Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

Part 3 of this three part Cascade climbing series will cover climbing the Disappointment Cleaver Route on Mount Rainier.

Part 3: The Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Looking down towards our camp at the Ingraham Flats from above “the Cleaver” photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier


Getting There/Lodging

To finish off our hat trick of Cascade climbs we left the northern Cascades and returned to Seattle to pick up some friends before heading to Ashford, WA, the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park. The drive to Ashford from Seattle takes just under two hours. Most of our group had reserved cabins at the Stone Creek Lodge just minutes from the park entrance. My climbing partner and I had space reserved at the Cougar Rock Campground about 20 minutes within the park boundary.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Overview map of Ashford, park entrance, Paradise and lodging

Weather

We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a stretch of excellent weather. June, July, and August can all offer great summer alpine climbing conditions with June being a bit colder and wetter and August opening up a bit more crevasses on the glaciers. For mountain specific weather forecasts on Mount Rainier go here:

Mountain Weather Forecast- Mount Rainier


Day 1: Paradise to Moon Rocks

After a very hearty breakfast at the highly recommended Copper Creek Restaurant we made the scenic drive up to Paradise, the launch pad of adventures on the south side of Mount Rainier. Paradise is a very busy hub of mountain recreation with apparently thousands of visitors a day. We had picked up our permit the day before so we got right on the trail and started our ascent. While I forgot to run my GPS app or watch this day I’ve created a GPX file on CalTopo of the most common route and used the GuidePace App to calculate average times for each leg.

First Leg

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
First leg from Paradise to Pebble Creek Trail via Skyline Trail

Distance 1.55 miles, elevation (+1300), time estimate 1 hour 37 minutes

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Looking back towards Alta Vista and Paradise

Be warned this first section of “trail” is quite congested with day visitors from all over the world. The trail is actually paved for the first mile and a heavy ranger presence tries as best as possible to keep visitors from trampling the beautiful alpine meadows here. Once you reach the Pebble Creek trail the crowd will thin a little…

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Peter just before reaching the Pebble Creek Trail

Second leg

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Second leg from Pebble Creek Trail to the creek (last flowing water)

Distance .55 miles, elevation (+530), time estimate 38 minutes

Third leg

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Third leg, Pebble Creek to Moon Rocks camp

Distance 1.28 miles, elevation (+1680), time estimate 1 hour 48 minutes

Shortly after gaining the Pebble Creek Trail you’ll come to the actual creek which was a reliable source of water for us to top off our bottles. Right after crossing the creek you start the long slog up the Muir Snowfield. This leg can drag on a little but eventually we reached our camp. After digging some level tent platforms at about 8800 feet we kicked back and soaked in a gorgeous sunset.

Climbing Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier
Climbing Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier with Mount Adams in the distance
Climbing Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier
The Northeast Mountaineering team arrives at camp
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Setting up camp below Anvil Rock at 8,800 feet on the Muir Snowfield- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Soaking in the last of the days sun

Day 2: Moon Rocks to Ingraham Flats

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
The sun rises on our second day on the mountain- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Moon Rocks to Ingraham Flats

We broke camp mid-morning and started our climb up to Ingraham Flats. The day before I had found a trickle of running water in rocks a few hundred feet above our site and I was happy to see it was still running enough in the morning to top off our bottles, greatly reducing the amount of fuel/snow melting we would need. We reached Camp Muir in just over an hour. We relaxed for a bit before roping up to cross the Cowlitz Glacier.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Roping up at Camp Muir- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

Crossing the upper Cowlitz Glacier was straightforward and we were soon scrambling up the ridge that separates the Cowlitz from the Ingraham glacier.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Looking back towards Camp Muir, Cowlitz Glacier
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Reaching Ingraham Flats. “The Cleaver” for which the route is named is the rocky ridge to the right

Total climbing time to Ingraham was about 3 hours from our camp at Moon Rocks so we had plenty of time to level sites and dig a privy before settling in.


Day 3- Acclimatization and Crevasse Rescue Practice

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Sunrise over Little Tahoma Peak- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

Our third day on the peak was set aside for acclimatizing and a little crevasse rescue practice. Late in the morning we made our way down to the giant crevasses just below our camp and set to building snow anchors and lowering each other into the crevasse. This would certainly be a highlight for many on the trip!

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Setting anchors for crevasse rescue practice- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
My climbing partner Peter climbs out of crevasse- photo by @cfphotography

Later that afternoon before turning in we got to watch a pretty spectacular natural rockfall from Gilbratar Rock!

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Natural rockfall on Gilbratar Rock funnels towards “Cadaver Gap”- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

After hydrating and eating as much as I could we turned in well before sunset as our summit day start time was 2300 (11 PM)!  Everyone was feeling pretty strong after a full rest day at 11,000 feet but we knew the following day would be a long one!


Day 4: Summit and Out!

We rallied at 11 PM and quickly got on the trail by 11:30 PM. A couple of groups had passed through on their summit attempts from Camp Muir and I was eager to not get behind more parties.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Our summit route

We made good time up the cleaver and entered the mythical looking sastrugi above the ridge.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Mystical looking snow formations- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography

The route the rangers and guides had selected greatly reduced exposure to objective hazards but required dropping 400 feet of elevation after getting above the Cleaver and then far to the north eventually joining up with the Emmon’s Glacier route before turning and gaining the summit crater on the far north side. Despite the extra mileage and elevation we managed to pass the few parties that had gotten out ahead of us. We were the first group on the mountain to summit about 15 minutes before sunrise, about 6 hours after leaving our high camp!

