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Jim Dockery
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Jim Dockery
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PostWed Aug 19, 2009 11:31 am 
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In my last TR puzzlr wondered if we had plans for the cool open ridge connecting the Vesper/Sperry ridge to the south peak of Big Four. As it turns out that was our goal that was foiled by the weather then, but came to fruition this week.
The traverse (we were on the other side most of the way)
The traverse (we were on the other side most of the way)

With the weekend forecast not perfect Jeff, Eric, and I hiked up Sunday afternoon to camp at Vesper/Sperry lake so we could hit the best weather for the traverse on Monday.
Rock climbers note walls below Big Four's South Peak
Rock climbers note walls below Big Four's South Peak
Upper east walls of Sperry
Upper east walls of Sperry
Sperry east face
Sperry east face

Jeff beat Eric and I up and went up to the ridge to retreive some gear we had stashed last week and met me at the saddle leading down to the Vesper Glacier. Since it had all been hidden in the mist last time we were up there we still didn't know how to get on the ridge, so we intended to figure it out that evening. There are two gullies down to the glacier, we took the wider one to the east which offering reasonable down climbing on rocky ledges. When I did the N face of Vesper years ago I took the W gully directly to the glacier, but it is now melted out at the top and very steep dirt/rubble - not recommended.

Jeff first tried traversing straight over to the ridge on the rock walls that form the east side of the gully, while I scrambled down the west side. He got about half way before finding the smooth sloping ledges covered with ball bearing gravel too dangerous, so he came back to the snow, put his crampons on, and descended.
Jeff descending Vesper glacier
Jeff descending Vesper glacier

I only had half crampons (strapped to my low top approach shoe/hikers) so I kept scrambling down the rocks so that I only had to traverse the steep hard snow. I took my time, kicking good steps to make the trip easier in the morning when it would be frozen.

Jeff had already roped up and started scrambling a solid looking buttress when I got there so I quickly put on my harness and got him on belay. The first half of the pitch was fun 4th class, but then he hit a crappy red rock section half way up. The climbing was still 4th, but felt like 5th because you had to test every hold, and only use the most solid ones. He set a belay over a big horn, brought me up, and I led up the last bit of rubble to the big trees at the top of the wall.
Jeff (in circle) tries traverse, dots show climb
2 labels
Jeff (in circle) tries traverse, dots show climb

We fixed a rope to a tree for the rappel, and scrambled up the talus to look across the ridge we would traverse the next day.
The promised land
1 label
The promised land

Coming back to the trees Jeff spied an ancient anchor which we chose not to use. Apparently we weren't the first to come down this way.
old rap anchor
old rap anchor

We rappeled back to the glacier, throwing down some of the loose blocks to make it safer to climb back up the next morning.
Rappel to glacier
Rappel to glacier

Back on with the crampons, across the glacier, then up the scramble to the saddle for a gorgeous sunset.
North from the saddle
North from the saddle
SE from saddle
9 labels
SE from saddle

We met Eric back at the lake for dinner and a sip of whiskey before bed. He'd been hanging out at camp and had a minor disaster when he accidentally broke his glasses so he had to wear his prescription glacier glasses for the rest of the trip.
Mr. Cool bogarts all the whiskey
Mr. Cool bogarts all the whiskey
Sunset from Vesper/Sperry basin
Sunset from Vesper/Sperry basin
Gothic Peak Dusk
Gothic Peak Dusk
Vesper Ridge
Vesper Ridge

I got the coffee water brewing around 5:30 Monday. We snarfed our breakfast, bid Eric adieu (he did the Vesper-Sperry traverse), and hiked back up and over the saddle.
climbing up from the lake
climbing up from the lake
descent to the glacier
descent to the glacier

The night had been warm so the glacier was soft and easy, and the steps I'd kicked also helped us cruise across with ease. We prusiked up the fixed rope, packed up all the technical gear, and headed across the ridge reveling in the clean open slabs we'd dreamed of exploring.
View back to Howling ridge on L and the north face of Vesper
View back to Howling ridge on L and the north face of Vesper

