Sperry Peak - south ridge-ish July 17, 2004

Dave and I were both looking to do something alpine but very mellow... I had gone for a poor-weather hike up Sperry with Ed a few weeks before, and was somewhat intrigued by the castellated south ridge. It was one of those things rated really easy in the Beckey guide (scrambling with a single 4th class pitch, 2-3 hours, "feasible and interesting"), but looking much harder (sharp ridgeline, many towers with very large dropoffs, brushy rock).

I had to be back in town in the early evening, so I didn't want a very committing day: just a straightforward predictable route, not a real adventure.

If it really was as Beckey described, then it would be no problem. But actually, the real question was: what was Beckey referring to when he described this route? The entire ridge line from Headlee Pass (which climbs 1600 feet over half a mile), or just the last six hundred feet of ridge, which was accessible by a heather gully from east of the lake? He says: "From Headlee Pass scramble to reach ridge base (or reach from just E of the lake)". Well that clears things up!

Photo of the south ridge from winter. I marked Headlee Pass incorrectly, it's the next notch to the left.

It was freaking hot! 2 hours after leaving the trailhead, we arrived at the pass to meet a group of 10 folks heading up to Vesper. At first we thought it was a Mountaineers party, but they lacked the standard attire (though one had an ice axe tip protector).

Inspired by the very thin long cracks in the rocks near Headlee Pass, Dave and I came up with a clever route name: Seamingly Impossible. (possibly for some imagined future aid route).

From here we scrambled up to the base of the ridge. Our philosophy was: "Let's head up the first tower, and if we encounter any class 4, then we'll know the real route is the short one." (since Beckey says the 4th class pitch is after a tower in the middle of the route).

The path we took up "Loose Tooth"

We headed up scrambly rock until the route steepened. Here we decided to get the rope out, and we continued up past a chockstone. We encountered bits of 5th class climbing here and there, and saw two cairn-like stacks of rocks, suggesting we were "on some kind of route". The rock was just mediocre, but safe enough.

We topped out on the first tower (about 500ft of climbing) after 45 minutes.

Peering over the other side, we saw this:

Looking over to the notch on the other side of the first tower.

Given our time constraint, and the serrated ridge, and less-than-good-looking rock, and more-than-casual-brush we saw, we decided to go back down to Headlee Pass, up to the lake, and just do the upper ridge. That said, a route along all the towers probably goes without too much difficulty.

We simul-downclimbed back to the base, having spent about one and a half hours on our foray. On the way down, we took a slightly different and easier line that could be considered 4th class. We called it "Loose Tooth", for its resemblance in appearance (but not rock quality) to the popular peak near Snoqualmie pass.

Dave turns the middle two towers.

Just before the lake, we refilled our empty water bottles with drip from a snowpatch. At the lake outlet was a vacant little tent city, the occupants being somewhere up on Vesper.

South Ridge.

The ascent to the notch in the middle of the ridge was easy, on heather slopes. The first part was steeper, class 4.

South Ridge. The left side of the ridge is not shown here, for a glance at such a sheer exposure might cause one to go insane.

Ok, maybe not.

We took just over an hour to reach the summit. The route was ok - a few nice 4th class exposed sections, and a lot of easy scrambling, and the occasional dirty push through conifer thickets. Not exactly classic, but some nice views down the east face, and a pleasant way to spend the afternoon in the mountains.

Phil enjoys a 24oz summit drink.

On the summit, we opened the register (which has outhouse fragrance) and found we had made a first ascent! Of the 2nd and 3rd weeks of July. Dave found a curious insect: a combination between a wasp and a dragonfly. He threw rocks at it in an attempt to get it to fly, but it wouldn't flinch. Finally he hit it, and it flew off at incredible speed (due to its dragonfly heritage)! Once we got tired of the plethora of bugs (the other less-curious ones: the mosquitos), we headed down the standard route, and sweated our way back down to the trailhead. The sky had clouded over, cooling things a bit. 10 rain drops fell.

Dave freaking out at Headlee Pass.