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Reaching the summit crater of Mount Rainier just before sunrise- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography
Climbing Mount Rainier
An amazing group of people to share this adventure with!- photo by @cfphotography
Climbing Mount Rainier
Sunrise from the summit crater Rainier- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography

One of the best things about summiting a peak in the dark is the views on the descent are all unseen and we were treated to stunning clear skies and under-cast for days!

Climbing Mount Rainier
Descending back to Ingraham Flats- photo by @cfphotography

After climbing back down the Cleaver we arrived at Ingraham Flats exactly 9.5 hours from the start of our climb, about 9 AM. We broke down camp and rested for a bit before descending to Muir Camp and all the way out to Paradise.

Summary

Rainier has been on my bucket list for a very long time. I’ve helped east coast climbers prep for this mountain for over a decade and it was great to finally experience this peak with such great people and in such great conditions. I hope this trip report and guide might help you plan a trip to this incredible place someday!

More info coming!

I will be uploading GPX files and some video of our climb in the very near future!

Gear List

If you are interested in the exact gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!

Information on Guided Trips: www.nemmountaineering.com. Click on “Mountaineering” to see all Cascade Climbing Trips.

Affiliate links help support this blog.

Part 2: The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

Part 2 of this three part Cascade climbing series will cover The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak.

Part 2: The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak with Moraine Lake far below

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

After our successful summit of Mount Shuksan via the Fisher Chimney’s we took a rest day and camped at Douglas Fir Campground. The next day we drove to the ranger station in Marblemount to collect our back-country permit and then took the scenic Cascade River Road to the trail-head.


The Route

The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak is one of the “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America” and is considered Grade II, YDS 5.6. After a half day approach into Boston Basin the route climbs a perennial snow field before ascending a moderate gully to one of the most spectacular ridge climbs you can imagine. Massive exposure with relatively good rock quality and a stunning summit make it easy to see why this route made the aforementioned list!


Registration Details (from NPS.gov)

WILDERNESS INFORMATION CENTER

Wilderness Information Center
Click here for current hours

Phone: 360-854-7245
Location:
 7280 Ranger Station Rd., Marblemount, WA 98267. Drive SR 20 toward Marblemount. Turn onto Ranger Station Road, which leaves SR 20 at milepost 105.3, just west of Marblemount, and drive 0.7 miles to the end of the road and the ranger station.
Exhibits: Exhibits about wilderness and backcountry travel. Relief map. Sales of books, maps, and other items related to wilderness, hiking, and climbing.


Available Facilities:
 This center is the main backcountry permit office for North Cascades National Park and the adjacent Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. Information desk. Sales area with books, maps, videos, and other items related to the national park and adjacent national forests. Backcountry permits are required year-round and are available at an outdoor self-issue station when the station is closed during the winter season.


Getting There

Marblemount, WA is just under two hours from Seattle. After obtaining your permit from the ranger station it’s about a twenty five minute drive to the unmarked trail-head.

Forbidden Peak Map
I’ve highlighted the ranger station and the objective

Weather

We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a 12 day stretch of excellent weather. June, July, and August can all offer great summer alpine climbing conditions with June being a bit colder and wetter and August opening up a bit more crevasses on the glaciers. For mountain specific weather forecasts on Forbidden Peak go here:

Mountain Weather Forecast- Forbidden Peak


Day 1 GPS Details

Approach to Boston Basin
You can download this GPS track here!

The approach trail climbs about 3,300 feet in 3.75 miles and took us exactly three hours. We found some level tent sites at the “upper bivy” right at the toe of the snowfield that provided plenty of running water. A few brief showers came through and we were treated to some excellent “god rays” as the sun set and we turned in for an alpine start.

The Upper Bivy in Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak
The Upper Bivy in Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak

The next day we started out at about 4 AM.

Alpine start, Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak
Alpine start, Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak

Day 2 GPS Details

West Ridge Forbidden Peak Ascent
Download this GPX file here
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Heading to “the Heartstone”, a good landmark feature, the steeper snow climbing begins on the left side of this feature a couple hundred feet above us. Photo from @mattbaldeli

Easy climbing up through the snowfield brought us to the start of the gully that would allow access to the ridge. The “Heartstone” is a rock buttress directly above us in the photo that serves as a good landmark for finding the snow gully that is hidden from view. The route climbed up thinning snow just to the left of this feature. In the gully proper the snow climbing was straight forward until we hit a glide crack that required a big balance step to surmount. The snow ended about 200 feet from the ridge so we pitched out a few short 3rd-4th class pitches. This stretch was the only place on the ascent that had a decent amount of loose rock so care was needed.

We stashed our mountaineering boots, crampons, and ice axes and switched into approach shoes for the rest of the climb in the small col on the ridge. The exposure begins almost immediately with a airy step over a gap in the ridge with a chock-stone that perfectly frames the lower snow gully you just climbed up. You can see this spot clearly in the video I will link further below.

