Acid baby – Enchantments, WA

It was a June weekend and the weather had been unreliable in Squamish for a while, mine and Paul’s trip to the Cirque of the Unclimbables was looming and we hadn’t been climbing nearly as much as we’d liked, especially not the big days on big long routes we were hoping for.

Paul had climbed in the Enchantments before when he had a permit to camp there and I had heard great things about it from him and others although I had never climbed there myself. The walk in to get to even the closest routes in the enchantments is 3+ hours and to get to Prussik Peak (which is roughly the furthest point from each trail head) is approximately 5+ hours. That is why it is usually a brilliant place to set up camp for a few days, having the luxury of much shorter walk-ins right from your tent. Unfortunately the stunning beauty of the area makes it a very popular place for climbers and more so avid hikers. The overwhelming popularity means that you must have a permit to camp in the enchantments. The permits are not easy to come by as even when you apply in advance you are put into a lottery, check out the government website for more details.

Peaks, permit zones and approach trails.

All of the area in the dotted lines requires a permit to stay overnight – even the relatively roadside snowcreek wall needs an overnight permit.

Unfortunately 2016 was another year we didn’t get lucky in the lottery and didn’t have permits. In favour of better weather and the opportunity to put in a big day we decided to leave Squamish for the weekend and try and do a car-to-car in the Enchantments.

We settled on going for Acid Baby, a 6-7pitch 10d route on the Asgard Sentinel close to Colchuck lake. It seemed a relatively short route but reportedly had some stellar crack pitches and a really cool fin traverse finish. We were psyched.

We left work on Friday a little early to allow us some cushioning for traffic across the border and to give us some time to settle in for the night – get dinner in Leavenworth etc. Our plan was to bivi at the Colchuck trail head parking spot – approx 4 miles from the turn off to Bridge creek campground on Icicle creek Road. Unfortunately the border crossing was slow and traffic through Gold bar and Startup was even slower. after fuelling up with a burger in the sports bar in Leavy we probably made it to the trail head no earlier than 10pm. Paulie settled into his bed in the back of Vinnie the van and I set up my air mat and sleeping bag in a concealed spot close to Vinnies bumper. It had been a busy summer filled with more domestic tasks than I’d usually aim for so I was feeling pretty content at the prospect of a night in the dirt again!

We awoke with the startling sound of our alarms at 4am and jumped to it. We downed – what has somehow become a tradition among our circle of adventure buddies – a highly calorific and sick inducing luxury donut breakfast. It was hard to get down but we pushed on, starting in on the trail with headlamps on and bellies full.

alpine breakfast

The traditional alpine breakfast donut chug.

Paulie pushed a hard pace as usual to get us to the Colchuck Lake shores in around 2.5 hours. The trail to this point is very well marked and easy to follow, but pretty steep and rooty in places. You will pass turn offs for Eightmile Lake and then Lake Stuart, make sure to stay left and follow the trail to Colchuck Lake. Before hitting the lake proper you will wind down on the West side of the lake between boulders and small campsites that will take you to the edges of the lake and a boulder-field on its North edge. As we passed by around sunrise lots of sleepy permit holders were just emerging from their tents.

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It was late June which I guess is till pretty early season for alpine climbing and the Enchantments. Despite the sun rising for a bluebird sky it was still pretty damn fresh for an early morning jaunt. This was pretty nice given the body temps produced on the slog in but as we’d later find out a little too cold for standing around in the shade.

Dragontail starts to peek through the trees as we make our way through the forest trail up to Colchuck lake

Dragontail starts to peek through the trees as we make our way through the forest trail up to Colchuck lake

There were a couple of nice look outs as we approached the lake but we didn’t stick around too long to admire the view for fear of getting too chilly. We did stop a little while at the lake though as it first light it was super beautiful and we wanted to re-stock our water.

