Thin Times

The ice has been a little reluctant to fatten up in the Alpental Valley this December. That's not unusual, and it's not a show-stopper. The last few weeks I managed to sharpen the tools and come up with some great options.

Think Thin

I climbed the north face of Chair Peak with some friends. The last time I climbed it was many years ago, and it was a perfect sheet of neve then. What we found this December was very different, with incipient ice barely coating the underlying rock and heather. While the terrain isn't steep, the conditions served up some challenge. A few short constrictions offered gymnastic fun, where later they are filled in completely. The constant shopping for good placements re-calibrates your sense of "good," and the lack of pro keeps you paying attention. Choosing thin conditions for a climb well below your comfortable limit is a great way to work your alpine skills.

Fail, then go cragging.

I went to the east face of the Tooth with Kurt Hicks. This route follows a ramp system across the big face above Pineapple basin, then heads for a chimney directly under the summit. The climbing was fun right off the ground, with runnel ice and rock moves, and just enough pro. Kurt built a belay on top of the first pitch and the ambience was distinctly alpine. Only an hour and a quarter from the car!

Well into the next pitch I pulled the plug. We wanted more ice on this pitch, and the pro was just not materializing to protect the snowy rock moves. I slung an iffy horn, clipped the rope with a beater biner, and started downclimbing. It will be there waiting for me next time.

On the way down we stopped by the Rap Wall for some drytool  action. In no time we had a good pump going, and the rock moves on the east face already seemed more doable. A few days later I ran into some fellows at Bryant Buttress who had just turned around on the first pitch of Chair's north face. They were using the same strategy--fail and then go cragging--which is a convenient fringe benefit to climbing in Alpental Valley.

Go looking

There are great unskied couloirs and unclimbed lines all over the Snoqualmie backcountry. On the Solstice I went out with the Pro Guiding Service guide crew for a wild tour north of Snoqualmie. One the way I saw two great, nameless couloirs, and a half-dozen intriguing mixed lines. Entering these in my "Black Book" database back at home always gets me excited for the variety and adventure of winter. And it reminds me that these mountains are, well, limitless.