The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Working our way along this classic alpine ridge

The climbing was enjoyable, the rock felt solid, the views were un-believe-able… For speed we mixed up our techniques between simul-climbing and short-pitching with only about 20 meters of rope between us. This made for easy communication and simplified rope management.

The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The author at the 5.6 crux
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Two parties behind us on the ridge, photo by Matty Bowman
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Close to summit selfies?
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Summit! The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

We made the summit in 7.5 hours after leaving our camp in Boston Basin having climbed 3.9 miles and over 2,500 feet in elevation. The small pointed summit of Forbidden is one of the most amazing places I have ever stood in the mountains. The terrain is so dramatic as you look back along the ridge you just traversed and see the thousand feet of air on each side.

West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Looking back along the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak from the summit with Moraine Lake far below
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak- photo by Matt Baldelli Photography
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The author descending from summit- photo by Matt Baldelli Photography

Descent

After refueling we reversed direction and returned to the col to collect our snow gear. We then scrambled down to skiers right of the snow gully we had ascended and located the first rappel anchor in “Cat Scratch Gully”, an alternate 4th class ascent route to the snow gully. Five 30m rappels brought us to back to the snowfield where we enjoyed some decent boot glissading in the warming snow all the way back down to our camp.

We packed up camp and hiked back out to the trailhead in just under 2 hours.

Summary

I’ve had some time to reflect on this climb and I can say with certainty it will be one of the most memorable climbs of my life. I feel so fortunate to have not only had the opportunity to climb it but to do so with such great partners and friends and perfect weather and route conditions. I hope this trip report and guide might help you plan a trip to this incredible place someday!

Gear List

If you are interested in the gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!

Videos

Here’s a four minute video I made of our climb, enjoy!

 

My friend and professional video producer created this amazing short film of our climb! Check it out!

Forbidden Peak from Jon Mercer on Vimeo.


Information on Guided Trips: www.nemmountaineering.com. Click on “Mountaineering” to see all Cascade Climbing Trips.

Affiliate links help support this blog.

Part 1 Cascades Climbing Trip: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

A week ago I returned from a two week climbing trip in the Cascades of Washington State and ticked off three classic climbs. While I’ve had amazing climbing trips to Colorado, Nevada, and California this most recent trip has likely become my most memorable. I’ll share a trip report, GPS track, detailed gear list, pics and tips for each route. I hope that you find some of this useful in planning your own Cascade adventure!

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier


Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
The south side of Mount Shuksan from Lake Ann with the Upper and Lower Curtis Glacier’s. Fisher Chimney’s works up a weakness visible 1/3 from left

Our first objective for this two week trip was the glaciated 9,131 foot massif often claimed to be the most photographed mountain in the Cascades. The easiest route up this idyllic peak is via the Sulphide Glacier Route, a mostly glacier/snow climb that has some 3rd class scrambling on the “Summit Pyramid”. We opted for the Fisher Chimney’s route. One might choose the more technical Fisher Chimney’s Route for a few reasons.

  1. You like 4th class climbing
  2. You have three days for your climb (can be done in two very long days)
  3. You know about one of the most scenic bivy sites above the Chimneys to spend a night

Registration Details

Before hitting the trail you need to register at the Glacier Public Service Center. From northern Bellingham off of Interstate 5, drive east 34 miles on the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542). From Seattle this is about a 2 hour drive. From the service center it’s about another 30 minutes to the Lake Ann Trailhead.

Weather

We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a 12 day stretch of excellent weather. June, July, and August can all offer great summer alpine climbing conditions with June being a bit colder and wetter and August opening up a bit more crevasses on the glaciers. For mountain specific weather forecasts on Mount Shuksan go here:

Mountain Weather Forecast- Shuksan

GPS Details Day 1

Download this GPX track file here!

Approach to Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan
Approach to Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Approach to Lake Ann for Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan, Cascades- CalTopo USFS 2016 Map Data

Download this GPX track file here!

We started our hike around noon on day 1. After leaving the parking lot a series of switchbacks lead us down almost 1,400 feet into a scenic valley with a crystal clear stream that runs southeast.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Descending Lake Ann Trail enroute to Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

After a second noticeable stream crossing the trail gains some elevation and contours at about 4040 feet before descending again to the Swift Creek Trail junction and the last river crossing before ascending up to Lake Ann on a relatively nondescript snow field.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Ascending snowfield portion of Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

It appears many can lose the trail here so following the GPS track or having an established boot pack through the snowfield will be helpful. We reached our first camp at Lake Ann in just under 3 hours from leaving the trailhead. There were plenty of nice places to shovel out a level tent platform around the southeast side of the lake close to some small dirt/forest openings that made for convenient gathering spots for cooking and hanging out.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
My tent spot near Lake Ann

Day 2- Fisher Chimney’s

The following morning we took our time breaking camp. We spent a couple hours covering crampon and ice technique along with a clinic on building snow anchors and moving together in a rope team.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Northeast Mountaineering Guide Jordan talks to the group about building various snow anchors with our route and the Upper Curtis Glacier and Shuksan summit in the background

Around 11am we started our approach to the Fisher Chimney’s. After a half dozen switchbacks through forest we traversed a long snowfield to the base of the more technical climbing.

