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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Paisano Pinnacle & Burgundy Spire - West Ridge to North Face, September 2011

(Based on Tom's NWHikers report here)

A couple of years back, I read an article written by prolific local climber Jim Brisbine which, among other topics, briefly mentioned a list of difficult peaks that the late Dallas Kloke had communicated to him. The Difficult 10 (as Mr. Brisbine would later coin it), is a list of major peaks in Washington whose summits are the hardest to reach by the easiest route. An intriguing list to the aspiring peakbagger, this one is particularly so because of the fact that its criteria is so subjective - a concept that is a bit foreign to number-crunching listbaggers. After all, just what exactly constitutes a “major peak”, and what do we consider “difficult”? It would take someone who had climbed most or all of the major peaks to be able to accurately verify that the peaks were, in fact, the most difficult in the state. Dallas Kloke - a highly respected, experienced, and accomplished local climber - had already done just that. Well then, in that case the Difficult 10 seemed like a unique and ambitious accomplishment to shoot for, and its appeal would surely be difficult to ignore.

Tenth on this list is Burgundy Spire - an outlier of the Silver Star massif situated among the Wine Spires, just S of Burgundy Col. This peak is an anomaly on the list in that it is the only peak with a crag-like approach and it’s also the only peak that requires 5.8 rock climbing to reach its summit. Nevertheless, Burgundy Spire is an important peak, and its inclusion on the Difficult 10 list is definitely justified. We wanted to add on Paisano Pinnacle to our agenda - supposedly the best long, moderate, alpine rock route at Washington Pass. It wound up being a full, but stellar day of climbing for Tom, Daniel, and I.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Buck Mountain - West Route, August 2011

At 8528 feet Buck Mountain is one of the taller, and as you will see from my rather lousy IPOD photos also one of the more massive non-volcanic peaks in Washington State. Being the second-highest point on Chiwawa Ridge after 8,760-ft Fortress Mountain, Buck offers unobstructed 360-degree views as well as, and perhaps more importantly, a unique perspective on some of The Cascades’ finest alpine high country. The allure of experiencing first hand Buck’s veritable Zen garden of manicured alpine meadows, meandering streams and granite pools is primarily what drew me to explore this area. Tagging the summit was just the proverbial icing on the cake for me.

The West Shoulder Route (from Trinity) which I followed is complex and is probably best described in Paul Klenke’s summitpost report. I will only add a few observations of my own – first, I found it best to leave the Buck Creek Trail after the clearing indicated in Paul’s report, at a point shortly after where the trail re-enters forest and makes a rightward bend coming nearer to Buck Creek than at any other time on the approach. There’s evidence of a path cutting off to into brush at left here but which unfortunately also vanishes well before the creek crossing. Nevertheless, it should only take a few minutes to reach the creek where a couple large logs can be used to cross over from the sandy bank to the other side.

Once across, the idea is to turn left and proceed on a rising traverse making sure not to gain too much elevation too quickly. Occasional hints of a trail reassured me that I was headed in the right direction (upon return in my case). Be sure to cross at least one, if not two prominent gullies before turning up sharply towards the crest of the timbered East Ridge of Mount Cleator. If you go up too soon you’ll end up in cliffy terrain interspersed with steep, slippery duff that’ll make you wish you had your ice axe in hand! As a general rule, it seems best to gain the ridge at around 5,000 ft or lower.

I never noticed the so-called campsite at 5,800 ft on the ridge (I did see a blue tarp upon my return though), at which point one should angle down to the left (south) into the basin. I suspect that I was too far right (north) and thus missed the obvious trail heading left. Instead, I proceeded upwards to about 6,500 ft before realizing I’d gone too far. I chose not to go back down thinking I could still get to where I needed to be. Frustratingly, I was forced ever higher up the ridge by steep, blocking cliffs. Finally at roughly 7,000 ft I located a short, sketchy gully that allowed me to descend into the heather basin just below High Pass where I set up camp for the night.

I found the rest of the route to Buck’s serene meadows, High Sierra-like west basin and beyond to the summit to be relatively straight forward. The ledge with snag low on Berge’s East Ridge is a unique and hard-to-miss feature, without which the approach to the Berge-Buck basin would likely be somewhat more involved and certainly brushier. Finally, there seems to be ongoing debate as to which of the two main summits is taller-the North or Middle? The consensus I think is that the 8,760+ ft Middle Summit is it. I went for the 8,760-ft North Summit as it seemed to be the more aesthetic of the two. If it really matters, climb both and tag The Horn overlooking the immense East Ridge while you’re at it!

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