Colchuck lake just after sunrise looking North

Colchuck lake just after sunrise looking North

After the lake you can follow well marked cairns to pick a good way through the boulders. There was a lot of snow around in Asgard Pass (also known as Colchuck Pass or more affectionately Ass-Kicker Pass) and some of the lower boulders were slippy with ice. Despite all the white stuff in the pass we could still pick our way up on scree and dirt, mostly on the main path, sometimes a little to the left of it. I was feeling woefully out of shape and the pass really lived up to its name, totally kicking my ass. Thankfully Asgard Sentinel and the start of the route are only about 3/4 of the way up the pass by a dense outcrop of trees

ASGARD PASS ACID BABY

We stopped and racked up leaving our packs at the bottom for retrieval on the way down. It was my lead off the ground and it was pretty easy to spot the distinct triangular over hang feature that formed the crux of the pitch and the cracks leading up to it. Thankfully the move – although burly was all there and mega fun. I stopped on a ledge to belay just after that before the open book corner. I think the open book corner is supposed to form part of the 1st pitch but its a real rope stretcher and with the big ledge after the 5.9 roof move it made more sense to stop.

Route as per our pitches

Route as per our pitches

The sun had still not made it over the peaks on the other side of the valley and we were climbing in the shade. It was pretty damn cold. Even though it was easy enough to keep my body warm the hardest thing about climbing in the cold is jamming your bare hands into skin eating cracks. Paulie was up next and he was loving it!

Paul at the top of the 1st pitch trying to warm his hands

Paul at the top of the 1st pitch trying to warm his hands

We both felt pretty out of shape for crack climbing given the slower Squamish season and Paul lamented this whilst cruising the burly splitter on the 2nd pitch .

pitch-2v2

Paulie cruising the second pitch

After the second pitch it was time for me to take on the broken cracks which were challenging because I couldn’t use any of the rock that would have made the moves 5.9 as it was too friable and chossy. It was an intense lead as I was very nervous of pulling off any blocks that would likely of hit Paulie below on the belay. I was thankful to finally get to the slabby traverse and get out of the firing line where I could climb easily and safely to a belay ledge. This is thankfully the only pitch I recall with loose rock on it and the only pitch not up to the high standard and sustained nature of the rest of the route – 1 in 7 ain’t so bad.

Paulie warming his hands before finishing the easy traverse on pitch 3.

Paulie warming his hands before finishing the easy traverse on pitch 3.

Pitch 4 saw Paulie get another stellar burly splitter which started at hands and widened to fists. We had 1x #4 with us and 2 x #3’s – I think they came in pretty handy on this pitch.

Another nice belay ledge before I started the next pitch. Pitch 5 was a chance for me to do some fun jamming and stemming on solid rock before a cheeky little exit move with a hidden hold.

Pitch 5. Awesome corner with crack climbing in the back. A tricky exit move at the top.

Pitch 5. Awesome corner with crack climbing in the back. A tricky 5.10 exit move at the top.

Paul’s lead again and we could see the top in site. He had a nice 10- hand crack followed by some tricky and delicate face moves where his good footwork was an asset. I tried to go too high at one point which almost screwed me over until I realised with the help from Paul that the feet were much better if I stayed low.

Pitch 6. Pauls lead with some tricky and balancy face climbing between thin cracks. Choosing the right beta helps to make it feel more like the 10a grade it is given.

Pitch 6. Paul’s lead with some tricky and balancy face climbing between thin cracks. Choosing the right beta helps to make it feel more like the 10- grade it is given.

Pitch 7 could be considered the money Pitch. The climbing is comparably easy but the positioning on the big fin traverse is unreal. From the belay stance I lead up through cracks to reach the traverse proper and skirted right by the big blocky fin.

Thanks to Paul for this shot of me heading gunning for the summit prow.

Thanks to Paul for this shot of me gunning for the summit prow.

Looking a little less elegant in this one trying to gain the blocks to the left of the prow.

Looking a little less elegant in this one trying to gain the blocks to the left of the prow.

