A long weekend of antics in the Enchantments and Icicle Creek – Solid Gold and Iconoclast

It was September long weekend and apart from an ultimately successful trip to the Cirque of the Unclimbables in July the summer had been a bit of a wash. As a weekend warrior in Vancouver I had been rained off my staple Squamish granite all too often and the weather had even conspired against me being able to climb in many of my go to weekend trip destinations. I was getting a little tired of going all in on a full commitment plan to escape the rain based on a less than ideal forecast, just to be foiled by rain at the last minute.

Although like a giddy puppy chasing its tail I still amazed myself at how I never failed to be lured back into a hair-brained adventure plan based off of a few yellow circles on the weather website. Even the small hope that there could be a chance of climbing something cool in a cool location with a psyched partner would get me too excited to stop my brain from exploring all the options that could make a cool climbing mission happen.
That is exactly what happened when Dave and I realised we were both free for the long weekend and keen to go climb. Someone turned the tap on in Squamish again, the Nesakwatch Spires area that we’d been hoping to hit all summer was off the table for weather reasons, but the Leavenworth forecast looked promising. Unfortunately Dave and I both felt similarly lacklustre about what was left for us of the trad cragging in Leavenworth to fill 3 days and left to our own devices neither of us would put bouldering there as a priority, however the forecast gave us enough that we could latch onto a plan that involved a day climbing on Snow Creek wall (sub-alpine multi-pitching in Icicle Creek), hopefully a big day mission into the Enchantments  (which is where the real prizes were in both our eyes) and realistically a filler day doing some low key cragging around Icicle Creek Canyon, which wasn’t really much of a concession relatively speaking!

Peaks, permit zones and approach trails.

The plan was to leave at ridiculous o’clock on Saturday morning, more my agenda than Dave’s, but given the crazy week I’d had added to the not unusual last minute affirmation we were going ahead with our plan due to flaky weather, I just wasn’t going to be packed and prepared to leave on Friday night. Once we’d gotten over the initial shock of awaking at such a ridiculous hour the Saturday morning drive was actually my preferred strategy,  the border crossing to the states is waay quieter and the drive is more enjoyable in daylight. We arrived in the already packed Snow Creek parking lot at around 9.00am and headed up the trail shortly after. Having both climbed most of the classics on this wall previously our objective was Iconoclast, a 6 pitch route to the left side of the crag that shared a few of its middle pitches with the ultra classic Hyperspace. We made good time to the base of the route and were next in line for the starting diagonal pitches of RPM. Some thoughtful and fun moves saw us at the big ledge where a few Snow creek classics merge. It was Dave’s lead and he opted for the 11a direct variation which I was secretly pleased about as the thin crack looked exquisite compared to the rambly 5.8 that would have been the alternative but I don’t think I’d have been bold enough to take it if it were my lead. Dave made a valiant effort but after getting a little too pumped fiddling a small cam in at the crux he took a small fall. After resting on the rope for a short while, he dispatched the rest of the pitch with no issues. Miraculously I managed to follow cleanly by the skin of my teeth. The climbing was delicate and balancy but well worth the effort.

Following Dave’s handy work on the 11a variation ‘Psychopath’. The regular pitch starts climbers left of this variation off the ledge

After this pitch I was supposed to have a 10c pitch but I couldn’t find a move above 5.9, I’m still a little confused about the differences in the descriptions to what we actually did, as I can’t see where we went wrong but, the end of my pitch took us into the bottom of the steep and long 10d pitch. Dave did a great effort at getting through this as I realised that he definitely had the Lions share of the leading so far. It felt like climbing a blocky sport pitch at Chekamus Canyon in Squamish or something, with good holds that were not always obvious as they were often masquerading as loose chossy blocks when in fact they actually seemed relatively solid. Not using these blocks would make the pitch pretty sandbagged so it just had to be. Next pitch was my chance to be able to pull some weight on the route, an airy and balancy 10b move around to the arete on less than ideal old bolts and then some much easier terrain but with some very hefty run outs. Thankfully I was in my element here though with practice on Snow Creek chicken heads before and experience on the Lotus Flower Tower where the chicken heads were actually less positive I could go into auto pilot and really really enjoyed moving quickly, jug to jug, up the head wall.  The fun wasn’t over yet though and at the end of the almost 30 metres of jug hauling (with about 2 bolts!) I got to a splitter hand crack in a corner, so aesthetic and fantastic climbing.

