Sawtooth Traverse, Olympics 2004

I received an email asking about photos from the Sawtooth Traverse that David Parker and I did in 2004. The photos were no longer on the server so I thought I’d post them here with the trip reports that we did at the time. I don’t remember enough to caption the pics well, but I do remember it was a very fun trip.

from David:

Funny thing is, the whole thing is a blur. I don’t remember what cool pitch went with what pinnacle! I’ll be sharing the photos soon, so stand by.

Ok, here’s my brief TR: Sharpen the Saw

Last weekend, Wayne Wallace and I made the first ascent full traverse of the rugged Sawtooth Range in the Olympic Mountains. Well known for it relatively good rock (as far as volcanic goes), the ridge is comprised of 13 named peaks (some more like pinnacles) from Mt. Alpha to Mt. Lincoln. In all we figure we climbed about 20 doing our best to stay as close as possible to the ridge and climbing NE ridges or faces and rappeling SW ridges and faces, as that is the general direction of the Sawtooth Range. The most popular is the the highest and prominent Mt. Cruiser which graces the cover of the Olympic Mountains climbing guidebook and is generally the only and very worthy objective in the area. While we believe every summit had been touched, we are quite certain nobody has ever made the complete traverse in one single push. We approached 10 miles on a very wet Saturday and ended up at the base of Alpha with zero visibility. We bivied and hoped the skies would clear that night as forecast. Indeed they did, so we were up early and off. Alpha actually had 2 peaks, Cruiser was next, an un-named summit, some more ridge and then the Needle. After that came Castle Spires with 3 peaks. We ended the day by doing both the Fin and the Horn and then had to drop back down almost 1,000 feet to get water as there were no snow patches left to melt snow. We found a small pond and slept well in spite of relentless mosquitos and got back on the ridge where we left off early the next day. The second day (of climbing) was lower elevation and there was considerable vegetation (mostly pine trees) to get through in between pinnacles such as Cleaver, Slab Tower, Rectagon, Picture, Trylon and North Lincoln. We were then able to drop our packs and scramble over to the true summit of Lincoln and return where we finally dropped of the ridge around 2:00. The extremely steep chute of dirt was puckering, but mellowed to scree, then talus and boulders before we entered the forest to bushwack around a ridge and back to Flapjack Lakes. A few doses of slide alder and devils club reminded us we weren’t done yet and the 500 ft. descent in the forest to the lake was more of a controlled fall by hanging on to bushes and tree limbs until we almost splashed into the crystal clear water. A swim in the lake cooled and cleaned us for the 7.8 mile hike out to lukewarm beer and chips in the car. Fish and Chips and 6 Hood Canal oysters on the half shell fueled us for the drive home.

from me:

