Monday, June 16, 2014

Mix Up Peak, North Cascades, June 15, 2014

Tutus, the self arrest device of professional alpinists everywhere! Photo by Frank

Like all good decisions and trip plans, this one was made with the help of alcohol.  Let me back up first though.  Initially, Theresa wanted to go do the SW chutes of Adams and got Kristina and I on board.  On Thursday it was clear the weather would be terrible for Sunday.  I was interested in trying for the Sisters down in Oregon where the weather looked clear and made a post in the Splitboarders of WA facebook page about it, Frank said he was in.  On Friday we all went to "pint night" at OR's Seattle store and discussed options.  The ladies did not want to spend 12 hours of their lives in a car and get home at midnight on a Sunday.  Understandable.  I suggested we try for a go at a couloir on Mix Up peak in the North Cascades.  "Think it'll rain?"  Probably.

Our route in red, photo taken a few weeks prior by Devin Monas on Sahale Arm
We started the trip off at 5am at the 65th park and ride, where I promptly locked my keys in my car.  Thankfully Kristina had practice avy probing for Subaru door locks and I was willing to accept the possibility of breaking my window prying on it with ice axes.  We got the keys out with the only injury being to my dignity.
The first time my avy probe has been used in a life or death situation, Photo by Frank
Cascade River road is freshly graded and open all the way to the summer lot, hooray for toilets!  Once we were geared up it started to rain a bit.  

Artificial stoke!, photo by Frank
Actual stoke from Frank......4 hours of sleep from me! Photo by Kristina
To keep things in proper North Cascade fashion we decided to start the trip with a little jaunt through some slide alder and devils club.  Note to self: the plastic part in the center of my snowboard boots does NOT grip on wet slide alder......
All alder, all the time
Tutus in the mist
While a bit morale degrading, the schwacking went quickly and we were on some dirty sun cup avy debris snow.  

Transition time! Photo by Frank
Once up the valley we found the snow fingers at the steeper section still in, just barely, and decided to switch to crampons and boot packing for the remainder.

Don't go chasing waterfalls

A quick little boot. Photo by Frank
 Navigating up the lower flanks of the NW side of Mix Up proved interesting with zero visibility in a cloud.  "Do you know where we are going?" 
Yes.  Up.  We are going up.

Visibility was ALL TIME, ALL OF THE TIME! Photo by Frank
A note on weather: trying to figure out what to do with your clothes was the most challenging part of the day.  One minute it's raining, then it's windy, then it's calm, then you're in a cloud with 100% humidity, then it starts sleeting sideways.  It's warm the whole time as well.  We all alternated between shells and base layers, as soon as it really got windy and raining with your shell on it would stop, just in time for you to sweat profusely.  I was quite happy with my choice to bring a water and wind resistant jacket along, the extra breathability over a waterproof shell was clutch.  I never did put on my light waterproof jacket at all, it didn't rain continually for long enough to bother.

Doing stupid things makes me happy.  Photo by Frank

This place rocks, no seriously see the rocks!? Photo by Frank
 Thankfully the sun burnt through the cloud enough to get a view of the cliff climbers right and identify which rib we were on.  Sadly it also showed the couloir we came to ride now had a 4 foot deep trench from a cornice fall and bit of a glide crack.  Time for plan B.  We settled on a line closest to us, which mid winter would just be an open field, but now had narrowed to good width couloir.  I took over kicking steps from Frank at this point.  The snow was soft enough to get great purchase, but solid enough to not compress much once weighted.  Perfect boot packing!
What the hell is that bright orb? Photo by Frank
As it got steeper further up I tried to move up to the right to get on a ridge and out of the exposure in the main face.  I found the snow to the side wallowing glop, which happened to measure at 58 degrees.  There was no way that self belay with an ice ax was going to hold you if the snow under your feet gave.  This was sketch.  I asked Kristina to continue breaking climbers left and up the main face while I waited for everyone to cross below me.  I believe this section was still in the mid 50 degree pitch range, I had to switch to a high dagger hold on my axe instead of self belay for fear of falling over backwards, yup it's steep.

It may actually still be steeper then it looks
Booty, booty, booty, booty, rocking everywhere.  

 For the final pitch Theresa took over the kicking duties and got us up to a ledge below a rock where we had a rather tight transition.

Getting to the final third.  Photo by Frank
Me and a giant diving board booter rock for someone who has no common sense. Photo by Frank
 At this point I have no photos, my goal once up there was to get my board together under my feet before the weather did god knows what.  Having one of the radios I decided to drop first.  Feeling confident in the snow from our solid step kicking I did one quick cut and saw no significant movement, so I charged on.  At the first rock outcropping I decided to cut right in to a steeper section.  I went to the right wall and then cut a hard heelside turn slowing down to let slough go through the confluence before me.  Bad choice.  Wet slough was apparently still above even far right and hit my board hard. It pulled me off my feet down slope.  I was able to still edge a bit right and bash my board in to some rocks to stop myself from getting carried down the trough in a wet slide.  After the slough passed I mentally chastised myself and continued my descent with my tail between my legs.  Turn, wait and watch slough, rinse wash, repeat.

Once down and out to the side I radioed up for Frank, I could tell when he went as I heard the rumble of more slough (and some rocks) come down and out.  After he had taken the same line to the right it was apparently all exposed rocks and cracks.  Kristina took it left of the rocks and again slough management was key.  Poor Theresa dropped last to find rocks and cracks in every direction.  She pushed through having to step through one quite dicey section.

Below the couloir the lower flanks of mix up had some decent turns that soon became gloppy sticky junk.  We went out skiers right below Cascade Pass and took the one remaining snow finger back to the valley (will be melted out quite soon).  The valley was the expected firm avy debris and sun cups.

Then it got sunny!?
 With my calves sore from bumping up running mileage a bit too fast this week the lower section straight up hurt.  Thankfully I found a distraction in some little transitions at the bottom from old slide paths for Frank and I to slash and do some little airs on (almost got a proper method thrown in there).  We rode down to the switch back on the road and were able to easily avoid any bushwhacking on the way back to the car.
At the parking lot we ran in to a NOLS group who were about to set off for a 10 day traverse out to the Hidden Lakes area, that sounded like incredible fun in this wonderful weather.  We also met another group of skiers who had camped out on Sahale waiting for nicer weather that never came.  I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who completely ignores weather reports.  We were back to Seattle already by around 5:30, home in time to do laundry and sit on a couch for a minute or two.  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday!

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