July 9-14, 2018
Northwest Mox Peak aka Northwest Twin Spire aka “Easy” Mox Peak (8407′)
Southeast Mox Peak aka Southeast Twin Spire aka “Hard” Mox Peak (8504′)
——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–
Region: Northwestern Cascades
Starting & Ending Point: Depot Creek Road near Milepost 1.5
Way Points: Depot Creek Road Junction & Monument 65 & Lower Depot Creek & Depot Creek Falls & Depot Creek Meadow & Upper Depot Creek & Ouzel Lake & Redoubt Glacier Saddle (hike & climb)
Campsites: Ouzel Lake & Redoubt Glacier Saddle & Lower Depot Creek Forest Camp
Summit: Northwest Mox Peak (climb via Redoubt Glacier—Northeast Ridge—Upper South Face)
Side Trip: Redoubt Creek Slope & Col of the Wild (hike & climb)
Summit: Southeast Mox Peak (climb via West Ledges—Gendarme Notch—East Ledges—Southeast Gullies—High Notch—Upper West Face)
Approximate Total Stats: 24 miles traveled; 11,200 feet gained and lost.
——————– Full Trip Report ——————–
The American Chilliwack Mountains comprise a particularly rugged area in the northeastern corner of North Cascades National Park, closely south of Chilliwack Lake, west of Ross Lake, and southeast of the Canadian Chilliwack Mountains. Major peaks in the area include Mt. Redoubt, Mt. Spickard, Mt. Custer, Bear Mountain, and the Mox Peaks. During what was forecasted to be a hot and sunny week, Lisa, Kevin L, George, Kevin K, Eileen, and I ventured into the American Chilliwacks with a variety of summit goals. Along the way, our plan was continually modified due to poor weather, difficult climbing, a minor injury, a serious accident, and a helicopter evacuation. Here is our story.
Day 0 – Team Staging In Chilliwack:
Our group left home at different times on Sunday afternoon and drove to the town of Chilliwack, BC, where we all checked into a Travelodge Hotel for the night. This proved to be a convenient and fairly inexpensive way to ensure an early start the next day.
Day 1 – Chilliwack to Ouzel Lake:
We all met at a nearby Starbucks for breakfast before heading out of town on the Chilliwack Lake Road. From the roundabout and bridge at the edge of town, it was a breezy half-hour drive on paved roadway to the near the northern end of Chillwack Lake. The next 6 miles, however, was on pothole-infested dirt road that took a full hour to negotiate. Just before reaching a yellow bridge, we turned left and drove an additional 1.5 miles to a road fork and small parking area, arriving at 8:50am. Steph Abegg’s detailed driving map and directions were a great help in finding this location.
Bearing heavy packs, we hiked up the left-hand roadway fork for about 1 mile, thrashed uphill to a higher road–having missed the key turnoff–and then hiked an additional mile to the international border at Monument 65 (1.4 hours + 500 feet from cars).
- Monument 65 Obelisk
Just past the border swath, the National Park Service has installed a new registration kiosk, with papers stored in a plastic tube. This replaces the old wooden storage box. Climbers are now advised to obtain backcountry permits via telephone.
- Monument 65 Registration Kiosk
We continued southeasterly on the Depot Creek climbers path, which winds through old-growth forest for about 3 miles. In early afternoon, we reached the base of Depot Creek Falls (4.8 hours + 1600 feet from cars). The falls were quite vigorous, due to runoff from this year’s heavy snowpack, and the Class 3 rock at the bottom was extra slippery. Fortunately, the handline here has been upgraded to something that is quite useful. Rain clothes and pack covers were also beneficial.
- Scrambling Up Waterfall Rocks
Depot Creek Falls reportedly has a total drop of 967 feet, making it one of the largest–if not the very largest–waterfall in Washington. Ascending the climbers path along the left edge of these immense falls is truly a unique and remarkable experience.
- Depot Creek Falls From Near Base
After a 1000-foot ascent on the super-steep path, we popped over the top, passed a campsite (7.4 hours + 2650 feet from cars), and made our way to Ouzel Lake–first in scrubby forest and later on the vast outwash plain.
