Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Goat Rock West Ridge - Thread the Needle

   Goat Rock is a pointy 5200' tower of Chugach crud located near Eklutna Lake, Alaska.  There is no specific trail approaching it, and the two main summit routes require either exposed scrambling or outright rock climbing.  It's a fun climb, but unsurprisingly, it doesn't see a lot of traffic. 

Goat Rock West Ridge
   I parked at the S turn just before the ice cream shop on Eklutna Lake Road, and was soon bushwacking upward through a mixed forest of deciduous and evergreen.  Eventually the forest thinned out, and I emerged above treeline onto a very steep grassy slope.  After a few more minutes, I reached a gentle ridgeline with a view of the task ahead - Goat Rock.

Wacking that bush
   As I got closer, I began following a sheep trail through the scree.  This led me below a promising gully to the West col.  I started upward, picking my way through talus and bits of remaining ice and snow.  The travel stayed mellow, if a tad wet and mossy, until finally bringing me to a sharp ridgeline and dropoff. 

Goat Rock directly ahead.  The col is down in the bottom middle - NASTY drop to my left.
   I had gone a bit further West than I had intended, and missed the col!  No matter -  backtracking was easy, and I soon traversed into the correct gully and was on the col.   

   The opposing side of the col dropped off very steeply, and I could tell that the going was about to get steep no matter which way I went.  The West ridge itself rose abruptly to the right, and I spotted a trickle of water coming down by an old climbing anchor.  As I came up to this, I could tell I would be crossing the "no bueno" category of downclimbing if I continued up.  I tried going around to the left and to the right, but came up empty.  It was all steep and saturated, or a mixture of the two. 

Anchor is middle left, in the middle of wet, WET rock
Not Bueno
Also not bueno
   Discouraged, I backed off, and then my eye caught a snowy ramp that was about 50 feet below the col.  I started tentatively up this, and was delighted to find that it stayed much more mellow than the terrain on my left.  Gradually though, it did narrow, and forced me into tighter and more exposed terrain.  At last, the ramp came down to cliffs on the right, and a body width crack ahead.
The crux crack
   The crack seemed that it still might not be a fun downclimb, so I tested it.  Not very good.  It was then it occurred to me that my large winter backpack, with an ice axe and all sorts of gear, might be hindering my  maneuverability in the narrow space.  So, realizing that leaving my pack for a few minutes was probably fine on this deserted peak, I decided to take it off and try again.

Leaving Mr. Pack behind...
   This was the magic bullet I needed!  Without the cumbersome weight on my back, I fairly flew up the crevice and was soon on much easier terrain.  I picked my way through the remaining rocky travel, which never again rose to the same steepness as the crevice I had passed.

Past the crux crack.
Past the crux crack.  Not as steep, but still exposed.
Past the crux crack.  Summit ahead.  Some mean exposure to my left and milder exposure to the right.
   The summit came up quickly, and I was happy to see rays of sun poking through the cloud cover.  Opening the summit register proved a hilarious struggle.  Whoever last closed it did a good job of it!  Funny enough, I flipped open the paper and the first name I saw was Bill Finley!  Hmmm...  Bill's trip reports are the framework I refer to whenever I need a helping hand on a peak (and I'll admit, I did read some about Goat Rock too!!)  I signed my name, albeit accidentally claiming the date one day ahead, and headed down. 

Summit.  Holding my helmet up for dat pano!
Struggling to open the register.

The B. Finley page!

Putting the register back.
   Needless to say, downclimbing the 4th class segment to my backpack was a lot easier without the pack being ON!  It was also warmer at this point, so I took my gloves off for even greater downclimbing prowess.  Shouldering the pack, I made it back down to the col without incident. 

Approaching the downclimb.  Sun was out at this point!  Nice.

Bare hands are much nicer for downclimbing.

Bare hands are much nicer for downclimbing.
   As I backtracked the sheep trail, I thought it would be fun to also do a quick jog over to POW/MIA.  Since leaving my pack had worked so well just a few minutes before, I left it again to make jogging easier. 

   I snapped a few pictures from POW, then headed back to the pack, and from there to the car.  The grass field I had come up was still INSANELY STEEP!!!  (Hmmm...  Exactly the same as it was on the way up, haha.)

Pano from POW/MIA.  Pioneer/East Twin/Goat Rock/Eklutna/Baneful/The Mitre/The Watchman (left to right)

Closer up view of Goat Rock West Ridge (center) from POW/MIA.
Overall - 

   Goat Rock is an awesome early season way to get some good 'ol fashioned Chugach crud exposure with a minimal approach.  There are a lot of climbing options as well - mild, medium, spicy, or very spicy indeed on the north side.  I was content with the mild!! 

