24 November 2015
After getting lost in the maze of parking lots at the Alpental Ski Resort, I’m pleasantly surprised to see Gavin pulling in only five minutes after we agreed to meet at six in the morning. Pulling through when it counts. After splitting up the rack and the rope we head off down the trail, which is wide and pleasantly well-maintained. It is bright and cold and beautiful. Perfect weather, and it feels strange. I shrug it off and we chug down the trail, passing teenagers in tennis shoes and leaving them with directions and mileage back to the parking lot.
Distracted by the perfection of the day, we promptly hike underneath the approach ridge. After trading poles for ice tools we rope up for a short and fun mixed gully pitch to gain the ridge, and we stare upwards at the route in full view. We’ve been eyeing the NE Buttress since the parking lot and it looks like a variation climber’s left of the traditional right-leaning gully is in better shape, so we set that as the goal.
Gavin looks nervous and excited. He slings a bush and ties into it on the flat ridge below the first pitch, and I head off into the dihedral. The ice, mostly, is shit. I quickly discover the 13cm screws I racked were too long for good placements most anywhere. I get a solid one into a bulge at the base a few feet from the bottom. Fifteen feet higher, I give up on a second screw placement and start scratching for rock pro.
There’s not much. I remind myself it’s pretty low angle, calm down a bit and carry on. After a tipped-out #2 Camalot I feel the teeth of another 13cm screw bite into the rock beneath the ice. With pro opportunities looking bleak above, I tie it off with a sling and move on. Pretty soon I had climbed out all the ice in the corner — my highest tool placement had chunked into a big piece of ice that broke and moved. It felt solid now. I reached up with another tool to tap on a block of rock that looked hookable, and I was rewarded with the entire block falling off.
Fuck. Fuck fuck. I tried to push the block, the size of a big toaster — in the climbing world, falling rocks are often sized as kitchen appliances — into anywhere that wasn’t my lap, and failed. It rolled onto my thighs and hit me softly in the gut before spinning off towards my belayer.
“Rooooock,” I yelled as loudly as I could as chunks of broken ice burst into the air where the block hit the wall on its way towards Gavin’s face. To my relief, Gavin deftly dodged the high-velocity kitchen appliance and flashed me a thumbs up. Safe. This was a bit sketch, but a good lesson.
After pulling a scary move to get out of the corner I cruised through easier terrain to a comfy belay at a tree anchor. An interesting pitch, we agreed. Gavid waltzed up a pitch of steep snow and really fun thunker alpine ice that led to the base of the last water ice step. He climbed up to the base, placed a screw, lost his confidence, and down climbed to the belay. We redirected the rope and I pulled over the step with a solid screw at the base.
The slope above eased off but was mostly loose snow on rock slab. Digging around yielded a bomber nut a few body lengths above the ice step below but not much else above until a small pine tree at the top of the slope. Gavin seconded the ice step smoothly and we romped up the summit slopes.
After some confusion poking around for the down climb gully, we shrugged and rapped off the burliest rap anchor we saw — landing ourselves at the end of the rope in the middle of a steep, icy gully. Trip report descriptions of a steep snow gully down climb made some vague sense here, but there wasn’t enough snow to safely down climb. Leaving a sling and a locker, another rap brought us down to the traditional first rappel anchor at the entrance to the snow couloir. After some anchor excavation, we popped out of the couloir and down climbed one last steep section.
The Alpental lights blipped on in the valley below and the moon outshone our headlamps as we plunge-stepped the steep exit slopes of the huge snow bowl. We were stoked for the stellar avvy conditions that day — the slope is known to slide, and we could see why.
Couldn’t have asked for better weather. An awesome day!