- Heading Up Outwash Plain To Ouzel Lake
We arrived at little Ouzel Lake in the early evening (9.3 hours + 3550 feet from cars) and made camp on a gravelly moraine closely above the lake’s outlet. As the evening went on, our blue sky clouded over and a cold fog descended on us. A rain squall during dinner sent us all scurrying for our tents.
- Camp At Ouzel Lake
Day 2 – Ouzel Lake to Redoubt Glacier Saddle:
We awoke in a dense fog and stayed in our tents most of the morning due to frequent rain showers. This was a discouraging turn of events, as there had been no rain in the forecast. Our initial plan to ascend to high camp and climb Mt. Redoubt today got scrubbed; our new plan was to delay our departure until early afternoon, in hopes of better weather, then head up to high camp.
Around noon, two climbers sauntered into camp after descending from the Redoubt Glacier saddle. They had hiked in from Depot Creek Road and climbed Northwest (“Easy”) Mox Peak and Mt. Redoubt on their first day (gasp!), then climbed Southwest (“Hard”) Mox Peak yesterday. Today, they were off to Mt. Custer and Mt. Spickard. With a combination of pride and irony, Lisa announced to them, “Well, we got here on Day One!”
In early afternoon, we broke camp and hiked around Ouzel Lake, then began scrambling up the ledgey rock above the lake. Upon reaching the Redoubt Glacier, we roped up and continued on a southwesterly tack. Visibility was only 50 yards on the glacier, so we navigated by map, GPS, and the previous climbers’ footprints. At 7150 feet, we reached the expansive Redoubt Glacier saddle and established our high camp on some rock outcrops (3.2 hours + 1550 feet from Ouzel Lake). We ate in our tents due to the cold, wet, and windy weather.
Day 3 – Northwest (“Easy”) Mox Peak Climb:
We were all delighted to see a sunny blue sky upon crawling out of our tents in the morning. Residual fog filled the valleys below us in a picturesque fashion.
Valley Fog Below Redoubt Glacier Saddle
- More Valley Fog Below Redoubt Glacier Saddle
By 6:30am, we were leaving camp with summit packs, heading for Easy Mox Peak. (It should be mentioned that the nickname “Easy” applies only in a strict relative sense; there is actually very little about this peak that could be considered easy.) Our route started with a 2-mile-long traverse of the Redoubt Glacier. OK, that part was easy!
- Traversing Redoubt Glacier On Day 3
At the eastern edge of the glacier, we came upon the infamous headwall below the northeast ridge of Easy Mox Peak.
- Approaching NE Ridge Of Easy Mox Peak
The headwall is steep, gray, and foreboding, with scattered patches of slippery, wet slabs. We all stashed our glacier gear in the glacial moat, and George led two pitches of dicey Class 5 rock up to the ridge crest. The rest of us climbed either on prusik slings or on belay.
- Climbing To Crest Of Easy Mox Ridge
Most of us used rock shoes on this headwall and were glad to have the extra friction, although they did little on the wet patches.
- K.Lo Climbing Up to Ridge Crest
We reached a low saddle in the ridge crest around mid-morning (4.1 hours + 900 feet from camp). The glacier below had the flowing texture of a zen garden.
- Morning Zen Texture On Redoubt Glacier
From the ridge crest saddle, the huge northwest face of Hard Mox Peak towered over us like an angry beast. We instantly began questioning our plan to climb it the next day. I tried to assure the others that the peak actually lays back when you get closer to it, but they weren’t convinced.
- Hard Mox Peak From Easy Mox Ridge
We turned southwesterly and began scrambling unroped up the lower part of the ridge crest. After several hundred yards, the crest narrowed and steepened enough to prompt the use of ropes and running belays. We simul-climbed as two separate rope teams, placing slings and gear along the way. This ridge crest serves up a very fun and long Class 3-4 climb with moderate exposure. The meta-igneous rock is generally quite grippy and solid.
