Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mount Slesse - Northeast Buttress

With smoke infesting most climbing areas near Missoula, Leah and I made a run for the border with plans to climb the Northeast Buttress of Mount Slesse.  The drive is long, and the entire first day was devoted to driving and approaching to the Memorial Plaque.  The hike in was about 5 km longer then normal due to severe waterbars on the Nesakwatch Creek road.  Our Subaru was not up to the task.
The great Northeast Buttress of Mount Slesse.
We got an alpine start, hiking from the Memorial plaque by 2:30 am.  The approach to the Pocket glacier went smoothly with the exception of a major, darkness-induced detour on the slabby cirque south of the glacier.  Arriving at sunrise, we were dismayed to find the Pocket glacier in poor condition.  We played it relatively safe, simul climbing steep slabs above the eastern edge of the glacier before committing to a sprint across the glacier at the safest point.  What would normally take less than an hour ate up almost half a day, but we were able to avoid the worst of the objective hazards. Still, the glacier was extremely active, especially saturday evening through sunday, and seracs were shedding impressive quantities of snow and ice several times an hour, day and night.
Tiptoeing around the Pocket glacier.
Coming up ramps to the buttress proper, showing the adverse state of the Pocket glacier.
We started up the route mid-day, hoping to make it to the giant bivy ledge before dark.  After an exposed ledge traverse to gain the buttress, the route opens with several hundred feet of dirt, tree, and rock climbing up to easy 5th class, which we simul climbed.  Once the "harder" climbing started, I was immediately struck by how severely overnight gear hampered my climbing.  So we stayed in slow and safe mode, pitching it out to the bivy ledge in six long pitches.  We stuck to the buttress crest, and the upper pitches were either splitter and fun or knobby and steep and fun.  We arrived at the bivy at 6 pm.  The evening was beautiful, and with warm sleeping bags and a shared bivy sack, we both slept fairly comfortably.
Clean cracks and heavy packs on the lower buttress.
Room with a view.  On the bivy ledge.
We awoke at sunrise, and prepared for a chilly morning of climbing on the upper buttress.  After about 600 feet of simul-climbing, five excellent pitches of steep knobby rock interspersed with clean cracks brought us to the summit.  We took a long break on top to enjoy the views and reflect on the climb.  The descent is quite long, with at least 5 rappels interspersed with downclimbing to get off the peak, followed by the involved Crossover descent which includes steep snow, tricky routefinding, and one rappel.  We were greatly aided by the newly improved Crossover descent trail.  Excellent directions can be found here.  We made it down to the climber's trail a little before dark, and easily followed this to our bivy site. After a break for a cold but deliciious dinner, we pounded out the last 5 miles of road and trail, returning to the car at midnight.  A surprise dead battery precluded any driving, so we pitched the tent and slept fitfully, having safely climbed one of the all time classic alpine routes in the Cascades.
Morning sunshine and a buttress to climb.
Not a bad way to start the day.
On the upper buttress.
Leah near the end of the ridge traverse of the Crossover descent.
 The rest of the trip was spent climbing warm granite at Index.

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