Finally got around to finishing the Sharkfin Tower movie, the first Cascade Adventures movie in HD! Enjoy it here, or here along with the original story and photos.
The video “North Cascades: People, Places, and Stories” is now available. Doug and crew did a superb job. Some of my footage of Fred Beckey is featured (first six minutes of the video).
Still wanting to do a climb in North Cascades National Park, I solicited Daniel for a midweek climb of the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak. I want to have climbed all three ridges on the mountain. Then of course, I’d have to come back and climb the wild and enticing Northwest rib. I thought the chances might be low that he could pull it off in such short notice, but either way, I’d be happy: If the trip fell through, I’d just stay in Robert’s cabin, extending my trip and building more trails. But, Daniel made it happen.
I was a little late in arriving the next day, and we wasted a bit of time hunting down the rope from a co-worker, but we arrived at the Boston Basin trailhead around 3pm, enough time for the relatively modest hike in. the trail was hot and the usual July biting flies were out, serving to push us onward and upward to our camp, somewhere beyond Sharkfin Col on the Boston Glacier.
(above) Sharkfin Tower is located between Boston Peak and Forbidden Peak
I have been to Boston Basin many times but never to Sharkfin col, the key to accessing the North Ridge route and, unfortunately, upon arriving in the high basin, I realized that our lack of planning might cost us, or so it would seem. Locating the col is tough; from below, there seems to be multiple possibilities, and all are unsavory. So, we moved right, looking for a break in the imposing cliffs. We found one, almost immediately underneath Sharkfin Tower. We hopped over the bergeschrund, climbed some low fifth class rock, and continued up to the base of the tower. The rock pitch wasn’t very hard, so we were skeptical that this was the route to Sharkfin Col. The view from the snowfield at the base of the tower confirmed it – the col was much farther below to the west. It was getting late at this point so we wondered what to do. Daniel suggested a climb of Sharkfin Tower instead of Forbidden. It didn’t take much persuasion; I’ve been stymied once on each ridge I’ve climbed. Maybe this was fate. Plus, I could use the extra time back in Seattle. OK, let’s do it!
But then, we had an even better idea: climb now, during the sunset, bivy at the base, and hike out in the morning.
We found a good bivy site, then headed up Sharkfin Tower for our sunset climb. The climb is great, I really can’t say enough about it. The only problem is it’s so short! There are only three pitches and all are easy. We soloed the first, a rather exposed but easy traverse to the base of the ridge. The second pitch is the money pitch – right up the edge of the ridge on solid granite. We just simuled through the third pitch to the summit just as the sky turned a deep orange.
The final rappel was by headlamp, but we were back to the bivy sites less than two hours later. After a late dinner (the sun went down around 9:30pm) we turned in, probably around 11pm.
I slept like a log on the edge of the cliff, much like Frodo and Sam in “Return of the King”. Daniel woke me up in the morning around 6:30. Apparently, he’d been up for a while taking pictures. It wasn’t until he had to say, “Uh, turn around and have a look”, that I realized just how fortunate we were. Iw as delighted to see the ocean clouds down in Boston Basin. I always enjoy being above the clouds.
Daniel patiently waited on me while I prepared my things. We made two rappels down to the Quien Sabe Glacier. Below the glacier, we began feeling raindrops. The rain was quite gentle at first, then stopped. A second gentle shower visted us, then stopped. It wasn’t until the third time that the rain we realized how fortunate we were that we didn’t find Sharkfin Col. The clouds opened up. I quickly pulled out my rain jacket, but Daniel, who only had a soft shell just endured the driving rain. My shell ended up making very little difference actually (and I am half wondering about the place that I ordered in from in the US…have they been importing fake goods from China?) It rained the whole way down and the wet brush caused the moisture to penetrate every dry spot. We were utterly soaked when we got back to the car. Good thing we weren’t on the North Ridge. To quote Daniel’s pithy comment: “What a wonderfully successful failure!”
At the last minute, Ari and I decided to leave for Rainy Pass to car camp and then day climb the northeast ridge of Black Peak the next day. OK, that’s an efficient way to do it. Let’s go! We left around 9:30 PM Friday bound for Rainy Pass. However, we were tired enough that we stopped driving at Diablo Lake and pulled into the overlook, parked, and dragged our sleeping bags over to the edge of the overlook. Except for a couple of derelict cars and a few deer, the area was empty. We awoke to a nice sunrise over the emerald lake. We jumped in the car and made quick down to Rainy Pass. The mosquitos were out again and even I opted to put on some bug juice.
Getting to Heather Pass took no time at all. I was surprised at how quickly we got up the trail. In front of us, outlined against the blue sky and across a long talus field, was Black Peak. We could see Lewis Lake and some waterfalls in front of us, but Wing Lake was still out of view. The talus field was tedious, but manageable. Lewis Lake is vividly turquoise and I enjoyed traversing low around the right side of the lake. The trail didn’t start ascending until some yards after it crossed the source. I was beginning to think we were on the wrong path. The trail climbed steeply but comfortably up to Wing Lake. I was feeling tired and out of shape again, but I managed. One problem was that these new boots were starting to repeatedly bruise my ankles again. It’s like a little hammer tapping on my ankle every time I took a step. I got out some extra socks and jammed them down in the shoes to isolate my ankles from constant rubbing. It helped, somewhat.