- Simul-Climbing On Easy Mox Ridge
After 1/2 mile of ridge climbing, we came upon a row of pinnacles that blocked further progress on the crest. The summit tower could be seen about 200 yards away. Here, we down-climbed a 40-foot chimney to the left to reach a wide, sloping ledge, then traversed about 100 yards toward the summit tower.
- Summit Tower Of Easy Mox Peak
From below the summit tower, it was not clear where we needed to ascend. I led a Class 5 pitch up steep, sketchy rock that ended at a tiny notch between a sharp pinnacle and the summit tower. The others soon joined me. A belay/rappel anchor in the notch indicated that we were in the correct place, but I suspect that I hadn’t selected the easiest route up.
- Eileen Climbing Up To Easy Mox Summit
From the ridge notch, one long Class 3-4 pitch ended at the summit. Everyone was belayed up by 3:30pm (8.9 hours + 1900 feet from camp).
- Lisa & K.Ko On Easy Mox Peak Summit
We marveled at the views of Mt. Spickard, Mt. Redoubt, the Picket Range, and other peaks.
- Mt Redoubt From Easy Mox Peak Summit
- Picket Range From Easy Mox Summit
Immediately to the southeast, just across a glacial chasm, Hard Mox Peak still towered over us. Hmmm…It didn’t seem to be laying back much from this angle.
- Hard Mox Peak From Easy Mox Peak Summit
Following a 20-minute stay, we started our descent. Two single-rope rappels got us down to the wide ledge, then we used our roped simul-climbing technique to work back down the long ridge crest. At the ridge saddle, we set up a double-rope rappel from the highest anchor.
- Setting Up Rappel From Easy Mox Ridge
Fortunately, one double-rope rappel was just enough to reach the glacier below.
- K.Ko Rappelling From Easy Mox Peak Ridge
Once on the glacier, we retrieved our stashed gear and made the long traverse back to camp, arriving shortly before dark (5.3 hours from summit).
Day 4A – Southeast (“Hard”) Mox Peak Climb:
Eileen and I awoke at 5:30am, eager to tackle Hard Mox Peak. Everyone else had other plans for the day, so the two of us struck out alone at 7:10am on a long easterly traverse across the head of Redoubt Creek basin. About 1/2 hour ahead of us was a party of four climbers from Washington Alpine Club.
- Eileen Traversing Toward Hard Mox Peak On Day 4
After nearly 2 miles of contouring moderately steep snow slopes, we turned left and headed up to Col of the Wild, which separates the two Mox peaks. Most of this ascent was on snow, but the last 100 feet was on horribly unstable talus over loose sand. We reached the col after an exhausting grovel (1.7 hours + 1050 feet from camp).
- Eileen Heading Up To Col Of The Wild
From Col of the Wild, we ascended rightward on a series of Class 2 ledges and ramps that led past a snow finger, into a higher col, over a steep Class 4 headwall, and up a long series of Class 2-3 ledges. The purpose of all this zigzagging was to gain a key notch in the Ridge of Gendarmes.
- Scrambling Up To Gendarme Notch
From the gendarme notch (2.8 hours + 1500 feet from camp), we earned a new view of Hard Mox Peak. It was a frightening sight, and I couldn’t visualize how we could possibly climb this beast.
- Hard Mox Peak From Gendarme Notch. Still not laying back.
With no particular hope for success but a whole day available, we worked down the eastern side of the Ridge of Gendarmes on another series of Class 2-3 ledges, following ducks as best we could. Although the climbing wasn’t difficult, the rock was very loose and the exposure was very high. To the north, we could see the W.A.C. foursome scrambling out of a deep gully. At one point, a climber dislodged a cluster of boulders that went cascading down the gully. I think all six of us were equally alarmed by this.
