July 2-5, 2011

Wy’East Mountain (8280′+)
Black Tower (7880′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Independence Day Climbing Trip:  Stehekin Mountains

Starting Point: Holden Village & Tenmile Falls & Tenmile Creek & Tenmile Basin return via Tenmile Creek & Camp WTA  (hike)

Campsites: Tenmile Basin & Camp WTA

Sidetrip: South Black Tower Col & Fourth of July Basin  (snow climb)

Summit: Wy’East Mountain  (climb via Southeast Chute—Southeast Ridge; descent via Southwest Face)

Summit: Black Tower  (climb via Southwest Face)

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

This was the third consecutive Independence Day Weekend that Beth, Fay, Eileen, and I have spent hiking and climbing in the Stehekin Mountains.  This year, we were joined by Mike T, Kevin K, and George.  We enjoyed excellent snow-climbing conditions throughout our long weekend, thanks to a combination of mild weather and a remarkable La Nina snowpack.

Day 1:  We all met at Fields Point on Saturday morning and rode a fully loaded Lady of the Lake to Lucerne Landing, then took a shuttle bus up to Holden Village.  The village was bustling with holiday tourists of every age and size.  As has happened during my past climbing trips that jump off from Holden, I had the sensation of starting a grand expedition.  Perhaps this is what the beginning of a Himalayan climb feels like—except for the proliferation of Bermuda shorts and rolling Samsonites.  Anyway, after an hour of preparations (packing gear, stashing clean clothes, fetching water and ice cream, etc.) we were ready to head up the Tenmile Creek Trail in mid-afternoon heat.

A recent WTA trail crew had totally spruced up the first 2 miles of trail and had even built a high bypass to replace the annoying dip in the old trail.  Beyond “Camp WTA” at the 2-mile point, avalanche debris buried the trail in several locations, but we were able to stay on track until reaching trail’s end near Mile 3 (about 4750 feet).  We found an easy log crossing of Tenmile Creek, which was raging due to the heavy runoff, and then we worked up through dense forest to reach the upper trail at 5200 feet.  (Mike reported that a connector trail will be constructed in the next year or two, thereby eliminating this cross-country jaunt.)  We hiked the upper trail northwesterly to Tenmile Basin (4.3 hours from Holden), where we hoped to find graceful camping among the vast fields of glacier lilies.  But that was last year’s conditions;  this year, the basin was still 99 percent snow-covered!  We settled for camping on a snowy but pleasant knoll in the upper end of the basin.

Day 2:  We awoke to partly blue skies with puffy clouds scudding across, indicating stiff winds aloft.  The forecast called for cooler and windier weather with a chance of showers.  After breakfast, we all prepared summit packs and then marched up toward Hilgard Pass.  Mike and Fay split off for Sable Ridge, whereas the rest of us kicked steps straight up a winding snow couloir to a 7400-foot col on the south ridge of Black Tower.  Along the way, we passed a curious “rock row” consisting of five similarly sized stones sitting with near-perfect alignment and spacing.  Could this be a “pentalith” providing directions for space aliens?  Possibly.

Climbing Past Rock Row In Couloir

From the col, we quickly descended 800 feet into Fourth of July Basin to get under cliffs, then began a rising traverse toward Wy’East Mountain.  Here we got a face-on view of the mountain’s crenelated summit ridge and could identify the true summit pinnacle.  The thick snowpack made for easy travel and provided for several snowfinger options to gain the crest.  We opted for a dogleg-left snowfinger that terminated two pinnacles right (southeast) of the highest pinnacle.  A short scramble up to and around the southern base of the first pinnacle led to a Class 4 chimney that splits the first and second pinnacles.  We roped up for this pitch, which included a very airy step-around move (Class 5.0 perhaps) on the north side, then we scrambled solid Class 3 rock to the main summit (5.5 hours from camp).