GPS Details Day 2

Download the GPX track file here!

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Download the GPX track file here!

You’ll notice if you look carefully on the above map that where the USFS labeled “Fisher Chimney” is WAY off from the actual route. You can also see this well defined gully in the satellite imagery on the pic just above, just after the switchbacks. This gully IS NOT the actual route. Follow the GPS track I uploaded or study the below pictures carefully.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Just before starting some switch backs to gain the snowfield that allows a traverse to the start of the Chimney’s
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
The route climbs up shallow gully’s and the thin snow strip roughly straight up from my right shoulder in this pic before crossing the Upper Curtis
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Just before getting to the Chimney’s proper… the route is fairly easy to follow if you get into the right feature
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
The orange dots are rough approximations of some of our short pitches. For scale the stripe of snow as almost a full 200 feet from bottom to the first bottleneck

Here we negotiated a small moat then started short-roping and short-pitching our way up about 1,000 feet of great 4th class climbing. Full overnight packs do make this scrambling a bit more “real” so don’t put your sleeping pad/bag on the top of your pack. Head clearance to look up will make the climbing much more enjoyable.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
There was about 250 feet of snow climbing left on the Chimney’s as of July 17th, 2017
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
My favorite view from the Fisher Chimney’s with Mount Baker in the background
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
White Salmon Glacier, Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Above the chimneys we moved through a notch of the “Shuksan Arm” and briefly traveled on the top of the “White Salmon Glacier” before reaching the most scenic bivy site I have ever seen. A small pool of melt water a hundred yards downhill from our camp provided water which allowed minimal use of our stoves and we settled in for one of the best sunsets I’ve experienced in my life.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Our camp above Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Definitely one of my best moments in the mountains to date!

Day 3- Summit and Out!

Our alpine start was at 3:30am. A quick climb up “Winnie’s Slide” brought us past an occupied higher bivy option (consistent water source here) then up along the left side of the Upper Curtis glacier and “Hell’s Highway”.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Alpine Start
Crossing the Upper Curtis Glacier, Mount Shuksan
Crossing the Upper Curtis Glacier, Mount Shuksan

After one more steep snow pitch we joined the Sulfide Glacier route just ahead of some parties that were making their way up from lower down the mountain. We were glad to be in position for first on the summit, and more importantly up the 3rd class gullies leading to the summit.

Last steeper pitch before gaining the Sulfide Glacier, Mount Shuksan
Last steeper pitch before gaining the Sulfide Glacier, Mount Shuksan

Gentle climbing as the sun rose led us to the base of the summit pyramid where we converted from glacier travel back to short-roping and short-pitching for the 600 foot 3rd class scramble to the top. There is quite a bit of loose rock on this final stretch that required due caution. Even with care one of our party took a decent sized rock to their helmet. I was quite happy we were the first group to reach this section due to the amount of loose rock. Next time I will certainly check out the “Southeast Ridge” variation that has some easy 5th class bits but reportedly has much less objective danger on it based on both personal referrals and online posts.

We summited just under 6 hours from leaving our high camp.

Summit of Mount Shuksan
Summit of Mount Shuksan

GPS Info… unfortunately I discovered I had left the Bluetooth setting on with my Garmin 3 HR watch and killed the battery pre-maturely. Close to the summit I decided to fire up my Suunto Movescount iPhone App and got a decent track of our final push:

Descent

To descend from the summit we short-roped down the southwest ridge until we reached a rap station. From here it was about three to four 30m rappels back down to the Sulfide Glacier and a relatively quick walk back to our high camp. We broke down camp then descended the Fisher Chimney’s via short rappels, belayed down-climbing, and short-roping, arriving at Lake Ann around 4pm. After a short break we pushed down into the scenic valley and then back up towards the car. After climbing back up the 3 switch-backs that started our trip we reached the cars about 17 hours after starting our summit climb… a long but incredibly memorable day in the mountains!

Gear List

If you are interested in the gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!

Summary

This was my first glaciated climb. My first 9,000 foot peak. My first “blue bag” experience. I was ecstatic to get to use skills I have read about, practiced, and even taught over the last 15 years in a successful group climb of this peak. Below I’ll list the exact gear I carried on this adventure with comments on what worked and what didn’t. I hope some will find this a useful resource for planning their own climb of Mount Shuksan. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments below, I’d be happy to elaborate on anything!

Here’s a 4 minute video of some stills and video clips of the climb!



Information on Guided Trips: www.nemmountaineering.com. Click on “Mountaineering” to see all Cascade Climbing Trips.

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

Affiliate links help support this blog.

Tying an Auto-Locking Munter Hitch

Continuing my almost weekly Tuesday (not always Tuesday) Tech Tip series this week I’m sharing how to build the Auto-Locking Munter (ALM) hitch. In last weeks post I shared how to tie a Munter Hitch (MH) directly onto a carabiner, a skill useful for any climber. This skill is a little more specialized and its usefulness can certainly be debated. I’m of the camp that believes more tools and options can be a good thing, if one is cautious as to when and why to apply such a skill. Let’s watch the video and then take a look at some scenarios where this skill can be useful and also address some of its limitations.

