Two winters ago, in mid-December, Dale and I headed up to Chair Peak to see about the North Face. At the time, there was no ice and enough new snow that things were pretty sketchy, so we bailed.
With a major cold snap in Seattle over the past couple weeks, ice was likely. Kelsey needed to be back to Seattle for a holiday party on Saturday night, so we decided a bigger day on Baker's North Ridge wasn't in the cards. Instead, the two of us snagged another group of two in Tom and Smitty and we headed up to Chair early on Saturday morning.
It was frigid as we left the car before 8am. Frigid not being a relative PNW thing. Frigid being -4F or so. The approach took us about 2.5 hours and we met up with two groups near the Thumb Tack who had turned around before getting on the route due to a hollow-sounding approach. Turned out they were trying to go directly to the base and not around, via the ridge. We took the standard approach and found it to be fine.
Upon reaching the base of the route, we found one party of two starting up. The leader called down from mid-way through the first pitch that the climbing was "awesome." We went from thinking things would be unlikely to thinking it would go. I led up P1 a few minutes behind their second climber. Things were quite cold in the shade, but the climbing was secure and the few pieces of protection (old pin, old slung cordage, screw, and cam) in the ~65m pitch seemed solid.
I set up a belay on the tree ledge in the sun and brought Kelsey up while by hands thawed out. From there, we headed straight for the ice step, getting good steps in ice and styrofoam snow. We finished the pitch with some simul-climbing and had a picket in the middle that felt pretty solid. I set up a belay off a screw and a picket just below and to the side of the ice step, then brought Kelsey up. We'd passed the other party during that pitch as they had split it into two bits while we'd simul-climbed with our 70m rope. Kelsey was cruising this thing like it was nothing.
The ice step was super fun. I popped in a couple of screws for good measure with screamers on them and then pulled the step to hit the styrofoam snow above. Things sounded a little slabby and hollow, but the snow stayed together and I got a picket in about 40m through the pitch. The rope let us get within about 30 feet of the tiny trees on the summit ridge before we had to simul-climb again. I slung a tree when I could and had Kelsey come up again before we finished up towards the summit and met back up with the other party. The views were absurd—visibility was off the charts.
We had hoped to rap with Tom and Smitty, but we hadn't seen them since the start of P1, so we assumed they had turned back and we rapped with our new friends who had smartly brought doubles. After a little down-climbing, a rap, a stuck rope, and another rap, we down-climbed the steep edge of the bowl and finally ended up back at the Thumb Tack. Just a little over an hour from there and we were back at the car. Some jogging was done.
Except Tom and Smitty weren't at the car. After some moments of panic and a discussion with the County Sherrif to determine if SAR would be needed, they appeared about 1.5 hours later. Turned out they made it up to the second pitch before bailing, which took quite a while. Whew. That would have been an exceptionally cold night.