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|GuideBook||Selected Climbs, vol. II|
|Weather||Clear sky, sunshine|
|TrailConditions||PCT, thus good|
|Mailed to WacList|| |
Because a day technically has 24 hours, the round-trip, car-to-car time was under that time limit, granted only by an hour. Mt. Thompson is haul to reach, though Nelson states it (west ridge) is certainly doable in a day. That is true. Kathy and I did it in 23 hours. I gave full disclosure to Kathy when discussing the trip - it's a long day, bring your head-lamp, bring extra batteries - so she knew what was involved. As an added bonus, though, an unplanned bivy (her first) was thrown in for free.|
Mt. Thompson is located north of Red Mountain just off the Pacific Crest Trail. Nelson states it is 6 miles along the PCT starting from Snoqualmie Pass then about 1/2 mile of off-trail travel, including a delightful scree field. The Green Trails map lists the PCT portion as 7.3 miles. Not sure which is the truth. Our objective was the west ridge of Thompson, a mid-fifth class route of about 600 vertical feet. Most of the route is mid- to low-fifth class with much scrambling through in as well. Because of the distance into the route and Thompson's reputation for loose rock, the place doesn't see huge amounts of traffic. Not like The Tooth anyway. And that's what I wanted.
The day started out with a bad omen: I overslept! Kathy was to be picked up at 6am. I woke up at 5:58am. I was dressed and heading out the door at 6:07am. With a stop at QFC along the way we were heading up the PCT at 8am according to the clock in the car. Neither of us carried a watch so from that point forward we have no idea how long any portion of the day took.
The PCT is snow free (sans a couple patches here and there) through the Kendall Catwalk. From the Catwalk we simply continued in the same direction figuring we’d come upon Ridge and Gravel Lakes at some point, which we did, though a bit high. Interestingly enough, Gravel Lake is fully melted out but Ridge Lake contains much snow and ice. With the clear weather and sunshine, the views were great! I had never seen the valleys on the backsides of Kendall Peak and Red Mountain. It’s damn scenic back there!
Nelson says the crux of the approach is finding Bumblebee Pass/Notch. It isn’t THAT hard to find but is certainly indistinct. Here’s the scoop on finding the pass/notch (I’ve heard it referred to both ways): from the saddle at Ridge and Gravel Lakes continue along the PCT for 10 minutes or less. The trail will descend a bit and soon to your left you’ll see a gully leading to a small notch/pass in the ridgeline above. The snow in the gully is pretty firm though crampons aren’t needed. The same is true for descending the snow on the backside. In fact, one could get away without an ice axe as well but I felt much safer with it in-hand. Read Josh Woods account of the North Ridge of Mesachie for why.
From Bumblebee Notch, Mt. Thompson and the ascent/descent routes are in full view. Fresh water is still available from streams in the basin, which made me happy. The descent gully looked nasty. That made me unhappy. It’s ugliness is rivaled only by the scree field one must ascend to the start of the route. But it must be done. Down in the basin, we donned our harnesses, racked up the hardware then consolidated a few things in Kathy’s pack for the route. Everything else stayed in my pack down in the basin. An ice axe and crampons are not needed.
Here’s the scoop on the actual rock route:
Pitch 1: climbs a chimney and left-facing crack. Ends after 60 feet at some small trees to yoru left. Hardest move is around 5.4.
Pitch 2: probably the most fun of the pitches. It starts right from the belay at the top of pitch 1 and continues mostly straight up another (slight) chimney and crack system. Hardest move is 5.6. Rest stances are plentiful. However, rope drag can be BAD BAD BAD without long runners. At many of the rest stances where pro can be placed, the next move(s) have you moving to the left or right. And always just enough to induce rope drag. Ugh! When belaying Kathy up the pitch I thought, “damn, the girl has put on some serious weight.” But, it turned out to be rope drag.
Pitch 3: Head straight-up from belay. Steep but blocky. Fourth class or 5.easy moves. No protection placements available here. Above this you’ll be on a right-facing slab. Easy climbing but do place a few pieces for the second while on the slab. If the second slipped when first on the slap they would have a hell of a pendulum and potentially enough to actually fall off the end of the slab. A 50m rope will put you just shy of the best belay spot. It can be scramble if the party feels comfortable on such terrain.
Pitch 4: a couple technical moves early on but mostly blocky climbing. The pitch is a full 50m length and ends at a wonderfully large ledge.
Pitch 5 to the end: Move right and find more slabby terrain, but easier than the prior slab. It will take you to a notch between you and the actual summit. Take the path down to the notch. From here, go left around the corner and follow the scramble path to the summit.
Summit views are awesome. Rainier loomed large as she always does. Mt. Daniel, Cathedral and many of the lakes in the Alpine Lakes wilderness were visible. The views alone are worth the climb. But, we knew it was late even without having a watch. Time to descend! The descent goes as follows: begin to head down the East Ridge to quickly find a rap station. This rap is followed immediately by one more. Head east for a bit to find one more rap station. After this head east again to find a steep, dirty path heading down a vegetated slope. This will dump you to the gully for the final descent back to the basin. The gully turns out to not be as bas it looked.
After collecting my pack back in the basin, we chatted with a two climbers planning to do the route the next day. We provided beta and they provided the time: 8:30pm Ouch! Darkness in under 1.5 hours and we’ve got 7+ miles to go. Time to boogie!
The goal at this point was to make it back to the Kendall Catwalk by dusk, as that is where the snow ends. We made that goal and just continued to move, move, and move. I must have been moving a bit faster than Kathy as she spoke out loud about sticking an ice axe up my ass if I left her on the trail. Logically, though, if I’m moving faster than she is how could she do such a thing? It didn’t seem worth the risk to find out so I slowed down.
By now it was fully dark and headlamps came out. Walking out by headlamp was a first for Kathy. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling knowing I was able to provide that experience for her. Soon enough I was able to provide another first: her first unplanned bivy. We made this call once in the forest. We were dead tired at this point. It was certainly after 10pm making for an already 16 hour day. We were stumbling a bit due to weariness. The night was warm. The forest would provide cover from any wind. It wasn’t raining. We had adequate bivy gear. Why not bivy? Besides, it would give me a chance to finally use that damn yellow tube tent I’ve been hauling around for years.
Kathy took to the bivouac rather quickly and was ready for bed in no time. She called me a “princess” for taking to long. A interesting thing I learned about those tube tents. While two people can fit inside one, they cannot both lay on their back. Well, unless they’re midgets I suppose. Anyway, Kathy and I were relegated to sleeping on our side. If one person wanted to switch sides, the other person had to as well. It made for a night of non-continuous sleep.
We hit the trail sometime during the five o’clock hour. We had about 3.5 miles to cover. Not a problem being mostly rested and feeling awake. The car was reached at 7am. That made for a 23 hour day. Mt. Thompson in a day (technically).