18 Aug 2005

Matriarch-Grimface Traverse

Grade III, 5.7

As part of our stay at Cathedral Lakes Lodge, Kris graciously allowed me to take a “3/4 day” for a climb. So I eagerly packed some basic climbing equipment for the Matriach-Grimface Traverse, rated at Grade III, 5.7 in difficulty. A report from Drew Brayshaw indicated it might be a bit easier, which was good because I planned to solo it. I had to bring a rope for several rappels on the traverse, but the only 50 meter rope I had was cut in two (semi-retired rope). No matter, since I only needed it for rappels I would tie the ends together in a knot suitable for rappelling.

Wednesday at the lodge was marked by constant all-day rain. Happily though, when I left our room at 4 am Thursday morning I had a clear, cold, starry sky to share the trail with. I made the now-familiar trek up to Glacier Lake, and then the rim of Cathedral Ridge, walking slowly to conserve my energy for the long day ahead. Due to a sad lack of preperation the day before, I had no food, only water for the day. I also sorely wished for a windbreaker on the ridge, as the cold gusts of dawn wind cut through my fleece jacket like a knife. My hydration bottle hose actually froze for an hour until weak sun could melt the water!

In the dawn I hiked along the rim for several miles, eventually coming to the Wall Creek valley, where I dropped off the trail and descended some 800 feet, traversing south as I went on scree, heather and rock slopes. I found faint goat paths that made the way easier on the sloping terrain. Large, blank granite cliffs of Grimface Mountain were above me now. Eventually reaching the ridge dividing Wall and Ewart Creeks, I marked that it had taken me 2 hours and 45 minutes to here. Stopping to put on my harness, I was finishing the hiking terrain a bit after 7 am. At a ledge below a steep wall I changed into rock climbing shoes, but kept my gloves on against the extreme chill of morning. This first pitch was one of the most exposed parts of the climb, as you have to step out onto the upper section of a steep wall dropping away below for 1000 feet. I climbed 20 feet of 5.4 solid blocky rock to begin the traverse with a bang.

Following a series of exposed notches (one of which had a fixed rope that I made a 15 foot rappel on), I was below the summit block of Matriarch Mountain. Like Goldilocks, it took me three tries to find the best way. First I tried a wide crack on the right with a nasty fall potential into a scary chasm. Finding flaky rock and steeper-than-it-looked climbing, I quickly backed off and moved to a 5.8 hand crack to the left. I also backed off of this because the rock was really rough and I wished for tape gloves. Unwilling to bother doing this (I had some tape), and unwilling to cut my hands, I then moved left again for a distinctive 5.3 chimney, which happily had a nice landing in case of a fall (there was no waiting black chasm like the other two starts). The chimney was fun, except for getting my backpack and body wedged solidly near the end. I had to frantically unclip the waist belt and sidle half-out of the pack to move. Oh brother!

From the summit of Matriarch, it looks like there is a long way to go. Indeed there is, but a good bit of it is a scenic “sidewalk in the sky,” where 3 foot wide walkways provide a charming alpine sojourn. The sun was gradually winning out over the cold, which I appreciated because I was tired of shivering in shady areas. In fact, sometimes on the left side of the crest I saw drips of ice in pockets on the granite slabs. As time went on and these ice runnels melted, they left wet black lichen on the shady side of the crest that required care to cross safely.

Now I made a rappel, then climbed over and down and sub-peak. Coming to another chasm on the ridge, I rappelled again, then enjoyed climbing a solid 4th class gully to a ledge on Macabre Tower. Above the ledge loomed a holdless vertical wall. Having brought 2 alpine aiders just for this, I could enjoy climbing the 3 bolt ladder there. This was kind of a neat novelty of the climb. After another chimney climb I was on the summit of Macabre. It was still freezing when the wind blew, boy, how long can it stay this cold on a clear August morning?

Another rappel led to an awkward stance near a wedged chockstone. The rope was in a deep slot, and I worried about the knot catching up. Happily it pulled ok, as it looked like it’d be a tough ascent to retrieve the rope! Some friction climbing got me up to a granite dome, then more “sidewalk in the sky” walking led to a rappel down a steep chimney. Walking and downclimbing brought me to the base of a steep crag, which I enjoyed climbing via a 5.4 gully that became shallow and exposed at the top. Some of the thinnest “crest climbing” took place next, providing an occasional hand traverse on the thin ridge top. After passing 2-3 bolts at such places, I kind of think the route is overprotected. If you do the climb with a partner and belays (running or static), you probably just need a few quickdraws and slings thanks to all this bolting.

Probably my favorite part of the climb was the Southeast Notch route by which I ascended Grimface. Climbing a chimney, I wormed under a chockstone then walked up a gully that led to questions. I tried walking around a corner to exposed walls on the north, then came back to fashion a route up a hidden chimney, doing some fun “chimney climbing” techniques. I shoved my pack through a hole above me, then put my back on the wall behind and inched up. Then I could climb down through chockstones to retrieve my pack and put it on yet another ledge above. “This is a fun puzzle,” I thought. There was a short but good hand crack at a platform in the chimney system, and soon I came to the “sandy amphitheater” mentioned in the Beckey Guide. I climbed a fun wide crack to just below the summit block, then walked past the occasional water ice patch on the granite (seriously, it was cold!) to the summit. It had been a fun route to the summit, as the climbing was varied and old-fashioned.

From here I could walk and occasionally scramble north on a well-marked route to reach Cathedral Ridge. The way back took a while, because I kept running into folks from the lodge and we would exchange stories. It was a fun social scene up on the Ridge. With Sonya’s party we took pictures of the Giant’s Cleft, and scrambled around on the side. They also gave me an apple, a granola bar and some dried mango pieces - just wonderful!

The walk along the rim was even better than in the morning, as the day had now warmed up. Reluctant to leave the high country, I made it back to the lodge at 2:30 to find Kris with the babies and very happy I was back! I started playing with Rowan then began nodding off. Soon, Kris had to again take over while I lay in a stupor for an hour, only recovering after a hearty ingestion of her delicious oatmeal cookies.

Overall, I thought the route short but entertaining. The approach from the lodge does take 3 hours, but it is almost entirely on the crest of Cathedral Ridge, and therefore very scenic in good weather. If you are going to the lodge for any reason, pack some aiders, a harness and a light rope for this fun little climb!

Grimface mountain peeking over Cathedral Ridge The start of the climb, stunning exposure on the upper right Peaks in Washington State, including The Pope and The Deacon on the foreground ridge Looking ahead on the granite traverse Grimface Mountain and Ladyslipper Lake. Looking back on the twisting ridge. Me on the summit of Grimface Mountain. Looking back at the traverse from Grimface Mountain Mounts Baker, Redoubt and others to the west. The Giant's Cleft A rustic sign on the ridge The occasional tarn on the ridge. Turqoise-colored Ladyslipper Lake. Endless ridgetop terrain. Here I am supposed to be babysitting, but actually am completely conked out.