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Chiwawa Peak (8490')

Lyman Glacier - Sept 11-12 '99

summit image
Chiwawa Peak (not yet)

Party: Mountaineers - Intermediate Ice Climb. Leader Fred DeHaven, Assistance Leader Jeremy Wilson, Climbers: Steve Yang, Al Nejmeh and I.

Weather: Awesome. After a basically cool weather summer, it looked like this weekend was the best of the season. No chance of rain anywhere. A solid high pressure system settled in. Cant beat it.

After having tentative plans to go to the Tetons this week fall through, I made back-up plans with other friends to climb Cathedral peak near the WA-BC border. On Wednesday these plans fell through as well leaving me high and dry. Next tragedy struck when on Thursday, my companies e-mail servers crashed and were down all day and into Friday. With no E-mail, as my primary communication tool and weekend planner, I was in a desperate state by Friday afternoon. Looking at a great weekend of weather and buy in from Tracy to do a significant, up to 4 day trip, the moment my e-mail returned, I was onto it. Within a couple hours, I heard back from Jeremy that there was a possibility that they have room on their Chiwawa climb. Yes, only a possibility. There was a climber on the wait list that would take priority over me if they responded to Jeremy's voice mail. Friday night I spoke with Jeremy who was on the phone with Dane, the wait listed climber: a fifth year intermediate student, with one required Ice climb left... I had no chance! What kind of person, with his course graduation requirement handed to him on a platter, on a beautiful weekend, would pass it up. I had to wait, pacing back and forth at home, for a half hour to hear the decision... He wasn't going!!??!?! No bite. Its mine, the weekend salvaged.

Next problem... not expecting to line up an ice climb this weekend, I had lent out all my Ice screws to friends taking the ice climbing field trip this weekend! Doh! It turned out not to be a problem, as the climbing team had enough to go around. Whew.

The Approach

This was an exciting trip for me. Not to mention the salvaging of a beautiful weekend, I had never been into the Chiwawa area before and this would also be my first alpine ice climb. Chiwawa has got to be one of the more geographically remote peaks in the cascade range. Though it is surprisingly easy to get to (dont tell anyone). It lies midway between Glacier peak and lake Chelan. The terrain is awesome. The approach follows the Phelps creek trail up to Spider meadows. The trail is incredibly flat for the first 4-5 miles until the meadows. The views along the way are none other than a mix of sparse forest and small meadows opening up views of the rugged, though loose looking, peaks along the valley. The view from Spider Meadows is awesome. From the end of spider meadows a steep trail heads back and up the steep cliffs to the base of spider glacier. From here, spectacular views of Mt. Maude and Seven Finger Jack are outstanding. The base of spider glacier was the last running water source on the trip. The spider glacier is difficult to qualify as a glacier. If crevasses do exist here, they are no more than 10 feet deep. Despite the appearance of the map contours, the spider glacier is quite low angle, in fact, difficult to get a decent glissade out of on the descent. At the top of Spider glacier is spider gap, and our high Bivy point. We crossed through the gap to get views of the west side: Lyman glacier and the lower moraines creating Lyman lake. Again, outstanding views of Dome peak and the tip of mount baker in the distance. Glacier peak would be blocked by the Chiwawa massive until our summit moment.

Upon reaching camp, we dropped our packs and backtracked to a traversing trail northward toward Lyman lakes. Expecting a clear view of our route on Sunday. The view was a little intimidating to say the least. Though the glacial ice climb portion looked reasonably low angle, the snow slope to the base of the ice fall looked quite steep and exposed, with a potential exposed traverse over rock outcroppings and cliffs. Above the Icy glacier, it was not immediately clear which mound of rock was the true summit. And therefore, the final steps of the climb were unclear after our reconnaissance. This did not even become really apparent on the summit day until we reached the top.

While our bivy location was cool and shady when we dropped our packs, we were fortunate to have the sun move around and give us a nice warm evening to relax, eat and drink. There is room for at least 5 bivys, though tent space would be difficult.

