After one failed attempt and years of dreaming about climbing this route, I finally climbed the Northeast Buttress of Mt Goode with Nellie Trenga-Schien from September 3-5, 2022.
The Northeast Buttress is a striking line on the most impressive face of Mt Goode, which is the highest peak in North Cascades National Park. This route has all the features of a true classic Cascades adventure climb… it’s rugged! 40ish miles of hiking, a glacier, plenty of scrambling and a very long rock climb… all the things I need to make a weekend feel complete. Nellie and I hit the trail from Highway 20 early on Saturday in an attempt to beat the heat. Nellie is an experienced ultralight backpacker and was a great partner for this trip, where bringing the absolute lightest kit possible is key. We met earlier this year at 14,000 foot camp on Denali where she was running a medical research expedition. It was great to reconnect in the mountains! After ~15 miles of hiking, we forded the North Fork of Bridge Creek and scrambled up to a bivy just below the Goode Glacier. As we got ready for bed, my good friends Eric and Darren from Spokane came around the corner. It’s always a welcome surprise to see friends in the mountains! They had dinner and hung out for a bit, then continued up to a slightly higher bivy location.
The next day, we scrambled up easy slabs and geared up for glacier travel. I took point and navigated a circuitous route across the glacier. This late in the season, the crevasses are obvious and easy to avoid. The real challenge is weaving a route through and across them to reach the buttress! Once I reached the moat, I found a collapsed section of glacial ice that bridged the moat and allowed easy passage to the rock.
Once on the buttress, Nellie and I got into simulclimbing mode and began the first of several very long simul blocks with me in the lead. We made great time from here, knocking out the whole route in a handful of pitches, one of which was almost an hour long. Routefinding is easy – just go straight up the mountain until you can’t any more! It’s pure pleasure to float through the mountains like this. The amount of fun, mellow climbing on this route is fantastic and the position on this great face rivals any climb in the Cascades.
We hit the summit after 5 hours on route where Eric and Darren soon joined us for a summit celebration, generously sharing the whiskey they hauled up. Three rappels down the upper Northeast Buttress went smoothly before a short 4th class scramble to Black Tooth Notch. Here, a storm cloud settled on top of the mountain, slowly saturating our clothing and the rock. We did three more rappels before downclimbing the Southwest Couloir. Things slowed down in these insecure conditions but we eventually exited the steep looseness.
Once done with the technical portion of the descent, there is still more than 4000 feet of off-trail mountainous terrain to reach the valley bottom. We got benighted about 1500 feet above the valley floor and chose to bivy rather wander around this highly consequential, wet terrain. We had kind of a rough night here with no real shelter and no flat places to lay down. I found the friendliest and flattest piece of ground I could, tucking myself between a tree and hummock of heather. The storm seemed to come and go overnight. I would get close to falling alseep until the wind and rain occasionally kicked up, sending me into defensive mode as I fought to keep myself dry. Everyone managed at least two hours of sleep… not bad given the situation.
In the morning, we solved the routefinding puzzle and slogged out the 20 mile return trip to the cars. The last few miles of this hike were ROUGH… you have to play tricks on your mind to keep making progress on a grind like this!
Pretty much any rack will work for this route. I chose to bring cams .3-1 with doubles of .5-.75 which allowed for long simulclimbing blocks. We used a twin rope which was folded in half for the technical climbing. We had a wet, cool season which meant that I easily got away with aluminum crampons and an ultralight axe for the glacier. During a typical season, I would not hesitate to bring along steel crampons and maybe even a real ice tool this late in the year.
This is a pretty physically challenging objective – three days was a good time frame for me and I expect most will be happy to allow themselves that amount of time. Pack as light as possible for this objective!