Serendipity was the word of the weekend. First off, Goran and I planned this trip over a month ago as we both reminisced about our productive spring of 2014. We didn't know that Washington Pass would open so early and that we'd have the chance to take care of some unfinished business up there.
At about 11:45pm on Friday night, I picked Goran up at Seatac and we headed for the pass after a quick stop at home. Turns out Highway 20 at 2am is a quick drive—we made it to the pullout for Cutthroat Peak at about 3am and took a quick nap in the car, with alarms set for 4am. As we packed up our gear, we watched a beautiful lunar eclipse that took the valley, which had been bathed in bright moonlight, into darkness. We left the car at about 4:45am and the conditions were ideal for booting—the snow was firm, but secure enough to not need crampons for most of the approach. We made it to the base of the couloir at about 6:15am, where we geared up as the sun rose.
There was plenty of snow in the couloir, but the ice was a bit thin, aerated, and brittle. Nevertheless, it was climbable. I led a short, steep pitch on this combination of neve and ice up to a fixed anchor below the crux corner pitch and brought Goran up on that anchor, backed up with a good screw. From there, it was party time. The crux pitch was really fun. In many places, the ice wasn't thick enough to fully swing into and required delicate tapping and hooking. I was able to get 2 decent screws in and then found rock protection higher up. While it seemed like using a chimney technique was possible, I was having too much fun climbing the ice and neve, so I stuck to the face. Once the angle eased off, it was just a little further to get to steep snow and I was able to run up the snow couloir all the way to the cave below the next step. Inside the cave, I found a perfectly clear, thick ice flow which took two screws for an anchor perfectly. What a cool belay!
Goran led the next pitch, which ended up being a simul-climb to just below the summit. It was what I'd call sub-optimal, with sugar snow on rock and lots of post-holing in very steep snow. Goran found a few pieces of gear here and there and then brought me up just below the summit on a good anchor. I then headed past him on steep snow to the proper summit. It was about 11am at that point and completely gorgeous up there, with a commanding 360-degree view.
We knew that finding the descent route might be tricky. And it was. We searched for the first set of chains for over an hour in vain. They must have been buried under snow somewhere we didn't quite look. We found an old anchor which had been destroyed, but never found the true anchor, so we built an anchor off a horn with a pin backing it up and did a double-rope rap (we brought a tagline) off that and quickly found the next anchor. Just as we were setting up our rap, our friend Will was finishing the route solo—impressive! He joined us on our series of slow raps down the face and we all hiked out together.
This was an awesome climb in a beautiful setting with an unbeatable approach:climb ratio for this style. Now that I've summited, if I were to do it again, I'd rap after climbing the crux pitch—the rest of the route wasn't nearly as fun and was much harder to protect. Plus the West Ridge descent route is quite slow.
After getting all of 45 minutes of sleep, we napped in the sun at the car and then drove to the Fun Rock parking lot in Mazama where we proceeded to fall asleep in the back of my car at 4pm and sleep straight through until 7:30am the next morning. Now that's a day!