Chair Peak 6238 ft
January 24, 2009
Adam Greenstreet and I had been trying to get out to climb something together since last summer, and today the weather and our schedules all came together for us to climb the northeast buttress of Chair Peak.
It hadn't snowed for several weeks and the weather had been relatively sunny and warm so we figured the snowpack would be decent for an ascent of this fun route. From past experience I knew that on a Saturday with great weather this route would be packed with other climbers. So we got an early start and met in North Bend at 5am.
We were the first car at the upper Alpental parking lot, so our early start paid off! As we were putting on our packs a second car arrived. We said good morning and asked them where they were headed (as if we needed!). They had set their sites on Chair Peak also, so we said "See you up there" and started hiking up the trail.
Hiking by headlamp and the firm snow made the hike in to Source Lake go by very quickly. We tried our best to follow a boot pack up the debris fields above source lake. In this chunky, uneven terrain I was glad that we weren't on skis or snow shoes which we left in the car. We made good time and broke out of the clouds at Thumb Tack Rock. We had put on our crampons earlier as the boot pack was quite hard and slippery on the steeper sections. We were able to climb up the steep gulley to the shoulder below the Northeast Buttress and finally got a good look at our route.
At a flat spot just below the route we put on our harnesses, roped up and talked about the best route up the first pitch. The normal steep gulley was thin but more concerning was that it also looked like it was just hard snow for much of it, not ice. We decide to climb left instead with the hope of finding better ice for protection.
I had 6 ice screws already on my harness from when I packed the night before so Adam suggested I go ahead and lead this first pitch. The other party who we met in the parking lot caught up to us here and we chatted some more. In the light, one of them recognized Adam from a BoeAlps class they all took together several years ago.
All geared up, Adam and I said "see you soon" to Mike and Bob and hiked together up the snow slope until we found a good belay stance and sunk a picket for an anchor. From here I lead up the bottom of the snow gulley until I hit ice then veered left to where it steepened under a rock overhand. I was able to get a short screw in the lower ice and then I found a good placement for a large nut in the rock.
Feeling more confident with two good pieces in, I ventured left up and over a rock rib covered with a thin layer of ice. Slow and careful placements found me on the other side and up steeper ice where I placed a medium length screw. The screw hit rock with about an inch and a half left so I tied it off and continued climbing up one last steep section until it backed off to a moderately sloped section of hard snow. A picket would have been nice here, but our only picket was a the belay so I just kicked steps up to a stand of small trees where I anchored in.
Adam had fun climbing the balancy lower pitch and soon was standing beside me at our tree anchor. We were now at the base of the large snowfield on the northeast face. Adam took this pitch and made his way up to two rock outcroppings where he was able to find placements for some nuts. Since this was a long pitch, we simul-climbed for 50 yards or so until he reached some good ice underneath the steep ice step. Adam brought me up to the anchors which consisted of three equalized screws. Perfect! We were now high on the buttress and the views down the east face were impressive.
The first and third pitch offer the most interesting climbing, so I offered Adam to take the third pitch with it's spicey beginning. Adam was excited to lead this more challenging pitch so I gave him the gear I had cleaned and he started up. About six feet above the belay he sunk a good screw to protect the belay then continued up to the base of the water ice step. Here he place a second screw, utilizing my Yates Screamer we brought with us. It doesn't see a lot of use so it was good to see it in action.
Adam quickly and smoothly climbed his way up the steep ice step and was soon at the foot of the upper snowfield. From the last time I climbed this route, I recalled some rocks being on the right to offer some protection. I had told this to Adam earlier and hoped that he would be able to build a solid anchor there. After a few minutes of dodging ice chunks that Adam was raining down on me, he called "off belay" and brought me up. (Note to self: Next time build anchor left or right of the intended route to avoid being pummeled by debris) I really enjoyed climbing this steep section, bringing back memories of my trips with Kim to Ouray, Colorado and the steep water ice there in the Ice Park.
Once I climbed over the ice step, I saw Adam sitting in a little depression he had carved out. He had sunk the picket and used his ice tools to back it up. I saw the partially buried rocks much further to the right and higher up. Oops! "Sorry about that, Adam", I apologized, "I thought those rocks were a bit closer." "No, problem. This worked out", he replied. I lead up the final snow slope to a dead snag which I slung just to have something in, then continued up to the false summit. Here were some rocks where I slung a nut and hip belayed Adam up to the top. The steepness backed off considerably on this last pitch.
Once Adam was up we unroped and made the short traverse over to the true summit and climbed up to the top. From the summit we were treated to an awesome view of Mt Baker, Glacier Peak, Snowfield Peak, The Lemah Group, Mt Stuart, Mt Rainier, the Brothers over in the Olympics, and even the skyline of Seattle! We snapped some summit shots, and relaxed for a bit as we ate our lunch. Bob and Mike climbed up to join us after a while and then we scramble back down to where Adam and I left our rope. We opted to down climb this first decent gulley to some slings then rappeled. At first I thought a single rope rappel would get us down to the notch, but after reaching the end of the rope, I called up to Adam that they would need Bob and Mike's rope to make a double rappel. I continued to down climb as they set up the double rappel.
Adam and I had agreed with Bob and Mike earlier at one of the belays to join ropes on the rappel from the notch. Once we were all at the notch we pulled the rope and threaded it through the rappel anchors which consisted of three equalized pitons. Adam and I had a laugh when I mentioned that we had rapped off a lot worse on our descent from Bugaboo Spire a few years ago.
Adam went first, then Bob, followed by Mike then me. We were glad to have double ropes as a single rope would have left us in the middle of the steep, narrow chute. The rappel left us at a small bergshrund where we were able to stomp out a ledge to stand on while we pulled and coiled the ropes. The snow was pretty firm for the most part, so we slowly but surely downclimbed the slope until it backed off to where we could plunge step. We could see crowns from where slab avalanches let loose on the east face and on the slope we were descending. This was definitely not the place you'd want to be at the wrong time.
Near Thumb Tack Rock we took off our harnesses and packed away our climbing gear. We could still see a party of three just starting the third pitch of the route. We hiked together on the way out glad for our early start. Thanks Adam, for a great day in the alpine!