11 Jan 2003

Chair Peak

Chair Peak

Northeast Buttress

January 11, 2003

This report was written while in a groggy-eyed state, high on pain killers. I'd also been reading "The Guns of August." The references to right and left flanks shouldn't surprise anyone who read that before. Take with a large helping of salt. Peter also wrote a report here </a>. </i>

As I was tying in to lead the first pitch, Aidan’s ice tools boxed me in the ears. “Oh I’m sorry Michael, here, let’s get you out of that rope”. Before I knew it, I was mumbling “on belay”, utterly confused but increasingly sure I’d had a great lead stolen from me! Peter and I watched the boy on thin ice with baited breath. Possibly feeling bad about the whole affair, Aidan delivered many icy souvenirs of the climb, which I caught with knees and knuckles. We saw him one last time as he delicately eased over a short rocky overhang with good sticks in the ice above. Finally the rope came tight, and we dismanteled the belay (an ax and a picket). Two guys from Bellingham climbed a left variation, making inspiring moves on thin ice over rock. “So that’s how it’s done.” I comforted myself with the idea that I had just learned a lot.

Peter and I climbed about 15 feet apart. Right away, the climbing was exciting as the ice was thin, the snow was useless, the rock was holdless, and I mentally congradulated Aidan for the lead. “CRANG!” went my ice ax on rock under the snow. A large serving plate of hard snow broke free and menaced Peter. My foot held it in place until he could get his face above it. After that, it became excitement for the huddled masses below. I wondered what they were doing. I felt like a top-roper at Exit 38 out here, jeez! The little overhang was fantastic, and when the gully curved back to the left I was sold on this mixed climbing thing. Even the waves of spindrift and chunks of ice from the upper party didn’t bother me. “‘Sup?” I said nonchalantly. Peter the Alaskan came up, wishing for more ice but glassy-eyed from the great climbing. “Is there frozen snot in my beard yet?” he asked wistfully.

I wanted the long steep snow climb above our tree belay, but to my surprise I’d been stumped. Peter had neatly severed both legs above the knee! “On belay” smirked Aidan. Oh well. I took pictures of the Alaskan struggling in the spindrift and giggled for warmth. "How do you like me now, MOTHER NATURE?" was my hysterical cry, which set Aidan to giggling too. At this point the route really was crowded. The Bellingham pair was speedy, and converged with Peter below an icefall. The party with the orange pack were also converging just below him. I thought of Pete Shoening. “Am I a Pete?”, I asked Aidan. “You look like an Art,” he replied evenly.

In time, new legs grew and we followed Peter, still climbing to a hoped-for belay. Gullies and cliffs of the north shoulder appeared and vanished in the clouds. A weak prehistoric sun cut through the gauze, and the wind died in synchronicity. I admired our position. What elan we displayed! The larger the right wing, the easier to smash through the center! We waited while Peter tried to get some good ice screws in. Every time I looked up, he was screwing one in, so the impression was one of “grid bolting.” Then he climbed higher, and Aidan and I got nervous about our exposed position. “One shouldn’t entirely overlook the defensive,” I lectured. I imagined ants connected by string, and the top ant falling. Then we were climbing and I was an American again: simple and virtuous.

At Peter’s ice screw belay, we got things sorted out, and I crunched up to the short ice cliff. I placed two screws in mediocre ice at the base to back up Peter’s belay, and carefully climbed up. The ice was too thin over the rock to place gear in, but was solid for crampon and tool placements. I remember looking straight down at Peter and Aidan, and the sweep of the route thus far. I really wanted to take a picture, but was hanging from my tools, and needed to finish the move. I emerged onto crusty snow, placed a picket, then kept going up a steep snow slope that accepted good kick-steps. It took a long time to find a reasonable belay anchor. I finally settled for a knife-blade, pounded halfway in, and a slung block. Every other crack I tried to get a piton in turned out to be between two moveable blocks! On the other side of the gully the climber with the orange pack (“cracked”), had found a belay anchor, and was bringing up his partner. I really enjoyed belaying and looking at the incredible view which came and went in clouds.

Aidan kept going from there up easier slopes placing occasional protection. We unroped at a saddle and crunched across some snow up to the summit. Aidan had carried an earring in his pocket by accident. Luckily for him, he didn’t lose it, otherwise a particular young lady would have been rather miffed. We took a picture of him and the earring so everyone would know that whatever happened next - the golden treasure made it this far. Peter had a small thermos of hot tea, and the portioned out sips were delicious.

After a long rappel from a lower saddle (isn’t that an amazingly Byzantine anchor?), we downclimbed hard snow covered with a few inches of breakable windpack. Down to Thumb Rock, then the best boot glissading ever. We were making turns, jumping off steep things, it was fun. After a while, we met a party of snowshoers who invited us to what they called a “safety meeting.” Once we determined the nature of said meeting, we departed somewhat hastily. “Scared you away, huh? Meetings over, huh?” they called as we skied away on our boot soles.

We ate at a new BBQ place at the Middle Fork Road exit. It was really good. Thanks to Peter and Aidan for a perfect climb!

{% image images/csunrise.jpg”></span> Above Source Lake at dawn Peter and Aidan hiking in. Chair Peak, and our route up the middle. Peter on the challenging first ropelength. Another shot of Peter near the belay. Aidan at the second belay. We are making for the icicles. Peter climbing steep snow on the middle pitch. Aidan approaching the belay. Similar shot. Two-thirds of the way up. Peter in Alaskan mode. The small ice cliff Aidan took this picture of me with Peter's camera. The guys above the ice step. A party climbing beside us. A similar shot. Another climber finishing the route. Peter cleaning the belay station. Striking poses on top!