Mowich Face attempt - July 16-18, 2005

Once upon a time Stroganoff, Lefty, Fatboy, Cool Guy, and The Mountain Peacock went to climb Central Mowich Face, and brought skis.

The Mountain Peacock is fast, and wanted to do the approach in one day. The rest had a free Saturday and decided a leisurely approach was a better idea. In the end, a compromise was made, and they all arrived in the Mowich Lake parking lot Saturday afternoon. However, the Peacock was going to meet up with Pandora (who was accompanying them on foot), arriving that evening.

Fatboy hauls a heavy load in hot forest.

With ridiculously heavy packs, all but the Peacock left the Mowich Lake trailhead around 4pm Saturday.

Shortly before Spray Park, the first glimpse of Mowich Face was had.

It was decided that the face was in condition. No blue ice could be seen. Just beautiful gleaming whiteness. However, this began an unnatural fascination with "the variation", the supposedly more-difficult-but-rock-free option on Central Mowich, which led over a steep windlip of sorts at 12600ft. Over the next 2 days, binoculars were pointed in its direction, video cameras were zoomed in, digital SLRs captured its likeness. Footage and stills were reviewed. Opinions (which depended on the time of day, and how the light was hitting it) ranged from "it's a joke", to "it's totally sick". No conclusions were reached - the subtle play of light on the feature kept all these misfits guessing.

First glimpse of Mowich Face.

The group of 4 hiked straight towards Observation Rock from Spray Park, and split into two camps: Lefty and Stroganoff trying to reach a climbers footpath off to the left, while Cool Guy and Fatboy applied the "walk straight towards thing" method.

Stroganoff and Fatboy prancing through the meadows.

At about 8pm, Lefty and Stroganoff reached a meltwater pond just south of O Rock. Shortly thereafter the other two arrived, and it was decided that camp should be here.

Lefty had brought his brand new beta-light "tent" - setting it up in the stiff breeze proved humourous, and slightly worrisome. Once properly guyed out though, it appeared to offer reasonable and spacious shelter. And at 1 pound 4 ounces, it made Cool Guy and Fatboys 4-pole shelter look like a lead-reinforced nuclear bunker.

The next morning consisted of a sleepy start, and a sunrise jaunt to the summit of O Rock (during which a dramatic ice avalanche on Willis Wall startled the four). Then it turned into a waiting game. Where and when would they meet up with The Mountain Peacock, and would he be accompanied by Pandora?

At some point before 10am, a lone figure passed on a climber's path above. "Are you climbers?" questioned the voice. Not sure what to answer, the situation was cleared up when it was made known that they were looking for the Peacock. It was Pandora, and no, she had not seen the Peacock.

No matter, it was time to pack up and head to the Mowich Glacier. Peacocks tend to make their own way to where you're going. You can be confident that if you fail to meet up with the Peacock to travel somewhere, it is because he is already where you are going.

Stroganoff contemplates all things Mowich. Camp is indicated by the red dot.

The crew, now a group of five, regrouped on the crest of Ptarmigan Ridge and scouted the notoriously shitty descent to the Mowich Glacier: one thousand vertical feet of volcanic talus and scree.

No place looked better than another, and so they just went down wherever. In about two hours, they arrived at the edge of the icefield, near a crevasse that featured a convenient water spout with which to refill bottles.

Shortly before arriving at the bottom, Lefty spotted a lone figure on the Mowich Glacier. The Mountain Peacock! A loud shout caught the Peacock's attention, whereupon it stopped and removed its pack, indicating a willingness to wait.

After 15 minutes of rest and discussion at the glacier's edge (consisting partially of discourse surrounding the mechanics of how the Peacock had gotten where it was) , Lefty noticed footprints emanating from a solitary rock in the glacier. For some reason, no one had noticed them before. Closer inspection of the rock revealed a pair of shoes stashed on top. Stroganoff, who is an expert in such matters (the matters of knowledges of friends' shoe brands), asked "are they Merrell's?". Since they were, it was known that they were the Peacock's.

The curious situation of tracks leading out from the rock, but not towards, sparked some continued discussion. After joking that the Peacock had arisen from the bowels of the glacier itself, Lefty came to the correct answer: the peacock had clearly arrived at the rock early this morning, before the snow had softened. A lengthy break must have been taken, whereupon the Peacock continued in softer snow.

Pandora walks beneath a designated camping site.

Cool Guy continued up first to quickly catch up with the Peacock, so that a possible change in plans of camp location could be disseminated.

Easy glacier travel led to a 9000ft scree ridge between a rock promontory and the rest of the mountain. From here it looked like easy travel to the base of the Central Mowich Face route, and thus camp was made.

Stroganoff, The Mountain Peacock, Cool Guy, Fatboy. The view in the other direction was better.

The rest of the day consisted of lounging around, topless sunbathing, eating, and a short but fun ski run from point 9071.

Cool Guy tries to melt water on his chest, but he is just too cool.

Above camp, a particularly active rock-covered ice lobe of the North Mowich Glacier harboured a hidden recess which produced frequent boulders. It was surmised that this must be the anus of Rainier. However, a neighbouring icefall also began prolificly dislodging boulders - and so it appeared that Rainier must in fact have two anuses (and indeed probably more than that).