Wing Lake was surprisingly frozen! We took a rest here, got some food, and reapplied sunscreen (to everywhere except the calves where we were both burned at the end of the day). To get to the ridge required a tedious climb up talus and snow. It’s quite a long slog. Once there, we had good views west and north. Some tricky 4th class traversing got us to a spot where we’d rope up. Ari wanted some practice leading so he got the rack and then took off.
The climbing was good, but not great. The rock was mostly solid, but there were definitely sections of steep loose blocks where extra care was needed. This climb reminded me some of Triumph. It was similar rock, maybe not quite as solid and not as thrilling. There’s a great “sidewalk in the sky” with lots of exposure that leads to a nice belay where you can take a comfortable break. Beyond that, it’s more of the same – easy 4th and 5th class climbing to a false summit which reminded me of a much smaller and easier version of Bugaboo Spire. We traversed along to the real summit and cut back up a gully to arrive at the top. The view of Goode was inspiring but the valley looked deep. Just getting up to the glacier looked to be a piece of work.
The hike out was a total pain. The descent off the summit wasn’t too bad, but required a lot of concentration descending the steep 4th class. Getting down to the ridge was just a matter of scouting out the route, looking for the most promising scree ledges and gullies, and then confirming your choices with an occassional cairn. The descent from the col was down steep scree then snow, which promptly dumped into my boots since they were wide open due to the socks jammed between my ankles and the sides of the boots. I cursed the snow as I made my way back to the scree. I emptied my boots and put on my gaiters. I boot skied down the rest of the snow almost all the way to the lake. The remainder of the hike out was awful as the socks seemed to be doing less and less. It reminded me of the painful descent off Slesse, that time being my knees. I hobbled my way down questioning my sanity for going on this climb. At the same time, the mosquitos were biting. So, I hiked and slapped. I was a lot slower on the hike out and Ari got far in front of me. He had the car waiting at the trailhead (not allowed to park directly at the trailhead) as I finally arrived. Thanks! We made it just in time for Good Food! My spirit perked back up.
Daniel and I hiked up to Boston Basin in late October of 2005. It was a super crisp clear day, one of the clearest I’d seen. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to last. Even though there were good sunrise views of Johannesburg as we were getting ready to climb, clouds had moved in and had begun to rapidly descend over Forbidden Peak. We scrambled up snow-covered talus for over an hour hoping that the clouds would part, but it never happened. We descended and vowed to return the following year for a day-climb of the route.
We returned in early July, this time accompanied by Daniel’s brother Mark and Ari Lazier. We planned on doing it in a day so decided to at least bivy on the picnic tables at the Cascade Pass parking lot. I don’t recall exactly when we got up, but we hit the trail in nice daylight around 5:30 in the morning. I’ve learned to be thankful for nice trails and the trail up to Boston Basin certainly qualifies as “nice trail” and we made quick time up the 3rd class tunnel, past the various stream crossings, the avalanche debris, and so on. We were in the alpine slopes of Boston Basin in around two hours or so, maybe a little less. One of the niceties of the east ridge is that you don’t have to deal with anything like the couloir on the way to the route. At the base of the route, we roped up and I volunteered to take the first pitch. I figured that I’d lead the first few pitches and Daniel would finish off the last few. Well, I ended up leading the whole thing which was fine with me.
The climb is consistently 5th class, unlike the west ridge. In fact, this route is not just “a little harder” than the west ridge, it’s a good bit harder. Last year, I think we climbed the west ridge in 30 minutes or so, basically two simul pitches. The east ridge is more serious and sustained. None of the pitches are really “hard”, but they require care. Being riddled with gendarmes, the climb is subject to rope drag and I wore my shoulders out by hauling in two lines on each belay.
There’s a nice section of knife-edged ridge mid-way along the route. It was easily climbed by hand-traversing on the south side of the ridge. Both Ari and Mark, despite being super strong rock climbers, were relatively new to alpine climbing and were raving pitch after pitch. The east ridge was a perfect intro.
Somewhere after the knife edge pitch was the second crux of the climb – a vertical wall on the north side of another gendarme on the ridge that leads to a small notch. At the notch, I was back on the ridge proper and climbed the gendarme, then descended – more rope drag. The short wall crux wasn’t as technical as the true crux near the end of the climb, but it’s a good bit more exposed.
