July 25-28, 2013

Mid-Summer Climbing Trip No. 11:  Eastern Olympic Mountains

Mount Constance: outer peak aka Outer Constance Peak (7756’)
Mount Constance: inner peak aka Inner Constance Peak (7667’) attempt

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Olympic Mountains

Starting & Ending Point: Dosewallips River Road Washout

Way Points: Dosewallips River & Lake Constance Trailhead (bike ride); Constance Creek & Lake Constance (hike)

Campsite: Lake Constance

Sidetrip: Avalanche Canyon (hike)

Summit: Mt. Constance: outer peak (climb via South Chute—Finger Crack—South Ridge [Route 1B])

Sidetrip: Avalanche Canyon (hike & climb)

Summit Attempt: Mt. Constance: inner peak (climb to snow basin via South Couloir)

Sidetrip: Crystal Pass (hike & climb)

Approximate Stats: 20 miles traveled; 11,500 feet gained & lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

For our eleventh annual Mid-Summer Climbing Trip, Eric, Jon, Todd, Adam, Noah, and I headed into the Mt. Constance massif in the Olympic Mountains.  Our plan was to set up a base camp at Lake Constance and then climb the outer (main) and inner peaks of Mt. Constance, plus Desperation Peak and whatever else we might have time to do.  In the end, we were limited to one summit by our mental energy and tolerance for sketchy terrain.

Outer Constance Peak is one of the highest and most visible peaks in the Olympics, perhaps making it second only to Mt. Olympus in terms of desirability among Olympic mountaineering objectives.  As a mountain and a climb, however, these two couldn’t be more different.  Mt. Olympus seems like a sophisticated and elegant woman—a grand dame—who lives in the mansion above town, and the climb feels like a high-society cotillion.  In contrast, Outer Constance Peak seems like the rowdy girl who lives down the street, and the climb gives you an impression of hopping over barbed-wire fences and squeezing through rear windows to sneak into a carnival.  By extension of this analogy, Inner Constance Peak would be the reticent but equally adventurous younger sister.  Suitors of either girl better be prepared for tattoos, body piercings, and a bodacious date.

Day 1 – Dosewallips Washout to Lake Constance:

We drove to the Dosewallips Road washout and pedaled several miles up to the Lake Constance Trailhead, where we stashed our bikes in the forest.

The Constance Gang Ready To Ride
Lake Constance Trailhead Sign

The 2 miles and 3400 vertical feet up to Lake Constance was as steep and grueling as ever, especially in the afternoon heat.  We set up our base camp at a woodsy site adjacent to the north shore (4.9 hours from cars) and then took a cooling dip in the lake.  It was a pleasant surprise to find few mosquitoes and no other campers at the lake.

Inner Constance Peak and Lake Constance

Day 2 – Outer Constance Peak Summit Climb:  

We left camp at 6:45am and headed up Avalanche Canyon on climber’s paths and snow patches.  Our goal for the day was Outer Constance via Chute’s Notch and the Finger Traverse.  We ascended a snow finger and then a long scree field to a point where the South Chute necked down to a narrow, rubbly slot.

Climbing Toward Chute’s Notch

Our trip almost came to a sudden end in this slot, when a dislodged rock went tumbling down toward Noah, Jon, and Eric.  We all watched in horror as the rock caromed off Noah’s shoulder.  Fortunately, his injuries involved soft tissue rather than bones or joints;  he managed to soldier onward despite pain and numbness in his right arm.

From Chute’s Notch (2.2 hours from camp), we followed our noses and the Olympic Climber’s Guide description over and up a series of scree slopes, gullies, and ledges in search of the legendary finger crack.  Although I had climbed this same route in 1998, my memory of the details was 95% gone.  On the positive side, this made it feel like a brand new adventure.  We eventually came upon the finger crack around a blind corner just past a distinctive cubic boulder.

Traversing Toward Cubic Boulder

The finger traverse was steeper and more exposed than I had remembered, so we set up a handline for protection and left it in place for our return later.

Todd On Finger Traverse

Once past the finger traverse, a snow descent, a large ramp, and more scree slopes led us to the summit ridge.

Outer Constance Peak Summit Ridge

The final part of the climb was a fun Class 3 ridge scramble around the impressive summit pinnacle, ending in a Class 4 climb up the pinnacle’s west face—all on hard and grippy pillow basalt.

Scrambling Below Summit Pinnacle
Noah, Eric, Adam, Todd, and Jon Below Summit

We topped out at 2:00pm (7.3 hours from camp) and enjoyed excellent visibility in all directions on this warm afternoon.  There was no summit register.

Jim, Jon, and Eric On Outer Constance Peak (photo by Adam)
Mount Olympus To Mount Clark Pano

Our descent route closely followed our ascent route.  In the steep, loose chimneys and gullies, we down-climbed in successive pairs to minimize rockfall hazards.  This took considerably more time, but we had no desire for another close encounter like the one below Chute’s Notch.  We reached camp around 8:00pm (5.2 hours from summit), with just enough time for a clean-up dip in the lake before dark.

Lake Constance From Camp

Day 3 – Inner Constance Peak Summit Attempt:

We awoke to another clear and calm morning, with Lake Constance remaining glassy smooth.  Today’s goal was Inner Constance—a shorter climb than Outer Constance—so we did not get underway until 7:30am.

Our route took us back up Avalanche Canyon and then around The Thumb to a mid-level snow basin.  We scoped out three possible ascent options:  routes 2, 2A, and 3 in the guidebook.  The descriptions for routes 2 and 3 didn’t seem to match up with the terrain features (they never do until you’ve actually climbed the route!), and we were reluctant to head up an uncertain crack or ledge.

Hiking Up Avalanche Canyon

I reconnoitered the snow defile that marks the beginning of route 2A, which I’d previously climbed, but this looked as uninviting as ever—especially with our larger group.  It quickly became apparent to all of us that yesterday’s “scree-vilicious adventure” had drained our appetite for loose rock.  Having made the decision to pull back from Inner Constance, we were contented to climb up to Crystal Pass at the canyon’s head.

The pass provided a scenic lunch spot and a new perspective on the awesome Constance massif, with its towering basaltic walls and spires.  It also created a mystery for us, because we had followed a solo climber up to the pass, but he was nowhere to be seen when we arrived about 20 minutes later.  Our wild speculations about this mystery climber continued all afternoon until we crossed his path back at Lake Constance;  it turned out that he had soloed the very difficult-looking West Arete of Outer Constance and then descended the intimidating North Chute!

The Brothers and Lake Constance
Full Group At Lake Constance (photo by Noah)

Day 4 – Lake Constance to Dosewallips Washout:

We awoke to partly cloudy skies and slightly cooler air, suggesting a change in the weather.  After a leisurely breakfast, we packed up and headed out at 9:00am, passing several groups of day-hikers and day-climbers along the Lake Constance Trail.  One pair of climbers said they were heading for Outer Constance, but their look of exhaustion after hiking only 1500 feet up this trail did not give us much confidence that they were properly prepared for the next 5500 feet.  No doubt many Constance attempts simply whither on the zeal-crushing scree slopes above the lake.

We continued down the trail, retrieved our bikes, and coasted back to the cars (2.8 hours from camp) to end another wonderful mid-summer climbing trip.

—————— Route Map/Sketch ————————

——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–