Prusik Peak - West Ridge, October 2002
I pulled into the Snow Creek trailhead parking area about 45 minutes later than the agreed upon rendezvous time. By the look on Scott, John and Craig's faces, I knew they weren't very happy with my tardiness. I managed a weak excuse and a feeble apology, but my efforts fell on deaf ears. What can I say? Sometimes it's hard getting out of bed. We all re-packed our gear, Scott and I argued over who would carry the rope and without further ado we started down the trail. We crossed Icicle Creek and began the dusty ascent up towards Nada Lake and eventually Snow Lake, our destination for the day. Our pace was casual, yet the miles went by quickly as conversation spanned topics ranging from work to play to beer. Fortunately for me, I was packing an oversized can of Fosters to enjoy later at camp.
The trail to Lower Snow Lake switchbacks gently as it takes you farther up the valley, passing a fountain (I'm told it's some sort of irrigation system) gushing water and plumes of mist seemingly from out of bare rock down to the valley below. We rounded the upper end of Snow Lake and located a campsite on the beach. The sun went down rapidly and it got cold real fast. The breeze blowing off of Snow Lake greatly enhanced the cooling effect and additional layering was promptly applied. By 10pm we all had had enough of the cheesy 80's tunes picked up by my AM/FM radio and called it a night. Sleep came quickly for a change. A sleeping pad on sand is a welcome luxury!
By 5:00am we were back on the trail. We made our way around Snow Lake in the dark, missed a junction in the trail and ended up back at the lake. Realizing the folly of our ways, we located the correct trail and made good time hiking up towards Lake Viviane (in background). From here we skirted the east side of the lake and headed up underneath the South Face of Prusik Peak. We passed Temple Lake to our right and traversed a large boulder field towards the base of the West Ridge.
A large "Balanced Rock" marks the start of the route. As we approached the base of the route, a party of three was making its way up from Prusik Pass. The party hurried ahead of us, determined to be first on the route. We let the other party go and endured the arctic wind waiting for them to complete the first pitch. We scrambled up the first pitch and set up a belay as the other party moved up and out of sight. Scott won the Rock, Paper, Scissors and so got the first lead. He started right of where the other party was climbing. The granite on this route variation was somewhat covered in lichen and therefore Scott proceeded with caution.
I reached Scott's belay and we then freeclimbed up and over the next block and followed the ridge towards the start of the 3rd pitch. There is a rusty piton at this next belay station, but otherwise a featureless 15-foot 5.7 slab must be climbed in order to again reach the ridge-top. From the top of the 5.7 friction slab I passed a large block to the right along an incredibly narrow and exposed ledge (John pictured here) with nice views down the imposing South Face. A few moves later I was at the belay and brought up Scott. From there we scrambled up the fourth pitch to the belay at the base of the fifth and final pitch.
Scott started the next pitch up a 5.6 fingercrack. From there he was able to gain a ledge and was faced with a couple of options. Directly upwards lay a 5.8 chimney that we saw the guys ahead of us climb. It looked awkward, with knee jams, and arm bars, etc. Scott instead opted for the 5.6 lieback flake that lead right and around a corner to the final 5.5 chimney. Rope drag was heinous, and with the howling wind it was nearly impossible to know if Scott had me on belay or not. I had given my radio to John, who was having some communication problems of his own. With much effort, John was able to relay Scott's "on belay" to me. I started up, rounded a corner and tied my pack into the rope for Scott to haul before inching my way up the final chimney to the summit. Together we basked in the sun and waited for John and Craig to complete the pitch.
We would later make the humorous discovery of why it had taken Craig so long to complete the 3rd pitch. Next to the rusty piton at the base of the notorious 5.7 slab we located a nut that was permanently lodged into the crack. A few tugs on the nut confirmed that it was there to stay. Craig, thinking the nut belonged to John worked on it for about 15 - 20 minutes before freeing it. Craig now has a rack consisting of one piece.
The rappel route is on the north side and involves about 4-5 single-rope rappels. Note that the 2nd and 3rd rap stations are sometimes hard to locate. After rappeling back down, we hiked for a few minutes back to Prusik Pass and retrieved our cached gear. We downclimbed towards Prusik Pass proper, and descended to Gnome Tarn for that classic view of Prusik Peak. We continued down to Lake Viviane and passed around the southern end of the lake, requiring a few fun low 5th moves up a crack (easily bypassed above lake) to gain a bench in order to join the trail again. The way out was long and tiring--especially after packing up camp and jogging out the 7 miles with full packs. Darkness fell and we continued for about another hour before reaching the parking area. All in all, one could argue that a ten mile approach for a mere five pitches (we did it in three) is hardly justifiable. Were it for the climbing alone, I would probably have to agree. However, a trip to the Enchantments in the fall, when the larches turn the mountainsides a brilliant yellow, is certainly a worthy trip in and of itself. A few classic pitches on the moderate rock of the West Ridge is just the icing on the cake.
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