May 18, 2008

Mt. Garfield: main peak (5519′)

——————– Summary ——————–

Starting Point: Taylor River shore & Northwest Garfield Creek & Northwest Garfield Basin  (hike & bushwhack & climb)

Summit: Mt. Garfield: main peak  (climb via Northwest Couloir—West Ridge)

——————– Full Report ——————-

Last Sunday, I joined Fay and Mike T. on a climb of Mt. Garfield’s main peak. For many years, I’d successfully managed to keep this bad boy off my radar screen, but Fay caught me in a weak moment on some ski tour back in the winter. How come every climb seems like a good idea during the winter, and every ski tour seems like a good idea during the summer? Anyway, Mike and I found ourselves willing victims of Fay’s latest alpine obsession in the form of this “Metamorphic Menace of the Middle Fork Valley.”

We started at the Taylor River Bridge and followed the southern shoreline east for a mile, rock-hopping a small creek and then log-shinnying a larger creek along the way. The Taylor River was a frightening torrent due to the recent snowmelt. Once past the larger creek, we ascended open forest and some brush along its northeast side for 1200 feet, then slipped and groveled our way down slimy slabs to reach Garfield’s northwest gully at 2100 feet. Moderate snow slopes led upward to a scenic basin (4400 feet) northwest of the main peak, which towered overhead.

Courte Eschelle and Main Peak

The route from this basin to the west col was a steep snow couloir with three apparent breaches. Although it seemed unlikely that we could get past all three breaches, we headed up to at least get a closer look. Unfortunately for the mountain, we had Mike on our side.

Ascending To NW Basin

We crossed the first breach on an improbably thin snowbridge (tested by Mike), and ascended steep snow to the second breach.

Fay On NW Couloir

This one proved to be the crux, due to its high rock band and slightly overhanging snow brow. Fay and I were ready to turn around here, but Mike casually extracted a shovel from his pack and started excavating a slot through the left edge of the snow brow.

Mike Shoveling Slot At Middle Breach

Amazingly, it worked! A half hour later, we were climbing up to the third (partial) breach, which made for a solid belay stance and was easily turned on the right to reach the Main Peak / Leaning Tower (west) col.

Fay Belaying At Upper Breach

From there, we maintained running belays while ascending steep snow, heather, and rock on the west ridge.

Mike and Fay Climbing West Ridge

We summited at the distressingly late time of 3:50pm, knowing that our tricky descent would involve a race with daylight.

Mike and Fay On Summit

The sheer and convoluted structure of Mt. Garfield was highlighted by the sun’s late-afternoon rays. For a mountain that scarcely exceeds 5500 feet, it is remarkably rugged and alpine. No wonder it has attracted so much climbing interest over the years.

West Peak From Summit

We felt very privileged to stand on this worthy summit. But wait…we still needed to get down! Fay and I made three double-rope rappels down to the west col.

Fay Rappelling Off Summit

Then one more from the upper breach to descend past the middle breach, whereas Mike simply down-climbed the whole route.

Fay Rappelling Over Middle Breach

After belaying back over the tenuous snowbridge, we unroped and made haste for the car. Darkness caught us during our last hour of travel along the river shore. Later, having survived this stressful climb, I asked Fay to select an easier peak for her next obsession!

Stats: 5200 feet gained/lost, 9.2 hours up, 6.0 hours down.

———————– Photo Gallery —————————-