MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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September 13, 2013

Learning the Ropes on an Alpine Climbing Course

If you want to experience what the Cascades are all about no better way to do it then spend 8 or even 12 days out here climbing.

Our alpine climbing program is a huge success. Normally we start our trip by heading to the small town of Leavenworth and learning the basics of rock climbing; however the heat wave ripping through Washington made us reevaluate that option and instead we decided on the cooler option of climbing at Mt. Erie situated off the Pacific Ocean and overlooking the San Juan islands. Our group of 3 climbers were up for any type of adventure. Donna, David, and Garrett, all coming from different spots of the U.S., quickly became trusting climbing partners after learning the basic skills of belaying, climbing and rappelling day. After our introduction we motored over to the eastside of the Cascades and stayed just outside the tiny town called Mazama. 

Our second day, we didn’t waste anytime jumping straight into some alpine rock climbing. We trekked up to the base of South Early Winter Spire and climbed the south arête to the summit.

South Arete. Marc Ripperger photo

We returned back up to Washington Pass and did the acclaimed Beckey Route to the top of Liberty Bell. The views from atop the spires are stunning. We were able to escape the afternoon thunderstorms by getting back to the cars in the early afternoon. We spent the evenings at Fun Rock in Mazama going over anchor building skills. 

Beckey Route. Marc Ripperger photo

We tested our climbing prowess our last day and did the Chockstone Route up North Early Winter Spire. The 5.7 crux of the route was exciting; our group of climbers were up to the challenge. We celebrated our accomplishments by a dinner out at the Mazama Store where we enjoyed the creature comforts of homemade pizza on the patio accompanied by a string quartet for ambiance.

Summit of North Early Winter Spire. Marc Ripperger photo

We packed up our bags that morning and switched gears to start our climb up Mt. Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier. The fog and slight drizzle typical to the North Cascades was a welcome change over the warm temps and we enjoyed the cool hike in. We quickly setup camp and ate dinner before the rains came that evening. In the morning we woke up to continued rain. We talked and practiced a lot of different information in our snow school day. Learning proper footwork in crampons to building snow anchors. That evening the rains relented and the skies opened to reveal the summit pyramid of Mt. Shuksan. 

Alpine leadership on Shuksan. Marc Ripperger photo

We woke up to crystal clear skies that morning and strapped on our crampons and set out to see what the top of Mt. Shuksan looked like. We enjoyed plenty of time in crampons crossing the Sulfide glacier. We accessed the SE ridge of Mt. Shuksan and enjoyed several pitches of moderate rock climbing to the summit. A quick descent via 4 rappels down the pyramid brought us back to our packs and then eventually back to camp. 

Ninjas on Shuksan. Marc Ripperger photo

Summit of Shuksan. Marc Ripperger photo

Our final day we talked about crevasse rescue techniques in the morning before hiking out of the alpine and back to the bustling city of Seattle. In Seattle we said goodbye to Donna and Garrett after a great 8 days of climbing and instruction. David and I did not waste any time any headed back out to the Cascades and regrouped for our final 4 days. We picked out Eldorado Peak and the Dorado Needle as our alpine objectives to test the skills we had acquired the previous 8 days together. 

Clouds parting on Shuksan. Marc Ripperger photo

Our hike into Eldorado high camp is far from a leisurely backpack in the mountains. The trail ascends over 5,000 vertical feet in 4 miles taking you through steep switchbacks, talus fields, alpine meadows and eventually spitting you onto the Eldorado Glacier. We made it through the approach and nestled into our tent at 7,600 camp. 

Eldorado. Marc Ripperger photo

The next day we climbed the sharp snow arête of Eldorado Peak. From high camp it is a quick summit day and we were able to spend part of the afternoon going over more advanced crevasse rescue techniques. We prepped for our climb of the SW Buttress of Dorado Needle and had dinner before turning in for the evening.

Day three was the day where David put all of the previous learned skills into one big day.We set out of camp at sunrise and travelled across the expansive Inspiration Glacier it was complex glacier travel navigating the crevasses of the Inspiration and McCallester glaciers. We dropped down to the Marble Creek circ then ascended 40 degree snow putting our previously learned crampon techniques to use to gain the toe of the buttress. 

Climbing Dorado Needle. Marc Ripperger photo

Ahead of us was 14 pitches and 1200 feet of rock climbing up the beautiful SW Buttress of the Dorado Needle. Our climb had it all from crack climbing to knife edge ridges. We summited the peak at noon and popped a few cliff bars before our descent off the peak and back down toward camp. We celebrated our accomplishments and were grateful of the amazing weather and terrain we were able to experience in our 12 days of climbing. In total, we climbed to the top of 6 different summits and had a ton of fun along the way.

~ MM Guide Marc Ripperger

Top of Dorado Needle with Eldorado in the background. Marc Ripperger photo