Mt Fisher - SE Buttress

It began as a project when Phil and I spotted this awesome looking ridge from HW 20 back in May on our way out to Liberty Bell. "I think it's only like 5.4," he said. After some research in Beckey and through BOELPS, that seemed to pretty much be the case. It was a long rock ridge with a only a moderate technical grade. Supposidly it is only a Alpine grade II, but seeing as the route, from toe of ridge to summit, is longer than 1,500 feet of technical climbing, I figured it would be more like a III or IV.

The boealps group that I contacted had done most of the route 10 years ago and had a total epic. "36 hours day, cut ropes, broken arm."

That's basically what came of their climb of the SE buttress. "But it might be a good route with more reconnisance," said Mike Bingle who was one of the party of three back in 1990. Undaunted I recruited Phil,, Doug Sanders, and Brian Tryba for a shot at the ridge. Little did we know...

Brian below the SE Ridge of Fisher, rising out of the clouds

There is no trail into the basin under Fisher, so you must cross Granite creek on a log and work your way up a river valley in the forrest. These were pretty much open forrest, and so we all moved really quickly. After finding a few game trails and some cool trails through the two slide paths that beckey mentions, we broke out into the basin below the ridge. We grabbed some lunch and marvelled at such an unknown landscape that very rarely saw people. From the road the ridge looks hard, averaging over 50 degrees in angle, from the basin, it doens't look so bad... big, but do able. Then Doug enlightened us with his hard won experience, saying that things look hard from far away, easy when your near, and really hard when your right there! So up the hill we bushwacked, sometimes two tooling it up the dirt in the forrest! Well Phil, the new age Ome, thought that was a little excessive, but you never know when a good tool stick can come in handy! :) From here we proceeded in out worst-possible-bush-route out onto the snow left covering the creek leading to the basin under the ridge. I say this because it is way easier to break out into the open medows and rock scree/snow before heading up hill. We really had to battle to get out of the Trees that Beckey recomends staying in.

Finally we reached the botton of the ridge, ready to plop down in those awesome "heather ledges" that Mike had promised were right there. There were no stinking ledges! it was all 20+ degree scree and snow, not a real comfortable sleeping spot! So we climbed on the lower toe of the ridge and checked out the various areas at the base until we found paydirt! Under the descent gully, rather high (6700 ft I think) there was a small rocky outcropping where we were able to level out a whole lot of stones into room for 4 bivis! The site had probably been used before, but had been overgrown with larger, pointier rocks. This prooved to be a nice bivi with running water 300 feet uphill and maid service. It took us four hours to make it to the base of the route, not bad we thought, shaved an hour off of ol' Fred's time. (however, from the description, or lack there of, Fred has surely not done this route!) We figured that the "poorly defined dihedral" was infact a gully like feature that ran on the left (S) side of the ridge, and then joined up higer before a step section on the ridge. The sleep that night was very welcome, but Doug summed up the comfort with one sentance: "That night was all about one rock!" Sleeping on scree can be an different experience for sure!

