Mountaineering – Summer, 1961


In early summer, I hitch-hiked up to Seattle to join David Hiser, to learn how to climb on snow and ice. I moved into a big house with David and a few other climbers in the University district of Seattle. We were climbing bums, and therefore perpetually broke. So we all went on welfare, which provided us with surplus food. It was great – tins of butter, pork and so forth. I also became a paid subject for medical experiments.

My first climbing venture, on June 3, was to Monte Cristo peak, in the company of David Hiser, Mike Borghoff and Charlie Bell, via the Glacier Trail.

Monte Cristo Peak (Summit post.org)

Monte Cristo Peak, via the Glacier Trail (summitpost.org)

On the climb, I came to a spot where I had to jump from the rocks that bordered a snow gully, onto the snow. Of course I slipped, and rocketed-off the upper lip of the bergschrund waiting below. “I’m dead”, I said to myself, as I went off. I didn’t feel the impact of a landing, and when I opened my eyes I saw sky above. I had landed on my back, on a snow shelf  that was within reach of the lower lip. I had some small cuts on my wrists, nothing more. I scrambled out and we resumed the climb.

The next day, David, I and Charlie Bell did East Wilman Spire and Wilman Peak.

75489

The Wilman group from the Glacier Basin Trail (summitpost.org)

On June 12, we and the Borghoffs hiked to Cascade Pass, and on June 13, David and I did Mixup Mountain, by the NE Face, which he noted to be a first ascent. On the 14th., we climbed Sahale Mtn., using Mike Borghoff’s steps from the day before.

Sahale (www.summitpost.com)

Sahale Mtn. (www.summitpost.org)

On the 15th., we climbed Forbidden Peak, by the West Ridge. The latter climb was on very good granite, and very enjoyable. It is one of the climbs included in “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America”, by Roper and Steck.

Forbidden Peak, West Ridge

Forbidden Peak, West Ridge (www.summitpost.org)

On the 16th., we climbed the SE Face of Torment.

Mt. Torment (www.cascadeclimbers.com)

Mt. Torment (www.cascadeclimbers.com)

Then five of us took off for Canada, to attempt Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (12972′). We were David Hiser, Ed Cooper, Stan Shepard, Charlie Bell and myself. I was introduced to Canadian mosquitoes on the drive up, when we stopped in a pine forest so that I could handle a call of nature. No sooner were my pants down that the attack began. Holy crap!

Mt. Robson postcard

Mt. Robson postcard

Mt. Robson postcard backside

Mt. Robson postcard backside

The plan was to attempt the Kain Face. It was a long hike into Adolphus Lake, where we base-camped. Then we headed up the Robson Glacier. This was my first time on a valley glacier. What a spectacular natural phenomenon. I was in awe.

Mt. Robson, from the vicinity of Berg Lake

Mt. Robson, from the vicinity of Berg Lake

On the Robson Glacier

On the Robson Glacier. Left to right: Ed Cooper, Stan Shepard, David Hiser and myself.

Instead of trying to work our way through the icefall, seen behind the group in the photo, we took to low-angle snowslopes on the right. We intended this as a short cut to the regular route. We made camp along the way, and then sat in the tent for a number of days as it stormed, and stormed. Finally, Stan Shepard and myself decided to abandon the attempt and go to the Bugaboos. Not long after we left, the rest of the party started up again, to find that the Seattle Mountaineers had been on the mountain, climbing while we had been sitting. The Mountaineers had fixed the entire route, which my friends then happily followed to the summit!

At the Bugaboos, Stan and I labored up the endless moraine to the climbers’ camp. There was no hut there yet … and the mosquitoes were thick. Their near-solid coverage of the tent fabric created a kind of twilight within. And try to imagine the combined whine of a thousand mosquitoes! One needed a good excuse to exit the tent. There was little rest to be had at camp, and the only escape was to the glacier.

For starters, Stan and I climbed to the Snowpatch Spire – Bugaboo Spire col, and from there climbed the classic Kain route on the South Ridge of Bugaboo Spire. What fabulous rock!

Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spires, and the col between

Snowpatch Spire (left) and Bugaboo Spire (right), and the col between. The South Ridge of Bugaboo Spire is seen in profile. The glacial coverage was much more extensive in 1961 than what is seen here.

Next, we again climbed to the Snowpatch-Bugaboo col,  and then crossed the Vowell Glacier to Pigeon Spire. There, we climbed another classic – the West Ridge. Once more, incredible rock! The West Ridge is the right-hand skyline in the photo below.

