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Slippery Slab Tower (')

NorthEast face - Sept 18 '99

summit image
Slippery Slab Tower (not yet)

Party: Mountaineers - Basic Rock. Leader Dennis Mosolf, Rope Leaders: Shasha ? and I.  Basic Students: Izette, Joe and Rob.

Weather: Awesome. Another great September weekend.

The Approach

 The standard approach to this climb is up the Surprise lake trail, following a deep, dark valley bottom to Surprise lake followed by a 3/4 mile blast up a steep trail for a 1500 or so feet, reaching the base of the climb with flaming legs and lungs. We, at the recommendation of Walt Reissig, took an alternate approach...

Starting at the Hope Lake trailhead, you climb steeply up to Hope lake, and then continue South-West on the Pacific Crest trail to Trap Pass. The pacific crest trail gently traverses up to the pass with a far more enjoyable alpine setting and supporting views. Though the distance is a little longer (1/2 mile maybe), it is well worth it. You arrive at the base of the climb in relative cardiac comfort. Highly recommended!

Along the pacific crest trail, you get an awesome view of the Slippery Slab Tower. In fact, its an intimidating view. I had heard derogatory stories regarding this climb... short, ugly, easy, 4th class at best, not worth doing. Well the view alone changed my preconceived impresions. Regardless of what the climbing would be like, it is an impressive objective. I dont think the Surprise lake approach properly instills this view in one's mind.

The Climb

When we got to the climb, there was another party of two already there.... they took the Surprise lake approach that morning.... perhaps it is faster, but again, I cant imagine it being more enjoyable. They were starting up the, well lets say the second pitch. That's right, I'm confused as to where the climb starts and how many pitches should be counted.

One climb description (Basic climbs guide) claims that you climb up a gulley to a treed ledge in which some students may need a belay or hand line. Is this the first pitch? I wouldn't count it as a pitch. There is a 10 foot class 4 section that isn't really exposed, a spotter is all that may be required for an inexperienced climber. The problem is, that the guide then claims that you have two pitches of climbing, the first pitch being a full rope length to a tree belwy, the second pitch being a short 10 foot section before easying up to a walk to the summit. Well, you can do both of these "pitches" in a single rope length (careful of rope drag). The next confussing point was in the form of gear beta from a friend who claimed that you dont need any pro for the first pitch, but you will want some for the second. (Clearly down-playing the main middle-top pitch, and counting the gulley as a pitch).

Whatever. here's my take on the whole climb....
Scramble up the gulley, providing a spot for inexperienced climbers at the 10 foot class 4 section. Set-up a belay on the ledge off any bomber tree. The real climbing starts here... and it is real climbing in mountaineering boots! No class 4 mumbo-jumbo. The crux of the pitch was felt by everyone, leaders and followers. It is a steep slab dihedral with a finger crack in the corner. There are a couple horizontal cracks for the feet, but they feel thin in boots. From the dihedral, everyone agreed that you want to work your way left, around the outside corner of the dihedral onto exposed, dirty, blocky, sloping terrain. Ok, its not too bad, but its not class 4, and in mountaineering boots it feels like solid 5.4+. Really, how many 5.4 finger cracks with thin feet have you seen?. The rest of the climb is easy, complicated only by the loose dirt on the sloping slabby rock... slippery slab, no? If you manage to get to the belay tree without much rope drag, you might as well finish the last 10 feet to the top. (even with a 50m rope). There are big blocky rocks to make a solid belay anchor from.

We had great weather, and therefore great views from the top. Since we were a party of 7, our final rope team had three people. They took a while longer getting up to the summit, so we had quite a liesurely time there, at least 1 hour for some of us. If the weather had been foul, it would have been downright uncomfortable.


I brought and used a #1&2 Camalot. Other than that a set of medium to large stoppers, and the  metolius 4-cams (#3,4,5), come in handy. (The #3 protects at the finger crack.... essential). Bring some long slings to avoid rope drag if you want to combine the top "pitches". I guess this boils down to my standard alpine rack.

The Descent

We made a short rappel/handline down to the main rappel trees. A double rope rappel (with 50 meter ropes) from here gets you down to the bottom of the gulley.... no need to worry about rapping down the gulley or setting up handlines.

The walk back was just as enjoyable. I was unable to convince anyone else in the party that a dip in Trap lake was a worthwhile side trip. Realizing that I had no company, I ran off ahead of everyone to get a swim in for myslef. The water was really nice. I was able to walk in to a rock quite comfortably and then take one dive from the rock without too much mental delay.... perhaps the desire to not get too far behind everyone hurried me along, but either way, I got in with ease. The water was great. A short little paddle around, and I was back on the sandy beach and the grassy "lawn," clothes back on, feet dried off and then I had to bust my but trying to catch up with everyone. By the time I caught up to the back of our line, I questioned the value of the cool-off.

Nah, a mountain lake is always worth a dip.

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Last updated: Oct 6, 1999

Copyright © 1999 Gordon Schryer.