Mt Rainier's ani.

The evening was extremely pleasant, nearly windless, and with beautiful views of Puget Sound and Mt Baker, against an orange to blue gradient sky.

Seracs at the base of Mowich Face.

The group awoke the next morning, and left camp at some time between climber-start and skier-start. They crossed a half mile of level glacier, and began angling up through a ramp that led to a massive debris field fueled by the icefall on Mowich Face. It was a mess of ice blocks and avalanche debris, sprinkled with rocks and underlaid with hidden slots. Of necessity, good time was made to the bergschrund, which was easily passed to the left on rocks.

At this point, the situation was as follows: The Mountain Peakcock was in the lead, along with Pandora (a frequent and thus acclimatized denizen of this mountain). Stroganoff was feeling the effects of a previous meal (perhaps Stroganoff?), and was "intestinally not quite right". In fact, quite wrong, he would tell you.

Fatboy and Cool Guy climbing up the lower face.

Lefty, Cool Guy and Fatboy filled out the middle of the group, slowly picking their way up the frozen 40 degree face. Lefty gained ground on the other two, but not far enough to make it out of earshot. Not far enough to not hear things like "dude, that variation looks totally sick."

Lefty caught up to the Peacock and Pandora, huddled on a rock outcrop at 11400ft, across from a hole in the mountain. They waited for Cool Guy and Fatboy, but Stroganoff was nowhere to be seen.

Peacock and Pandora chilling at 11400ft.

Cool Guy and Fatboy indicated a lack of willingness to continue - bad memories of an identical situation several years ago, perhaps. And a few close calls with rockfall. The snow on the face was just that: snow, not ice. However it was extremely well frozen, and did not seem like it would soften appreciably (deeply). Lefty finally made known that he too was hesitant about continuing. In fact, not quite committed to the whole deal. Unsure about whether the climbing was the problem (shouldn't be, it was straightforward, though required great care), or the skiing (well, I suppose it would soften by late day, assuming it is as warm as forecast) - only sure that one of them was.

In the end, The Mountain Peacock and Pandora set off, while the other three waited, shivering, in the cold. For two hours they waited, as the sun inched its way onto the face. Truly inch by inch, the golden giver of life had no qualms about taking its time. All is not fair in aspects and angles, and Mowich Face does not get its share of sun.

Looking down from 11400ft, once the sun hit the face.

It was closed to 10:30 by the time sunlight flooded their outcrop, and subsequently the whole face. Still, they remained cold - much body heat needed to be replaced.

Stroganoff was finally spotted, resting below the bergshrund after having skied from 11100ft. His bowels vacated, he was feeling well and strong once again, but alas it was too late.

Chunks of ice and snow toppling from a rock band above, were the only sign that Peacock and Pandora had surmounted the ice bulge of the variation and were on their way to the summit.

After an hour letting the sun bake the slope, Lefty, Cool Guy and Fatboy donned skis and traversed onto the frozen expanse. Yes, it was still frozen. 60 minutes of oblique sun angles at 11000ft, does not a soft slope make. But it looked pretty.

Lefty made two skidding turns on the 40 neve, and the decided that further turns were not worth the risk. A few hundred feet of side-slipping fit the bill. The slope was smooth, so this went quickly. Another turn test did not pass with flying colours, and so even more side-slipping was in order.

Fatboy and Cool Guy above the bergschrund.

Fatboy and Cool Guy followed from above, the former making turns, while the latter with a more conservative approach similar to Lefty's. Once 500 feet of elevation had been lost, the exposure lessened, and the snow softened slightly, and the skiing and turns could have been said to be enjoyable.

The bergschrund was passed, and then the debris field. This was humourous skiing.

Cool Guy cruising next to the seracs.

Finally, a smooth ramp next to dramatic seracs - pictures must be taken here! At around this time, Lefty looked up and saw a moving spec high atop Mowich Face. Could it be the Peacock, descending so soon? Indeed! It was barely noon, but he and Pandora had already summitted Liberty Cap and parted ways, and he was on his way down.

The Mountain Peacock ruffles his feathers - he is the dot just about to traverse the windlip on the upper face.

The three watched the spectacle, as did Stroganoff who was now back at camp. Exclamations were made, cheers were shouted, and prayers were made for a safe descent. But what was the Peacock doing in a dead end gully that stopped above cliffs? It was a route-finding mistake, from which he escaped at the last reasonable spot. Soon, the spec that was the Peacock had traversed the "variation", onto the main face. 2000ft feet remained, but it was lessening in angle, and so Lefty, Cool Guy and Fatboy continued to camp to await the Peacock.

Heinous talus slope of Ptarmigan Ridge.

He soon arrived safe and sound. The re-united group of five packed up camp and descended the North Mowich Glacier to 7300ft. The interminable scree field up Ptarmigan Ridge was reversed, and snow and meadow led back to the Spray Park trail, and finally to the trailhead.

Contrast-enhanced photo of tracks down from camp.