Now let’s take a closer look at this skill and where it might be helpful (or make matters worse). The first thing I’ll get out of the way is my mispronunciation of the hitch. “Munter” is correctly pronounced “Moon-Ter”. I apologize for my error and hope you’ll forgive me.

Another point that might seem important to some and minutiae to others is the lack of emphasis I place on tying the hitch with the load strand along the spine of the carabiner, which would essentially make the overall carabiner/hitch system able to withstand a larger amount of force. This author, along with some others whose comments can be found at the various referenced links I’ll include below, believe that the carabiner/hitch system will be able to withstand any potential load without carabiner failure. In fact I would argue if the system saw the amount of force that would make this load strand orientation important it would likely exceed the holding strength of a MH anyways, so I have decided to leave this out (except for this lengthy explanation as to “why”). By all means, if you strive for perfection you can spend some time mastering getting the load strand along the spine.

Carabiner Choice

We should mention that the MH, and therefore the ALM, work best with large pear shaped carabiners. My favorite two carabiners for this hitch are the Petzl William Screw Lock Carabiner and the Petzl Attache. I prefer screw gate lockers when building MH/ALM’s because various auto-locking carabiners’s can slightly slow down the process and I’ve always liked Petzl’s “red unlocked indicator”.

Usefulness

Next we should discuss the usefulness of the ALM, a skill some have claimed is more a “guiding” tool then something a recreational climber should employ. To that I argue if you’ve already been using the MH (because it’s a great tool) then I think it is not a far stretch to add this adaptation of a hitch you are already using to your tool belt… with some understanding of the problems it might create. Let’s start with the “good” first.

There are many situations where I’ll choose a MH over my plaquette belay device (Black Diamond Guide ATC, Petzl Reverso, GiGi, etc). Moving quickly in alpine terrain, converting a basic “biner” belay on low angle slab to a more secure option, iced up winter ropes; all can be good situations to use the MH. Generally speaking these are situations where I am not expecting a second to even take a fall. From here there are a few things that can occur that can make converting the MH into an ALM a handy skill to have.

The Un-Expected

Your new partner who said he could easily follow 5.x struggles hard at the crux and calls to you that he can’t get through the moves. You start regretting not using your plaquette so that you can quickly build a 3:1 raise and give him a little “help” through the crux moves. Luckily you know the ALM and have a 3:1 built in a few seconds giving him the tension he needs to get through the tougher moves and carry on with the climb. It should be noted you will lose some efficacy in the haul system as the ALM does create more friction then most plaquettes.

The Expected

Perhaps the pitch is 5.5 slab running up to a 5.9 thin bulge crux right at the end… you go with a quick moving MH and right before your parter starts moving through the crux you slip the 2nd locker into place and have just created a more secure belay… or maybe you just wanted to get a great shot of her stemming up the final corner and the ALM offers a bit more piece of mind while you lean out over the belay ledge to get the angle right…

The Improvised

You can use an ALM directly off your belay loop as part of a rope ascension system. A flipped plaquette, Petzl GriGri, Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley, or actual ascender will make rope ascension MUCH easier but this is a potential solution if you find yourself without any other tools. If you practice this at all IRL you’ll probably quickly decide to always carry a more efficient means of “progress capture” for rope ascension.

Concerns

The biggest issue with the ALM is the complications that arise if you find yourself in need of lowering your partner after they have loaded the ALM. The worst case scenario would look something like this… You’re climbing an overhanging route and decide to use the ALM while your partner follows the last pitch. He botches a sequence under the roof and ends up hanging on the rope 5 feet from the wall due to the nature of the climb. The ALM has done its job and is easily holding the climber, but now what? There is a great ledge just 20 feet below the climber and if you had been using a classic MH you would simply lower him back to the ledge (or ground) to try the climb again. You could haul, but a 3:1 even with better efficiency than an ALM would be near impossible to hoist a 180 pound climber who is free hanging… a 5:1 might work but lowering seems so much quicker and less complicated. In this situation a quick block and tackle may take enough stress off the load strand to allow you to remove the 2nd carabiner that makes the MH an ALM allowing you to lower them back to the ledge. Even without a simple load transfer a small locking carabiner without a notched gate can likely be removed from a loaded ALM with some aggressive wiggling but an understanding of load-transfers (or the fore-sight to perhaps use a different option in overhanging terrain) would be prudent. A tested friction-hitch back up would be a wise addition here before removing the 2nd carabiner.

Summary

Like most climbing skills the Auto-Locking Munter is an option and not a solution for every situation. I find it useful a few times a season and think it’s a good tool to add to your kit. You should practice it quite a few times in non-life threatening situations before using it 600 feet up your next route.

Comment below! Was this Tech Tip new to you? Old news? Want to see more? Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

More Info/References/Reading:

https://www.climbing.com/skills/auto-blocking-munter/

https://www.climbing.com/skills/munter-magic/

https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/107449883/tech-tip-auto-locking-munter-alm-dos-and-donts

http://www.karstendelap.com/2012/05/09/lockingmunterhitch/

https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/108253899/garda-knot#a_108254353

 

 

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic

Since my copy arrived this past May I’ve been steadily devouring the massive amount of information contained in Marc Chauvin and Rob Coppolillo’s recently published book, The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference- From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue.