There’s the option to climb a gendarme right before the crux and then rappel down to the crux belay. We had some rain hit us on the middle of the ridge with more weather threatening and since the gendarme climb was only twenty feet or so, we bypassed it on the right to the base of the crux. I offered the lead to Daniel, but he was happy just to let me keep going. OK, no problem. The pitch is a Cascade classic – it’s technical and easy to protect. I pulled up on small crimpers to a huge horn that I was able to throw a sling around. I pulled up one more move and realized I was at the 5.8 move – an overhanging section of wall with small features. To the left was a perfect finger crack which took a small nut beautifully. The protection was perfect and I pulled through the short moves to a jug where I let my feet catch some air high above the northeast face. What a great feeling. I think Daniel said that was his favorite pitch out in the mountains. That saying somethin’.
All that remained now was a simul-pitch of 5.2 ridge. Some more weather moved in and the clouds dropped around Eldorado and Boston, but Forbidden remained clear, although, I was now leading in swirling mist that only added to the awesome alpine ambience. The summit was ours and we hung out and ate for a bit before heading down the east ledges. We made 6 rappels, if I recall and then headed across the ledges. We broke up into two rope teams. I headed out first and placed gear as we simul-climbed. Daniel unclipped the gear and left it for the second team who re-clipped and then cleaned. Happy to be back at the ridged, we put on our hiking boots and headed down the slopes to Boston Basin. We got back to the cars after dark, didn’t see anyone else all day.
Aidan always wanted to do Eldorado. I wanted to do Eldorado and have some views. We both wanted something not to hard to get into shape with and have a good time. The weekend that we headed out was absolutely roasting. It suddenly seemed that summer had come to the Cascades with a ferocity. We brought a light glacier rope and a bit of rock pro ’cause we thought we’d also be doing Dorado Needle. In fact, that was the purpose of the trip. Dorado Needle and then a quick run up Eldorado. We eventually settled on climbing Eldorado the first day, late in the afternoon. Head out to Dorado Needle the next day and out. Well, our wimpy fitness dictated otherwise.
Well, the stream crossing is a piece of cake now. There’s a tree that lies across the entire creek with branches sticking out that serve as a makeshift banister. We enjoyed a minute or two of level hiking then suddenly the trail ascended unrelentingly through the forest. I’d forgotten how steep this trail is. In fact, I’d forgotten how relatively difficult the approach to Eldorado is. It’s certainly a lot harder than Boston Basin. I’m sure our fitness and the hot sun weren’t helping. In the talus field, it felt that I couldn’t escape from the sun beating down on me, draining my energy. Finally at the stream crossing we had a brief reprieve where we had a quick lunch. Higher up, it was odd to see a couple other parties on the trail as well. Seems like we never see anyone else on the trail. I had to remind myself that Eldorado is very popular. The hike up to the Inspiration Glacier was uneventful, but the views were outrageous. We both were dragging by the time we were taking the last steps to reach the large flat plateau on the glacier south of Eldorado Peak.
We talked briefly with a party camping on the edge of the Inspiration Glacier, the same spot that I had camped with Ken three years before. We’d heard of good campsites in the rocks along the base of the east ridge and decided to head there. There were two other tents on a rock outcropping below the east ridge but we pushed higher up and found a nice spot within short sight of the summit. Unfortunately, neither us had the energy at the moment to go for the summit. Also, the rest we needed meant that we probably wouldn’t have enough decent light to make a summit attempt, at least one where we’d have good views. So we both hung out and ate. I kinda figured that we’d just do Eldorado tomorrow and head out – we were both complaining about our knees too. Dang!
A good night sleep saw us ready to attempt the peak. Actually, we slept quite late. Being the longest weekend of the year, we slept a good three hours past sunrise (I think we got up a little before 7am). We headed up, not bothering to rope up and eventually arrived at the base of the summit ridge. There were two parties up there and we decided to wait for them to descend. Seemed like we waited a long time, but it didn’t matter; we had plenty of time. We wandered around to a rock outcropping at the end of a short snow finger on the north side where we had good views down into Marble Creek cirque. Early Morning Spire and Dorado Needle both looked inviting, although we were treating the trip with too much leisure to go for Dorado Needle. While we were waiting, a yellow plane buzzed by – Scurlock was in the ‘hood! I took some video of the plane flying by. Eventually, we got our chance at the summit ridge.
The summit ridge was a piece of cake and I had video camera in hand, filming the entire way up. It was a nice day, a little windy, but clear. I got great cell phone reception but for some reason I couldn’t get any rings. Oh well. We headed back to camp and took a long nap in the sun. I didn’t mind being a little lazy on this trip. We headed back around 11:30. As soon as we hit the talus field, the sun was really doing its work on me again. Ug, I felt so drained. My knees were really starting to hurt too. Dang, this wasn’t a good auspice for the following week, when we would tentatively be out in the wild for a full week (we postponed the trip and I’ve been wearing a knee brace, which has helped a lot). Because of my knee, Aidan hiked out much faster than me, but waited for me now and then. We both arrived back at the creek together where Aidan suggested a quick plunge. Why not. We sat down in the middle of the frigid creek and leaned back dunking ourselves in. Cold and refreshing.