Scrambling To Notch Near WyEast Summit

Group On WyEast Mountain Summit

Fay’s tube register was easy to find, but nobody else had signed in since her 2009 ascent.  John Roper’s 1984 film-can register was also there, and it showed an average of one party every 3 years.  Wy’East Mountain doesn’t garner the interest it deserves, probably due in part to the lack of an official name on the USGS map. Interestingly, Roper’s register entry referred to this summit as “Black Tower.”  It would appear that John got his peaks mixed up!  But hold on here…let’s not be so quick to pounce.  I vaguely recalled (and later verified) that the first edition of Cascade Alpine Guide listed this summit as “Black Tower” and placed the name “Wy’East Mountain” on the adjacent 8202-foot summit that is now known as “Wy’North Mountain.”  So, it turns out that Fred had it wrong, although he corrected the error in his next edition.

John Roper Summit Register On WyEast Mountain

We descended by downclimbing into the notch on the northwestern side of the summit pinnacle and then making a single-rope rappel to the head of a steep snowfinger.  From there, we traversed westerly to a broad snow couloir on the mountain’s western edge and glissaded down to meet our uptrack.  After ascending to the 7400-foot col, we were able to glissade most of the way into camp (3.0 hours from summit).  Mike and Fay weren’t there, and they still hadn’t returned from Sable Ridge by nightfall.  Kevin and I kept a campfire and strobe-light vigil throughout the evening.  It was a great relief to finally see their headlamps pop over Hilgard Pass shortly after 11:00pm.

Day 3:  Following a clear night, the snow was frozen hard in the morning.  We left camp with crampons, two ropes, and rock gear, all with a goal of climbing Black Tower.  Kevin and George also left camp with their full backpacks, because they not returning this way.  From Hilgard Pass, the available route beta was sketchy at best, but several of us had some notions resulting from our failed attempt last year.  We zig-zagged up a series of snowfields leading to the tower’s imposing southwestern face.

Climbing Towards Black Tower

From the tower base, it took all seven heads and much trial-and-error to tease out a route to the summit.  What eventually worked best was to traverse rightward around a narrow ledge just above the base, then scramble straight up a loose, slabby depression (almost a shallow gully) 200 feet until able to traverse farther right into an adjacent gully, ascend 50 feet, then traverse back to the left so as to gain a broad notch on the ridge crest.  The climb finished with an exposed Class 3 scramble up a rock rib adjacent to a large, 45-degree dihedral, followed by a stroll along the narrow summit ridge.  We topped out in early afternoon (3.6 hours from camp) and spent 90 minutes on the sunny, calm summit.  Fay left a small register with the expectation that this summit sees no more than one party every year or two.

Black Tower Summit Wave

For our descent, we rappelled or downclimbed to the upper gullies, picked our way down the loose rock, and later made one long rappel down the lower southwest face. This got us to the top of the highest snowfields, which then provided a quick descent toward Hilgard Pass.  Kevin and George parted ways near the pass, as they were planning to follow the Company Creek Trail to Stehekin.  The rest of us descended to camp, where Beth and Eileen and I packed up in preparation for a partial retreat back towards Holden that evening.  After dinner with Fay and Mike, we shouldered packs and headed down Tenmile Creek.  Beth did a nice job picking out a brush-free route directly to our log crossing, and we rolled into “Camp WTA” less than 2 hours after leaving high camp.

Day 4:  This day was about as relaxed as a moving day in the mountains can be.  We had only 2 miles to hike in order to reach Holden by 10:00am, and we made no particular haste in doing so.  The sun was very warm and the forest was alive with summer sounds.  And, of course, the village was awash with comers and goers.

Lady Approaching Dock

Later, on the dock at Lucerne, we waved good-bye to Beth as she boarded the Lady to Stehekin.  We also scrambled to get her backpack on board, since the boat crew seemed predisposed to loading it on the Express bound for Chelan!  But all worked out, and Eileen and I savored a sunny cruise down to Fields Point, with casual thoughts about where our next Lake Chelan adventure would occur.

Stats:  9700 feet gained and lost over 4 days.

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