MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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August 25, 2011

Makin' It Happen at the 11th Hour!

Last season I had the pleasure to work with local Seattle climber, Michael Knoll, on a trip to one of the North Cascade’s most hallowed peaks, Mt. Goode.  It was one of those phone calls that comes at 4 p.m., when all your ducks are in a row for the coming day, and you’re half out the door: “Got any guides interested in climbing Goode’s NE Buttress?” he asked casually.  “Umm, ya, of course,” I responded.  “ANY of our guides would gladly take on that mission!”   “Well, conditions are perfect and I’m packing NOW - I’d like to leave tomorrow at 6 a.m.”  

I had, in fact, never heard of a successful guided ascent of Goode (or even an attempt, for that matter), let alone one that was conceived 12 hours before lift-off.  “I’ll make some phone calls and get back to you, Michael”  In the spirit of Scott Fischer’s “Make it Happen” credo I pulled out all the stops and plucked MM Guide, Jaime Pollitte (who was rock climbing in Squamish, British Columbia on a day off), for the once-in-a-lifetime mission.  Jaime is one of those natural super-athletes, with a stellar combination of professionalism and technical expertise, a long career teaching in the mountains, and a willingness to throw himself at anything.  A perfect match really – especially given the fact that he knew next to nothing about the route and he would have little time to think about it and chose the softer path of sunny rock climbing by the water!  He balked a bit on the phone when I mentioned the 2 day approach, bushwhacking and long dangerous descent.  “But it’s a ‘hallowed classic’ Jaime,” I implored. “You’re gonna love it!”  Three days into the trip I thought about those guys, high on the NE Buttress, 20 miles in, and wondered if Jaime was wishing he was climbing one of the “hallowed classics” of Squamish’s Grand Wall instead of one of the North Cascades most remote peaks. 

Mt. Goode NE Buttress. Jaime Pollitte photo

Fast forward a year (after Michael and Jaime succeeded in great style on Mt. Goode)….

“Jeremy, it’s Michael Knoll.”  “Hey, how are you?  O’…wait…what do you want to do tomorrow?!”  We both laughed, reminisced briefly about Goode and serendipity and life in general, and then he dropped it: “Well, I was thinking about Redoubt, Spickard, Bear, or anything in that area….TOMORROW!”  Of course.  Figured.  Big, remote and classic.  Seldom, if ever, guided.  We agreed to go in via Canada.  I wrangled another keen mountain guide with the an amazing combination of skills, enthusiasm and thirst for adventure – Ian Nicholson.  Made another round of calls, busted out the logistics, permitting and payment.  And they were off.  

Jeremy Allyn, North America Program Director


Report by Ian Nicholson:

Michael and I met at my house in Seattle at 6 a.m. for a quick gear shuffle and, before we knew it, we were on our way.  The U.S.A –Canada border crossing was smooth and took less than 10 minutes. The drive down to the east end of Chilliwack lake was extremely bumpy – one local guidebook describes this part of the road as being a “pot hole breeding ground.”  The final 2 miles of the road were extremely rough with full blown four-wheeling over big rocks, deep wash-outs, and across creeks.  

USA-Canada border. Ian Nicholson photo

We got to the trail head around noon and then hiked one mile up the old road to the border proper. Interestingly, this was the first time either of us had crossed an international boarder on foot. After a couple of hours we reached the nearly 800-foot tall Depot Creek Falls – one of the region’s many highlights.  We got to camp late that afternoon and set up our tents around 5,000 feet below the North face of Mt. Redoubt.  

Depot Creek Falls. Ian Nicholson photo

Michael Knoll. Ian Nicholson photo

The next morning we awoke at 5 a.m. and left camp at 6 a.m., trekking just over an hour up the valley to the beautiful Lake Ozuel.  Above this, we ascended the Redoubt glacier and wrapped our way up and around to the West Ridge of NE Mox Peak (8,404 feet).  To get to the base of the rock climbing section we had to climb a short section of 50 degree névé.  The upper ridge was approximately 10-12 rope lengths of slightly loose, but incredibly enjoyable, rock in a spectacular position.  The views from this remote summit were amazing – the northern Picket Range, Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan, just to name a few. 

Guide Ian Nicholson

Similar to the previous day, we woke up at 5 a.m., and left at 6 a.m., for the now familiar hike to Lake Ozuel.  This time we headed north, gaining the col between Mt. Custer and Mt. Spickard by 9:45 a.m.. From here we were greeted with excellent views of Silver Lake and the Silver Lake Glacier.  We both talked about how long we had wanted to visit this place since we first saw a photo of it in Fred Becky’s Cascade Alpine Guide.  

Silver Lake. Ian Nicholson photo

The climb of the Silver Lake Glacier route was steep and we belayed the final 400ft as the angles hit 50 degrees and where we were forced to cross several steep crevasses.  The final 5.0 ridge was on solid rock and very fun!   We summited the 8,979 foot Mt. Spickard by 2 p.m..  It was amazing to think about how we were only 1.5 miles from Canada.  We took a break to enjoy the summit with its breathtaking views of the largest roadless area in the lower 48, complete with hundreds of glaciated peaks stretching off in every direction.  Off the top we mistakenly took the wrong gulley down for about 350 feet.  After realizing this, we climbed back to the summit for a second time, picked the correct gully, and made our way down the south face route and back to camp.

On the summit! Ian Nicholson photo

Redoubt, Shuksan and Baker in the background. Ian Nicholson photo

On our fourth day – with the goal of the classic Northeast Face of Mt. Redoubt – we woke up early again.  Unfortunately, Michael’s feet were in pretty rough shape with blisters after three full days of Cascadian travel.  After a quick but heartfelt discussion, we decided to take it easy and not attempt Redoubt – one of the giant peaks of the range.  After a bit more sleep, we ate breakfast and covered crevasse rescue and some rope management/efficiency tricks around camp until early afternoon.  The hike out took us 3.5 hours and went smoothly.  Thanks to Michael for the super fun trip – one of my favorites of the year!

NE Face of Mt. Redoubt. Ian Nicholson photo