A few years ago when I got Alan Kearney's Classic Climbs of the Northwest guidebook, I was a bit surprised to see an unfamiliar route on a familiar peak—the Northeast Buttress on Colchuck Peak made Kearney's short list of 51 routes, so it had to be good but I hadn't heard much about it. A bit of searching on Cascade Climbers yielded a mixed bag, especially when considering the original Beckey line. In either case, the route went onto my list.
Adam and I had talked about climbing together many times before, but it hadn't yet come together. He reached out early this week and we hatched a plan to car-to-car the NE Buttress (Kearney version) on Saturday. We drove out to the Stuart Lake Trailhead late on Friday night and got a little sleep there with alarms set for 5am—we were guessing that we could do the route in about 14 hours, but also knew we had a lot of daylight in case things weren't so fast.
We started the approach just before 6am and went pretty fast. 2 hours in, we were on the far side of the lake on our way up the moraine. A little shy of 3.5 hours at 9:15am had us at the base of the ridge after enjoying continuous snow from the moraine up. We each had strap-on crampons on our approach shoes and light axes.
After consulting the beta a little, we located the first pitch of Kearney's start and racked up below it at the toe of the buttress. We'd brought rock shoes and a rack to 3 with doubles of .5 through 2. Adam took the first pitch at 10am and had a great time on the wide, broken crack on solid rock after traversing around some snow on sandy terrain to get there. I then did a very short pitch to the top of the crest. From there, it looked like the line might go lower later in the season, but the couloir snow convinced me to stay on a ramp system just a bit higher. After down-climbing a little from the crest, I traversed over and made a fun, steep move to get onto more solid granite which I ran right, then up a seam, and then back left to a ledge for the belay.
Pitch 4 turned out to be a bit of a low point. Adam set off and quickly encountered some moss and dirt on his traverse to the main dihedral. Sections of the pitch were really fun while others had a bit too much dirt and loose gravel. We knew we were on the right track, though, due to a couple of fixed pins we passed along the way. It took quite a while for Adam to find the way and stay safe on this pitch and it was 1:30pm before both of us were on top.
We switched to approach shoes and doubled our rope in half for the ledge systems. I headed across and found that the rock quality and number of trees in the way reduced after the first pitch or so. It was actually pretty fun to move fast and link 3-4 pitches in one block. On a nice ledge before the route turned up the wall, we put our rock shoes back on and tied into each end of the rope. Adam did a quick bump of our belay to the base of the crux pitch and then set off. With our 70m rope and about 15 feet of me simul-climbing at the end, he was able to reach the ridge crest, linking pitches 9 and 10. I followed the pitch and had a great time—the rock was solid and the movement was varied and interesting. It meandered left before traversing back right and then into a left-facing corner all the way to the ridge. We were both on top of the crest at 4:30pm.
Back in approach shoes, I linked pitches 11 and 12, getting us up the buttress crest and onto some ledges below the headwall. Views back to the belay on the ridge crest and Colchuck Lake were stellar. Adam bumped us up to the headwall and, after a few minutes of searching, we found a rightward traverse under big blocks for 80 feet or so on ledges to the North-facing dihedral that would bring us to the top. I took this pitch, having a ton of fun in the early evening sun and finding edges and gear anywhere I wanted them. I ran out of rope and gear just below the top and Adam headed through and brought me up. One loose block that had seemed solid when I banged on it with my hand decided to go as I mantled to the top and I had to jump out of the way, spraining my ankle a little trying to land on a foothold—thankfully the rock sailed right by me.
We topped out a little after 7pm for about 9 hours on the route—a bit longer than we'd expected, but we hadn't been rushing and instead had been feeling pretty casual throughout. We started down by 7:30pm on dirt and rock to the col and then continuous snow down the glacier (skier's right fork) until a few hundred feet from the trail. It was 8:45pm when we got to the corner of the lake at the end of the boulder field. We only stopped once on the way out to numb ourselves a bit with bourbon and take in the sunset hitting Dragontail and Colchuck. We were at the car a little after 10:30pm for a little less than 17 hours on the day.
While there were a few moments on the route where dirt, moss, lichen, and loose rock detracted, so much of the route was good climbing on good rock with a great position and view. We agreed that it was more interesting and sustained than the Serpentine Arete on Dragontail (which did not make the Kearney guide...).