The Mountain Guide Manual

This past Wednesday I attended one of Marc Chauvin’s Mountain Guide Manual Clinic’s; the first of three he is currently offering. I’ve heard rumors he will offer this in a few other locales outside of our Mount Washington Valley home turf and if one is offered in your area I would highly suggest you try to attend! If you can’t make one of the scheduled dates consider hiring Marc for a private day. The “guide of guides” who wrote the book on guiding is sure to give you a mind expanding day!

A friend who saw my Instagram story asked me what they should expect in a brief recap of the day and the type of material covered so I thought I could share that here for those who might be curious or on the fence.

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic

First, if you are considering the clinic you absolutely need to buy the book first! A brief run through the first few chapters, especially the long chapters on various transition methods, will better prepare you for the day, but a solid understanding of any of it is not quite necessary (unless perhaps you are preparing for a guide exam and want to crush transitions). I’ll also say you don’t need to be or want to be a guide to benefit from this book or clinic. Two of my fellow clinic-mates where not guides and were there to become more proficient in their recreational climbing.

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic
AJ, Lovena, and Zach practice a transition to rappelling while leading “parallel” style with two seconds

Marc will challenge the way you’ve been “doing things” for years. He will help everyone in the group re-program their climbing brains and get them thinking about things like “rope-end equations” and “back-side of the clove-hitch” in ways that actually simplify and streamline our processes. A simple example was introduced early in the day. We dissected how two climbers might climb a single pitch route with a single rope and then rig to rappel. Basically the “climbing to rappelling transition”.

Most of us would imagine both climbers tether into the anchor with slings, PAS’s, etc. untie from both ends, thread the rope, and rappel one at a time. Marc demonstrates how we can pull this off with greater security and speed by using what is already built instead of deconstructing and re-building a whole new system. This method also allows the leader to stay tied in, removes the need to tie a “stopper knot” in both rope ends, and is really pretty darn slick. This isn’t “rope trickery” but classic “think big picture/outside the box” type stuff. I’m not going to describe it fully here but it might make it into a future Tech Tip!

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic
Marc can teach so much without ever putting on a harness!

I’ve heard from a couple guides, some close friends, that they are kind of avoiding these “new” techniques. They want to stick with what they know and kind of have the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” type mindsets. I’d encourage any and all of my climbing acquaintances, friends, and colleagues to try to stay open minded in their full climbing careers, from day 1 to your last.

Seek to get better, learn more, go faster, safer, simpler, when ever and where ever you can. The fact that there is always something more to learn is what drove me to a career in mountain guiding and avalanche education. It is thrilling to know there is no finish line!

Thank you Marc for continuing to inspire and challenge me from the first course I attended in 2002 to today!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



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Pinnacle in 2 hours! Wilderness Navigation! Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge!

Two weeks ago I wrote about my personal goal to climb the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle in under 2 hours car to car after doing it in 2:37. Last Thursday weather and a partner lined up for another attempt. We managed to shave about 10 minutes from the descent and some more time on the route by not swinging leads (I led the whole route via the 5.8 variation and Fairy Tale Traverse). After coiling the rope I checked the watch and was a little dismayed to see we only have 19 minutes left. I was pretty sure it would take me at least 25 minutes to reach the car at my pace. We started scrambling up the boulder field as fast as my lungs could handle. As we got closer I started to think we might make it. Then I started to get nervous that I would miss it by 2 minutes and have to try this whole thing over again. That prospect helped me dig down a little harder despite feeling like I would be dry-heaving from the effort. I was so stoked to make it with a minute and a half to spare! Here’s some action from our climb!


Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The author clips his first piece of protection on the exposed and beautiful “Fairy Tale Traverse”, a variation last pitch of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle photo by Matt Milone, @nightmutephoto

I’m happy to have checked this personal goal off my list. Quite a few have asked “why rush so much… enjoy the route… using the road is cheating… etc. etc.” To them say I have climbed this route at a more typical pace over a dozen times, I enjoyed this made up challenge, and I don’t think you can cheat on something that is 100% for you and not recognized by anyone else. I’m very thankful for all those who provided encouragement and especially Benny Allen and Matt Milone for the belays and hustle!


Over the weekend I had the opportunity to teach my Wilderness Navigation Course to 11 participants for the Appalachian Mountain Club. I really have a blast teaching this course and this group seemed to really enjoy the bushwhacking we did during our afternoon session.

Wilderness Navigation Course
A beaver dam on our way to our field session- Wilderness Navigation Course

Yesterday I had the pleasure of introducing Kellie of Exeter, NH to outdoor rock climbing. Kellie had been climbing indoors for almost two years and was quite enthusiastic to try the sport out on some real rock. Her natural ability and focus had her climbing close to 600 feet of climbing up to 5.8 without hardly breaking a sweat. I’m really looking forward to our next climb together!

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Kellie starts up Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Topping out Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Lay-backing on Kiddy Crack
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Sending the Mantle-shelf Problem 1st try!

Coming up!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Tuesday Tech Tip! A whole new round of gear reviews is en-route as well!

