Ascent of Cloudcomb Peak on 2020-05-02
|Date:||Saturday, May 2, 2020|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Elevation:||8085 ft / 2464 m|
Ascent Trip ReportCloudcomb Peak (8,085ft) and Pyramid Mountain (8,243ft)
May 2, 2020, 1am – 10:15pm (21 hours)
29.5 miles, 9,500ft gain
Eric and Fred
We were looking to hit some top 200 peaks as a day trip Saturday and Cloudcomb and Pyramid fit the bill. The route up Cloudcomb is a long south-facing gully, and we needed a non-sunny day to climb it so the snow wouldn’t soften up too much. Luckily non-sunny days aren’t too hard to come by this time of year. There’s not actually a lot of beta on Cloudcomb, and I think it’s been climbed fewer than ten times since Fred Beckey’s first ascent in 1973. As far as I researched, the only ascents were in the summer or early fall, when there was no snow on the route. In those reports the route sounded very chossy, but a May ascent could be a lot funner with the gully filled with snow.
We headed out Friday night and drove up the Entiat River Road until we reached a gate unexpectedly blocking the road. I’d skied up this road two weeks earlier and the gate was open, so this was a bit of a surprise. We’d brought mountain bikes, though, so it wasn’t too much of a setback. We slept near the gate then were up and moving by 1am Saturday morning after a few hours of sleep.
The road was free of blowdowns for the first mile, but then the going got really slow. In a 5 mile stretch of road we encountered at least 50 blowdowns we had to crawl over, under, or around. The bikes were still worth it, though, for the clear stretches in between. At the North Fork trailhead we locked up the bikes and were surprised to see another signin from two days earlier. A few people had hiked up the road and up the trail a bit to snow line.
We hiked up the trail in trail runners through patchy snow, then switched to ski boots at Pyramid Creek. The snow soon ended and we bushwhacked and hiked up Pyramid Creek to continuous snow around 4,600ft. There we skinned across a snow bridge and up along the north side of the creek. We then turned and zig zagged up the south face of Pyramid Mountain to reach the col just west of the summit. Visibility was low, the wind picked up, and I was not optimistic about our chances of summitting.
At the edge of the ridge we switched to crampons and downclimbed steeply into the basin east of Squaretop Mountain. We’d hoped to get a view of Cloudcomb here to scout our route, but we were socked in a whiteout. At the upper basin we switched to skis and got in some fun turns to the lower basin at 6,800ft. By then we were below cloudline and started scouting the route. It was a complicated maze of snowy gullies leading up Cloudcomb, but we decided to descend and traverse to gain the gully due south of the summit. This was the one Eric Eames and Tom Sjolseth had climbed in 2017 that sounded like it worked out.
We continued a descending traverse through trees around cliff bands to the edge of our intended gully at 6,200ft. It was painful to lose so much elevation, almost 2,000ft that we’d have to reclimb, but that appeared to be the easiest way to climb Cloudcomb. On the map it looks like one could just follow the ridge from Squaretop, but that ridge is very technical in reality. We switched to crampons at the edge of a patch of trees and started up the gully. The summit was still socked in the clouds, but our GPS units showed us on the desired route.
We took turns kicking steps up the gully, avoiding a melted out waterfall at the beginning by scrambling up some rocks. Luckily the snow was solid enough that we weren’t concerned about stability, but soft enough that we could kick steps. I’d say it was about as good of conditions as could be hoped for on this route. As we got higher the angle steepened and we were soon front pointing. We’d each brought a whippet and an ice axe, so could use two tools each with solid dagger placements that felt very secure.
As we got higher we got fleeting glimpses of Lake Chelan below, and a few views of the summit block above us. Eventually we had to scramble up a short 4th class step, then climb a very steep section of snice before reaching the summit ridge just left of the summit block. We started scrambling right but encountered a sketchy section that looked icy and slightly overhanging above a steep snow gully. This appeared to be the route Eric Eames and Tom Sjolseth took, but didn’t look very appealing in the current conditions.
I retreated back to our top-out point, then wound around the north side of the ridge on a scrambly ledge. I scrambled up until I found a route the looked like it would go up the north side of the summit block. It was still 4th class, but a bit less sketchy. I holstered my ice axe and started up. I wriggled up a chimney and made some delicate crampon placements on thin ledges, but eventually reached the summit. We were still stuck in a whiteout, but I managed to find the summit register and sign us in. It wasn’t hard to find a spot to write our names on that uncrowded register. By then it was 12:30pm, 11.5 hours since we left that morning.
Fred led the way down, and we carefully downclimbed the rock facing in. Back at the snow we carefully frontpointed down the snice using our tools. I was very happy to have the steps already kicked in. In hindsight I would have preferred having two technical tools, umbilical, and harness, though the whippet plus regular ice ax was still pretty secure. On the descent we got a few more views of Lake Chelan, but then it started raining when we reached the skis.
Fred had the foresight to bring ski crampons, but I had left mine at home hoping to save weight. In the rain our climbing skins didn’t really stick to the skis, but Fred was able to traverse and ascend up to the lower basin. I was slipping too much so switched to crampons and postholed up. In the lower basin I transitioned back to skis and we skinned up to the upper basin. By then we were high enough that the rain changed back to snow and my skins gripped again.
At the headwall above the upper basin we packed our skis and kicked steps back up to the ridge. We continued along the melted out bare ridge to top out on the Pyramid Mountain summit around 4pm. The register on this summit was much bigger than that on cloudcomb, with three notebooks inside an ammo box. It turned out Fred was actually the last one to sign in back in November!
We hiked down from the summit until we reached snow, then began an amazing ski descent. We were below the clouds and the snow and rain had briefly abated. The snow made for fun turns down into the trees, and lower to Pryamid Creek. Eventually it turned icy and started raining, and our progress slowed. Around 4,600ft we packed up the skis and booted back down the trail in the rain. We reached the trailhead around 9pm as it got dark enough to need headlamps.
The bike ride out was fun, though we had to stop frequently to crawl over and through blowdowns. My headlamp decided to run out of batteries halfway down, and I was reluctant to spend the time digging through my pack for my spare. So I instead biked closely behind Fred and his light was sufficient for both of us. By 10:15pm we returned to the car, then started the long drive back to Seattle, arriving around 2:45am.
Link to full trip report and pictures.
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