 

Paulie donning the classic 'Au Cheval' pose a top the summit prow

Paulie donning the classic ‘Au Cheval’ pose a top the summit prow

As can be seen from the above photo, I did not end my pitch at the top of the prow. I always like a multi-pitch climb that has an obvious and logical last belay end, otherwise its an anticlimax! I didn’t feel like stopping to belay on top the prow and then one of us having to lead the 5.6 down-climb  – so I continued on as far as I could to a point at which I felt there was no more climbing, the route just ended in an easy down climb to a plateau where scrambling terrain began. Unsurprisingly, this was actually quite anticlimactic too and in hindsight I probably would have belayed closer to the prow, for ease of communication if nothing else.

We flaked the ropes and transitioned into our approach shoes and began scrambling up some dusty and loose terrain out left of the end of the route. It was kind of a pain in the ass to summit a multi-pitch and then have to gain more elevation by hiking uphill to get off – so when we saw a glint of light through a little slot in the boulders that might have taken us out to a descent down a gully, we followed it. Unfortunately we got cliffed out pretty quickly and found ourselves on a sketchy loose slope that was getting steeper and steeper. We had to turn around and go back up to the boulder, sheepishly realising we couldn’t take any short cuts down and had to hike up to the Enchantment peak summit plateau and all the way around to the top of Asgard Pass before we could descend.

Acid baby descent route

The descent from the top of the route (green Triangle) requires hiking up and left to the summit of Enchantment peak and all the way round the basin. The first orange line shows the short cut we tried to take to get down. The next is another appealing looking shortcut, but neither of them seemed plausible as descent routes.

route descent

Scrambling up to Enchantment peak from the top of the Acid Baby Route.

Once we got around to the top of Enchantment Peak proper we could easily see where we needed to go to get around and down – which although fairly mellow downhill/flat terrain was definitely much further than anticipated and more time consuming. Once we were comfortably back on track we stopped to take a couple summit shots with a cool looking Dragontail Peak as the backdrop.

At the top of Enchantment Peak summit with Dragontail in the background

At the top of Enchantment Peak summit with Dragontail in the background

We were a little worried as we came around to the plateau at the top of Asgard Pass as there was a LOT of snow still around and we just had flimsy approach shoes – no axes or crampons – so we were hoping it wasn’t too solid to descend safely. Luckily as we came around and turned to head North-west back down Asgard Pass we could see a bunch of hikers not in much more technical gear than us and after speaking with a couple of them we were assured that there was a route down which we could almost entirely avoid the snow apart from one section that was easy enough to cross anyway.

Snowy plateau at the top of Asgard Pass

Snowy plateau at the top of Asgard Pass

 

Snowy section on the initial steep descent crossing Asgard Pass

Snowy section on the initial steep descent crossing Asgard Pass was easy enough to cross in approach shoes once the snow had softened in the afternoon sun.

At this point it was mid afternoon and the sun was high in the sky, I had left my sunglasses in the pack at the bottom of the route and the reflection off the snow was burning my eyeballs. We returned to our packs at around 3pm, this was a good time but not early enough for us to realistically do another route. We had hoped that if we’d been really quick on Acid baby we could have come back and done another lap on Asgard Sentinel by climbing Valkyrie – a 5.10 multipitch which started beside Acid Baby. Instead we took some time to chill in the sun, eat some snacks and pack up our stuff before heading down the rest of Asgard Pass.

It took us an annoyingly long time to navigate our way through the boulders back to the lake as we somehow lost the cairns and took an indirect route. Although it was all down hill by this point on a well eroded path we were definitely getting pretty tired of being on our feet. I remember the last couple of Km, where the trail flattened out somewhat, feeling like an absolute lifetime. My feet were throbbing, my back was hurting from carrying my pack all day and I was sweaty and dirty. What a relief it was to eventually turn into the parking lot at around 7pm. We got to Paul’s van, pulled up a seat on the bouldering pad and cracked open a warm beer to throw down with some salty chips. A very satisfying 14 hour mission and a route that was well worth the slog. We turned in pretty early for another parking lot bivi, looking forward to a ly-in and a pancake breakfast the next morning.

 

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