- Descending East Ledges To Snow Chute
Eileen and I managed to angle downward to a snow chute, which we then down-climbed for 100 feet to a small rock shoulder. Here, we stashed axes, crampons, and boots, then donned rock sneakers and roped up. I led one pitch up the next gully over but eventually became wigged out by the steep, loose rock and poor protection. It was extremely stressful climbing, and we were ready to quit for the day. However, while retreating from that pitch, I spotted a rappel sling around a horn to my right (north). I was able to traverse a small ledge over to the sling, and then I belayed Eileen up to join me. We were pleased to find ourselves on a blocky rib that seemed to offer easy Class 3-4 scrambling. Eileen took the lead and quickly gained about 300 feet of elevation on the rib and in a higher gully.
- Eileen Scrambling Up To High Notch
In short order, we found ourselves at a high notch immediately beneath the summit tower (6.4 hours + 2250 feet from camp). The W.A.C. group had already summited and was in the process of rappelling down the face directly above us. For the first time in the past 2 hours, we felt that we were actually on route!
Our first climbing pitch out of the high notch went up a black-and-white mottled, Class 5 rock face. Although quite steep and exposed, I found the rock to be fairly solid and enjoyable. This pitch ended at a blocky horn wrapped with rappel slings. I got some good route beta from the W.A.C. climbers, who were rappelling off this horn.
- Summit Tower Of Hard Mox Peak From High Notch
The next Class 5 pitch went straight up to a brow of white rock, then curved to the left and back around to the right above the brow. The exposure was breathtaking, and the rock was disconcertingly loose. I was very happy to reach a solid anchor horn at the end of this pitch.
- Eileen Belaying On Second Summit Pitch
- Eileen Climbing Second Summit Pitch
The third and final pitch went up a blocky rib, then across the summit ridge. Most of this climbing was only Class 3-4, but I placed protection due to the exposure and questionable rock quality. From here, it was strange to look down and see the Col of the Wild directly below Eileen’s belay ledge; it had taken us over 5 hours to cover that seemingly short distance!
- Eileen Belaying On Third Summit Pitch; Col Of The Wild Is Near Top Of Photo
We topped out at 3:25pm (8.3 hours + 2550 feet from camp). Given the route-finding errors we’d made along the way, this felt like a respectable summit time for us.
- Jim & Eileen On Hard Mox Peak Summit
We ate, drank, and soaked up the summit views for 1/2 hour. There was a strong feeling that we would never be here again…not on purpose, anyway!
- Jack Mtn & Mt Prophet From Hard Mox Summit
Easy Mox Peak, directly across the glacial chasm, seemed almost benign in comparison with our vantage point. But looks can be deceiving, as we know.
- Mt Redoubt & Easy Mox Peak From Hard Mox Peak Summit
The summit register included a photocopy of the 1941 first-ascent entry by Fred and Helmy Beckey. We were completely humbled to see that they had summited this peak at 12:00 noon–with zero beta!
- Summit Register With Historical First Page
We began descending at 4:00pm. Three single-rope rappels were required to get us down to the high notch. I went first on the initial two rappels, and Eileen went first on the final rappel.
- Eileen Rappelling Off Hard Mox Peak Summit
About an hour after leaving the summit, we were both down at the high notch. Minutes earlier, I had spotted the W.A.C. group finishing their climb back up the Ridge of Gendarmes and crossing through the gendarme notch. Seeing them disappear over the ridge gave me a momentary sense of being very alone on this remote peak. But Eileen and I would be only a couple hours behind them and, if all went smoothly, would make it back to camp before dark. We were eager to share adventure stories with our comrades in camp. A surprisingly relaxed and happy mood surrounded us at the high notch. Then lightning struck.
Having rappelled first on our final rappel, Eileen was sitting on a small rock at the high notch, sorting gear into our two summit packs. We started pulling down the rappel rope. It was a pretty straight line into the notch, so I didn’t expect any problems. The rope pulled smoothly for most of the length but then got hung up just before the tail-end fell freely, about 25 feet above us. Eileen gave it a few tugs from her sitting position, to no avail. Then I gave it two tugs, but it was still stuck.
