Exfoliation Dome, West buttress - July 20, 2003
The plot: Dave ropeguns for Phil on his first rock climbing outing in the Darrington area.
Up, up the granite sidewalk. I had heard there was "granite right from the road", so I was a little disappointed when it started with a bouldery stream bed, but no matter, soon it was the fun frictiony slabs I was expecting! Every few hundred feet, there were pools of murky water full of tadpoles and pond skaters. Tasty!
At a few overlappy steeper sections, we followed the beaten path up through a small tree.
The forecast today was for sun, after some minor morning clouds. Well, the minor morning clouds were actually omnipresent, and it was obvious precipitation was falling across the valley near Green Giant Buttress. But not here! So up we go! Sweating, calves getting tired.
We could see another party on the first pitch of the climb. When we finally reached the base, some light rain washed over us. Hmm...
Then a real shower hit us. We huddled for shelter in the lone tree patch, and Dave called up to the party (now tangling with the aggressive tree on the 2nd pitch), asking if he could climb into their haul bag, which was sitting at the base of the climb.
Soon, as the slabs got more and more shiny, the party bailed, and was soon back down at the base. We introduced ourselves, turns out this was Erik, one of Vincent's climbing partners, and his friend M.J. Small world!
The rain was seriously hampering our plans, but we expected it would soon "burn off", so we decided to hang around until then, and maybe just go up to "blueberry terrace", about 5 pitches up. Erik and his friend started down the now very wet granite sidewalk - we wished them well, and they told us that we would know when they reached the bottom, because the sun would come out.
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We tried to nap a bit, but soon it looked like the sun was popping out. The clouds began to disperse... then (I guess) as the sun warmed things up, mists began to rise out of the valley. They moved quickly up the walls and soon enveloped us in a whiteout. We waited a little more, as the sun and the clouds and the trees and the rock worked out the details of the transition. Sure enough, bright sun started to bake us, and dry out the rock.
At about 1:30, I led up the first pitch, which is 5.4 and dirty. I also took the next one, and it totally exhausted me, and I was reminded how much I suck as I began getting sketched in a leg-eating 5.6 crack.
Dave now took the lead, climbing up past a white scar which previously held a large flake that apparently had been part of the route. Dave realized this while climbing the formerly 5.8 pitch, which now had some 5.9'ish moves on a dirt-covered slab. This also sported some new bolts, the only bolts on the whole climb.
After some trepidation, he made it over to the overlap, and pulled himself though, glad to be done with the pitch! I made my way up, mulling over how much beyond my lead level this was. The hoisting up the overlap was a fun move! I continued a short way past his gear belay, around a huge flake/cave, to a tree we could belay from without gear.
Dave continued quickly up the 4th pitch, which was awesome 5.7 cracks and full of hollow sounding flakes! "Don't breathe on that one!" This was the best pitch of the climb.
I led the rest of the way up gradually less steep slabs and cracks, pro getting more scarce as the angle leveled off and we began simulclimbing. I ran out of runners about 50 feet below the trees, and put in a quick manky belay in some hollow flakes. Dave came past and quickly finished off. I think it was around 5:30.
We headed across the terrace and soon found some slings around a tree... guess this is a descent route. Dave went first, and I gave him my helmet (he had forgotten his). The top 100 feet of this rappel was low angle and full of loose rocks. As I went down, I saw an intermediate station we could have used that would avoid pulling the rope down over loose stuff.
Anyway, we pulled the rope, and cowered from the inevitable rockfall. I wore the pack, and hunched down trying to have it cover my head and back. zzzzzzzz! Rocks wizzed through the air, and a small one struck Dave in the helmet. Yikes! My ass, which was not covered by the pack, was threatened, but didn't get hit.
We continued the raps. The only other close call was on the 2nd or 3rd rap, I wasn't paying attention while pulling the ropes, and the trailing rope rose above us, with a big knot/tangle in it, that surely wouldn't make it though the anchor. Dave saw it as it was about ten feet above my head, and shouted. Uh-oh. We're in the middle of a smooth crackless section of steep face, about to get the rope stuck, and there's ten feet between us and the "solution" of the problem.
Dave jiggled the other end of the rope in an attempt to get the trailing end to descend a bit. It descended a few feet, but was still out of reach. I grabbed the line and whacked the knot back and forth with it. The knot didn't unravel, but it removed some rope from the tangle and elongated it a bit. After 20 seconds of whacking, the rope finally came within tiptoe reach of my hands. Whew! That could have been interesting!
Five double rope raps landed us on a sloping rock terrace. We did one more rap down the terrace, then scrambled over to the base of the West Butt and our gear. And water! Delicious water! We'd been out, and very dehydrated, since the top of the climb.
The descent down the sidewalk was relatively quick and easy, and we made it to the truck well before dark.
On the way out, we got caught behind another truck driving really slowly. Like fifteen miles an hour. On a very smooth logging road. He went even slower when going over potholes. Now, I'm a pretty slow driver on logging roads, my truck is light and can't handle washboard. But this was ridiculous! This was a big truck, the kind that sails over washboard, and there wasn't even any washboard. The truck even had six tires, and "Heavy Duty" printed on the back on it.
Finally it let us by, and we headed back to Seattle, grooving to MC Solaar.