Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Chair Peak: NE Buttress

The Northwest was graced with an extended high pressure system in early to mid February. I had skied Eldorado Peak on Saturday and decided to make the most of the good weather and skip work on Tuesday to climb the NE Buttress of Chair Peak with Josiah.

Chair's NE Buttress is one of Washington's classic easy alpine ice routes. Ski touring around the Alpental Valley had given me plenty of time to admire it, and after spending two weeks learning to ice climb in Bozeman I felt that I finally had the skills to climb it.

The NE Buttress of Chair is the trough just right of center.
Taken on 11/18/2017 on a failed attempt of the Chair Peak Circumnavigation.
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

Josiah picked me up at 6am and we headed up to Alpental. A party with climbing gear left the parking lot just as we arrived making me regret not leaving earlier. We skinned up to Source Lake quickly and passed them.

The basin above Source Lake is usually a mellow skin, but today it was an ice skating rink. We struggled upwards for a while before swapping our skis for crampons.

Approaching Chair Peak. We could have put our skis back on here if we weren't so lazy.
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

We ditched our skis, racked up, and started a rising traverse across the basin below the Chair's East Face, aiming for the bottom of the NE Buttress. The snow well consolidated and perfect for kicking steps.

Josiah lead the first pitch up a narrow gully through a rock band. In different conditions this pitch can involve mixed climbing and be the crux of the route, but we found it completely filled in with snow.

I lead the next pitch up steep snow with a couple small trees for protection. I brought Josiah up and he cast off across the steep, blank snowfield before the ice step.

Josiah taking us to the base of the ice step on P3

Enjoying the exposure on P3
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

Josiah's bomber anchor at the base of the ice step
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

I lead the ice step and found it to be in good condition. I continued up through steep snow and built an anchor with a deadmanned picket and my ass.

The ice step
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

Josiah climbing steep snow above the ice step

Josiah took us up another pitch of steep snow to the false summit. We unroped and scrambled to the summit.

Josiah scrambling to the summit

Labeled summit panorama
Full resolution here
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

Sitting on the chair atop the Alpental Valley
Photo: Josiah Brubaker

We downclimbed the summit block, retrieved our rope, and continued down a narrow gully to the south. A rappel off some old pitons took us over a huge cornice and off the ridge. We pulled the rope and downclimbed some more steep snow into the basin below the east face of Chair, then plunge-stepped through avalanche debris to reach our skis.

Not convinced that we had achieved full value, we decided to do some skiing. We climbed the couloir above the Thumbtack and skied a couloir choked with avalanche debris down to Snow Lake. The icy conditions made for excellent skating across the lake. We climbed back up to the divide and did some more ice skating down to Source Lake and then to the car.