Summit Chief - North Face

April 17-18th, 2004

To begin with, Colin and I's friend Joe Catellani clued us into to this feature earlier this winter. He had known about it for some time, but graciously "passed the torch" and provided us with the pictures and motivation to make the trek back to the deep confines of the Middle Fork valley. Thanks again Joe!

So with an iffy weather forecast, Colin and I left Seattle around 5 a.m. As we turned onto the Middle Fork road it began pouring rain. Was it worth it? Should we just bail to the Enchantments?? You never get anywhere without trying, so we committed to the 2+ hour drive up the road. A combination of Colin's slow determination and the tiny amount of clearance of his Subaru brought us to the drivable end of the road. Seeing as we were still about a mile from the trailhead, we broke out the mountain bikes and started up the road.

Biking up the Middle Fork road.

The approach went fairly smoothly. We biked along until the road became snow-covered, and then we followed the trail along the valley bottom until it too petered out into snowy, open forest. The only hangup, which we knew would be a challenge, was crossing the Middle Fork river. High up in the valley it splits into several branches, the first of which is the trickiest:

Colin tries a dubious river crossing.

After some searching we found a place to hop across on rocks. Good thing too, as if we'd continued about 100 yards up valley we would have used the bridge the trail goes over... what poor style that would have been! We traversed up the steeper slopes of the South side of the valley, and much sooner than we expected, the face came into view.

Our first view of Summit Chief's North Face.

Wow, what a sight! We immediately started chatting about route options as the conditions looked excellent. The aesthetic series of runnels and couloirs just right of the summit eventually looked like the best route for us, so we cruised up the valley to setup camp. In total, it took about 6.5 hours from the car.

Colin and I's route that we completed the next day.

An early start saw us climbing up the avalanche cone below the face at around 6 am. The snow that had fallen on and off all night had stopped, and it looked like a beautiful day was in store.

Starting perfect neve on the lower face.

Leading into the first of the ramp pitches.

The "ramp" feature, a slope that looked to connect to the first snowfield, ended up being about 600 vertical feet of WI 2 and 3 water ice. Colin commented on how he'd never seen so much ice on an alpine climb in the cascades. It was around then that we realized our rack of two titanium (aka "afterthought") ice screws and much rock gear might have been a little inappropriate. We made due though with the odd knifeblade in the compact rock, and carefully rationing the screws.

Colin topping out on a steep section.

Another beautiful WI 3 pitch leads up into the first snowfield.

Way up on the first snowfield. The weather was unsettled but showing signs of improvement.

Looking up the second snowfield towards the exit step.

Colin finishing up the exit step (AI2).

Ahhh, into the sun! Colin scrambling to the summit.

Happy to be half way done on top of Summit Chief.

We relaxed just below the top, ate some food, and then headed down the unknown SW side of the peak. Joe had sent us a picture of this aspect of the mountain, and we both recalled something about a snow gully with some rappels to do. Sure enough, the the gully on the far right (when descending) ended up being just that. We downclimbed neve and made two 30m rappels to just touch down on the snow that leads to a col West of the peak.

Rapping down the cliffy section of the Southwest gully.
The weather had closed in and it started dumping snow. We were glad to be on the way down!

Back at camp we watched the spindrift avalanches rip down the face.
Time for the long slog back to the car...

From what is published and what Joe knew about the peak, we believe that our route was the first climb of the North Face. In total the route is around 2000ft high, and according to Colin, is comparable in scope to the August 1971 route on the North Face of Dragontail. Regardless of the history, it was a great climb, for sure the nicest alpine snow/ice climb I've ever done. Thanks Colin!

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