Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - Chair Peak/Northeast Buttress (winter)

Turned around at the top of Pitch-1. Thin ice and poor snow conditions. Maybe too early in the season.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles

We turned around at the top of the first pitch. We thought the conditions would be great, but there were other factors we did not consider. 1) We had considered avalanche danger. It was moderate and primarily pointed to wind slabs on the N-W-S faces. We were approaching from the East/Southeast and would descend to the south. We saw no avalanche risk at all on the approach, and even the south slope for the descent path appeared in good condition. That was good. 2) Weather was good, but cold. It was a partly cloudy day, with a high of maybe 10 degrees. The cold wasn't a major concern. 3) It was a weekday and we had to break some new trail -- It slowed us down. There had been a storm cycle on Sunday to Wednesday previous, and our climb was on a Friday. Nobody had broken a good trail up beyond Source Lake. Even ski tracks were blown in with drifted snow. We followed the minimal ski tracks, which helped, but I think it added at least an hour to our approach, which took 5 hours total. 4) Snow conditions -- the last few hundred yards were on crusty and steep snow that didn't even take kick steps very well. And then the snow on the first pitch was very powdery snow with a thin frozen veneer on top. Once we kicked into the thin veneer, the powder provided no good foot platform. Even with crampons, the gully on the first pitch was not good for efficient climbing, and was not good for pickets either. We began to wonder how the snow was on pitch 2 and above. 5) Ice conditions and route conditions. On the first pitch, there are a couple choices to start. You could start left and then cross over a rock slope to get into the main climbing gully on the right, or go straight into the right-handed climbing gully. Either way, the ice was thin and we were basically dry tooling except in certain thickly iced spots. We found about five spots to put screws, a couple small nut placements, two cam placements, and then the trees to sling at the top of Pitch-1. We stopped there. We had reached turnaround time.

By the time we got to the base of the climb, we decided to climb only the first pitch or first two pitches, see how conditions were for a later attempt, and just rappel from trees back down the climbing route. The first rope team reached the trees at the top of P1 (about 40 meters from rock outcropping where we started the climb). And the first member of the second team also reached the tree. The fourth member chose not to follow, and save some time. We used both ropes to set up a quick double-rope rappel back to base and head down to the cars. We had left the cars at 5:45, got back to the snowshoes that we had stashed further down at just about twilight, and reached the car at 18:15 -- a 12.5 hour day for a one pitch alpine ice climb. Rather frustrating. But we all felt it was still a great day to be in the mountains, with the slopes mostly to ourselves (just a few skiers), and a good meal at the Commonweath afterwards.