Friday, January 18, 2013

Illumination Rock Attempt

I was perched on a small patch of snow 300ft above the Zigzag Glacier in warm, sunny weather. Ice chunks were falling down the chutes on either side of me, moving so fast that they hummed as they flew past. My partner Edward was out of sight, climbing through a vertical tunnel of rime ice above me. There was no anchor at the belay and he had been able to place a single micro-nut in some loose rock. If he fell the nut would not hold. My only option would be to throw myself off the other side of the ledge and hope that the rope would catch us in a see-saw, each dangling from opposing sides of the ledge. Despite this somewhat terrifying situation I was having "fun," the most fun fun I'd had in months!
Rime ice patches on Illumination Rock, looking west after emerging above the tunnel.
So to start at the beginning... Edward and I wanted to get up on Mt. Hood in winter and try some of the ice routes there. We discussed a few options and decided to explore Illumination Rock, a spire on the southwest ridge. I've seen Illumination called the hardest summit in Oregon and the Cascades (Oregon maybe but I doubt its harder than some of the spires in Washington) and had found a topo of it on Cascade hardman Wayne Wallace's site.
Illummination Rock climbing topo, we basically climbed the Rime Dog route with some alternate pitches. I believe this topo is by a guy named Zac Riesner but I could not find a way to contact him. Full size image from Wayne's site.
Illumination in morning light. We were initially interested in the vertical ice column on the rock face.
I drove up to Timberline Lodge the night before and slept in the back of my truck. Edward drove up from  Portland the next morning and we left the parking lot a little after 5am. I brought my skis for the approach and quickly found that the mountain above the Silcox Hut was very icy. I ended up donning crampons and just carrying my skis, which was frustrating. We reached the base of Illumination just as the sun had come up. It was so warm that ice was already falling down the face. We had been eying a column of water ice but a lot of stuff was falling in that area so we inspected the East Ridge of the South Chamber, reasoning that a ridge had less falling rock and ice hazard. The ice here was really poorly bonded rime ice, and the exposed rock was loose too. We traversed across the South Chamber to the side of the Southwest Ridge and finally found something promising.
Edward on the Zigzag Glacier, approaching Illumination with the south side of Hood behind him.
The first pitch we climbed was really just steep snow and ice to the top of a buttress. From here we traversed left into a gully and through a tunnel under a rime mushroom. The tunnel was a tight squeeze with a pack on and resulted in lots of snow and ice down my jacket. From the tunnel we emerged out the top of this chute and onto another small buttress top. From here we almost picked an ice runnel to our left but after watching debris fly down it we opted to try climb the overhanging rime mushroom above us.
 Our ropes going up the scary, overhanging rime mushroom. To give perspective, the rime covered rock obelisk in the upper left is completely overhanging.
This was probably the most terrifying section of the route as it was in direct sun and nothing that our crampons or ice tools touched was solid. I ended up chopping off several car-tire sized ice chunks above me and then bear hugging the remaining bulge as I shimmied up. My gloves got completely soaked and my hands went numb. As soon as I was above the mushroom I kicked in my boots on the steep slope and took my gloves off. The return of blood to frozen digits is an extremely painful sensation which has earned the accurate nickname "the screaming barfies" among alpinists.
Looking east at rime ice blobs across the South Chamber.
Once my nausea faded and my hands could grip I put on my second pair of gloves and started up a vertical chimney with rock on one side and rime ice on the other. The ice was falling apart as I climbed at this point but luckily Edward had been able to place some protection in the rock. This was definitely the hardest part of the route, but would have been really fun climbing if the ice was solid and hadn't kept breaking when I touched it. Above this a steep rock and ice gully led up to the top of the Southwest Ridge. I emerged upwards on to this thin blade of snow which dropped off hundreds of feet in both directions to the Zigzag and Reid glaciers. It was a beautiful view of Adams, St. Helens, Jefferson and the west face of Hood.
Looking north past Hood's Yocum Ridge at Mt. Adams. The Columbia River is submerged in fog.
Looking back down our route and out over the Zigzag Glacier towards Mt. Jefferson and the Sisters.
From here we briefly considered climbing one last overhanging rime mushroom which would have allowed us to traverse the ridge to the true summit. However, there was a solid rock horn (West Gable in the topo) next to us and we could see footprints on a ledge off the north side that seemed to offer a safe way down. We opted to rappel from there and setup an anchor. Edward went first and was just leaning back when a grand piano of ice ripped off right next to him and tore down our rappel route. We both agreed that it was a good thing that happened before we got underneath it. One rappel easily reached the ledge and we found a good gully of steep snow that we easily down climbed.
Pulling the ropes after our rappel off more overhanging rime ice.
We traversed back to our gear stash, I think it was around 2pm at this point and it was so hot I was comfortable with a shirt off. It hasn't been above freezing in two months and now I was shirtless at 9000 feet elevation in January... we had obviously picked the wrong day to ice climb in terms of temperature! The ski down was dreadful as the ice had not softened but instead melted into a sea of golf ball sized blobs. It was impossible to turn on and, after descending 3000 feet, left me feeling like I had been using a jack-hammer all day. The drive home went fast though and I finished the day with good food, great beer, better friends and a very sound sleep.
Back at the base of Illumination, basking in glacier reflected heat and working on my KISS imitation.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Relay to Rose Traverse

I can't say I regret moving to Bend: I have glaciated mountains on my doorstep, great access to ski touring, and world class rock climbing just down the road. That said, part of me always misses Reno and the Sierra Nevada: the solid granite rock and easy access to steep, high mountains is really amazing. So being home for the holidays I was very excited for the possibilities.

Overlooking Tahoe from a ski tour two years ago in Mt. Rose Wilderness.
The snow is deep in the Sierra for this early in the season and the snow storms have just kept coming. A window of sunny weather finally showed up on the forecast and I started planning what to do. Having no partner for ice climbing or steep skiing I set my sights on an overnight ski tour traversing the Carson Range (a sub range of the Sierra NE of Tahoe) from north to south. Unfortunately the next storm pushed in sooner than expected and I settled for a single day tour instead.

Tahoe in Sunny weather as I head into the mountains.
I drove to the south end of the range, parking in Mt. Rose Meadows at 8500'. I skied north up the valley, gaining a ridge that took me to the summit of Relay Peak (10,338'). From there I traversed a long ridge to Mt. Houghton (10,490') and skied down a short but steep couloir to the saddle beneath Mt. Rose (10,776' highest in the Carson Range). I skied up the ridge towards Rose, eventually stashing my skies due to exposed rock and rime ice, and continuing on foot to the summit. High winds on the ridge gave way to relative calm, allowing me to take some photos before my regluar NiMH batteries succumbed to the cold. I descended to my skis, skied to the saddle, ascended a skin track over the south ridge of Houghton and traversed west and down a creek bed to the meadow and my car. Total time was a little over 6 hours.

Heading up toward Relay Peak, the summit in the upper right.
No Bikes doesn't quite pertain to this season. My tracks coming along the ridge from Relay Peak.
Mt. Rose in the distance while skinning up to Relay.
The summit of Mt. Houghton looking west. Relay Peak on the left.

The couloir descending Houghton to the saddle beneath Mt. Rose is left of the towers.
Self photo on Mt. Rose summit with Lake Tahoe in the background.
Snowing and cloudy as I ski back to the car. So much for a full day of sun.