Sharpen the Saw

The Complete Traverse of the Sawtooth Ridge

Olympic National Park, Washington

Always on the lookout for new adventures, I found The Sawtooth Ridge to be a great possibility for an aesthetic traverse. I use the word “aesthetic” because I have found not all alpine ridges lend themselves well to a full crossing from end to end. Some have nasty deep clefts or shaky blocks or, like to Northern Pickets, they can be just too much. So when a natural and fun ridge comes along, its time to lose some shoe rubber! I found The Sawtooths when it came time to look for fun climbs on the side of the water I now call home. David Parker had told me had Cruiser in his sites. That led me to look into The Climbers Guide to the Olympics where I found Cruiser to be the crown of a very serrated ridge system. Having a rough year for climbing, David immediately caught fire on the project. It was fun doing the research on Cascade Climbers.com. We had no idea which was the better approach though into what the folks were calling the “Olympickets”. We did find it had the best rock and the sharpest summits in this wild range though. It was interesting to find the place also had a bad combination of steep –ass rock and sparse protection.
Heavy rain made us nervous as we drove off that Friday. Was the forecast going to magically turn things around for us so quickly? We needed to get part of the ridge behind us on Saturday to have a chance of getting done an to work on Monday. A stop at the last tavern before the park was to water down our apprehensions. The stupid rain was still there when we left the place though. David had the shady yet effective idea of finding some vacant cabin carport for a dry bivy. After working on our explanation to any arrivers,, we slept to the noise of the downpour.
Saturday morning, It was still overcast as we hiked the 10+ miles into Flapjack Lake. We gave up all chance of getting on the climb that day when it was very thick at 6 pm.. Serious concerns crept into our ambitious plans. It appeared we would need Monday if we wanted to finish. It was great to see it finally clear as we want to sleep at the base of our first objective: Alpha
With all the many peaks we went over David was later to say the whole trip was a blur. Alpha is one of those for me too except I do remember it was about getting to that big tree in the gully and barely 5th class to get over its 2 summits. Whatever it offered us was forgotten once we saw Mt. Cruiser .Its Northeast face was a great introduction to what fun lay ahead: Steep and exposed climbing with sporty and little pro. For the first time we saw the long road ahead that leads to Mt. Lincoln. It would not be easy or quick to get through.
After a satellite peak was crossed, we found David ready to get after The Needle. He thought it would be good to leave our packs at the base and scoot around the base after we come down. I had the feeling there was a nasty chimney to contend with on the other side. Sure enough we couldn’t even see down the crack on the other side it was so steep. 5.11 chimneys must be just grim. Above that notch lay one of the greatest leads on the trip. The first of 3 summits on Castle Spires led up vertical face to an almost overhung arête! We were so stoked to find such quality and charm to a peak we did not even expect to be on! The other 2 Summits fall into the blur category. The Fin Though is always a vivid and amazing memory. A crazy angled face problem led to a monster chimney. This made the adventure all the more complete.
Now running out of time and water. We saw the Horn was not going to let us up the straight line along the ridge direction we wanted to take so we compromised our pure ridge traverse here and went around to the standard route on its east face, which was no disappointment for any aspiring 4th class climber, really? 4th class? Our thirst drove us down to a pond at the base of the peaks where we made our second and last bivy under very bright stars.
Monday we went right back up and followed a sharp ridge line over 2 minor peaks that both had tin cans at their tops. After much of tough travel we found the Cleaver to be yet another fun lead and rappelled to the great Slab Tower. It had an obvious slab arête the I begged to give a try. It may have been one of several first ascents we did on these many pinnacles. The Rectagon and Picture Pinnacle were more leads that left us wondereding if any had tried its Northeast side as well. We really made an effort to stay with the ridge and its crest. The ridge was surprisingly accommodating too except for the Horn and now the Trylon too would need extensive rap-bolting to stay with the line direction. I am not sure the place is ready for that, but establishing this would make it an incredible Traverse that I would put near the top of the list for the country we share.
The North Lincoln Peak was a non-issue except for its intense and long descent. After we found its base, we ditched our packs and ran for the summit of our final peak. We enjoyed the view this time looking back to the distant Mt. Cruiser. What a long and fun climb it had been! What I had to do now was race back before my girlfriend called a rescue for us. I had mentioned it could take an extra day but was she listening at the time? The “trail “ down to the lakes may have existed but all we saw was the usual slide alder and devils club to round out the trip. The still cold brews would lessen the pain from that too as we happily reached our car again.

Sawtooth Ridge Traverse Grade V+-5.7 R (old school;)
August 7-9, 2004 Wayne Wallace (40), David Parker (44) .Both from Bainbridge Island.

Peaks include:
Alpha 1
Alpha Beta
Mt Cruiser
The Blob (Ok some of these we took the liberty to give our own names)
The Needle
Castle Peak 1
2
3
The Fin
The Horn
Tin Can 1
2
The Cleaver
Slab Tower
The Rectagon
Picture Pinnacle
Trylon
North Lincoln
Lincoln Peak

Gear : 2 ropes , med rack to 3”, several small pins, tat cord.

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