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Mount Washington

Excursion Time: 12 hours
Carpool Ratio (people/cars): 1.6

A Santiam Alpine Club team succeeded in reaching the summit of Mount Washington on August 9, 2009, and returned safely!

The team consisted of: 2009 Climb School students Simon Boyd, Duane Darrow, and Victor Whitacre; veterans Andrew Vershaw, Ty Moffett and Tom Strauch; guest Shawn Riley; and myself, Fritz Capell.

We departed from the Pacific Crest trailhead at 7:15am. Everybody was timely for our 7am scheduled departure, though we waited the prescribed 15 minutes because there was one other climber who might have bothered to show up. We set about at a moderate but consistent pace, reaching the cairn marking the departure from the PCT about 8:30, and gaining the ridge by around 10am. There was no snow remaining on the trail, and I was happy that the mosquitoes, which had been thick and vicious just a couple weeks previous, had apparently finished their breakfasts and retired with their new families already. We continued up the ridge and reached the summit block around noon.

As usual for this mountain on a sunny summer weekend, the main challenge is getting through the bottleneck onto the summit block during rush hour, avoiding kicking rocks on anyone or having them kick rocks on you. With us on the rock were a team of about seven Mazamas and several small independent groups. The Mazamas, of course, were professional and cautious, but some of the other climbers were less pleasant. The Mazamas had set a fixed line around to the east from the first couloir, whereas we wished to take the second couloir more directly up the face, so we had a clear route and I headed up to fix the first anchor.

It takes three four full-length ropes to completely protect the summit block; we had brought two, in order to protect the first pitch which is tricky and exposed, and one other pitch near the top which is mostly a challenge for descent. I set the lower anchor on the most commonly-used rock, and belayed Simon up, who then began belaying the rest of the team. I scrambled up to the upper anchor, set that one, and brought Tom up to belay from that station, while I went down to help the team navigate any tricky bits between the two ropes. Thusly we all made it safely up the summit block, reaching the summit at about 1:30pm.

It was a beautiful day to be on the summit; calm and sunny, with slight haze but excellent view of Jefferson, Three Finger Jack, The Three Sisters, and Broken Top. We spent about 30 minutes relaxing at the top and chatting with the Mazamas who had arrived just before us.

We descended the summit block along the same route we had climbed, having left our ropes and anchors in place for this purpose. After rappelling down the first pitch, we set another anchor to protect some of the parts in the middle that we had not protected on the ascent, but most of the team opted not to use protection on the middle parts where there was little exposure.

The Mazamas took an entirely different route, doing a full-rope rappel straight down a face just around to the west, which also looked like a lot of fun, but then they converged on our route for the final pitch. We shared our rope with them, and spent about an hour getting all the climbers from both groups back down to the saddle.

They had a couple of interesting comments about our climbers; one, that they seemed inclined to put their main locking carabiner, at the front of their harness, in an awkward position with the gate downward. I'm not sure where they picked up this habit, but it sure seems safer and easier to manage with the gate upward, opening away from the climber. Also our climbers were inexperienced in hooking temporarily to the anchor while getting set up for the rappel, a necessary skill in this area where the anchors themselves are at the most exposed spots. I made sure they all had a daisy chain or equivalent, and that they would hook in when they arrived at the anchor, but many of them made an awkward departure, letting go of the brake rope in order to disconnect the daisy. Ideally, the climber should be all set to rappel, weighting the rope and braking appropriately, and then release the daisy with the non-brake hand and tuck it safely away.

Back to the relative safety of the saddle, we picked our way down to the scree field. Last time I was there I found the field unpleasant, until I found a lovely trail that traversed gently to the north, which was quite fun and stable. So this time I brought the group around the mountain toward the south, in order to meet the highest point of the trail, keeping a traverse going so that we wouldn't get into each other's fall lines. It seemed to work well, and within a couple minutes we were on the trail, and traversing happily off the scree field.

The trails at the bottom lead naturally to a trail that traverses the side of the ridge, but this trail can be annoying, being along the side of the ridge, with ups and downs and many downed trees and other obstructions. So we instead tracked down and northwest hoping to find a route to the flat PCT. We ended up on a very pleasant trail that ambled along the base of the ridge, joining our ascent route at the upper cairn. We made the last few steps back along the PCT to the trailhead, arriving back at the cars at 7:15, precisely 12 hours from our departure.

All in all, a perfect climb on a perfect day! Congratulations to all my teammates, none of whom had reached that summit before. I hope to find myself on a mountain with all of you again soon!

Fritz Capell

Santiam Alpine Club


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