Not wanting to spend time climbing back up the wall, I was determined to pull the rope down. I gave it one more yank with all my weight. This time, the rope broke free–along with the rock that it had been stuck on. The elastic stretch in the rope acted like a slingshot to propel the rock downward. We both saw the rock flying towards us; it was angular, and about the size and shape of a cigar box. We had only a split second to brace for impact.
I felt the rock graze my right arm just before it crashed into Eileen’s lap. It simultaneously struck her on top of the right knee and gouged the inside of her left knee. The impact force was high enough to break the rock into several pieces. After what seemed like a long pause, Eileen began screaming in agony.
Day 4B – Escape From Hard Mox Peak:
Eileen’s howls of anguish probably continued for only a minute, but it seemed much longer. She momentarily drifted into pain-induced shock but then pulled back out. Even without knowing the nature of her injuries, I instantly felt a sense of despair. I knew we were in a horrible predicament. We had just climbed what was probably the most convoluted route I’d ever done, and I could not imagine a worse location in which to get seriously hurt than the hign notch on Hard Mox.
When Eileen’s pain abated slightly, we rolled up her pant legs to assess the damage. She had a deep laceration on her left knee and a large bruise on her right knee. Blood was spilling down her left leg and saturating her sock. To our dismay, we also discovered that we’d left our first aid kit in camp. We had to come up with an improvised wound compress using a bandana and pack straps. It was crude but effective.
With the bleeding slowed down, we assessed her mobility. We down-climbed a short distance, but right away it became obvious that she could not scramble and could just barely walk. We would need to rappel the entire 400 vertical feet of gully. I set up an initial rappel using a runner over a small horn, then rappelled down a full rope length. While Eileen carefully rappelled down to join me, I quickly found another horn and got the next rappel set up. We repeated this procedure for six or seven long rappels down the gully. There were only two established rappel anchors available to us, so the others needed to be improvised rapidly—slinging runners over rock humps, jamming runner knots in a crack, whatever I could find. They were not “rap station” quality anchors but were sufficiently robust for our purposes.
Our last rappel got us down to the rock shoulder where we had stashed our axes, crampons, and boots. Here, we took some time to add more compression to Eileen’s wound, using fleece gloves and webbing. Even still, blood pumped out every time she flexed her knee, so we immobilized the joint using a prusik sling and a carabiner. One of our milestone goals was to reach the Col of the Wild by nightfall, and we now knew it was going to be close. Eileen used our In-Reach satellite messaging device to notify Jim A, our ground man back home, that we’d encountered trouble on the peak. We didn’t know it at the time, but Jim A immediately set in motion a rescue operation.
From the rock shoulder, I quickly climbed up the snow chute and then belayed Eileen up. At the transition from snow to rock, I took off her crampons and let her scramble up with one leg while I packed away our snow gear. There was a large blood stain on the snow where she had been standing; the next climbing party was in for a surprise.
Our 200-foot climb back up the east ledges on the Ridge of Gendarmes was slow and agonizing for Eileen. She was able to step up only on her right leg; her left leg would bear weight but not flex. At 8:30pm (4.4 hours from summit), we crossed through the gendarme notch and began the next phase of our escape from Hard Mox: a 400-foot descent to Col of the Wild. This required unconventional climbing techniques. At each of the many Class 2-3 steps, Eileen would sit down and I would lower her on a tensioned rope. Our system actually worked surprisingly well but was very slow–in addition to taking a serious toll on the seat of her trousers. One additional rappel was needed to get over the gully headwall, followed by more tensioned down-sliding. We stumbled into the col at 9:45pm (5.7 hours from summit) just as darkness fell over us.
The terrain between Col of the Wild and our camp was much easier than what we’d already done, but now we were working against pitch darkness (it was a moonless night) and fatigue. We donned headlamps and descended from the col using our same technique of Eileen sliding down while I kept tension on the rope. The first rope length was on sand and loose rocks, then the next five rope lengths were on steep snow. This was not as steep and dangerous as the epic descent in “Touching the Void,” but the concept was identical—and I never had to cut the rope.