The Climb

We were up and moving by 4:55AM. The snow was nice and hard, requiring crampons from start to finish. The route from Spider gap drops down the west side and then a gentle downward traverse toward the lower Lyman glacier. We crossed the glacier to its far west side and climbed up to the gradually steepening dog-leg snow slope. Roping up here, we had Steve and Jeremy on one rope, while Fred, Al and I shared another (At the trail head, we had our 6th party member, Tina, drop off the climb.) Fred, the leader took the middle of the rope, sacrificing the leads to Al and I. We traveled roped up the steep snow slope to a rock wide enough to hold 4 1/2 of us. From this rock, instead of traversing  across below the ice fall, we headed up with a first, protectionless lead to the base of the ice fall bulges. Jeremy and Steve took a line that began with a steep, near vertical step, but then, I presume it was straight forward, low angle from there. Al lead our first half pitch placing one screw and then bringing Fred and I up to a belay. The ice was apparently quite poor. Given my lack of ice experience, how would I know, except for the frequent swings required to get a solid purchase, each swing calving off large plates of ice. Even though the angle was quite low angle, maybe 45 degrees, two tools were comforting given the poor ice. I expected occasional foot or pick placements to break free, the security of two tool placements was required comfort. I lead our second half rope length, placing one screw again and then struggling at the ropes end to get to a nice ledge for the belay.... it wasn't enough. I had to set up a  standing belay three feet short of this broad ledge. Let me say, not having my express screws was a learning experience.... placing non express screws was quite difficult, tiring and time consuming. The contortions of body and arm rotations trying to get the screws in wore my arms out more than swinging. Especially on this brittle ice, I was a little concerned about the amount of body motion required to get pro in. Bring on the express screws!

The final pitch was a short section that we belayed Al on, after a while we broke into simulclimbing with only a couple pieces placed. This got us to the top of the ice fall to a gradual flattening surface where Steve and Jeremy were waiting for us. We took a break here for food and water before continuing with the final long, steep snow slope. Traversing around a couple large crevasses, this slope continues straight up to a saddle. At the saddle, a steeper slope continues left to another saddle on the left side of a craggy nunatuk. This nunatuk looks unimpressive from below, and is hard to believe that it is the "summit" as the adjacent rock lobes appear higher from below. In fact it is the summit, or at least the lower portion of the rock scramble which rises behind it. When we got to the rocks, we offed the ropes and crampons and scrambled up and back south for about 15 minutes to a double summit. The west summit held the summit register.

Jeremy and Steve got to the summit around 9:05AM, with my team of 3 getting there about 15 minutes later. We hung out at the summit for close to half an hour, taking in the amazingly expansive view. The only peaks we could not see were those immediately hidden by Glacier peak to our west. From South to North we could see Adams, Rainier, Stuart, Clark, Glacier, Three Fingers, Whitehorse, Dome, Forbidden, Eldorado, Logan, Goode, Baker, Shuksan, and several others East and West for which I have not spent enough time studying the region to know well.

As for the summit register, I reluctantly signed my first register of the season. It being only the second register found as yet. I boycotted my Adams summit register signing in the belief that Since I hadn't signed any yet this season, why start now. But really, it was probably due to the ferocious wind that kept me from signing it. Here on Chiwawa, given the significance of it being my first ice climb and that the entire team had signed, I submitted. (Really, its not a big deal, I was just toying with the idea of boycotts).

The Descent

The descent was fast and straight forward. For a little security we set up a fixed line down the top two pitches from the summit saddle, with the final person, Jeremy, being belayed along a couple picket placements. The steepness of the slope warranted a little extra security, but in the end it wasn't a big deal. The difficulty was the mixed snow conditions, with the crampons starting to ball up  over a relatively hard surface. We all walked down the remainder of the climb unroped with one short sitting glissade down a safe portion of the glacier. The descent route around the west side of the glacier is a low angle snow field with no difficulties. This thought leaves me with a little sense on the artificial nature of this climb. We chose to ascend through the ice fall for the purpose of ice climbing, whereas the descent route is not far off course and involves no technical difficulty. Most peaks have non technical, or at least easier descent routes than ascent routes, but typically not on the same face or ridge. Its kind of like  climbing a 5.9 bolted slab existing right beside a broken 5.2 gulley used for descent... artificial... oh well. For a beginner ice climb, I suppose,  its nice to have an easy bail-out option if the conditions get ugly, or the climbing goes awry.

The walk out was uneventful.... except for Al almost getting kicked by a group of horses blocking the trail.

Ok, it was eventful, and worth a little rant. Let see. Hikers and horse riders pay the same trail park fee right, yet these two horse owners required 4 horses to access the area. Two to ride and two others to pack their gear. The only heavy treaded scuff marks I noticed on the trail, braking up the soil to enhance erosion were hoof marks. What happened to "tread lightly"?. Not to mention the frequent piles of fresh, steamy, green, cack. I suppose they have an argument for why this is not an environmental issue, so be it, but it is definitely more offensive than a polite mountain bike rider. Speaking of trail etiquette... why is it acceptable for a hiker to almost be kicked off the trail by a horse? The two of us following Al had to skirt up the hill side, off trail to avoid the steaming, rearing brute. No apology from the horse owners, in fact just a "Thank you"... Thank us"??? What the hell for, not forcing them to have a little trail etiquette? Why park your horses in the middle of the trail. Clearly the trail was in frequent use by many backpackers and hikers. They should have had their horses tied to trees off to the side of the trail! Can you see me leaning toward my feelings on fair pay for play?

Now that was fun wasn't it???

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Last updated: Sept 17, 1999

Copyright © 1999 Gordon Schryer.