Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Vanishing Point

August 2, 2008

Ryan and Fitz left Seattle at 10:30am heading East on Highway 2 toward the looming Mt. Baring. As they approached the foothills of the Cascades, a mist enveloped the car as they parked near the trail head and loaded up their 50 pound packs full of traditional pro, slings, a bivy sack, dinner and water. They certainly had their work cut out for them.

Their mission - to climb the 1,500 foot route on the North Prow of Dolomite Tower on Mount Baring.

Brian Burdo started developing the climb in the late 1980's and it took him about 5 years to equip the route. He spotted the massive rock, with over 2,000 feet of vertical gain and created a mixed route with bolts and some naturally protected sections that boast a difficulty of 5.12b. The majority of the 14 pitch climb is in the 5.11 range but with a 30 foot roof a couple hundred feet off the ground - it's definitely not for the faint of heart.

Mt. Baring is shaped like a whale. On one side is the sheer rock face - climbing 2,000 feet from the base to its peak. On the back side is a wind blown alpine slope that base jumpers have discovered and created a trail to access the wall. Ryan and Fitz decided to approach it from the back side - and repel down its face. The hike was not easy though - they gained roughly 4,000 feet in four hours. (The pictures you see above were taken on the descent during the nice weather - when they first arrived everything was socked in.)

Despite hiking through the clouds and doing quite a bit of snow travel, they managed to find an excellent bivy spot to hunker down for the night. Perched on a wind blown peak and with minimal supplies, they made the most of their red beans and rice in anticipation of waking up and scaling down the wall.

Knowing Ryan, and his supreme route finding skills - or lack thereof (sorry baby!), they were both surprised to have found the edge of the cliff. Although the trail was clearly marked by nylon ties from the base jumpers, the climb itself was not. And with poor visibility, they were unable to locate the first anchor station to make their way down the face. This was mainly due to the mist - and as a paranoid wifey poo - I am SO thankful they decided against trying to repel down into the darkness where who know what awaits you. Not only was it wet, but without proper visibility it would be really difficult if not impossible to safely find the next repel station. Ryan also said when they leaned up along the edge of the cliff, you could sense how long of a drop it was - eerie.

They went to bed fairly exhausted from the 4 hour approach and unfortunately woke up to the same mist shouldering the surrounding rock giants. Several pots of coffee later the weather started to improve - but a 11am start time for 1,500 feet of climbing and repel is straight up suicide. Instead they filled several gallons of water by a small drip from the melting snow near the summit and stashed it for their next attempt.

Carefully and slowly they made their way back down the steep trail. You'd think it would take them half the time to descend such a steep trail - but due to its technical difficulty, it took them the same time to down climb as it did to go up. They did get to enjoy the scenery on the way down though.

Ryan also noted that next time he'd bring better snow travel shoes - the La Sportivas he had on were great for boulder bounding but not so good in the snow.

Across the valley they spotted another favorite hang out - the Town Crier walls at Index. Zoomed in you can pick out some of the best granite climbing Washington has to offer - but zoomed back out makes you realize just how remote they were.

As they made the hike back to the car - they looked back up and spotted their bivy location - the small thumb of rock you see in the distance. To think - this photo was taken from the half way point and they still had a ton of hiking to do.

I was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call from Ryan early that evening saying they would be back at a reasonable hour. We quickly made sushi plans (accidentally flaking on my other dinner plans - sorry Jason!) and he conveyed his amazing experience over dinner - with a gleam in his eye with thoughts of going back and nabbing the third ascent of the Vanishing Point.

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