Assassin Spire is a subsidiary summit of Lincoln Peak, one of the intimidating Black Buttes on Mt. Baker. Until this weekend it had never seen an ascent via any route.
Daniel Jeffrey and I headed up to Marmot Ridge via Warm Creek off the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River on Thursday evening after work. We had planned to approach that evening, but it was raining when we arrived, so we decided to postpone the approach until the following morning.
Friday morning we awoke at 3:30AM, and got ready to head up. We were crossing a very icy Warm Creek by 3:50 in complete darkness. We then headed up new growth timber through a clearcut for 700' to gain Marmot Ridge. From here, it was a long, undulating journey to camp at ~6200' in the basin below Assassin Peak and Heliotrope Ridge.
The next morning we awoke at 3:30 again to crystal clear, starry skies. We brewed some water and coffee, and proceeded to cross the basin to the base of the NW Face. We had spied a vertical line of ice (~3 pitches of WI6) below the hanging glacier, but it looked a bit intimidating for us, so we opted to try a less sporty line on climber's right.
2 25m pitches of WI4+ (90-100 degree ice - short stretches of overhanging on the first pitch) separated by a ledge led us up to a 55 degree buttress. The ice on the curtain was very brittle and it took multiple swings to get good placements. This was very tiring, and we pumped out fast. I led 20m on the first step before running out of screws. I then lowered off and belayed Daniel up to finish the last 5m (one more screw placement). From here, he belayed me up and I led the next 30m pitch. The ice was better here, but still brittle in spots. A swing of the tool would shatter the ice as it broke off huge chunks.
From the top of the first curtain, we climbed 55 degree snow (firm and punchy here) to gain the hanging glacier. Above the hanging glacier lies an amazing amphitheater of ice and rock that rivals anything else I have seen in the entire N Cascade Range. How impressive!! Many lines are waiting to be climbed here consisting of very aesthetic, sustained, and solid ice.
We traversed the hanging glacier to another gully (45 degrees), which we simul-soloed. This gully led into some 70 degree ice which we also soloed. We went right at John Wilkes' Tooth before arriving at the final ice curtain (20m WI4+). Daniel led this and we topped out in another steep snow/ice gully to 55 degrees. 3 more pitches led us to the summit. What a place!
From the summit, Lincoln Peak looks impressive, as does Colfax and Baker. We spied about 15 snowmobiles parked under Sherman Peak, and saw 4 climbers at the col below the upper slopes of the Coleman Glacier.
We were buzzed on the summit by an EA6B Prowler who did a double-take and circled us 3 times. The pilot tipped his wing. Very cool.
We downclimbed almost everything but rappelled the ice pitches (3 raps total on twin 60m ropes). Things were glopping up in the afternoon sun and the ice pitches were now snice pitches. Our crampons and even ice tools were balling up near the bottom of the climb. I have never seen snow that sticky.
This was a fantastic trip of epic proportions with a great partner in Daniel Jeffrey. Thanks to John Scurlock for flying over before the ascent to take recon photos, and thanks also for flying over on approach day thinking we were on route (we had told him we would be climbing Assassin on Friday). We saw him circle about 10 times looking for us. If only we had a flare gun...
It says something about the difficulty that Assassin is one of the few spires in the Cascades that really hasn't been climbed by any route by anyone. At a time when there are few places left to make a first ascent, even by contrived routes, this is a real one.
100 degree ice? As in overhanging?
Can you mark your route anywhere on the photos?
-------------- As beacons mountains burned at evening. J.R.R. Tolkien
The overhang was the first pitch, right? Looks like an intense warm-up! And the photo of looking down from the top... I don't think I could explain all the emotions I'd have to hold back if I was there.
Just curious, have you read any of Joe Simpson's books?
I remember when I met Tom last summer he mentioned that he had a few interesting things he wanted to climb. He said he wanted to climb them soon as he 'wasn't sure how long he would be climbing at this level'. I thought I knew what he was talking about when he said 'this level'. I clearly did not. Congrats on a very cool FA.
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