(The NE Buttress goes from lower left to the top.)
The short version: Stinging nettles, a runaway boot, and stream silt rubbing delicate body parts like sandpaper. Ouch. Plus planes, buses, and beautiful park rangers. Somewhere in there we climbed a couple of mountains, and – multi-tasking the whole way – donated liters of blood to new generations of mosquitoes and flies.
The long version: It was twelve hours after leaping off the couch – where I’d been burping babies for the past seven months – when my hand started to sting. Then my leg.
“Hey, there are nettles in here!” Eric said. Nettles?
We were 5 miles up the north fork of Bridge Creek. To get there, Eric and I had driven to Chelan, hopped on a plane – yes a plane – to Stehekin, emptied the Stehekin Bakery of half its carbs, and ridden a bus to the end of the road. Now, that is the way to climb.
We couldn’t find any porters to carry us beyond that point, so eventually we had to forego our life of leisure and grunt our way to the base of Mt. Goode. This took us 13 miles by trail before fording the north fork and ambling up to a bivy below the Goode glacier. We were at about mile 13 when the nettles attacked.
“Nettles?!!” I couldn’t believe it, even as another jolt hit my right leg. It was like being hooked to 500 tiny electric wires controlled by an evil genius. WTF? How did nettles get up this valley?
I decided it must be horses that did it. Some friggin’ horse carried in some nettle seeds and now they had taken over. “Horses don’t eat nettles, do they?” Eric was skeptical about my horse theory.
“I don’t know. It could be in their poop. Or maybe they carried seeds on their legs.” Evil little ponies.
It turns out that horses probably are not to blame, and I now apologize to the equine world for harboring such dark thoughts about them. Later a ranger told us there simply are nettles up the North Fork of Bridge Creek. “It’s a unique little micro climate,” she said after seeking us out. “No one has been up there to report on conditions this year. So, how bad are the nettles?”
How bad? Here, let me practice acupuncture on you. Do you have 500 needles?
For me, the nettles are sufficient reason to stay away from the place. Or bring a horse, so you can ride above them. Just watch what's in their poop.
About a mile beyond Grizzly Camp on the North Fork trail – the Nettles Mile – we turned left (west) and forded the creek. Expert outdoorsmen, we timed our crossing perfectly for late afternoon, when the flow was at its peak. Here is Eric emerging from the ford, smiling at nearly having his navel scoured clean in the middle of the stream:
Our next day’s objective – the NE buttress of Goode – pointed right at us:
Then we scrambled west up slabs and into … slide alder. Now, I know a thing or two about slide alder, and mostly what I know is that it and I don’t like each other. It’s like a dysfunctional relationship with a former girlfriend: We try to avoid each other but we’re always getting tangled up.
Fortunately, this time the brush was not too bad and soon we were setting up camp on a beautiful little knoll. Views down the valley, north to Logan, NW to Storm King, and west to the buttress. Nettles be damned – this bivy spot made it all worth it.
The bivy was nice, but we had a mountain to climb. So the next morning we walked up the Goode Glacier and found a way onto the NE Buttress.
Eric steps off snow onto rock – for the next 2800 feet:
From here it was 2800 feet of pure rock fun to the top. By this time we had to go over the mountain, because I’m telling you, it was easier than going back home through those nettles.
After gaining the rock Eric led one traversing pitch to obtain the buttress proper, and then we stashed the rope and scrambled up about 1000 feet. Eric then led as we simulclimbed the rest of the way. There was an occasional 5th class move, but it was mostly 3rd and 4th class. I trucked my rock shoes all the way in, but left them in the pack and climbed in my boots.
The top was splendiferous, with views that rattle in your memory forever. You don’t get a buzz like that from calendar pictures:
We did not find a register, but the deluxe bivy sites at the summit make this a candidate for the world’s Best Place to Spend a Night.
We, however, had different plans, so we rappelled into the SW couloir and found another marvelous bivy spot at 7400 feet below Goode’s SW wall.
