Guye Peak, West Face
Improbable Traverse (5.8)
Theron and I had the morning free, as Kris wanted to practice the piano at his house. We got a fairly early start, and were soon hiking up the Obertal (or Alpensee or Felsmeer) road. We carried one pack, my great new Serratus Genie. We wore our harnesses from the car and brought a rack that could have been pared down (too lazy to trim it from cragging Friday). The boulderfield and scree were mostly easy, but had occasional sections where you and your surrounding rocks creep down the slope - at that point you must fight!
We scrambled high because I espied a ledge above. Several steep minutes later, the ledge was a sloping 1 foot wide spot to gingerly change into rock shoes one at a time. Theron sneezed repeatedly, nearly upsetting my balance. With rock shoes on we scrambled across an exposed wall with blocky holds, and tied ourselves to a tree obviously used for rappels. I belayed Theron out here. First he tried up and right, but steep holdless rock convinced him to go around and left. I hung out, admiring the valley below. Theron was considering climbing beyond his belay and went up and down a few times - I started to think he was collecting flowers! After awhile I heard the familiar “off belay” and started climbing. Theron had two cams and a piton belay, making a good choice to stop where he did. The next pitch was really fun, offering a steep wide crack that can be jammed and liebacked. A ways up I saw where people traverse out of the crack to the left, but I preferred the direct version - just keep going up the crack to a nice big ledge. You have to step around a considerable amount of moss, and there is a loose block. However, the solid hand jams and small clean ledges for feet make it worthwhile.
We wondered if we were at the “Improbable Traverse” or needed to go higher. The wall to the right looked rather evil. Theron belayed me out and after a good nut placement I saw a knifeblade piton half sticking out of the forbidding wall. Hmm. I guess that’s it! A short downclimb, then some thrilling moves past the first piton to another one. Theron got a picture of me here, it’s a neat looking place. Especially because the wall below you is undercut and there is a lot of air. Would these pitons hold a fall? There is a lot of untrustworthy rock on Guye Peak, that is for sure. I rounded a corner, finding occasional gear placements on the solid rock of the traverse. From a distance, it looks like a smooth slab. One of the harder moves was near a fixed sling that protected the last bit. I enjoyed the nature of the rock, made with solid horizontal and near-horizontal ledges big enough for fingers. Cracks for hands, feet or gear are rare, and sometimes what you think is a crack will just be a chossy seam with rotten blocks when you get up close!
Rounding the last corner, I hunted for a belay in the gully I found myself in. Climbing up, rope drag soon forced me to set a marginal 1 nut & 1 alien belay on an uncomfortable slope. Theron climbed, and I imagined where he was based on the rope movement. After a while he arrived, smiling but describing the exposure as “horrifying!” What a rich word that is! Oddly, if someone describes a climb as horrifying it somehow adds to the allure. So after he said that I felt like we were on a bigger, more serious mountain. Its funny how the mind works…
Theron scrambled up to a saddle and I followed. We took some pictures and stood on a promontory that overhangs the traverse. Theron shared some excellent home-cooked brownies. I felt the time crunch and clucked like a hen to get us moving. After some brush hiking, I tried to climb a steep wall. We talked about it and decided to back off, as it was loose and steep, and we wanted to travel fast.
But still, I had a conflicting desire to go straight up and not take the usual ledges that mark the upper part of Guye Peak. We continued scrambling up and spied a steep-but-blocky wall that looked interesting. I started up and soon realized why everyone takes the ledges. The blocks seemed to be glued onto the face, and the steep angle forced you to use them (even…pull out on them!!) for upward progress. There were no cracks, and I found myself performing delicate climbing and carefully balancing the weight of each limb. I was able to place two nuts on the pitch but had little confidence in them. I emerged at a scrub tree draped with bleached climbing rope snarled deeply around it. A rappelling mishap? I belayed Theron up. A foothold collapsed under him, despite a previous test. He got a big bruise below the knee from the incident.
Theron took off and wisely avoided a chimney/crack that looked enticing from below. His simul-climb led us to near the south summit, and we walked across it and the middle one to the notch below the north summit. I wanted to climb it directly, thus avoiding a tedious downclimb/rappel.
A mini-tower went well, fun and with solid holds. Then we set a belay 20 feet below the top. A long leftward traverse led me to a lichen encrusted spot to try and climb up. I did this, but lost all my style points for nearly falling but saving myself with a graceless knee and body-friction combination. Theron had advised me to look on the right, but I willfully ignored this good advice. We flipped the rope over a prow, and he climbed his route, which he rated (5.6+) for a strenuous lieback move. I called mine (5.9+ X) for the jittery final moves!
We chatted with a guy on the summit for a while about the great Snoqaulmie Peaks on display, then walked down. We were back to the car around 2 pm after a seemingly endless roadwalk back to the car.