Pigeon Spire. The NE Ridge climb starts at the Pigeon Toe col, which is marked with a red "X"

Pigeon Spire, from the Vowell Glacier. The NE Ridge climb starts at the Pigeon Toe col, which is marked with a red “X” (www.rockclimbing .com)

The NE ridge of Pigeon Spire starts at the Pigeon Toe col. You look at it head-on, as you approach Pigeon Spire on the glacier. The ridge is the more handsome of two soaring buttresses, separated by a snow and ice gully. Moreover, it was unclimbed, so we went for it. It made for a delightful climb of 6 pitches, with nothing harder than 5.6. The route is now called the Miller-Shepard, and I am very proud of it. After descending the West Ridge, we walked to the base of the Northwest Face, which, in the photo, is seen to the right of the NE Ridge, in shadow. It too was unclimbed, so we crossed the bergschrund to the rock, and left our load of iron at the foot of the face, awaiting our return. When we did return, we saw Yvon Chouinard and Fred Beckey on the route! Too bad for us …

Our next objective was the Crescent Towers, and we left a load of iron at the foot of one of the climbs, on our way back to camp. But then, Stan announced that he needed milk. So we retrieved our gear and down we went. I never returned to the Bugaboos, but have wonderful memories of my one visit there.

Back in Seattle, myself and another climber did the Fuhrer Finger route on Mt. Rainier, which required a bivvy. As we neared the summit, a lenticular cloud was whirling ice particles through the air at high speed. I was wearing sunglasses, not goggles, and they got iced-up. I had no option but to take them off, which resulted in snow-blindness on our return to Seattle.

Mt. Rainier and Fuhrer Finger (www.summitpost.org)

Mt. Rainier and Fuhrer Finger route (www.summitpost.org)

Also on Mt. Rainier, two of us hiked into the base of the Willis Wall with Charlie Bell. The wall was both unclimbed, and off-limits, being considered, by the Park Service, as too dangerous to allow climbers upon it. But Charlie was intent on climbing it. He had a supply of quarter-pound Baby Ruth candy bars and a tarp to huddle under, as the weather moved in and we left him to his fate. Upon his return, he claimed to have climbed the Wall. He said he waited out the storm, and had easier climbing as the wall was all iced-up. I believe that he also had photographic evidence of his climb. Be that as it may, he wasn’t given credit for the climb. Ed Cooper and Mike Swayne climbed it the next year, getting credit for the first ascent and then being chased (for a period of years) and finally apprehended by the NPS for their unauthorized climb.

Mt. Shuksan, from the south

Mt. Shuksan, from the south (Wikipedia)

And at some point in the summer, I worked a short stint at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, running the rope tow. And, while there, I climbed Mt. Shuksan, perhaps the most beautiful peak in the North Cascades.

Back to Canada. We met Fred Beckey in a coffee shop in Squamish, BC, known for the big granite wall called the Squamish Chief. He recommended we repeat a new aid route on a smaller wall, called the Papoose, which we then did. I don’t remember the name he gave (or if he yet had a name) to  the route, however.  As I recall, he climbed a new route to our left, as we climbed on our route. Of course, the routes on the Papoose now go free. The most memorable thing about the climb was the descent through the dense coniferous rainforest. I recall walking down a log that angled off a cliff and then having to jump into a mat of ferns and other vegetation, which cushioned my landing. It was thick!

The Papoose, Squamish, BC

The Papoose, Squamish, BC (www.chossclimbers.com)

I also climbed in Tumwater Canyon and other practice areas in the general vicinity of Seattle.

Mt. Index postcard

Mt. Index postcard

Mt.Index postcard backside

In Seattle, we bought our climbing stuff at the “Co-op”. It was located in an undecorated loft, with wooden crates of ice axes and oily Cassin pitons sitting on the floor. It was run by the Whittaker brothers – guides on Mt. Rainier. And, guess what? It evolved into REI!

My mountaineering summer turned out to be very busy and fulfilling. I couldn’t have asked for more. Come the fall, I headed to Yosemite, and then back east. I ski-bummed at Stowe that winter. Here’s the link to that post:

https://believesteve.org/2016/04/27/ski-bum-winter-3-stowe-vt-196162/

About believesteve

I am a photographer and have published a book of photography and accompanying text on running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The first (print) edition is out of print, but a second edition is available as an iBook (eBook) through the iTunes bookstore. All Grand Canyon, river and nature lovers will enjoy my book: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-grand/id672492447?ls=1
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