All too soon this ended in a steep ridge covered with thick alpine trees so we took the easy way down and across the west side of the ridge into a wide bowl covered in beautiful clean talus.
Running and jumping from boulder to boulder I thought back to Doug Robinson's seminal article Running Talus. We got into the flow and quickly crossed the first bowl too high and looked over cliffs that would require a rappel. Instead we just down climbed around the ridge and traversed the next bowl.
Uh oh no go

We came to the end of the good talus then had to climb back up toward the ridge into trees and steep heather slopes we traversed north around to the next open bowl. I took an interesting detour hoping to avoid some of the vegetation, but found myself perched on a wild gendarme.
[u:a6e856df63]Real[/u:a6e856df63] North Cascades climbing
Real North Cascades climbing

Jeff's lower traverse got him to the bowl first where he could see our final objective and a burly billy goat grazing.
View across the last bowl to the south peak of Big 4
View across the last bowl to the south peak of Big 4
billy goat shows the way
billy goat shows the way

We followed Billy up a heather gully, to steep dirt and trees.
More [b:a6e856df63]real[/b:a6e856df63] NC climbing at it's best
More real NC climbing at it's best

A little ridge run, a bouldery little downward traverse (we couldn't figure how Bill descended) and we were finally below Big Four.
traverse down
traverse down

The final ridge was exposed, but didn't look very hard. We knew the red rock wasn't good though, so we roped up. Jeff led up the first step that turned out to be 3rd class scrambling to a big heather bench. I got the money pitch which was steep and had some big loose blocks to be avoided, but was easier than it looked (low 5th). I was surprised to find an old intricate four anchor rap station set up at the top of the pitch just before getting to another heather bench (where there are no possible anchors). All of the slings were bleached and rotten so I used my nut tool to remove the gear and grabbed the whole mess.

Jeff's next pitch was easier, but loose too. He threw off a number of blocks that the rope might have knocked on me.
Cleaning the route
Cleaning the route

The last little pitch to the top was cleaner. I ran up to the summit of Big Four's South peak but didn't stay long because it was swarming with little black flies. I retreated to a little saddle between peaks to set a belay and bring Jeff up.
summit belay
summit belay
Jeff on top
Jeff on top
Rap off the top
Rap off the top

It was a long way home, and were almost out of water, so we didn't stay long. The rappels were time consuming. Throwing the ropes was a mess on the low angle terrain and they got caught on loose blocks and little trees. We stopped and cut the old anchor apart and tried to resling the nuts with my cordelette. Only one of them had big enough holes so I just tied loops out of the rest of my line, pushed that into the crack first with the nut tool, then set the small nuts we found and pulled the loop tight down onto them. A couple more slings to equalize it all and we had a good anchor for the big drop.
Old nut, new anchor
Old nut, new anchor

With extreme care not to knock anything on each other we made it down to the saddle without incident, packed up the gear and set off to reverse the traverse. It was easier this time since we knew where to go, but of course we were getting a bit tuckered. Luckily there was water along the way so we stayed well hydrated.
view down to Copper Lake
view down to Copper Lake
descending a gully
descending a gully

We rapped back to the glacier, climbed back to the saddle, and called down to Eric to tell him all was well. He was glad to hear us because he'd been waiting for us after his Vesper-Sperry traverse and wanted to get down the trail before dark with his sunglasses on so he took off before we got to camp. Jeff and I loaded up the camping gear and headed down.
Morning Star reflection in Vesper Creek
Morning Star reflection in Vesper Creek

We caught Eric at the first stream crossing before entering the timber. It was getting dark in the trees so he two bad choices, wear his dark glacier glasses and see nothing, or not wear glasses and see a blur. He choose the second and stumbled down looking like a blind man probing with his trekking poles. The funny thing was I was the only one to fall on my butt when my foot slipped on a slick root. I've gotta agree with Eric that this trail needs a warning sign posted: "Climber's Trail ahead - small children-weak kneed old timers-and wimps in general go no further!"
Eirc tries the eyes closed method
Eirc tries the eyes closed method

The beers I'd left in the car were a nice German temperature and tasted great with the chips and mexi-trailmix. Try as I might I couldn't make Granite Falls before the mexican restaurants were closed so we had to hit McDonalds. Jeff and Eric snarfed theirs down before we got to my house in Lake Stevens, then I finally sat and enjoyed my angus burger (surprisingly good) and a cold beer, basking in the afterglow of a good long day in the hills.
Sperry Peak Sunrise
Sperry Peak Sunrise

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Tazz
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PostWed Aug 19, 2009 11:40 am 
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Nice report!!!   thanks for the good beta!  looks like a FUN one!
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Don
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PostWed Aug 19, 2009 12:05 pm 
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What a wild adventure Jim - thanks for sharing!

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Don Geyer Photography

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Scrooge
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Scrooge
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PostWed Aug 19, 2009 1:18 pm 
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Gee, Jim, I saw the "Big Four" trip report and I got all excited.        rolleyes.gif

Oh well, not everybody can be an adventurer and explore ice caves.        bricks.gif

But the big rock stuff is almost as good ....... and the photography is lots better.        up.gif  up.gif

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Something lost behind the ranges. Lost and waiting for you....... Go and find it. Go!
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iron
getting old



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iron
getting old
PostWed Aug 19, 2009 1:38 pm 
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awesome TR jim. love the shots showing jeff on the traverse where it puts everything into scale. copper lake looks like a gem too! interesting reading in Night on the Ground a Day in the Open. common sense, but a different approach. i'm not sure which action photo i like better: the one of jeff pitching the rocks or the ones of the guy jumping over talus in the book...

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man, you go through life, you try to be nice to people, you struggle to resist the urge to punch 'em in the face, and for what?

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dicey
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PostWed Aug 19, 2009 1:39 pm 
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Good stuff!

Way to pull off what seems like a somewhat popular obsession

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I'm not always sure I like being older but being less stupid has advantages.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/32121172@N00/sets/
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Jim Dockery
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Jim Dockery
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PostWed Aug 19, 2009 1:47 pm 
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Thanks for the link to that old TR dicey. I should have researched and found that before we went. Sounds like they found an easier way down on the other side of the peaklet between Vesper and Sperry that Jeff and I saw on the way back. We didn't want to chance it though not knowing what it would be like and elected to return whence we came.

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Jeff
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PostWed Aug 19, 2009 3:45 pm 
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I was on Vesper on Sunday and I was definetely eyeing that glorious ridge, but getting to it seemed like quite the undertaking. Glad you pulled it off  up.gif
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Hulksmash
Cleaning up.



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Hulksmash
Cleaning up.
PostThu Aug 20, 2009 12:40 am 
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Dam!!  up.gif  up.gif
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Schroder
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PostThu Aug 20, 2009 6:41 am 
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Great trip, Jim!
Did you get any close-up photos of the South Face of Big Four from the S Peak?
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Jim Dockery
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Location: Lake Stevens
Jim Dockery
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PostThu Aug 20, 2009 8:12 am 
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Schroder, here's a shot I got, doesn't look like a place I want to climb (red = crap rock).
S face Big Four
S face Big Four

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Schroder
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PostThu Aug 20, 2009 10:28 am 
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Thanks, Jim. I was once obsessed with that wall & tried several times to get up it. The rock is more solid than it looks but it's still difficult to find protection.
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ErinB
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PostThu Aug 20, 2009 12:50 pm 
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I certainly don't know anyone obsessed with Big Four.

Haha, that is certainly one addictive mountain. I tried going up the NW ridge during that hot weather a few weeks ago - but once on the Big Four-Hall saddle decided I didn't want to go up that not so nice looking ridge solo! And I can confidently say that getting to that saddle is definitely not recommended this time of year! Though I did find a much easier way down, quite similar to Justus' route up Hall Peak.

Awesome work finding a route over there - looks like quite the adventure!!! Thanks for all the pictures!
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dicey
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PostThu Aug 20, 2009 1:11 pm 
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ErinB wrote:
I certainly don't know anyone obsessed with Big Four.


Hahahahahahahahahah!

I do. biggrin.gif

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I'm not always sure I like being older but being less stupid has advantages.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/32121172@N00/sets/
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Stefan
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PostThu Aug 20, 2009 1:17 pm 
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dicey wrote:
ErinB wrote:
I certainly don't know anyone obsessed with Big Four.

Hahahahahahahahahah!

I do. biggrin.gif

Ditto!!!!!!

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Art is an adventure.
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