Dave following the stellar final hand crack after a wall of chicken heads on the 10b pitch

I pulled over top of this crack onto the left edge of Library Ledge to find the expected queue’s (this ledge is a bottle neck of a few routes finishing up the last head wall pitch of Snow Creek’s quintessential 5.9 ‘Outerspace’). Dave and I were making good time so we sat back and enjoyed the views on the luxury ledge while the line-up cleared. When we reached the front of the queue Dave finished up the route in great style and getting us off with plenty of daylight to tackle the somewhat sketchy descent.

Dave taking it easy on Library Ledge as we wait for the line-up to clear.

A party of other climbers on Outer Space carrying a huge backpack on their way to come join us on Library Ledge

Satisfied with the success of our first day we arrived at the car park just as it got dark and decided on a dinner in town, seeking out some bratwurst and Beer that Leavenworth is so famous for at the Munchen Haus. Here we were able to check the weather forecast and figure out a plan for the rest of the weekend. Since it was pretty late by this point and we were drinking beer and had no groceries we weren’t setting ourselves up for an alpine start and big day the next day, so we were pleased to see the forecast abetted our  strategy by looking a little touchy for the next day but clearing up for a long day in the mountains on the Sunday. We opted for a low key cragging day on Sunday, with an early finish that would allow us to prep for Monday. Our plan was to go into the Enchantments on Monday and attempt to climb Solid Gold on Prussik Peak from the Lake Stuart trail head, since we didn’t have any camping permits again, we would be leaving from and returning to the car. We also both had to be in work on Tuesday morning so there was no option to camp elsewhere.

Looking down on climbers on top of Jello Tower at Castle Rock from the lofty heights of Midnight Rock.

After some pretty chill cragging with some sunny spells interrupted by threatening showers Dave and I called it a day early and went to Safeway to pick up groceries before driving up to the trailhead where we made a hearty, veg filled dinner. Feeling well rested, fed and stoked for a mission, we turned in pretty early for some well needed sleep around 9pm in preparation for our big day starting at 3am.

Cooking up a good feast at the picnic tables at Colchuck lake trail head after an easier day cragging getting ready for our car to car mission on Prussik Peak.

When the alarm went off the chores began with getting down some breakfast calories and Dave made an impressive job of finishing off three pretty large cinnamon buns before we departed from the van. The start of the hike began by head torch as we made our way up the now familiar (at least to me) Colchuck lake trail. Perhaps I had finally gained some end of season fitness or perhaps it was just the familiarity and lack of snow, but the hike to the Lake and up the first part of Asgard Pass seemed much less traumatic than when I did it back in June with Paul to climb Acid Baby.

The hike up Asgard Pass above Colchuck Lake

Asgard Pass was still a real slog, but thankfully it wasn’t too long before we topped the steep hiking and made it out onto the plateau. When we had descended from Acid Baby earlier in the Year Paul and I had encountered a tonne of snow still up on the flat meadows and the views were very different in September with virtually no snow and Orangey hues with the first signs of changing seasons. I was now in unknown territory to me and was excited to march along the flats in anticipation of views of Prussik appearing in front.

Stopping for a quick re-fuel as we make it to the top of Asgard Pass and into the Alpine Meadows of the core camping zone in the Enchantments

Once up here there is a well worn goat path that can be followed that takes you through the core camping zone and over towards isolation lake. The terrain is now pretty flat as you meander on the path through broken boulders and beautiful alpine views just keep coming.

Goats hanging out on the way to Prussik from Asgard Pass.

After about another 1.5hrs or so of hiking along the path past Isolation Lake and perfection lake a sign points you up and left to ‘Prusik Pass’. This steeply takes you to the back-side of Prusik and the toe of the West Ridge. This is really handy if you want to climb the West Ridge, but we wanted to be on the other side on the South Face. For some reason we couldn’t find an easy way to sneak over and through to the South Face (perhaps we didn’t try hard enough and had just assumed we wrongly followed the trail blindly) so we ended up circumnavigating all the way round until we were back on slabs above the west side of Lake Viviane. From here we could drop into the talus on the right side. Later as we descended the West Ridge we realised it was pretty easy to pop around and back up to our packs at the base of the route, so it would have been totally doable to pop over the first time. I’m still not sure which is the standard/best approach but as long as you do only one you won’t waste as much time as us (We probably lost 45mins or so hiking time here so don’t make the same mistake!

