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Trip Report    

Prusik Peak/West Ridge

[Trip from 8/7 to 8/10 with camping permit for Snow Lake Zone]
The park rangers were out in force and asked to see our camping permit even before we left the Snow Creek parking lot. We started hiking around 10am. On account of it being a hot day with a blazing sun we went at a slow pace and took lots of breaks, arriving at our camp at the far end of Snow Lake around 5pm. Recent trip reports mentioned bad bugs but we did not find it to be buggy. The helicopters were flying and retrieving water from Nada and Snow Lakes to fight the nearby Chiwaukum fire. We saw the haze of smoke in the distance.

The following day we left our camp at 3:30am and reached the base of the climb around 6:30am. Prusik Peak and the approach from Snow Lake were free of snow. In spite of the forecast of freezing levels at 13,000 feet it was unexpectedly cold. The combination of the cold and a stiff wind made it too cold to climb. Climbers would have trouble keeping their hands warm and the belayers would be chilled while waiting. A wrist watch thermometer showed the temperature to be 45 degrees.

We found a relatively sheltered spot near the scramble mound at the base of the West Ridge and waited to see if it warmed up. People wished that they had brought more warm layers. By 9:30am it was still really cold. If we were going to have enough time to climb that day we needed to get started soon. Of our party of six, four felt that they would be okay climbing in the cold and two felt that they would not. We decided to split the party and we agreed upon an expected return time for the climbers.

The first of our two rope teams started up the first pitch around 10am. Instead of starting right at the balanced rock we scrambled up to the second of two ledges which allowed reaching the big belay ledge near the ridge crest in one pitch. Not belaying on scramble terrain here and later on saved time. We were freezing going up the first pitch but at the belay ledge and beyond the winds were light which made it easier to keep warm.

Eventually we were in the sun and the cold was no longer so much a problem and we could enjoy the climbing. The two intermediate students and the intermediate graduate climbed solidly and by 2:30pm we reached the summit. Three 60M double-rope rappels brought us to the scramble path leading back to the base of the climb. Following the second rappel we had something of a scare when we started pulling down the ropes and they snagged. We tried pulling the other end of the rope to free the knot from whatever it was caught on but then when we started pulling again it would get snagged again. Finally on the fifth try we were able to retrieve the rope. We were back at our packs around 5pm.

For the next day we had tentatively planned to scramble something like McClellan Peak. The approach hike from Snow Lake to the Lower Enchantment plateau is less than 3,000 feet of elevation gain and not much mileage and yet there is something about the trail that makes it grueling. Everyone was feeling hammered so instead of rising at the crack of dawn we slept in and took a lazy day-hike to the Upper Enchantment plateau. The hike out on the fourth day was uneventful.