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Ascent of Lincoln Peak on 2019-04-28

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Sunday, April 28, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Lincoln Peak
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:9080 ft / 2767 m

Ascent Trip Report

Eric and Duncan, April 27-28, 2019
Saturday – leave Seattle 10am, push bikes up Rankin Creek road, ski/snowshoe to camp 6:30pm
Sunday – 4:30am leave camp, 6am start route, 9am summit, 2:30pm back at camp, 5pm back to truck

Lincoln Peak is considered by many to be the second hardest mountain in Washington by its easiest route. The easiest route, the southwest face, involves long stretches of steep and exposed snow or ice climbing, and it is not often in safe condition to climb. Too early in the season the route is likely prone to avalanching from fresh snow. Too late in the season the route is also exposed to avalanching from loose wet snow and rockfall from the crumbling volcanic rock. The sweet spot seems to be sometime in the spring when fresh snowfall decreases but overnight temperatures are cold enough to hold the ice, snow and rocks together.

Lincoln peak should technically be on the Bulgers list of the hundred highest mountains in Washington, but the Bulgers group created a special rule to eliminate it from the list because it was so difficult. The rule is known as the John Wilkes Booth Proviso, because it is the rule that killed Lincoln. The Bulgers list is generally defined as the hundred tallest peaks in Washington with at least 400ft of prominence. To eliminate Lincoln, the John Wilkes Booth Proviso states that if a mountain is a volcanic subpeak then it must have 800ft of prominence. This number eliminated Lincoln but effectively created two lists of peaks, the Bulgers list and the Washington Top 100 list (which uses the strict 400ft prominence definition).

Last October I finished climbing the Bulgers, then by mid-November I climbed six of the seven other peaks that should have been on the Bulgers but were excluded. I just had Lincoln left for the Washington Top 100, but by then the winter snows had started and conditions got too dangerous for Lincoln.

Safe conditions for Lincoln never seemed to line up with free weekends until late April. Duncan had been keeping close tabs on the snow stability in the North Cascade and thought the window had come. Based on a recent trip above 8,000ft nearby and a previous high-elevation rain event followed by cold weather, it appeared the snow would be safe and fun to climb. Saturday it was supposed to snow a few inches, but we figured strong southwest winds would scour the route and minimize avalanche risk for a Sunday climb. We really wanted to climb the Northwest Face ice route (and descend the standard south route), but it was likely too late in the season for the first ice pitches to be in. So we planned to climb the standard southwest face X couloir route.

We decided to approach via Rankin Creek because it looked slightly shorter than the heliotrope ridge approach, wouldn’t require any ascending on the way out, and also most likely would not have the crowds of heliotrope.
We left Seattle at 10:15am Saturday morning after cramming bikes and gear in the back of the Duncan’s truck. Our goal was to get to the trailhead just after the rain and snow had stopped falling for the day so we wouldn’t get wet. The Forest service road conditions website noted that road NF-38 on the Middle Fork Nooksack was gated at milepost 9.9, which was several miles before the start of the switchbacks. So we packed bikes to get up the rest of the road. Luckily, though, the gate was open and by 2pm we reached the second switchback (2,650ft). The road quality was deteriorating and we weren’t sure if there would be a turnaround spot any higher, so we parked there and packed up.

For future reference a normal truck or SUV would have no trouble driving to the third switchback (2,780ft) that has a good turnaround spot, and a jeep with high clearance or a carefully-driven truck could make it to the fifth switchback (3,420ft) with another good turnaround. Beyond that point the road is too overgrown for most vehicles.
We biked and pushed our bikes up starting around 2:30pm as it was still snowing. By the fifth switchback the road became very overgrown with slide alder and the snow got deeper. We continued pushing the bikes, hoping the snow depth might drop with a different solar aspect, but by the 6th switchback (3,700ft) the road ended and we ditched the bikes. From there we were basically bushwhacking through slide alder, though there was a lightly-maintained route through the middle where someone had cut occasional branches. Before long we rounded the bend and the road opened up again, though it was covered in feet of snow.

I switched to snowshoes and Duncan to skis and we followed the road up the Rankin Creek valley to near the road end. From there we bushwhacked up through mostly open forest to the ridge on our right, then followed the ridge up to the edge of treeline. We traversed a broad open shoulder around 6,000ft to reach the very highest trees on the edge of a cliff. Here we got our first views of Lincoln and it looked intimidating. Most of the route was stuck in the clouds, but the lower route looked like either steep ice or snow. We’d have to wait til morning to get a better look, if the weather cleared. By 6:30pm we found a flat sheltered spot in the highest trees, pitched the tent, and went to bed.

