Initial snow walking turned into uncomfortable step cutting across hard snow above non-trivial cravasses. Micro-spikes and Yaktrax, while being lightweight, were a pretty poor choice of footwear. Next time: aluminum crampons. After the step cutting and gulley shenanigans, we got on the actual rock climbing around 930, and proceeded to make decent time.
Pat and I have similar tolerances for risk and decision making, so we traded the lead simul-climbing almost all of the terrain up to the Gendarme, with a few belayed steps in between. Pat deployed his expert lie-backing skillz on the first pitch, and I made appropriate grunting noises on the off-width. More simul-climbing put us on top around 330pm, feeling good but hungry and low on water.
The Cascadian Couloir is the standard descent to the south side and back towards our packs. Standard does not mean enjoyable. It is safe, but long and hard on the knees. We noticed some dark clouds building as we hiked down, and by the time we landed on the Jack Creek trail at 730p, the temperature had dropped noticeably and winds were gusty. After 15 hours on the move, we found our bivy site in gale force winds just after dark. Originally we had hoped to head for the car, but the climb took the best out of us, and the weather wasn’t inspiring. We hunkered down for the night, our bivy sacks in fully wind tunnel mode until morning. Walking commenced again at 530am, with a glorious sunrise to greet us, but there was no avoiding that Skander would be a little late for work on Monday morning…
All content Copyright Skander Spies, 2016
8 years ago I read a trip report about Mt. Goode from my desk in Portland. It inspired me, and made me realize how much I had to learn about climbing. Other objectives lured me away over the years and the out of reach dream didn’t stick. I haven’t often really bit off more than I could chew in these climbing adventures, and there is only one way to fix that.
“Car to car” typically means that you don’t carry sleeping gear- you just expect to be on the move no matter how long it takes. The risk of spending a cold night out is off-set by packs made lighter without sleeping gear. It is also a good way to guarantee an adventure.
Running has always come naturally to me, and given that I’m nursing a shoulder injury, it makes more sense to combine long days and more moderate climbing to get my adventure fix. Doing the standard route on Mt. Goode car to car seemed like a laughably audacious goal. A 30 mile round trip with 3,000ft of gain on the approach, a glacier crossing, and a 3,000ft rock buttress? If I wanted to fail, at least I picked something worthwhile to fail at. I wasn’t so sure myself, so I picked a partner that has always inspired the best in me. In both climbing and life, Ky has shown me how to be stronger than I think I am- and he was just as game to find his endurance limit as I was. The goal was just to keep moving.
We left Bellingham at 8pm, and got to sleep at 11pm. Up at 430a and jogging down the trail at 530a. There was already more than enough daylight. Confident, we raced the warming day until we reached the trail junction from the Pacific Crest down to Stehekin. We pounded a little food and I checked the map. Despite both reading the route description to each other while looking at the map, we had mistaken which trail led to the North Fork of Bridge Creek. Our elation from the fast travel faded into disdain for having added an extra 5.4 miles onto our already marathon day.
We kept moving.
Back to the previous junction and up the correct drainage. We continued to put down miles and race the heat. Due to the location of the route on the massif, you cannot see any of the route or approach until you are standing directly below it. The guidebook says “cross the creek, ascend the talus slope, and gain the glacier to access the bottom of the rock buttress.” Somehow, I think we both figured the 21 miles of approaching was the hard part, and we were wrong. Even from the creekbed 2,000ft below, just getting to the base of the cracked up, barren glacier was going to be the real adventure.
We couldn’t bail without taking a look, so we slathered on some sunscreen and- kept moving. The east face baked as the clocked ticked past noon, then 1pm. Slick granite slabs gave way to vertical bushwhacking through head-high alder. It got hotter as we climbed. Despite plenty of daylight, mid-afternoon is a terrible time to cross a glacier, especial one with many cracks and not much real snow. We found a single unlikely lead up about a 1/2 mile east of the rock route we were hoping for. Any remaining hope of rock climbing was instantly swallowed in the enormous, complex bergschrund crossing that guards the entire face.
Worked and sunburned, downclimbing the approach was nothing to look forward to. Shaky legs make downclimbing even spicier, and we started setting rappels as soon as we hit the lower granite slabs. Thank you to the others that have obviously done the same and left some rappel tat for us.
Our tiny rope set up gave us just enough to work with. We kept moving.
We made it back to the creek at 545p. Once on the trail, it was just a mental game to keep turning the legs over. Blood sugar dropped, blisters rose, and nightfall set in. We kept moving.
It was a push to make the car, but that was the point. At 1045pm we tore into the maple bacon potato chips and sat heavily on the tailgate of Ky’s Subaru. Bailing didn’t honestly feel like much of a failure at all. We had covered 38 miles, used almost everything in our packs, and enjoyed an authentic Cascade experience. It was my longest day in the mountains to date, and I do think it’s possible to summit with a little better preparation and conditions. Many thanks to Ky for the amazing day out, and powering through the drive home so we could have cooked breakfast the next day- I couldn’t ask for a tougher, or better partner.