Book any course at Northeast Mountaineering and use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout. This will enter you into a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choosing!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog



Speed Climbing the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle

I like setting small reachable goals to keep me motivated in climbing. These goals are quite low compared to the inconceivable feats achieved by climbing’s greats, like the recent mind-blowing free-solo of Freerider by Alex Honnold and Kilian Jornet’s 26 hour climb from Basecamp to the summit of Everest and that’s quite OK! Mere mortals need goals too!

Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle
Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle

Last summer after a relatively quick climb of the Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle I wondered if I could cut my car-to-car time down to 2 hours. Last week we did it in 2 hours 37 minutes but we saw ample opportunities to shave more time and I think this goal is in reach for me this season. My only self-imposed rule is I must fifth class belay the whole route with some limited simul-climbing allowed (no straight up soloing) and include the 5.8 variation and the Fairy Tale Traverse. While skipping these pitches would lead to a faster time these two pitches make this a classic route in my opinion.

Here’s a video I made of our attempt. Below it I share some resources, gear lists, and general strategies I’m using.


The Auto-Road Approach

First let’s address the “alternative” approach we used, the Mount Washington Auto Road. Within minutes of posting my video to Facebook some folks bemoaned the use of the auto-road for the approach. While I don’t think I need to defend a tactic that I feel is valid for my own personal goal I do want to encourage anyone who has never climbed this route to do so first via the traditional approach (Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Huntington Ravine Trail). This approach is about 2.8 miles and 2700 feet in elevation and takes most parties 2-3 hours to reach the route. After topping out the hike across the Alpine Garden Trail and down the Lions Head Trail can be very scenic and enjoyable, and will take most parties about 2 hours, for an average trail time of 4-5 hours. Strong parties on fair weather days might even include a trip to the summit but be advised that adds considerable mileage and elevation to your day.

Another reason to stick with the traditional approach is on questionable weather days. If there is any chance of afternoon thunderstorms it would be more prudent to approach from below. This makes descending in bad weather an easier choice… not so easy if your vehicle is parked 1000 feet above you!

And finally cost is something to contemplate. For a party of 2 the entrance fee to the auto-road is $38! This year I decided I would be spending a lot of time up there so I took advantage of a “locals” season pass for $99. I’m planning over a half dozen forays up there this season for various projects and expect my actual expense to come down to about $8 per person per trip which makes the next couple of points well worth it!

The Auto Road can cut the approach time down to 25 minutes. This is basically jogging down the Huntington Ravine Trail, a really steep trail with lots of 4th class terrain on it. You drop 1000 feet in only .4 miles! There are multiple places were a slip could result in serious injury so care needs to be taken here. After topping out the technical portion of the climb it’s another .4 mile 700 foot climb back up to your car, taking about 25 minutes.

Bottom line is using the Auto Road can cut the total hiking time down to less than one hour.

That leaves me about an hour for the 7 pitch climb to meet my 2 hour goal. Much of the route is easy fifth class and can be simul-climbed by competent parties in approach shoes but I do carry my rock shoes to make the 5.8 pitch feel more secure.

Once I reach this goal I’d like to combine it with some other area classics. Whitney-Gilman Ridge is an obvious choice, but it might be fun to link up some stuff on Mt. Willard or Webster Cliffs as well… and Cathedral and Whitehorse always like to be included in long day link ups.

Resources

North Conway Rock Climbs by Jerry Handren <- Best guidebook for the area. Pages 282-284.

Mountain Project Route Description and Comments

Higher Summit Forecast <- only 72 hours out, if any chance of unsettled weather use traditional approach from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center

Current Summit Conditions <- useful for real time updates on changing conditions and elevation specific temperatures, I have this book-marked on my phone as cell coverage in Huntington Ravine is quite good with Verizon.

Auto Road Hours of Operation (opens at 7:30 am starting June 18th, closes at 6 pm)

GPS Info

Huntington Ravine Trail Parking Lot

5.6 miles from Auto Road Gate

UTM 19T 0316913 E 4905267 N WGS84 5725 feet

Start of climb

UTM 19T 0317371 E 4604895 N WGS84 4692 feet

End of 5th class climbing

UTM 19T 0317295 E 4904871 N WGS84 4911 feet

Personal Gear

Mountain Tools Slipsteam Pack <- I recently got my hands on this 11 ounce alpine speed pack and it’s perfect for this type of mission. Full review coming!

Mountain Tools Slipstream Backpack
Mountain Tools Slipstream Backpack

Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles <- I never considered carrying trekking poles on a technical climbing mission until I tried this pair. They only weigh 8 ounces each and pack up so small you can fit them into any “bullet” style climbing pack. I’ve noticed I can more downhill much faster with them so I’ll have them for the majority of my trips now!

Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch <- After testing 5 different GPS watches for the Gear Institute this one won my heart and I’ve been using it year round for both it’s GPS tracking capability and heart rate info

GoPro Hero 5 Session <- The small size of the session was what convinced me to start rolling with a GoPro again… above video was made with this. I really like how I can stream videos to my iPhone on the drive home and then do all the editing with iMovie on my phone!

Revo Cusp S Sunglasses <- high performance sweet shades!

LaSportiva TX 2 Approach Shoes <- My current favorite approach shoe! I need to order another pair before I wear these out and they stop making them! Full review here!

In the pack

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket <- a really nice ultralight jacket that I reviewed in detail here.

Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hooded Shirt <- another staple of my summer wardrobe, you can read all about it in my detailed review here.

AMK .7 First Aid Kit <- my basic first aid kit with some personal modification

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack <- weighs 4 ounces, lives in my pack

Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle <- I only carry one bottle but I pre-hydrate like crazy, use Nuun Hydration Tablets, and carry a small bottle of iodine tablets in my first aid kit for emergency use.

Petzl Zipka Headlamp <- The new 2017 version of my longtime favorite headlamp has doubled its brightness. The retractable cord has been my favorite feature as this light does not get tangled up in climbing gear!

 

Petzl Sirocco Helmet <- my original 2013 review is here but stand by for a new review on the 2017 model coming this summer!

Petzl Sitta Harness <- review here!

Five Ten Rogue Climbing Shoes <- my comfy all day trad shoe

Five Ten Rogue Lace Up Climbing Shoes
Five Ten Rogue Lace Up Climbing Shoes

Rack

The below rack is slimmed down from a normal rack based on intimate route knowledge and personal comfort running out long sections of easy 5th class terrain. For those on-sighting the route I would recommend a “regular rack”, i.e. set of nuts, 3-4 smallest tri-cams, set of SLCD’s up to a #2 Black Diamond Camalot or equivalent, 8 alpine draws, cordelette or two. My slimmed down rack for this mission:

Racked on a nylon shoulder sling:

Black Diamond Ultralight Camalots sizes .4 – #2 racked on Black Diamond Oz Rackpack carabiners <- loving the lightweight of these!

Black Diamond Camalot X4’s sizes .1 – .4 racked on a wire-gate oval carabiner <- these have replaced my long loved CCH Aliens!

Set of DMM Wallnuts sizes 1-11 racked on two wire-gate oval carabiners <- these are noticeably lighter than the Black Diamond Stoppers I have retired to when I need to double up on nuts

Light climbing rack
Light climbing rack

Petzl William Screw-Gate Locker with 5 alpine draws and 2 “mini-quads”… more on the “mini-quad” later!

Alpine Draws and Mini-Quads!
Alpine Draws and Mini-Quads!

Rope

For this mission I’m taking one of my older Sterling 9 mm Nano ropes and chopping it to 30 meters! This might seem dramatic but it makes a lot of sense to me on this route. The first concern many might have after reading that is “What if you need to bail?” Obviously retreating with just a 30 meter rope could be problematic on many similar alpine routes. Two points to justify this decision. 1) You can escape into 4th class terrain to the left of the route at just about any point on this climb. 2) I’ll only be attempting this with really favorable weather conditions. The savings are not just in total carry weight, but also speed of stacking and coiling at every transition. Even the 5.8 pitch is only 25 meters long so a 30 meter rope will allow us to belay the pitches we are not simul-climbing.

(EDIT 6/26/17- Having reached my goal last week we ended up using a full 60m Sterling Nano and I think that is probably more prudent. Where we could have saved some time was having the second use a backpack that could fit the whole rope “pre-stacked” so when we reached the route zero stacking would be required. At the top of the route the larger pack would let us stuff the rope vs. coiling it saving another few minutes.)

Belay System

Personal Climbing Gear
Personal Climbing Gear

Kong GiGi Belay Device <- currently my most used belay device. Since I’ll be leading the whole route no need to carry a tube style belay device. I really like the following carabiner combination pictured above to use with the GiGi for security and simplicity… more on that later perhaps.

Black Diamond Vapor Lock Carabiner

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner

For ounce counters the entire pack and contents above come in at 15 pounds sans rope!

Strategies

Pre-hydrate. I mentioned this earlier but I want to emphasize that only carrying 32 ounces of water is a risk management issue. I drink a full Nalgene during the night before and another 32 ounces on the way to the mountain.

Early start. If we are at the gate at 7:30am we can be on the trail by 7:45am, and climbing by 8:15am. I’ve easily made it back to the car by noon on multiple occasions. Most parties using the traditional approach would need to start hiking by 5:30am to start climbing the route at the same time.

Rack at the car. While I didn’t do this in the above video I can easily see how this will save 5 or more minutes. That means harness and helmet on at the car, gear organized to lead and belay, and off you go. Clock doesn’t start until I leave the car so might as well maximize prep time here!

One climber does all the leading. No question swinging leads slows the team down. We lost at least ten minutes switching driver seats for the crux pitch. One leader means the leader gets a good rest at each belay.

Have fun. This is really why I want to do this. Moving quickly and efficiently in this type of terrain is really enjoyable to me. At the end of the day whether I hit the 2 hour mark or not I enjoy the planning, the anticipation of trying again, the time spent in the mountains, and the friends who enjoy the same.

I hope this post helps you come up with your own personal climbing goal this season. For many it’s “climb a grade higher”, but this season I think I’ll be focusing mainly on becoming more efficient, which I think will ultimately lead to climbing a higher grade. It will definitely lead me to climbing more! Wish me luck, and see you in the mountains!

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The author heads out on the exposed but quite moderate “Fairy Tale Traverse” a last pitch variation of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle that should not be missed!- photo by Benny Allen




Book any course at Northeast Mountaineering and use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout. This will enter you into a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choosing!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog