Mark Hanna, Steven Packard, and I climbed the gully route on the east face of Sperry Pk. on Sunday. I'd driven up the day before to check out conditions and take pictures, hoping the north face might be in (not). After reading Tom's great TR on Big Four I knew conditions were about as good as we get around here, so I was very happy when Mark called me back to say he was up for a climb on Sunday.
The climb is relatively moderate, but it kicked our out of shape asses, and took 12 hours car to car. It was easy driving to the end of the Sunrise Mine road, then the trail was a cruise up into Wirtz Basin, so the approach went quickly.
We headed straight up into a gully that splits the lower slabs, stopping to don crampons about half way up at an icy step. When we reached the snowy slabs below the steep upper face we were jazzed to see the gully filled in (we couldn't see into the first part on the approach).
We geared up at the shrund, then started dragging the ropes while third classing the first pitch. We belayed the second, which had some spicy mixed ice and rock (technical crux) with minimal pro.
Lots of easy gully cruising on firm snow, with little nice little ice steps thrown in, made up the middle of the climb.
Ever steeping less consolidated snow leading up to the NE ridge got strenuous, especially where hollows below rocks or the occasional tree cut out footholds. Steven got the physical crux of the climb on such a move that required hooking a tree and pulling up with disintegrating footholds above a near vertical flute that dropped into the north face.
Becky says it is 300 ft. from the ridge to the summit, but he's off by about 300 ft. When we pulled over the hump we hoped was the top our hearts sank looking across a ridge at another snow face that looked very steep. Luckily it was just the straight on view that psyched us out, once I started punching up it I found relatively moderate going, but no protection. We were all running out of gas so it was hard motoring up when every move required full axe plunges and hard step kicking for security, but the sun was going down and we needed to move, so I gave it my all leading up to the summit, then pulling the ropes for Mark and Steve as they followed.
We wanted to hit Headlee Pass before dark, so there was little time for summit relaxation. We guzzled some half frozen water, Mark and Steve coiled ropes, while I snapped a few pictures.
Descending the west face went well, but took constant care with the firm snow conditions. We ended up facing in and front pointing down many places. The long traverse over to the pass was a sting in the tail since we were pretty tired at that point - frenching across the steep icy slope in the last light we were well aware that catching a crampon would result in a long ride into the valley below.
Headlamps on, descending the pass was easy, then it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other down the basin, then the trail (which we lost a couple times). We hit the car at 7 and drove home down a silent Mountain Loop Highway.
If you have time off this week get up there someplace - everything looks good! Best conditions up high are on south or west faces where the sun melted deep - frozen solid. The ice in the gully was nice for climbing, but not thick enough for great pro - about half the screws we placed ended up being more psychological than bomber. The snow on the last third was also too soft for pickets or axe belays, luckily we finally found a few trees (none in the gully). The road has dry tire tracks to the end, you don't even need a 4WD. Trail is easier than summer, low water makes for very easy creek crossings, but some ice on rocks to watch out for if you're doing it by headlamp.
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