From here we could see the towers of Storm King’s west side:
The next morning we stumbled out of camp by 6:30 am for the 1 mile traverse at 7400 feet to the base of Storm King’s summit towers. I had left Beckey’s route description of the supposedly class 4 scramble in the tent. So, instead of going to the left of the face on the east tower, we convinced ourselves that a gully on the right was the best route:
“But this is not class 4,” I complained.
“Shut up, stop whining, and keep up,” Eric replied. “It’s a Beckey class 4.”
Actually, Eric said no such thing because he is too classy. He didn’t even push a rock down at me. He could have, however.
The right-side gully has a 3-4 foot diameter chockstone that I swear is held in place by a minor protrusion about the size of a dime. I had visions of it becoming dislodged and smearing me into a grease puddle. We both stemmed over it without so much as touching it.
Compared to Goode’s nice rock, the looseness on Storm King is a pain. But it is a short-lived pain and soon we were looking at the notes in the register on the top.
Now, it turns out that Storm King has a namesake: One of my kids has been “Storm King” since she was kicking her mother from inside. The doctors at the hospital even started calling her Storm King. These pics might help in telling them apart:
It was then that I made: Bonehead Decision #1
I said that I carried rock shoes the whole time without using them. That’s not quite true. After summiting Storm King (the mountain), we packed up and headed down Goode’s west-side slopes to the Park Creek trail to return to Stehekin. A short way into the descent I took my boot off to shake out a few pebbles, and casually set the boot down while soaking up the views.
The boot started rolling down the hill. I mean, really rolling. That boot was made for rolling, and that’s just what it did. I peered over a minor bluff to watch it bounce 15 feet into the air and into a gully and out of sight.
I guess the boot was ready to get off that hill. I must have been slowing it down.
But now I had a dilemma. How do you get down the mountain with only one boot? Hop? Wrap your foot in duct tape?
“You’re screwed, man,” Eric shook his head. He probably was calculating whether he could ditch me and still catch a ride back to Chelan on time. I mean, he already had hauled me up two mountains. A guy can only do so much. I would emerge from the hills eventually, hopping on a bloody stump where my left foot used to be.
“Hey, but I have my rock shoes!” My hope shot up.
“As I said,” Eric repeated, “You’re screwed.”
So I pulled my left rock shoe out of the pack and began hobbling down the hill like a guy in ballerina shoes. Which, come to think of it, I was. This was going to be painful.
Fortunately, we – or rather, Eric – soon found my boot about 300 yards downhill at the bottom of the gully. I was saved.
Until later, that is. Stopping 5 miles from the High Bridge bus stop near Stehekin, I engaged in ...
Bonehead Decision #2:
… which was to take a bath in a shallow stream. It was only about 190 degrees that day, so the cold water felt good. But I soon began to chafe in delicate places. The chafing came out of nowhere, and nothing I did – even walking like I just got off a horse – helped.
We caught the bus into Stehekin and I strode around town like a gunslinger until I figured out the problem. I had stirred up silt in the stream, some of which had lodged in places of my body that are not meant for silt. The fine sand was grinding away like sandpaper with every step I took.
[Picture deleted by the decency police]
So, beginning with nettles and ending with sandpapered underwear, this trip had a few wincing moments. But it is beautiful and lonely in that corner of the North Cascades. I’m going again sometime. But next time I’ll glue my boot to my foot and forego any sitzbath.
Mosquitos: > 1
New favorite BS line: “Beckey class 4.”
Distance traveled: Humans – 33 miles
Left boot – 33.2 miles
Distance traveled while walking like a cowboy: 5 miles
Note: This climb happened on July 26-28, 2010, so the pics show the conditions at the end of July on a late snow year. I think crampons were essential for both the Goode Glacier on the east side and the traverse to Storm King on the west (Park Creek) side.
Eric posted a superior TR here. I used some of Eric's pictures in this TR.
Hey, I thought you guys looked familiar. My son and I were on the shuttle bus with you to High Bridge (we went up McGregor). Sounds like you had slightly more adventure than we did. Looks like a great trip. Glad everything worked out ok "in the end".
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