Route info - 

   Watch my videos (listed below) or pay very close attention to Bill Finley's excellent trip report.  If you want to scramble this peak AND downclimb it, it's important to hit everything right on the West Ridge.  Downclimbing the ridge proper would be quite bad if the rock is wet.  The crack/ramp go-around is definitely easier but is still exposed and narrow.  As Bill mentions, it's a great way to get summer started with a nice bit of scramble practice.  Be careful, and have fun on this pointy, seldom visited Chugach peak.  Stay tuned for lots more peaks this summer.       

Links - 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Ptarmigan Peak North Ridge - North of the Norm!

   The mountain bug has bitten me earlier than usual this year, and that means I've had to come to terms with my lack of snow/ice experience.  For me, snow and ice usually amounts to a snow slide between Peak 2/3 in mid-June, or an afternoon snow squall in May.  This winter, however, I've embraced the ice axe and microspikes.  I may even come around to crampons, especially after today.  What happened today?  Funny you should ask...

   I woke up not knowing exactly WHAT mountain I wanted to climb, all I knew is I wanted to climb A mountain!  This is typical for me (as most of you who read my trip reports already know) so I spent the morning just getting the gear together and let the chips fall where they may.

   It so happens that the chips fell halfway, and before I knew it, I was out at Glen Alps riding my fatbike, hoping that there would be some sign of where I should go from there.  My first inclination was to climb Homicide Peak, one of the charmingly named brethren of the Suicide peak family - a mountain usually accessed from the powerline saddle.  It was an unclimbed peak for me, and as I rode on, it seemed likely to remain so as the path to the powerline saddle deteriorated after 3 miles.  I was forced to stash the bike and explore other options.  Ptarmigan!

Ptarmigan in summer

Summer again, this time poking out behind my brothers and I.
   Ptarmigan is one of my favorite front range peaks - it's aesthetic, it has a short approach, and above all, it's fun to climb!  Ptarmigan, it turns out, also has a reputation as a "gateway" mountain for the winter climber.  The north couloir is something of a classic route - although an unfortunate climbing accident several years ago has certainly darkened my thoughts whenever I see it.  With the accident and my nonexistent snow skills on the mind, I decided to go for another route.  The north ridge!
I knew very little about the north ridge other than it intersected the couloir near the summit.  It looked doable, carefully doable, with a few trouble areas evident as I walked towards it.  With some slight apprehension, I took my axe out, and started kicking steps upward.

The Ptarmigan North ridge and couloir
   Things were easy for a while - the angle was low, the snow was consistent and packed, and the route was clear.  Eventually though, it got sneakily steeper, and I reached my first cliff-out.
Cliffed out!
Nope, don't wanna climb these cliffs...

   At first, I was stumped.  I tried going up some cracks in its face, only to be repelled when I ran out of comfortably large holds.  Slightly perturbed, I paused for a second, and remembered my long touted Chugach adage "there's always a better way if you go around."  I went around, and this is where things got interesting...
Discovering the "chute of doom"

   I had been gradually learning how snow behaves on different slopes, but now the snow was inconsistent AND the going got steep.  Really steep.  I didn't like the powderey, fragile feeling I was encountering.  It disconcerted me and drove me to follow the rock as much as possible.  This feeling led me to a narrow chute, almost a crack, with good rock for stemming and what looked like a solid bit of snow in the middle.  Wrong!

Climbing the chute of doom
I got to a ledge, but my prospects were no better.  I wanted out.

   After climbing the chute for a while, I came to a place where it was too steep with too few holds for me to go on.  All the while, I had been noticing that the snow in the middle wasn't trustworthy, and was prone to just falling away.  So I stopped.  And I thought for while.  Then I tried again to go up, and then I tried to go to the side, and then I realized I couldn't do either of those.  So I went down - carefully, painstakingly, planting my axe where I could, not trusting the snow to be of help.  It took me a long time, but I got down from that crack.  And I let out a huge sigh!

The chute I'd been climbing is in the middle of this cliff.  Shoulda known to keep going around!

   The powdery snow around me wasn't QUITE as scary as it had been, so I opted to keep looking for a way around.  And I got around, finally!

Windblown edge, top of north couloir, and summit!  

   Pretty soon, I came to a point where I could see the top of the north couloir and the summit ahead.  It looked like smooth sailing until I got closer and saw the cornice on the other side of the couloir.  I knew then I couldn't walk right over the top, so instead I dropped down into the couloir slightly, and worked my way over from there.  At long last, I was past all the hard stuff!

Getting close to the summit!
   The summit was surprisingly warm, with full sunshine and only a slight breeze.  I took the opportunity to text a few people, telling them to guess what I had just climbed (I was pretty pleased I had made it by this point.) After a few photos and a few Poptarts, I headed toward the west summit and down to the saddle for an easy exit.  Buttsliding was not as good as expected :(

   It was strange to stand on top of a mountain I'd so often climbed, having arrived there from an entirely different approach.  It made me feel like it was brand new all over again.  Elation, relief, focus, wonder - a purer form of existing that is difficult to describe.  I know I'll be back soon... 

Looking back up at the mighty north face

Returning to a pleasant afternoon at Glen Alps

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