Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - Observation Rock/North Face

Car to car climb of Observation Rock North Face by the Tacoma Mountaineers.

  • Road rough but passable

Two weeks older, but probably no wiser.


This trip was a single day trip with the Tacoma Mountaineers intermediate class with the intention of climbing Observation Rock North Face. When the opportunity arose to repeat this route as an out and back day trip I just could not help but jump on it, shedding the overnight gear, extra food weight, and slimming down to essentials sounded too good to pass on.


Our team of six set out from Mowich Lake campground at 0600 on the 21st of September, the morning was brisk, sky was clear, and the moon bright. My 4Runner's thermostat read 6°C. This would definitely be the last climb of the season for approach shorts! Being this was the last weekend of summer, we knew we were playing with a finite window, but the forecast called for clear, calm skies all day, and boy did we get it. I do not anticipate ever getting another opportunity to go ice climbing in such ideal conditions. More on that later.


We opted to take the traditional Eagles Roost to Spray Park approach, which ended up being just fine. I was a little apprehensive about adding additional mileage on an already long day to-be, but as a small, strong team we moved quick through the low angle mileage. That being said, I will still always contend for more vert and less distance. The approach was cruiser, with only a few muddy spots where running water near the trail inevitably spilled onto the path. Once we made it into Spray Park we crossed paths with three black bears. They were entirely indifferent to our passing, did not even look up at us, as they continued their breakfast march through the park. Yogi, Booboo, and Baloo were preparing for hibernation season, and could not have cared any less about our presence. 


We arrived at the Spray Park campsites right around 0800 and took a quick break to put on sunscreen, change into mountaineering boots, and leave behind approach shoes and trekking poles (to be retrieved on our hike out). With the route well in sight, we all were giddy to rack up and get on with it, but we still had the chossy, blocky, loose approach to get to the base. Once we had finally reached the base of the route, it was now evident how much conditions had changed in just fourteen short days. The lip of the route had receded, and there was now significantly more rock protruding at the 60m mark. Still permissible conditions, but we had to be more selective about our routes than we had just two weeks prior where we essentially fanned out and had our choice of direction. One team went far left, to the left of the primary protruding rock feature, the other two teams stayed right on the majority of the coverage still present on route.




Ice conditions varied from pitch to pitch, even mid pitch we experienced changing conditions. The week prior the park had received new accumulation, most of which did not impact the North Face route, but there were patches where soft coverage was present. This made for interesting sticks, because tools would sink through the soft new snow, and immediately hit the old season hard ice. Depending on the position you were in, this was either ideal, or extremely frustrating. On P1, the angle is still low enough to walk up, making softer coverage ideal, but on P3 and P4, where the angle is closer to 65-70, it took some debris clearing before finding good sticks again. 


My partner and I climbed with ten screws, every length taking plenty of purchase, typically we placed six pieces en route leaving two for the lead anchor, and two for the belay anchor. Each pitch being 60m we felt good about placing every 10m, we probably could have run it out a little more which would have saved some time, but if you've been on lead before you know that feeling looking between your legs and seeing your last piece 10m below you. Nobody is keen on taking a 20m whip on 65° ice, no matter how confident you are. 



P1 - P3 were the most varied of the whole route. Ice conditions changed the most there. The start of P3 there was this funny little vertical crack (apparently carved out by running water on the route now no longer present) that took almost 3/4 of our boot and ran probably 15m up. My partner looks down to me, "Is crack in? This feels like cheating!" After two pitches of barely getting our second points in and a lot of hammering our toes, this little crack was an enjoyable reprieve. Kick over kick up the crack, sticks just to the sides, it was bliss. P4 was my lead and arguably the most enjoyable even despite being a little tired. The last 50m of the route is by far the most vertical which makes it a lot easier to use proper technique. On the lower angle ice it's just clunky and awkward, you are reaching out in front of you to make your sticks as opposed to directly upwards and being able to hang on your sticks. Arriving at the bulge conditions changed notably with a significant amount of new, soft coverage. I walked it out another 10m and set our final anchor. Conditions took a picket and with a little digging a screw as a second piece. There is nothing quite like that feeling of cloving into your lead anchor, slamming that final locker closed is total ecstasy. "Off belay!"



After getting everybody to the top safely we enjoyed a short lunch break, taking in the view from above the low hanging clouds. We could see all the way North to Kulshan and Shuksan, as well as all the way West to the Olympic National Park, with a single white capped peak rising from among the black shadows - Olympus. We repacked and began our quick circumnav around the back side of Observation Rock to reach the top of the Flett Glacier. Nobody was keen on Obs Rock summit, it just looked like another hour and a half of unnecessary chossineering. I will have to go back and get it one day. The back side of Obs Rock was plenty chossy enough for us, every step would send a slide of rocks cascading down slope. It is just slow going to get from the top of the North Face over to the top of Flett. Once the boot scuff comes into view it becomes obvious which way the route down goes. It becomes a mite indistinct at times, but a quick scan of the area reveals that you are not far off trail. Just keep eyes on the most worn section downwards and you will be quick on your way.



Once onto the Flett Glacier, we hit fairly icy conditions which made for a dicey descent. We considered stopping to don traction and axes, but opted to continue on with sure footing. We stuck to the rock where we could, utilizing ridges as they were available, but steps on the glacier were slick. No crevasses to speak of. The Flett spits you out right back at Spray Park camp, which is where we left our gear. We changed out of our mountaineering boots and back into approach shoes. The change of footwear felt great, aside from the added 4kg to the outsides of our rucks. By this point it was nearing 1800 and golden hour was upon us.

