Prusik Peak – West Ridge (III 5.7)

Prusik Peak via the West Ridge (III 5.7) combined with a through hike of the Enchantments on 7/16/2016.

Obligatory majestic mountain goat photo with Witches Tower as a backdrop.  Photo: Zach Turner

The weather looked abysmal all over Washington State, limiting our options for the weekend.  I recalled reading Prusik Peak is known to have better weather than the surrounding areas, so John and I agreed to make an honest attempt.  Zach joined the team at the last minute, and by the time the we made our way to Leavenworth, it was decided that we would combine our climb with a complete through-hike of the Enchantments.  After stashing a vehicle at the Snow Lake trailhead, John lead us to a secret campsite halfway up Eight Mile Road where we quickly sorted gear while sipping beer.  We lightened our packs as much as we dared considering that were attempting a technical alpine climb with a possibility of inclement weather; the final concession was that we would leave the Sour Patch Kids at the car.

The alarm snapped me into consciousness far too early on Saturday morning, but I was happy that I had managed to get over two full hours of sleep.  I squirmed out of my sleeping bag and began carefully taping my feet in preparation for the 20+ miles of hiking that lay ahead. A short time later, we drove to the Mt Stuart trailhead and began our approach at 2:15am.

Colchuck Lake at dawn. Photo: John Guy

By 4am, we had reached Colchuck Lake and faced the notoriously steep Aasgard Pass.  This section is known to be strenuous with 2200 feet of elevation gain in just .75 miles.  We did slow down here, but it did not feel as difficult as some would lead you to believe.  Cresting over the top of Aasgard Pass is like stepping through a portal: you are transported from the relatively lush alpine landscape of Colchuck Lake to a barren, rugged place of incredible beauty.

Feeling small in this incredible landscape. Photo: Nick Sweeney

A few more hours of hiking and a short section of scrambling brought us to the base of the route.  The first pitch was easy to find – the clean hand crack is like a beacon for climbers.  Zach volunteered to take us up the first pitch. John belayed while I shivered in the fetal position, trying to retain as much body heat as possible – we were being blasted by wind.

At Zach’s belay, John took over the lead up a slightly more difficult pitch, ending with a sharp ridge traverse with dizzying exposure on either side. Zach and I followed the pitch quickly and soon we were taking a quick break while allowing a party to pass – they joined the West Ridge after climbing Solid Gold (5.11a) on the South Face.  It was my turn to lead, but the obligatory 5.7 slab looked pretty intimidating – so I offered to let John lead this pitch too, which he cruised with no hesitation.  The ancient piton at the base was an interesting relic; John wisely chose to clip a fixed nut instead.  Zach cleaned the pitch, and had no problem removing the “fixed” nut.  Booty!

John floating the slab. Photo: Zach Turner

Once we all arrived at the anchor, we unroped and scrambled across a 3rd class ledge system until the final pitch came into view.  I was determined to redeem myself after declining the lead on the last pitch.  I tied in to our ropes and made the first few easy moves.  Peering ahead, I easily saw the two options listed in the route description: a 5.8 offwidth to the left and a 5.6 lieback to the right. The most alluring option took me by surprise: a beautiful finger crack swept up a left-facing dihedral. It looked thin, significantly more difficult than 5.6, but was too obvious to pass. Utilizing the crack for finger locks and tiny granite ripples for foot holds, I inched upwards.  The moves were insecure but protected well with small wires.  I highly recommend this variation, which felt like solid 5.8.

The 5.8 offwidth is obvious above me – other options are out of frame to the right. Photo: John Guy

The finger crack was followed by fun face moves, protected by a shiny bolt hidden behind a bulge.  One obstacle remained: the 5.6 squeeze chimney.  At this exact moment, there was an uncomfortable realization – I had never climbed a chimney before.  I committed to the chimney, combining a disturbing interpretation of the worm with a healthy serving of expletives.  The chimney eventually got so skinny that I was forced to unclip my approach shoes from my haul loop and hang them from my harness with a sling. Finally, I hauled myself onto the summit of Prusik Peak with a decidedly unsexy flop that would make a beached whale jealous.

On the summit, we were stoked! Our excitement was quickly tempered by the realization that we were still two 60m rappels and at least 11 miles of rough hiking away from the car. The rappels went quickly, planting us on a steep snow slope.  A section of rope had been fixed by a previous party to protect the necessary traverse of the slope, making things much more reasonable.  If the fixed rope was not present, an ice axe would be necessary.

Zach on the summit.  Photo: Nick Sweeney
Squad goals.  Photo: John Guy

The hike out was done in full zombie mode as exhaustion began to take its toll.  Hallucinations provided entertainment – I continually saw enormous tents through the trees that would morph into rocks as soon as I came close. With no food left, we partook in the delicious wild berries dotting the sides of the trail. 19 hours after we left the trailhead, three haggard climbers triumphantly stumbled to the truck.  It was high time for burgers and beer in Leavenworth – we can sort gear in the morning.

Gear Notes

Our rack was a single rack of cams .3-2, one set of nuts and three large hexes.  You can easily do without the small cams, which were only placed on the finger crack variation, and just take cams .5-2.  Make sure to bring plenty of long slings to keep rope drag down.  We each carried one liter of water to keep weight low and filtered along the way at the plentiful water sources.  I brought a a handful of Gu packets, Shot Bloks, a Snickers bar and a disgusting bacon food bar for fuel throughout the day.


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