A couple of years back, I read an article written by prolific local climber Jim Brisbine which, among other topics, briefly mentioned a list of difficult peaks that the late Dallas Kloke had communicated to him. The Difficult 10 (as Mr. Brisbine would later coin it), is a list of major peaks in Washington whose summits are the hardest to reach by the easiest route. An intriguing list to the aspiring peakbagger, this one is particularly so because of the fact that its criteria is so subjective - a concept that is a bit foreign to number-crunching listbaggers. After all, just what exactly constitutes a “major peak”, and what do we consider “difficult”? It would take someone who had climbed most or all of the major peaks to be able to accurately verify that the peaks were, in fact, the most difficult in the state. Dallas Kloke - a highly respected, experienced, and accomplished local climber - had already done just that. By the time I first saw the list, I had climbed a few of the peaks on it - some of them had already been on my radar. Some of the other peaks were objectives that I hadn’t previously considered, but their inclusion on the list became the incentive for me to climb them. The Difficult 10 seemed like a unique and ambitious accomplishment to shoot for, and its appeal to me was undeniable. Over the next few years, I made it a goal to finish the list.
That quest culminated this past weekend when I climbed the last peak on the list, Burgundy Spire. Looking back, climbing all the peaks on the list has been quite the adventure. Some of the most scenic & spiritual, yet difficult moments of my entire life, were experienced while climbing the peaks on this list. I’ve had fun times, encountered rare wildlife, found myself lost among fields of wildflowers, witnessed the beauty and raw fury of nature, challenged my body, mind, & spirit, spent quality times with good friends, and forged bonds and created powerful memories that I will have and be able to reflect on for the rest of my life. I’d like to take some time to share a few of those moments from each climb here, and to look back on an exciting and fulfilling time in my life.
The original article on the list (and others) can be found here. The link will look like an error at first, but wait for about 10 seconds and it will redirect you to the correct page.
The Difficult 10 (by Dallas Kloke) – Washington’s Most Difficult Major Peaks to Climb by their Easiest Route
As there is no order to Kloke’s original list (as far as I can tell), I’m going to order them by difficulty here - as I rate them - from least difficult to most difficult.
#10) Burgundy Spire – Paisano Pinnacle W Ridge to the N Face of Burgundy Spire (IV, 5.9, 10p)
The tenth most difficult peak in Washington, Burgundy Spire is really an outlier of the Silver Star massif situated among the Wine Spires, just S of Burgundy Col. This peak is an anomaly on the list in that it is the only peak with a crag-like approach and it’s also the only peak that requires 5.8 rock climbing to reach its summit. Nevertheless, Burgundy Spire is an important peak, and its inclusion on the Difficult 10 list is definitely justified. We wanted to add on Paisano Pinnacle to our agenda - supposedly the best long, moderate, alpine rock route at Washington Pass. It wound up being a full, but stellar day of climbing for Sergio, Daniel, and I.
Coming in at #9, Johannesburg Mountain harbors one of the most impressive and accessible faces in the state. Its hanging glaciers and precipitous rock walls intimidate visitors to the Cascade Pass area. According to an unknown source, the 7.5-minute quadrangle for Johannesburg is one of the steepest in the lower-48 states. It is a serious mountain, one that requires excellent route finding and a blatant disregard for continual exposure to reach its summit. The easiest route to the summit is the E Ridge (III, 5.5).
I have summited Johannesburg four times, once by the C-J Couloir, and three times by the 1951 NE Rib.
Mt. Index is definitely one of the most rugged peaks in the state, despite its low elevation. It's also a unique peak for the purposes of our discussion, because two of its summits are on The Difficult 10 (North Peak, and Middle Peak). Viewed from US2, Mt. Index is a striking massif of vertical walls and dizzying relief. Its North and Middle Peaks seem improbable at a glance, but there are routes for those who are prepared to give it a try. Have your ‘A’ game on this peak.
#7) Mox Peak (SE Spire) – via the Ridge of Gendarmes (III, 5.6)
Having gained notoriety as the hardest peak on the Bulger Top 100 list, SE Mox Peak (AKA “Hard Mox”) is a steep, exposed mass of loose gneiss in the Chilliwack range just S of the Canadian border. Its summit tower is imposing, and route finding is less than straightforward. Nevertheless, the views from this lonely summit are impressive. SE Mox is the only peak on the Bulger Top 100 that is also on The Difficult 10.
#6) Mt. Fury (W Peak) – E Ridge via E Fury (IV, 5.6)
Mt. Fury is a relatively well-known, but infrequently climbed and legendary peak in the rugged Pickets Range. The E summit is the usual objective for those venturing up, but the more remote W Peak is the true summit of Mt. Fury (by a matter of mere feet). Mt. Fury involves a long & arduous approach, complex route finding, and miles of scrambling. The easiest route up is probably from Pickell Pass (according to the late Roger Jung, who has climbed every established route on the peak). Fay Pullen and I climbed W Fury after bivvying on the summit of E Fury the previous night. We had a wonderful time all alone in one of the most remote spots in the lower 48 states, and were elated to stand atop this rarely visited summit.
#5) Hozomeen Mountain (South Peak) – SW Face (IV, 5.6)
Hozomeen Mountain is a unique and very rugged double-hump summit on the N end of Ross Lake, on the western edge of the Pasayten Wilderness. Some of the largest walls in the range reside on Hozomeen. The S Peak is steep and exposed, and the rock is of dubious quality. Any ascent of Hozomeen requires excellent route finding and an experienced party comfortable with loose rock and continual exposure. Some attempts have been made on the huge walls of N Hozomeen's W Face (the largest unclimbed wall in the range), but they have thus far fallen short due to poor, hard-to-protect rock and very difficult climbing.
