Alas, shamed by Brian's erudite report on the Luau and Middle climb, I hereby submit a trip report of last Sunday's North Sister climb. But first, a little history...
At the 2002 Luau, held in roughly the same location as this year, five Luauers (is that the term?) tackled the North via the Southeast Ridge variation of the standard South Ridge route. We climbed so fast that our momentum carried us past the critical bowling alley onto some truly horrid rotten diner plates under the North Horn. We spent entirely too much time trying to push through this new route and fearful of missing the just as critical happy hour at camp, we opted to descend rather than finish the climb in the dark (we had started that morning at the trail head).
Fast forward to the Sunday before this Luau, friend Todd and I scouted the Southeast Ridge variation again. Not having crampons and ice axes (but yes, Craig, we did have the sense to bring helmets) we were turned back at the saddle by hard snow and ice on the west side traverse under the South Horn of Prouty Pinnacle. The mid-summer snow storm residuals had much melting to do to make it a reasonably safe passage (especially without crampons). So we retreated without summiting.
So Sunday's first light at the 2004 Luau finds 10 climbers, armed with crampons, ice axes, 9 helmets and no Labrador Retrievers, leaving camp for the now well-traveled Southeast Ridge. Among us were Richard and Sharon Rogers, Chuck Hinkle, Nancy Bentley, Rich and Dana Margosian, Craig Faiman, Greg MacCrone, Shawn Donley, and John Coyier. We were a strong, bold and politically diverse team and despite the relentless taunting from the wrong side of the political spectrum, reached the saddle in 5 hours from camp. Much of the ridge, from the confluence of the South and Southeast ridge to the saddle, had slid during the past year or so, making the approach to the saddle a little more interesting than usual. Southeast Ridge: Gendarme 27, variation C Frozen scree slide under the South Horn. Doesn't really look all that steep!
We approached the west side traverse from the saddle with much optimism. The first third of the traverse was pretty much bare of the previous week's snow and we only needed to chop a few steps in the remaining snow to make good progress. However, it soon became apparent that all was not well on the traverse. Again, recent slide activity had wiped out the "trail" on the middle third, leaving semi-frozen scree that was truly frightening. Considering the dearth of any reasonable anchors for pro and the size of the party, we opted again to forgo the sweet taste of the summit. A leisurely lunch at the saddle, accompanied by more stale jokes and we were ready to head down.
Descent was by the South Ridge, skirting Hayden glacier to Squaw Creek, and was uneventful except for a lovely stretch of loose, deep scree that allowed for sand dune style running strides.
Our disappointment in not reaching the summit was more than offset by the fantastic weather and companionship. A great crew and a great climb.