Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - Observation Rock/North Face

August conditions in October.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Our team of 3 has not seen any proper ice on the right side of the face. Whatever Nate saw must have had melted by now, or it was not where we looked. I tried pretty hard to excavate some ice on the "last pitch", but after digging almost a foot deep, I was still only getting some fluff that I would not hang my socks on, let alone trust my life with. Pickets all the way! The pickets went in after a lot of hammering, and felt as bomber as pickets can ever get. Followers had considerable difficulty pulling them out.

    The other team apparently was able to find some ice and place some screws on the left side of the face.

    No snow on the trail.

    Noone could smell any smoke, and the sky was perfectly clear, albeit we could see what looked like thin brownish-violet isolated bands of what must have been smoke moving across the sky, here and there, at high altitude.

The planning for the trip started out on a strong note, with a team of 6 rapidly coming together, and a stable sunny dry weather forecast due to the high pressure ridge buildup.

Unfortunately, news of the new smoke from the South above the inversion layer at 2000 feet have thrown a wrench into our planning during the week leading to the climb. The only source of forecast for smoke at elevation that I was able to find, HRRR-SMOKE from NOAA at 6000 feet, only goes forward 48 hours, it only goes this far 4 times a day, and it takes several hours to compute, which forced me to keep the climbing party in suspense until the day before the climb.

The morning of the day before the climb, I woke up to some wonderful news, with strong winds aloft from the ocean shore at the trailhead elevation expected to push smoke to the East, and the smoke forecast clearing up right around our planned start time. The climb was on.



Sadly, in the 24 hours leading to the climb the forecast gradually deteriorated due to the shifting wind direction, forcing us to forego camping at the treailhead overnight and to move the start time to 8am to try and avoid the worst of the smoke. We all accepted that we would be getting up early on Saturday to drive up there, walking out by headlamps, and getting  home very late in the evening. The forecast continued to evolve, but in the end, it seems we have gotten lucky, as noone in the climbing party was able to smell any smoke throughout the entire day.

One of our climbers also just had an accident, leaving us with a group of 5 climbers. This meant two rope teams. I put 2 Alpine Ice grads (Alina and Alex) on a rope team together to swing leads as usual, and took 2 of the Tacoma Intermediate students who could not complete all requirements for leading on ice due to the COVID-19 course cancellations on my team of 3, with Erik in the middle using Petzl Ascension to speed things up, and Adam at the end belaying and cleaning as usual (that worked out beautifully).

We started walking 8:15am, made several rest stops  along the way, took about 3:15 to the camp at ~7000 feet where we would be returning on our way down.

Our climbing party on the way up:


Clear smoke-less skies:


Spray park and clear views way out towards the horizon:


We were out of shape, so we have spent half an hour at the camp to rest, eat and hydrate, switch from approach shoes into mountaineering boots, lay out socks to dry, put on our harnesses, and leave any non-climbing gear in a trash bag behind to wait for our return later in the day.

Started moving again at noon, took about an hour to scramble through the choss pile to get to the snow at ~7300 below the rock band, put on crampons, distribute gear, and roped up there.

During the scramble; I remember practicing 6:1 crevasse rescue and rappelling into that moat on the bottom left side of the picture in the summer of 2018 (or at least I think that's where it may have been - a great location for practice, with a vertical wall and a nice pond of cold water at the bottom):


We would be getting back to camp that way:


Getting close to the face:


Started the climb proper at sometime around 1-1:15pm or thereabouts.

As I had originally planned to have 3 rope teams of 2 with 6 pickets per team, but ended up with 3 climbers on my rope, I had the luxury of carrying 9 pickets. I thought we might be able to simul-climb the whole thing in one go. Pickets were going in with effort, and felt super solid. I reserved 2 pickets for the anchor up top, and hammered in 7 of them plus one unsatisfying "progression" 17cm screw on the way to the final steeper half-rope section, where I was expecting to find some more solid ice, and place a couple of decent screws to complete the simulpitch with before topping out.

Sadly, the ice that Nate reported a couple weeks ago was not there. I excavated almost a foot of the top layer, but failed to reach anything half-decent, so I ended the simulpitch there. Pounded my 2 pickets all the way in, added an unreliable screw for good measure, and brought the party up to reclaim some pickets for the final half-rope to the top.

The rest was uneventful. Topped out 2:45pm, set a 2-picket anchor in very hard snow at the top, and by 3pm or so, Adam and Erik were both up, and we could finally unrope and degeear, peel the crampons off our boots, and eat something.

Erik is already up:


Adam topping out with 7 pickets hanging off his harness:


Erik had lots of excess energy left, and decided to do the scramble while Adam and I waited for the second rope team to come up.

The rock:


If you squint your eyes, you can see Erik up top in there somewhere:


After everyone was up and repacked for descent, we started walking down around 4:20pm. It took us about 30 minutes to sidehill the chosspile and get to the snow slopes on the other side of O'Rock. We were back at the camp 5:30pm, and took ~30 minutes to rest, repack, and refill water bottles.

Departed the camp ~6pm, made it back to the cars by 8:19pm, for a total of 12 hours car to car.

Bonus sunset at Rainier:


We saw some bears during the day on the way in, and some on the way out.

Proof of a bear (there is a bear in there somewhere):


Overall, this was a good day, a great way to stretch one's legs and try to stay in shape during these challenging times.