Darrington - Exfoliation Dome (West Buttress), Oct. 2007
Exfoliation Dome is rather large granite dome south of the town of Darrington. Unlike other nearby features of interest to climbers, Exfoliation Dome is a distinct peak unto itself. It is apparently the most difficult 4,000-foot summit to attain in Washington State. The easiest way to its summit is a 9 pitch 5.8+ alpine rock climb - The West Buttress (aka Blueberry Hill). MC had already climbed the route on two previous occasions, and was very accomodating to climb it once again with me.
Pitch #1 - 5.5 (Martin) - Scramble up the offwidth then keep moving up low angle face and cracks until a ledge at the base of the obvious left facing corner. 130 feet.
Pitch #2 - 5.7 (Sergio) - Lieback up the corner and turn to the roof and undercling it to the left (fun!). Continue up by jamming and liebacking up the low angle dihedral (starts as 5.7, then gets eaiser) using the crack at your feet for pro. Continue all the way up to the ledge with the tree to belay. 180 feet
Pitch #3 - 5.8+/5.9 (Martin) - This is the crux pitch, and used to be rated 5.8 until a big flake fell off in 2004. Climb the right facing corner on the right side of the buttress. Clip the 2 bolts where there is no crack, then stem and face climb up the thin dihedral. Continue a short distance up along the dihedral and build a belay where a good stance is found. 120 feet.
Pitch #3.5 - 5.7/5.8 (Martin) - This is a short pitch intended to mitigate rope drag on pitch #3. Continue up the dihedral from the aforementioned belay, then make a bouldery move up and left to regain the crest of the arete (this move felt harder than any moves encountered on what's refered to as the crux). Continue a short distance to a nice belay station by some bushes.
Pitch #4 - 5.7 (Sergio) - This excellent pitch is long and varied. Climb the 3" crack then turn the corner to the left. Chimney up behind the flake then climb directly up the middle of the face via a series of angling crack and flake systems. Belay from the ledge with a tree (may have to simulclimb for a few feet to reach).
Pitch #5 - 5.5 (Martin) - Climbs slabs and corners up the buttress crest. When Martin ran out of rope, he had me break down the belay and simulclimb. I joined him at a belay by a tree in a left-facing dihedral on a large slab. 200+ feet
Pitch #6 - 5.4 (Sergio - not pictured) - Finish climbing slabs and belay at the big ledge in the trees (aka Blueberry Terrace). 80 feet.
We traversed the ledge climber's left over class 2 terrain with one short, but exposed class 4 section until able to see around the corner. Keep traversing until the rock gets steeper and look around for a good spot to build a belay station.
Pitch #7 - 5.8 (Martin - not pictured) - Climb up occasional cracks with short bits of brush and lichen-encrusted rock to gain the slab above. Use every opportunity for placing gear as protection is limited on this pitch. Martin encountered some route finding difficulty and stopped to belay me up about halfway through. He continued on lead for the second-half of the pitch for a short distance before running into yet more bleak terrain. At this point, we were running short on time, and with the short days already at hand, I wanted to spare some daylight for the many rappels we had yet to do. We called it and made one long double-rope rappel back down to the far edge of Blueberry Terrace.
We poked around the edge of the ledge for a good while before locating the top chains for Rainman (Martin was cautious not to rappel Dark Rhythm as it is apparently notorious for getting ropes stuck). We made several double rope rappels from one set of chains to the next down the increasingly steep rock face.
True to form, the ropes got stuck about two raps from the bottom. After a futile attempt at climbing the stuck rope via prussic knots, I pulled out my knife and resigned myself to making countless very short bolt-to-bolt rappels with what little rope we had. Just for good measure, we decided to give the rope one final 'oh please God' tug with all the downward force we could muster. And don't ya know it - the rope came free, but not without some collateral damage. The point where the EDK was tied shredded the outer sheath and a small part of the inner sheath to let the knot pass through the flake it was apparently stuck in. Epic averted - we re-tied the knot and completed the rappels. A short scramble back to where we stashed our gear and then we were off, hiking back down the Granite Sidewalk.
Martin and I traversed left into forest to bypass wet slabs on the lower half of the sidewalk. The going was surprisingly straightforward and occasional hints of a climbers path suggested we weren't the first to go this way. Made it back to the car before long and back at the darrignton Shell station for cold Heineken just as it got dark! Now if only it weren't for that nagging desire to go back and tag the top of the peak's elusive summit...
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