Monday, June 3, 2013

Sending the Project: Alpine 5.1 on Mt. Washington

Yeah, that's right. I sent it. It took me two whole attempts (read about the first one here), I was that committed to this proj. In fact, not only did I get the redpoint, but I did it solo. Obviously this takes down James Lucas' claim as the only living redpoint soloist (well actually this isn't comparable at all but just let me revel in glory for a minute).
Mt. Washington from the PCT trailhead after I got back to the car at 1pm. The North Ridge descends toward the viewer, the rock section follows the left hand skyline of the summit pinnacle.

Three Fingered Jack (L) and Mt. Jefferson (R) while approaching Mt. Washington.

On this attempt several things were different. There was practically no wind. It was a clear, sunny day. The temperature was probably 50 degrees warmer than the first time. I had awesome custom approach shoes (thanks to the Gear Fix) instead of ice climbing boots. I also had two tools in case there was some steep neve.
Custom approach shoes (lightweight Merrell hiking shoes with dot rubber soles), with BD strap-on crampons.

However, some things were the same. There were still huge drifts of snow. The climbers trail was totally hidden and I missed it again, ending up on the West Ridge again. Navigating in thick trees was difficult and time consuming.

Coming off the West Ridge and making my way toward the North Ridge (L skyline).
I camped near the PCT trailhead the night before. I slept through my alarm and was woken by sun at 5:30. I left the car at 6am. Once I was on the West Ridge I traversed its steep north flank to the bowl between the North and West Ridges. From here I climbed up the bowl, directly to where the North Ridge meets the summit pinnacle. The sun was coming on to the snow and ice chunks were rolling down. I followed saplings and boulders, trying to avoid the line of fire.

Heading toward the NW bowl and the North Ridge.
Looking up the NW bowl toward the summit pinnacle.

Cruising up 40 degree neve in the custom tennies. Sun starting to hit the face.

When I reached the base of the pinnacle I broke out the rock gear and harness. From the snow ridge I moved up a left leaning snow ramp which traversed over the exposed East Face. The rock climbing started here and was broken up with snow covered ledges. This east facing snow was soft from the sun so I backed down the ramp and stowed my crampons and ice axes. I kick stepped back up and started climbing rock. It was definitely chossy but there were solid holds to be found. The snow was scary but easy. The hardest part was negotiating shaded alcoves with ice still covering the best rock holds.
Looking up at the summit pinnacle from just below the North Ridge.

The left leaning snow ramps takes you to the start of the rock climbing.
Looking down the steep and exposed East Face. Falling would not be good.

The top came suddenly and had amazing views of the Sisters to the south. I loitered, taking photos and rehydrating for several minutes before descending. I rappelled off the first slung horn, removing some old tat and trusting a very new looking piece of cord that was already there. I then down climbed to the last slung horn. I removed a couple pieces of faded tat here too, then rapped back to the snow ramp.
Looking down the North Ridge from a snow field part way up the summit pinnacle.

(L-R) Broken Top, North Sister, Middle Sister from the summit of Mt. Washington.

Setting up the first rappel. I backed it up with a prusik as I was using a thin 8mm half rope (30m).

I had seen from above that the North Ridge went almost to the burn where the trailhead was. Wanting to try find the actual climbers trail I followed the ridge. I was soon following a boot pack and was confused when it dead ended on a small pinnacle. As I turned and looked back I saw beautiful ski tracks diving off the ridge and down the East Face. Kudos to the skiers who have been slaying the gnar out there recently.
Looking back at the upper North Ridge and the summit pinnacle.

See those ski tracks? Someone shredded the gnar.

Eventually I hit a cairn and started following switchbacks off the ridge. Within 100 feet the trail was covered in snow and I lost it. I guess it really doesn't want to be found this time of year. I trended north and west, eventually reaching the burn. I hit the PCT soon after. A short walk later I was back at the car. It was 1pm. I stretched and sorted my gear before driving home for a late lunch and a swim in the Deschutes River.
Mt. Washington's East Face from the highway on the drive home. North Ridge is the right hand skyline. The rock section of the route ascends the middle of the summit pinnacle.


  1. Looks like a good day to be out. Do I take it that you were rope soloing on the rock bits?

    Just a thought from flipping through your photos...I don't want to be an armchair general or anything, but unless that cow's tail holding your atc is super long, then your prussik is way way too long. If it's too long, then it wont come tight before it hits the atc. If it hits the atc, then the atc starts to mind the prussik and it won't tighten, ie it's worthless as a backup. I hope that makes sense, and if I just don't get the picture from the picture, then do disregard this comment.

    Also, what's custom about those slick looking approach shoes?

    1. Hey Patrick,

      Thanks for looking out for me. It does look short in the picture and the Prusik looks super long. I assure you it was all good though and is just the photo. I sat on it and locked off a couple times to deal with the rope below me so I know it was fine.

      I was not rope soloing. I reread my post and realized that "breaking out the rock gear" could be interpreted that way. I just like to solo with gear accessible on my harness so that I have more options. I've never used it but it at least gives the illusion of added control.

      The approach shoes are a pair of minimal hiking shoe prototypes that Merrell made. I do some testing for them and got this pair for free as a result. I then had the Gear Fix (Bend resole place) grind off the existing sole and do a custom resole that wraps the toe and heel with Vibram sticky rubber and uses 5.10 dot rubber on the bottom. I was really stoked that I could use strapon crampons on them so effectively. This will make them awesome for summer approaches to alpine rock routes with dry glaciers. The only question is how long they will hold up now that they will be my summer go-to.


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  3. Sam,
    Silly question...that picture you took of 3FJ...Did you really take that pic this last Saturday? Dang, I'm surprised at the amount of snow that is still holding on to the summit block. I was thinking of taking a few up this Sunday, but I thought the crawl, and above would have been melted out by now. Now I'm thinking that the crawl is still filled with snow. My people wouldn't like that.


    1. Sorry to not get back to you sooner Karl. Yes, that was taken on June 1st. I have not climbed 3FJ and am not familiar with the route. All I can say is that given its the same height as Washington you should expect plenty of snow on the ledges that will be soft and wet as soon as the sun is on it.

      Good luck!