26 Oct 2003

Ruth Mountain

Carlos Pessoa, Michael Stanton

Carlos and I set off early Sunday morning for a climb of Ruth Mountain. I had always wanted to climb it for the great view of Mt. Shuksan. We took a 25 meter rope, crampons, axes and an ice screw which would come in really handy. It would be Carlos’s first alpine climb, and he was naturally excited.

We parked at the trailhead and began walking up the old mining road, admiring the peaks on the right side of Ruth Creek that make up Nooksack Ridge. Before long, we’d reached Hannegan Pass. It was my second time here, the first being an ill-fated trip to Mt. Challenger 2 years before. Ruth Mountain looked spectacular with slopes of gray ice that contrasted well with the fall colors.

Ruth Mountain with Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker on the right.

We stopped for a break above the pass, then up and down along a ridge to a ridiculously steep “trail” that ascended muddy washout slopes to a high rocky shoulder. In spring, I’m told that this can be a dangerous area due to soft snow and cliffs below. At this point it was a walk across talus slopes with beautiful views of the Chilliwack River valley. We reached a ridge crest at 5500 feet with fresh snow, and began traversing southwest towards the gentle north ridge of Ruth.

On a scenic ridge leading to the glacier.

A closeup of the mountain and route.

The glacier provided good cramponing.

While Carlos and I practiced roped glacier travel on the lower slopes, a man approached and chatted for a while. A quick lesson in self-arresting and ice axe usage convinced me that Carlos was ready for an easy glacier. We felt kind of “old school” because we tied the ropes around our waist with a bowline on a coil rather than use a modern sit harness. Carlos did really well, soon adapting to the flat-footed use of crampons and steady switchbacking up slopes. We started passing some large crevasses, and eventually had to cross some ice bridges.

I was surprised at the condition of the glacier. It reminded me more of the Corkscrew Glacier than the Sitkum, if you know what I mean! We continued up what seemed to be the North Ridge of the peak, finally coming to a crevasse that couldn’t be climbed into and out of easily. We had to lose a few hundred feet going down and around on the right. I wondered if we would be barred from the summit by more slotses, my preciousss. Now we skirted the western side of the North Ridge and came against rocky slopes of the West Ridge. We climbed into a crevasse with a partial floor where Carlos could belay a short steep climb out the other side. I chopped a few handholds, and frontpointed my way up to a ledge. Using the ice screw, I belayed Carlos up to me, and we continued over one more such obstacle to the summit.

Carlos on the summit.

Wow, what a view we had! It was nice and warm, and we could admire the convoluted terrain of Nooksack Cirque and Icy Peak. We would have loved to climb that too, but the belaying and route-finding on the glacier meant we would be running too late. Still, there was plenty of time to soak in the scenery and the special quiet of high places. The solo traveller had turned back at the first crevasses, probably a wise idea as they had become more complex.

For speed and safety, we wanted to find a better way down. It looked feasible to go down gentle slopes to the subpeak on the east. Then steeper terrain leads to manageable glacier several hundred feet below. We had seen that terrain on the way up (on the other side of an impassable crevasse), and thought it would go.

We had to jump a few crevasses on the way down.

In the picture above, we’ve come down the worst of that area, with a final jump that required some gusto. Carlos, as he is prone to do, described it as easy once finished! On the steeper slopes I belayed Carlos down from an ice screw belay, as front pointing was new and unusual. Now we wended our way happily down to the rocks below the glacier where we could unrope and remove crampons. Very happy with our climb, we set off for home.

Carlos has a strong exploratory streak, and thought we could get down to the trail on the west side of Hannegan Pass directly from the gentle north ridge coming from Ruth. I was curious too, so we went down a few hundred feet on heather slopes. Unfortunately, we soon came to cliffs on one side and an unpleasant long dirt gully on the other. Between that and an unknown amount of bushwhacking on the valley floor, I voted for climbing back up and taking the trail. We did this, then were rewarded with our climb back up with some pretty white Ptarmigans nested on the ridge for us. We admired them, then continued down. We finally had to use headlamps about a mile from the car.

This was a really enjoyable day with plenty of surprises on the glacier. If you are climbing in the spring or summer, all of my comments about “gaping crevasses” and “ice screw belays” can be discarded! Thanks for coming along Carlos!

Goodbye, nice country.