The descent from Spray Park was absolutely stunning: low clouds hung between the foothills, the fading Summer sun cast warm rays across their summits and atop the rolling clouds which lit up the sky with every shade of yellow and orange, and the warm breeze carried all of the fresh scents of the high country. Once we reached the top of the switchbacks, just before descending into the tree cover, we stopped for a quick break. One of our team members stepped away to relieve himself, returning quickly shouting "Bear! Bear! Bear!" That woke everybody up in a hurry. We stood close together being as loud as we could while we waited for Baloo to lumber by. A huge black bear eventually showed himself, dropping onto the trail and making his way down trail of us, totally indifferent to our presence. This one was significantly larger than the three we had encountered during our morning approach. While he wasn't aggressive, his powerful presence was noticed nonetheless. A sobering reminder that we are recreating in their home. After giving him some time to be on his way, we rucked up and continued down trail cautiously, though we did not see him for the remainder of our descent. 



The last 5km was spent in the dark with heavy cloud cover moving through the trees making for an eerie descent. Our headtorches caught every droplet of moisture in the air making for quite the scene, leaving us only being able to see the first climber ahead of us and no more. Finally reaching the stairs signifying our arrival at the end, we arrived at Mowich Lake Campground at 2015, a full 14+ hours after our departure, we dropped our rucks and celebrated with salty snacks and warm rainiers, as any good summer escapade at the park should conclude. For our trip lead, this was his final climb to complete his intermediate requirements, for others of us this was our first real intermediate climb. All in all, it was a very special climb and just a perfect way to bid summer an official adieu.

No bad days at the mountain.

Comprehensive gear list used for this climb - 
38L pack, 12.41kg total kit weight

Item Name
Item Key
Item Weight
Co-Op CoolMax Light Socks  Socks REI Clothing 0.01
Co-Op LS Tech Base layer REI Clothing 0.02
Active Ice Sun Gloves Sun gloves Outdoor Research Clothing 0.003
Galvanized Hardshell Hardshell Patagonia Clothing 0.55
Co-Op LS Tech Base layer REI Clothing 0.09
Active Ice Sun Gloves Sun gloves Outdoor Research Clothing 0.003
Sightcaster Polarized Glacier Glasses Glacier Glasses Native Eyewear Clothing 0.02
Etip Liners Glove liners The North Face Clothing 0.01
Capilene Sleeveless Base layer Patagonia Clothing 0.011
Cobolt LS Tech Longsleeve Salomon Clothing 0.09
Summit L1 Climb Pant Climbing pants The North Face Clothing 0.52
Cordex Belay Gloves Belay gloves Petzl Clothing 0.11
Capilene Sun Hoodie (G) Sunshirt Patagonia Clothing 0.18
Atom LT Synthetic Synthetic puffy Arc'teryx Clothing 0.36
Kodak Point & Shoot Film Disposable Kodak Electronics 0.12
Actik Headtorch Headtorch Petzl Electronics 0.09
inReach Mini PLB Garmin Electronics 0.1
Suunto 9 Baro Suunto 9 Suunto Electronics 0.08
iPhone X Phone Apple Electronics 0.17
Nepal Evos Mountaineering Boots La Sportiva Footware 2.02
Co-Op Wide Mouth Nalgene Nalgene Hardware 1.09
Sharken Leverlock 12 PT Crampons Petzl Hardware 0.91
Djinn Bent Gate Biner Nonlocker Petzl Hardware 0.15
AM'D Triact Autolocking Biner Autolocker Petzl Hardware 0.08
Crevasse Rescue Pulley Pulley SMC Hardware 0.05
Reverso 4 ATC ATC Petzl Hardware 0.06
Ange Wiregate Biner Wiregate biner Petzl Hardware 0.12
Quark Ice Tool Ice tools Petzl Hardware 1.1
Meteor Helmet Helmet Petzl Hardware 0.22
Oscillante Crevasse Rescue Pulley Pulley Petzl Hardware 0.04
Laser Speed Light Ice Screw 13 CM Ice screw Petzl Hardware 0.18
Laser Speed Light Ice Screw 17 CM Ice screw Petzl Hardware 0.2
Laser Speed Light Ice Screw 21 CM Ice screw Petzl Hardware 0.11
Tiblock Progress capture Petzl Hardware 0.04
Spatha Knife Knife Petzl Hardware 0.04
Caritool Evo Ice Tool Holder Caritool Petzl Hardware 0.01
Attache 3D Screw Lock Biner Locker Petzl Hardware 0.24
Banana Boat Sport Screen  Sunscreen  Banana Boat Perishables 0.05
Ophir 3 Slide Harness Rock harness Mammut Software 0.37
2L Reservoir Bladder Osprey Software 2.20
Alpine PA PA  Metolius Software 0.05
5mm Perlon Perlon Beal Software 0
Hollow Block Hollow block Sterling Software 0.02
Single Sewn Runner Single sling Trango Software 0.01
Phantom 38 Single day pack The North Face Software 0.99
Contact Double Sling Double sling Mammut Software 0.03
Contact Single Sling Single sling Mammut Software 0.01
5D Mk II Camera Canon Electronics 0.85
24-105 f/4.0 Lens Canon Electronics 0.67
Capture Clip 3.0 Camera Capture Clip Peak Design Hardware 0.09
Patagonia 9 Trails Tech Shorts Shortsleeve Patagonia Clothing 0.18