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Ascent of Primus Peak on 2018-09-24

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Monday, September 24, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Primus Peak
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:8508 ft / 2593 m

Ascent Trip Report

Eldorado Peak (8,868ft), Primus Peak (8,508ft) and Austera Peak (8,334ft)

September 23-24, 2018

Eric, Colie, and Ethan

It was the last weekend before the fall quarter started at Seattle University, and was hoping to reclimb a few more Bulger peaks to tighten my finishing time. Classes started Wednesday, and it looked like Sunday-Monday were a dry weather window. There were three mountains remaining on my redo list that I didn’t really feel comfortable soloing in late-season conditions: Eldorado, Primus, and Austera. I put out a call for partners on the Northwest Hiking and Climbing facebook group (no takers) and on the mitoc-seattle email list. Luckily Colie and Ethan were interested in joining, so it would be a safe and fun trip.

Colie and I rode up Saturday evening and picked up a permit in Marblemount, and Ethan joined us at the trailhead. We slept in the cars in pouring rain, but by sunrise the rain eased up as expected. I led the way across Cascade River and up the climbers trail through the woods. We broke out above treeline at what I refer to as marmot camp, and continued following cairns to cross over to the Roush Creek drainage. I’d never been here this late in the season, and it looked weird for the terrain to be scree and slabs instead of big snowfields.

Unfortunately a low cloud layer made visibility very low, but at least it wasn’t raining. We soon reached a layer of fresh snow, that had likely fallen the previous night. There we followed some fresh boot tracks from a group of three highschool kids who were breaking trail above us, heading toward Eldorado.

We kicked steps up a snowfield to the edge of the Eldorado Glacier, then roped up. This glacier, and the subsequent glaciers were would cross, were in about the sketchiest conditions I’ve seen. There were many crevasses that were only thinly covered with snow bridges, meaning they were invisible, but you would still poke through if you stepped on the bridge.

We followed the tracks of the other climbers up to the Eldorado Camp, then I led the way up the ridge. Ethan decided to wait in camp while Colie and I navigated around crevasses and reached the summit. Amazingly the skies cleared briefly just as we crested the top. The fresh snow had created a small cornice on the summit ridge, which was surprising for September.

We soon downclimbed back to Ethan, then all roped up to continue. I led the way across the Inspiration Glacier in a whiteout, weaving through some complicated crevasse mazes but generally following a GPS route I had recorded from previous trips into this area.

Around 5pm we finally reached Klawatti Col, still in a whiteout, and setup camp. The forecasted clear weather hadn’t materialized, and we hoped it would be clear the next morning for Primus and Austera. I’d climbed Primus and Austera in May 2017 with Aaron as a ski tour, and was unsure how the conditions would be different this time in the late season.

The next morning Ethan decided to hang out in camp while Colie and I left around 4:30am. Luckily the skies were perfectly clear. We traversed around the west side of Klawatti Peak to the McAllister-Klawatti col. Back in May I had been able to ski across the col, but now it was much too melted out. I slung a boulder and we made a short rappel on my 30m rope to the glacier below.

We traversed across the glacier at roughly 7,800ft from there. Before each step I would poke the snow with my whippet to search for hidden crevasses, and quite a few times I had to divert course to avoid the invisible traps. Fortunately I never poked a foot through the entire trip.

We decided to tag Primus first, since it was farther away. When we reached the southeast ridge of Austera we descended to the bottom of the glacier, then scrambled around the ridge around 7,200ft on easy slabs. The North Klawatti Glacier was incredibly cracked up, but I somehow managed to find a way through the crevasses to the west ridge of Primus Peak. From there we unroped and scrambled up snow-covered talus to the summit.

Primus peak feels like one of the most remote Bulgers, and we stayed for a while to admire the views. Soon enough we retraced our route, and followed our tracks back through the crevasse maze. We then kicked steps up the Klawatti Glacier to the base of Austera Peak.

At the edge of the glacier we scrambled northwest along the ridge until we were at the base of the twin summits of Austera. We roped up and I led a short pitch around the right side of the right tower on 4th class terrain to the top of the lower east peak. Back in May it had been an easy snow walk from this peak to the true west peak, but now in late season the notch between them was all melted out and it looked considerably more difficult.

I lowered Colie into the notch and she belayed me down. Then I led a short, sketchy 5th class pitch from there to reach the true summit. I think Austera is much more straightforward in the early season, but it was still doable.

There was a good rap anchor on the summit, and we were able to rap down past the notch below the chockstone to 3rd class terrain in one rap with the 30m rope. From there we scrambled back to the Klawatti Glacier and hiked back to the Klawatti-McAllister col.

At first it looked like I might need to lead a rock pitch to get back over the col, but I managed to find a short class 3/4 section climbers left of the notch that got me over without needing to place gear. I belayed Colie over, then went over to retrieve the rap anchor I’d left.

We then hiked back over to Klawatti Col and packed up camp. The weather was still dry and sunny, and we followed our tracks back across the Inspiration Glacier, this time admiring views of Forbidden and Boston Peaks across the valley instead of views of a whiteout.

Before long we descended down the Eldorado Glacier, then hiked back down to our cars by sunset.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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