At 4:30 am we awoke to clear skies and cold conditions. Man, I wish it would warm up, we're not climbing snow this weekend! We had descided that we would each carry our packs over the mountain, which included boots, ice axe and two quarts of water. This was because the gully that we had to descend was steep snow, and the previous party 10 years ago had totally run out of water on their epic. We wanted to avoid that. So up we went, galavanting up the rock with Brain and Doug climbing together and Phil and I climbing together, running belay style. After a regular pitch of steep climbing the grade eased off and we ran many ropelengths up into the large basin next to the ridge. From here we climbed up some steep, loosening rock up to the ridge crest. The weather seemed to be coming in and getting worse, but we descided to run up another "pitch" anyways. not to get too committed, but a pitch usually consisted of 4-5 ropelegths, or roughly 500 feet! So up we climbed through the fog onto the crux of the route. The obvious steepening of the ridge forms a path at about 5.7 where you climb up a chimney/flare, traverse 10 right and repeat about 4 or 5 times. Bypassing the overhanging rock by continuing right, you eventially hit the crest where there is a good belay tree. Phil hadn't done much "hard core" running belay (I would admit that the grade is a bit high for my comfort as well), so I fixed belayed phil up through the hard section. I just handed the guy the rack and he flow off of the belay, leading up the ridge. From here the route matches Beckey's description: 3rd and 4th class with the ocasional low to mid 5th steps. We continued this until we caught up with doug and brian, at that point I took back the lead and we continued to traverse the very narrow and extremely exposed ridge. At some points were were walking on a 6 inch wide ledge of loose-ish rock with major drops on both sides. cool! We started climbing up and down these little pinnacles on the ridge, the downclimbing usually being very loose. On one downclimb, my pack caught a textbook sized rock and slammed it down onto my right hand's pinky. >ouch!!! fuck!< It smashed it good, which I later found out was a small fracture that has left me in a splint for 3 weeks. But no time to stop and splint in the middle of a climb, so on we went, reaching the SE summit soon there after. It had been 5 hours from the base of the ridge to this point. The SE summit is one of those stupendously exposed pinnacles where the only feasable way down to the notch is to down climb an airy ridge to some old rap slings on the South side. From here we were able to make a single rope rapp down a very loose overhanging chimney into a deep notch. This is a way committing rapp because you don't really have any way out of the notch except up the route. All other exits are steep loose gullies that lead onto the S face.

Brian had followed the ridge downclimb, and the look on his face said it all... fear! And now it was up to him to lead a short section of 5.8 out of the notch. I was pretty psyched up to do it until I watched Brian lead it (solid 5.9 kind of guy) and take forever working out the seemingly easy moves up the 25 foot wall. Well the pro was a little sketch, and the moves were really off balance on loose rock. Still, enjoyable climbing up a half rope lead us to easier ground. When bringing phil up, the anchor consisted of a mini cam stuck in a small cracked rock, and two feet. I yelled down, "come on up and be careful!" I'll bet he wondered why I said that! hahahahaha. Doug and Brian zoooooomed off and were soon gone into the mist. Phil and I followed and after about another 500 feet of cool 4th class climbing on way solid white granite we arrived on top at about 1 pm. Hurt and tired (pinky pain) I tossed the rack down and pulled out the food. Phil was soon on top, and we were all then admiring the inside of the cloud we were in. It had taken us just under 7 hours to climb the whole ridge.

The descent, which I really didn't want to think about, screamed of danger. There was no single rapp into a moderate snow gully as Beckey had depicted. There were tons of steepening-lower-down very loose 4th class gullys. The weather cleared a bit and we were able to tell that we needed to head down the south facing gullys to the snow chute 500 feet below. Phil finally got me off my butt and we started to down climb the loose rock. Major rock slides were common, and we were only getting started. After a lot of downclimbing, we met up with doug and brian about 100 feet about the snow. The gully looked really moated out. Glide cracks ran the width of it, and the snow was very soft. Doug spotted a sling down lower, so we descided to make a double rope rapp from there into the gully. After changing into boots on an odd "pile of completely loose rocks" we rapped into the gully, and thus safety. The rest rapped down, and because it was alpine, I knew we would have to stick our ropes. For sure, I had to climb back up and stand on a glide crack bridge and pull the ropes down. Phil, having soft boots and probably seeking a place to "get hankie with it" had started heading down to camp. The three of us followed and after some excellent foot glissades, we were back at the rock camp. Camp to camp we had been 11 hours, taking just about 3 hours to descend.

The bush wack out was descent and we found a good way into the forrest from the bottom of the basin. The pinky was hurtin' and I couldn't help but whack it on every tree and bush. ugh! How I wanted the steaming hot food that was ready in Marblemount. Unfortunatly, it was not to be, for by the time we got there, Buffalo Run and everything else was closed! Sucks, so on to the Golden Arches it was for us. All in all the climb was very cool but very committing and remote. So if you can deal with our cascade rock, and you don't want to see another soul for the entire weekend, climb the route that sees maybe one ascent per year! But beware the potential epic if you break something bigger than a pinky!