The last phase of our escape involved a 2-mile-long traverse across open snow slopes. I kept Eileen on a short, snug rope so that she could use two trekking poles rather than an ice axe. It was agonizingly slow for her, having to stride with her right leg and then swing her left leg forward like a dead weight. The numerous bands of unstable talus along the way were especially difficult and frustrating. I heard every moan and groan of her pain but could do nothing for her. The darkness also made it impossible to gauge our progress, and it seemed like we walked for 5 miles! Eileen’s ordeal finally came to an end at 1:40am (9.6 hours from summit), when we took the last step onto our campsite rocks.
Lisa and K.Lo saw our headlamp beams and came out to meet us, sensing that there had been trouble. (George and K.Ko had departed for home earlier in the day.) We tried our best to describe our accident and current status. Then Lisa, an experienced nurse, sprung into action. She got Eileen laid out in our tent and went about tending to her injuries. Her soothing voice, her gentle touch, and her confident efficiency lended a reassuring calm to the situation, and Eileen could finally let her emotions flow out. Meanwhile, K.Lo fired up a stove and made sure we both got fed and hydrated.
After much discussion regarding Eileen’s condition and increasing lack of mobility, we made a group decision to push the SOS button on our In-Reach satellite messaging device. Somewhere around 3:00am, we crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep.
Day 5 – Evacuation and Initial Exit:
At 7:30am, I became aware of numerous beeping sounds in our tent. A few minutes later, Lisa appeared in our tent doorway and notified us that our In-Reach device had been receiving messages. Eileen checked the device and found multiple text messages from both Search & Rescue people and Kevork at National Park Service. They were inquiring about our situation. Eileen was able to answer all questions, and they eventually informed us that a helicopter was being mobilized from Mt. Rainier. Over the next several hours, we were able to communicate with the various rescue personnel while getting Eileen ready for evacuation.
At 12:40pm, a bright yellow helicopter circled overhead and landed a mere 25 yards from our camp. Two park rangers, Eric and Will, got out of the ship, along with two pilots. Eric and Will examined Eileen’s injuries and documented details of the accident. They eventually got her loaded into the ship (she could not walk at all by now, due to extreme swelling) along with her backpack.
- Lisa & Ranger Will & Eileen At Camp On Day5
- Rangers Eric & Will Carrying Eileen To Chopper
At 1:25pm, the helicopter lifted off and disappeared into the western sky. I fought back tears of relief, knowing that Eileen was now entering a chain of caring hands—from the park rangers to an ambulance medic to an emergency room crew to her friends Sarah and Jim A. By the time I would see her tomorrow, she would have much to tell.
- Rescue Chopper Departing From Redoubt Glacier Saddle
- Rescue Chopper Heading To Marblemount
It was eerily still in camp after the chopper departed. Lisa and K.Lo and I quietly finished packing up and then began our return to civilization. We descended the glacier to Ouzel Lake, then followed the climbers path back along upper Depot Creek, down the waterfall (making one rappel at the bottom) and then a short distance down lower Depot Creek. At 8:00pm (6.3 hours from high camp), we reached an informal campsite in deep forest below the waterfall, and here we stopped for the night. I threw my sleeping bag on the ground and quickly fell asleep under the towering fir trees.
Day 6 – Final Exit:
Our last day merely involved a 6-mile hike down Depot Creek, starting in cool morning air. At the border kiosk, we met two climbers who were just coming in for a long weekend. They mentioned hearing about an accident and helicopter rescue on the Redoubt Glacier. We provided a summary of the incident for them, and it made me feel oddly detached from the whole incident, as though we were talking about someone else. The remainder of the hike out was uneventful, and we reached our cars at 10:15am (3.3 hours from forest camp).
I arrived home in the late afternoon and found Eileen resting on the sofa, with the aid of pain medications and ice packs. She had extensive swelling in both knees, and an impressive track of stitches over her laceration, but was expected to be back on her feet within several weeks. We both hoped to be wiser from the lessons learned from our experience.
——————– Driving Map By Steph Abegg ——————–
——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–