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Intermediate Alpine Climb - Chair Peak/North Face (winter)

A long strenuous day on the other side of Chair Peak

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
    • Snow was soft going up the basin. Windblown and crusty with a softer layer beneath on the face proper. Ice was acceptable.
  • 0515: Roll out
  • 0745: Gear up for traverse
  • 0900: Pitch 0
  • 1045: Pitch 1
  • 1345: Last pitch
  • 1500: First team tops out
  • 1630: Second team tops out
  • 1730: Start rappelling
  • 2000: End rappelling
  • 2145: Back at cars

The original plan was to climb the Reid Headwall on Hood, but since the temperatures were chillier than optimal we decided to go with something more local. Kryzs had climbed Chair Peak the weekend before on the NE Buttress so this time we could climb the North Face, which is easier or more difficult depending on who you ask, but was definitely climbed a lot less. There was no beta from the 2019-2020 year according to people on the internet, so we would be doing the first ascent of the season.


The approach was short. We took a brief detour to explore the trees and made it to the basin in 2 hours where we saw the first team of skiiers going up to the NE Buttress notch. The walk to the notch looked really steep so we decided to gear up on less steep terrain by going to a small pass on the right about 500 ft. After we went over we could see how steep the North Face was. It looked like a sustained 70 degree slope the whole way. We traversed over to below the NE buttress on 60 degree snow with a few small windslabs in our path. The snow was a little concerning but we continued our way. Below us the skiiers were out in force.


It was apparent we traversed a little too high, so we had to go down and then back up to reach the ice step of the first pitch. Kryzs protected this with 2 pitons. This traverse (Pitch 0) took us awhile since Kryzs needed his pro back for the first real pitch. By then another team of 2 came up and soloed the traverse by not going as high initially.


By now my feet were going numb. The team behind us decided on a steeper variation to our left to pass us while we were showered with ice pellets. I led this pitch for the second rope team, placing 2 screws and 1 picket along the way to an ice bulge big enough to take screws. I've read reports of this route being runout and difficult to protect, and I agree. With our conditions of an icy crust over poorly bonded snow over suboptimal ice this was as much a test of faith as skill.

I stayed at that belay station way, way longer than I wanted to, but at least I could rest my feet for a bit. The other team was already at the belay tree above. I belayed Sara up and she ran out the entire pitch to the tree, placing no protection in while were were barraged with ice. At least it seemed from the tree it was one more pitch to the summit. We were grateful for the 70m ropes as it was well past noon now.


At the third (and last) pitch Kryzs took the left line while Sara went right. At this point the barrage become a full non-stop bombardment of ice. I got decked in the face and shoulder while Gerry came out with a nice chin scar. Thankfully Sara made it up rather and I escaped this death-trap. I topped out at 3pm and sort-of tagged the summit. We met another team on the way up the NE Buttress and decided we would go down together. The second team topped out at 430 pm and we immediately packed up to go down.


We weren't sure which rap station to use. Gerry did 2 70m raps 3 weeks before while Kryzs did 1 70m last weekend. I also read online the second rappel station had a piton fall out, so we were concerned we needed a piton to repair it. We downclimbed the gulley towards the summit, decided it was wrong, downclimbed the gulley away from the summit, decided the downclimb was sketchy, then set a rappel on the trees in the gulley towards the summit. The other team belayed each other down the correct gulley. It was 530pm by the time we started rappelling.

Turns out the second rap station wasn't broken (There was an intermediate rap station in the final gulley that only had 2 pitons but the online info wasn't clear). The group ahead of us had long gone and our rope got stuck. Gerry, being a hero and this being his graduating climb, went up to get it. We were all out of the final gulley by 730 pm, and down to the snowshoes by 8. We came in the dark, left in the dark, and got to see both alpenglows. On the way out we even passed the team ahead of us, who were on skis. We made it to the cars just before 10pm. There was no time to celebrate, and Sara had to drive down to Portland.


All in all, a brutal, but worthwhile, day.


Gear: 70*9.5mm ropes, Petzl quarks (Gerry had quarks, Sara had BD Cobras, Kryzs had Nomics), Petzl Lynx (Everyone had vertical-tooth crampons except Gerry).


Protected: 4 pickets, small nuts, cams to 1", 8 screws per team. (Kryzs had pitons too)


Used: 1 picket, 1 knifeblade piton, 1 spectre ice piton, most ice screws (mostly stubs). No rock pro used.

(Pics to follow)

 

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