The view of Prussik as approaching from the slabs to the South West of the route

Once up on the talus it was pretty obvious where the route started and we were super stoked at how impeccable the golden granite looked up close. We racked up and jammed our packs under a boulder at the base.

Dave below the start of the route

Dave took the first pitch and did exceedingly well at sending what I felt to be a very pumpy finger crack in a shallow corner with smeary feet. This was an utterly spectacular pitch though and I was super happy to second it clean even though it left me with a flash pump. We both hoped this was a sign of things to come.

Solid gold

Dave on the awesome first pitch.

 

Me, all smiles – seconding the first pitch. Such great golden granite!

Dave belayed me up in the little ledgy cave above the smooth corner and it was now my turn to get down to business.

Pitch 2 – leaves the belay to the right and traverses out to a corner capped by a roof. The crux moves come as you make delicate moves out to the edge of the roof and step up past it into the stellar hand crack above. The climbing isn’t over yet and you keep moving up some pumpy moves in the crack ahead. There is a 3inch horizontal crack higher up which you can use to exit to some belay ledges. Obviously I was enjoying  the handcracks too much as I completely missed the ledges and carried on to belay just below the 5.9 chimney section of the next pitch just as I was running out of rope. I felt a bit bad that I had stolen 20m or so of sepctacular climbing from Dave’s pitch but he didn’t seem to mind.

Pitch 3 – The chimney part of pitch 3 was full of very loose blocks and making moves without pulling on them made the climbing very awkward. We both agreed this was the hardest and most annoying climbing of the route. Thankfully it was only short though.

Pitch 4 – Another absolutely stellar looking finger crack. I let Dave take this pitch and he made it look effortless. The climbing was quite pumpy with good locks and mostly delicate feet, but the occasional rest keeps this pitch within the .10’s. We could not stop beaming – what excellent rock climbing this route had to offer!

Dave in the finger crack on the glorious pitch 4.

After this we reached a notch that met up with the the West Ridge. We could either romp a few moderate pitches to the top to reach the summit of Prusik or rappel down off the back side. Since it was getting late in the afternoon and we still had a big walk-off we opted to go down. Its always a shame to miss out on a summit but we had climbed our objective. I don’t remember the amount a rappels we had to do, it may even have only been one, perhaps two at the most, but the point is we were quickly back on the ground on the North side of the West Ridge with little fuss – a pretty easy descent. We then just needed to traverse around to get our packs. Thankfully a couple of climbers were just starting up the first pitch of the West Ridge route and they confirmed our easy down scramble to get back to the South side where we’d started. We got chatting to the couple who were planning a walk through – they’d started at Stuart Lake trail head as we did but were going to continue on and walk out to the Snow creek parking lot. We asked them about how they’d get back to their car and they look a little worried admitting that hitching back there might be a little hard on the Monday night of the long weekend. Since we would be taking our car from Stuart lake and driving out right by the Snow Creek lot we offered to shuttle their car too. They seemed bewildered that someone would be so helpful but promptly described where in their packs we could find their keys and what the vehicle looked like. “Thanks so much again” they shouted as we took off around the corner, “by the way, their is a box of beer in the passenger seat – help yourselves”.

The walk out was uneventful but long. The last couple of Km out from colchuck lake were brutal on the feet and I was soo ready to be back at the car. We held off putting our head torches on at the last flat bit of the trail as we were convinced the trail head was just  around the corner. After a few trips over invisible tree routes and still no trail head we conceded and dug out the lamps. Inevitably the trail head was for sure just around the corner this time. It was just after 8pm when we got back to the car – making for a 16 hour day all in all. We found the other couple’s truck and of course the beer! As we convoyed the two cars back through Icicle Canyon we both dreamt of all the things we would eat when we got to the gas station. It was around 9pm once we had dropped the truck off at Snow Creek and we had a long drive back to Vancouver. Fuelled up with Onion rings and fries (in leui of spending anytime to get a proper dinner) we were ready for the last push of the trip. At 1am we rolled back into Vancouver, I knew the next morning in work would be tough but I would be consoled by the memories of an incredibly satisfying  long weekend of climbing adventures.

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