Day 1 - Bushwhacking & Awesome Bivy
We left Seattle at a very reasonable 8:30am, knowing that the road ahead of us included some serious bushwhacking through rough, steep terrain. Being mentally prepared helped quite a bit. There's no sense in fighting the inevitable. We found signs of human travel (I won't call it a trail) from the end of the dirt road which had started at the ski lodge. It took us down the steep valley slope through timber, which was relatively easy going, but tough on the feet in hot mid-summer, mid-day weather.
Our path led us to a large tree crossing at the stream and, after a little ways going along the water, we turned sharply uphill. The elevation gain and roughness of the trail did not abate until we had surmounted a few cliff bands and eventually reached some high meadows. Things were still pretty rough from there to the bivy location at the base of the ridge, but we soon forgot about the pains of the approach in favor of lounging in the sun with our sweat-soaked pants off. It was stellar.
Under clear, sunny skies, we made our dinners, drank a good amount of whiskey, and turned in for the night. There was no need for a bivy sack or tent. A light shirt over the face kept the mosquitos at bay and I was only awakened by an intense brightness at sunset when the mountain turned bright orange, then pink. I took a series of shots straight from the sleeping bag before pulling the shirt back over my face and passing out.
Day 2 - Great Climbing & Long Descent
We all woke up just before our alarms at 2 to the thunderous sound of the hanging glacier calving and spitting off a huge chunk of ice that crashed down the valley, possibly creating a small tsunami in the alpine lake below us. The sounds woke us all up and got our hearts pumping, but were nothing to be too worried about. We would be hundreds of feet above the calving face and would cross that section of the hanging glacier within the first 45 minutes of our climb that morning.
We packed up camp, got our ropes and prusiks situated, and headed for the North Face at about 2:45am. It was pretty dark except for the moon peering around the mountain from the Southwest. We quickly negotiated the hanging glacier's crevasses, traversing far to the East before coming back West and hitting a steep snow ramp that brought us up onto the long, continuous North Face. The snow was pretty firm, but held steps well, so it was ideal for climbing. We made great time, cruising up the face and pulling over the steepness just as the sun peeked over the horizon. From there, the technical difficulties were mainly over. We circumnavigated the summit, swinging down below it on the South side only to see nearly 10 different climbers on their way to the summit via a few different routes. We got ourselves up to a ledge, dropped our packs, and simul-climbed the mainly 4th class with some 5th class moves to the summit. Booyah.
With so many other climbers on the route, we decided to down-climb rather than rappel. It went really quickly and we were soon enjoying our lunch on a rock island just below the summit. With some calories in us and a successful summit complete, we descended Hell's Highway to the Fisher Chimneys. After a little route-finding, we found the path and down-climbed our way to easier ground.
Just as the technical difficulties eased, we learned from Robert and our map that we still had over 5 miles to go. At the first pass we encountered, we made the awesome decision to drink all of the rum we'd brought in the form of grape-flavored slushies. They were awesome and we were tipsy in no time. Floating on a cloud of rum (and with only a handful of slips on the snow), we briskly hiked the remaining 4+ miles out to the cars.
The North Face was a great route from the bivy to the Summit and down to the high camp above Fisher Chimneys. Before the bivy and after the high camp was nothing to write home about (though I guess I just did).