1) Southwest Face with Carla Schauble, Franklin Bradshaw, and Jeff Hancock.
#4) Inspiration Peak – S Face (IV, 5.8)
Inspiration Peak is an important, attractive summit in the S Pickets. Its easiest route, the W Ridge, involves ascending a sketchy gully followed by multiple pitches of class 4 and low to mid-fifth. Wayne and I climbed the S Face, an improbable route on a vertical to overhanging wall. The climbing on the S Face was some of the sketchiest rock climbing I’ve ever done. Wayne figured he’d add another element of difficulty to the climb by having us leave the rock shoes at home in the interest of saving weight. Great idea, Wayne – you’re always thinking!
Nooksack Tower, although having very little prominence to set it apart from Mt. Shuksan, merits its own spot on the list because of the lack of easy ways to reach its summit. Climbing the easiest route on Nooksack Tower involves climbing very steep snow (60+ degrees) in a sluff-prone couloir, followed by multiple pitches of loose, exposed third to mid-fifth class climbing. I enjoyed the company of Don "Peak Junkie" Beavon on this climb. Don Beavon summited Mt. Everest in 1998, and made it to 8000m on K2 (without supplemental oxygen) at the tender young age of 50. In the interest of safety, Don Beavon and I climbed a majority of the loose route unroped, and Don nearly bought the farm after breaking off a hold near the top of the route.
#2) Lincoln Peak – X-Couloir (IV, steep snow & ice)
Deserving of the #2 spot at the time of its inclusion, but probably now ousted by the FA of Assassin Spire, Lincoln Peak is one difficult summit to reach. One of the intimidating Black Buttes on the flanks of Mt. Baker, Lincoln Peak’s climbing window is short. In summer, it is a loose, dangerous, wildly steep mass of crumbling volcanic conglomerate. The best time to climb it is when it is covered in snow, but with the route being south-facing, it is threatened by a constant barrage of ice and rockfall from above once the sun comes out. Over the course of three attempts (only one of which was successful), I had two very close calls on this peak. The best time to summit Lincoln is on a cloudy day that follows a cool, clear night. There’s a reason why very few people have ever climbed this peak – it’s dangerous.
#1) Mt. Index (Middle Peak) – Index Traverse (V, 5.9, 30+ pitches)
When you get to #1 on the list, you wind up here, at Mt. Index's Middle Peak, staring at the most difficult summit to reach in the state of Washington. The Middle Peak of Index is not the tallest of the three Index peaks - in fact, along with N Index, it is among the two shortest peaks on this list. But what Middle Index lacks in stature, it makes up for in bite. The summit is nestled in snugly among sheer drops of up to 4500’ to the valley floor. There is no easy way to the summit, and its level of difficulty is well above anything else on the list. A successful ascent of the Middle Peak of Mt. Index will require every skill you’ve ever learned as a mountaineer, and you will be required to perform those skills at a high level. I made two ascents of Middle Index, one via the complete N to S traverse, and one via the Main Peak and back again. Both routes involve considerable climbing, extremely complicated and daunting route finding, and constant exposure and threat of rockfall. There is no retreat from this climb, and the commitment factor is off the charts as far as Washington peaks go. You will want to bring your ‘A’ game on this peak and have an equally strong and experienced partner. The crux pitch on the traverse was one of the sketchiest pitches of rock I’ve ever climbed (5.9 - we took the most difficult crux variation possible thanks to Wayne's unwavering spirit of adventure - by comparison, the most technically difficult pitch of rock I've ever climbed was 5.10d). Oh yeah, we did it in boots again in the interest of going light.
In the end, was it worth risking life and limb for ten measly summits? The fact is, I wouldn’t give these experiences up for any price, and what I learned about myself through working on the list has given me skills that I can use in everyday life – not merely in my future mountaineering adventures.
More importantly, each of these climbs strengthened the bonds I already had with my climbing partners. Climbing, making important decisions together, putting our lives in each others' hands, and sometimes even sharing a sleeping bag with each other (yes, in the interest of saving weight) creates the types of friendships that other facets of life just can't. These experiences will be impossible to duplicate, but they are forever vivid memories that I will have the pleasure to reflect on in the years ahead. There’s no question that these experiences have enriched my life, and I am a better man because of them.
Finishing the list is bittersweet as we mark the 1st year of Dallas' passing on the day I finished his list (September 25, 2011). I never got to meet him, but respected and admired him merely from what I had read and heard. Dallas was an accomplished Cascades mountaineer, and played a huge role in the development of the Mt. Erie climbing area. According to close friends, Dallas was also an excellent family man and well-loved by anyone who ever met him - by all accounts, someone everyone can look up to. Cheers, Dallas.
Nicely summarized, Tom (and, of course, nicely done in climbing the peaks)! You did a great job including just enough information. Given the eventfulness of all of these trips, it was no doubt difficult to distill each one into a short paragraph or two.
-------------- PLAY SAFE! SKI ONLY IN CLOCKWISE DIRECTION! LET'S ALL HAVE FUN TOGETHER!
My first thought was that this single post on nwhikers.net deserves a dedicated website, with amazing photos and reports to drive home this impressive set of ascents. Nice work, and thanks for taking the time to write it up here. I sure hope nwhikers is online for decades to come, because it would be a shame to lose reports like this to the ether.
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