Colfax Peak wasn't on my alpine climbing radar until this year when I'd been experiencing cabin fever during a lackluster winter and was searching for technical alpine ice routes to add to my list. Two ice routes currently grace the northwest face of Colfax—the Polish Route, a stunning WI5-6 line going straight up the face, and the Cosley-Houston, a more meandering route, following a gully system and linking multiple short pitches of steep ice. [UPDATE: Ford’s Theatre and Kimchi Suicide Volcano have since been established; I climbed the Polish Route and Ford’s Theatre in May of 2015]
After a walk-up appetizer last weekend on Eldorado, I was itching to swing the tools again. Kelsey and I drove to the trailhead on Saturday night and gained a bit of karma when we picked up a stranded group of three who had gotten their car stuck and drove them back down the road. After the detour, we made a comfortable camp in the back of my new car with our early bedtime catalyzed by imperial stout and whiskey.
At 3:30am, we left the car, heading up the trail in approach shoes. It's worth mentioning that the last time I went up Baker in March was on the 30th of 2013 with Goran. We ended up parking the car miles from the trailhead due to snow and racking up 9,000 vert on the day. Hiking the trail all the way to the clearing near the ridge in approach shoes felt both wrong and glorious. The rest of the approach in boots without crampons went quickly and we arrived at the base of the route at about 8am. We roped up to cross the bergschrund and then pitched out the rambling first pitch. Low-angle ice is quite the calf-burning experience and this pitch was no exception. I headed up to a belay just below and left of the crux pillar and brought Kelsey up. Unfortunately, her crampon wasn't behaving nicely and she climbed the pitch with lots of weight on her hands.
The crux pillar was stellar, though pretty short. About 30 feet of WI4+ led to easier climbing and a snow ramp, where I dug out a spot to bang in a picket and placed two pins for the belay, one of which made perfect rising-pitch pin noises and made me feel quite secure despite the kitty-litter rock. From there, I headed up and reached the second ice step, which was only about 20 feet tall and right around vertical. I belayed Kelsey up to a platform right at the base of the ice to protect the belay from falling snow and ice. The second pitch ice was fun enough that I let out a few whoops (which Kelsey referred to as giggles) and ran it up to the rock buttress above where I got two good screws and brought her up.
The final pitch went smoothly, hugging the rock buttress on my left and getting good screws in the steep upper gully before topping out on the summit where I belayed Kelsey off a picket just before 1pm. The clouds were a bit ominous and the winds had picked up a bit, but it was still a nice place to be, with views out to Puget Sound and all around the Cascades. We followed boots down toward the secondary summit and eventually realized that the descent route followed around the South side of the secondary summit before heading down to the Colfax-Baker saddle. From there, it was a long walk out, but uneventful. Great climb. If only the Polish Route were in shape!