We were woken up around 2am by very strong winds shaking the tent. The winds persisted until 3:30am, then abruptly ended. We officially started getting ready soon after, and were moving by 4:30am. We went a bit up the ridge past the cornices, then dropped down and traversed at 6,100ft. We then ascended the snow slope left of a huge ice cliff and kicked steps up a long slope. The snow varied between hard neve and shallow windslab, but was never deep enough to be concerning.

By 5:30am we arrived just below the bergschrund. My friends Steven and Matt had climbed Lincoln last May and at that time the bergschrund was quite difficult to cross, involving climbing 80 degree ice. However, this early in the season the bergschrund was almost completely filled in. I could only barely detect its presence by a thin crack on the edge.

We kicked out a snow platform and geared up with 5 pickets and two technical tools each. I carried a tag line and Duncan carried a 60m half rope. The beginning pitches looked easy enough that we decided to solo them to move faster.

We started up around 6am, soloing up over the bergschrund then angling up and left until we hit a sort of snow arete above a rock outcrop. The climbing was very secure, but I was getting a bit nervous about the exposure and we decided to pull the rope out. We had 5 pickets, so should be able to get pretty far simul climbing before needing to regroup, so figured we could still move fast.

Duncan led the way, putting a picket in every rope length and using micro traxions to attach the rope. This way if I fell following I wouldn’t pull him down. We traversed the lower basin this way, encountering mostly icey neve crust with occasional ankle-deep wind slab pockets. At the left end of the basin we ascended up a narrow gully that was the steepest slope of the route.

For reference I noticed a few slung horns at the bottom of the gully, and at least one or two cracks one could stick a cam in if one were so inclined. Duncan reached a knife edge snow arete at the top left end of the gully and belayed me up from there. By then I had all the pickets, so I climbed a little higher, pounded in a picket, and belayed Duncan up.

Duncan then led up to the very top of the snow arete, then traversed left across the upper basin. It was a bit steep transitioning from the arete to the basin, but the snow made for solid tool and crampon placements. We traversed left to the “leaning tower of Pisa”, then ascended up the obvious gully. Here the slope angle decreased and our progress was faster.
At the top of this gully we reached a corniced saddle, then plowed our way through huge crumbling rime ice feathers up a final steep snow pitch to the summit. Duncan peeked over the edge while on rope and verified that the true top was somehow not a cornice, though everywhere around was.

We pounded our tools in and sat down to enjoy the view. It was 9am, and had taken us about three hours up from the bergschrund. We could see dozens of skiers on heliotrope ridge and many other climbers on the Easton Glacier heading up Mt Baker. I kind of wonder if anyone saw us, but it’s probably unlikely. This summit was my final Washington Top 100 peak, and seemed a fitting one to end on.

We hung around for about 45 minutes, and joked about excavating out the summit register, but it was probably buried under several feet of snow and ice. By 9:45am we started heading down. The upper sections were easy enough that we just solo downclimbed to the leaning tower of Pisa. There the route got more exposed, so we simulclimbed across to the steep snow arete. Duncan wanted to solo downclimb the entire route for speed, but I’m not as strong a climber so I requested we do some rappels.

We decided the best compromise would be for the steep sections I rappel down 60m on a single strand, then build an anchor with pickets and belay Duncan down as he downclimbed to me. Then for the traverse sections we simul climb. This was actually very efficient, and didn’t require leaving any gear on the mountain. We eventually got down to the lower basin. Most groups rappel the waterfall, but we weren’t sure if we could get a good anchor above it, so decided to just return the exact way we’d come.

We simulclimbed back across the basin, then started doing diagonal rappels and downclimbs aiming for the bergschrund. At one point the whole mountain got socked in a whiteout and it started snowing, but by then we were close enough to the base we had no trouble navigating.

By 1:15pm we returned to our stashed hiking poles at the base of the schrund and the weather cleared up again. Somehow we had been efficient enough on the descent that it had taken 3.5 hours, only a bit longer than the ascent.

We packed up the tools, then hiked back to our camp an hour later. By then it was sunny and warm, and we were glad to be off the route before the rime-ice plastering the rocks had a chance to melt and fall off.

By 3pm we were packed up and heading back down. We skied and snowshoed to the start of the ridge, then plunge stepped all the way back to the road. Interestingly on the way we noticed a set of rabbit footprints followed by fox tracks followed by wolverine tracks all on top of our tracks. I joked that maybe next we’d see sasquatch tracks following the wolverine tracks.

We hiked back to our bikes, then had an amazing bike ride back to the truck by 5pm. It just started snowing again as we finished, but by then we were packed up and driving out.

I think this makes me the youngest (32) and fastest (1yr8mo8d Aug 20, 2017 – April 28, 2019) to finish the Washington Top 100.

Gear notes: 5 pickets, 3 screws (unused), 60m half rope, 60m tag line (unused), 2 tools each.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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