IO: Mountaineering in North Cascades NP (June, 2017)

Posted by Andrew L. on

Technically, this trip was only announced as an invite only trip to the other DC UL organizers and folks who I knew personally. Nonetheless, enough folks are aware of it that Iíve typed up a short trip report.

Prius, the Baconator, one friend from hiking, one friend from climbing and myself did a six day guided private outing. We hired the guides through IMG, which is one of the big guiding services in the pacific Northwest. The IMG office was easier to deal with this year, but still gave us occasional surprises, specifically assigning a different lead guide a week and a half before the start of the trip.

Thereís some overhead for the equipment check, getting to base camp and hiking out. As is typical, one blows the first day for equipment check and the hike in. At the end of the trip, the guides need to go on to other things, we ended up getting up at 5 am on Friday morning to hike out and release the guides for their weekend. So the six day trip was really four days of climbing or training. We lucked out with perfect weather, so did three days of climbing and one of training.

We ended up climbing Sahale peak, Sharks Fin Tower and Forbidden Peak from Boston Basin on the trip. Each are of increasing difficulty. The guides wanted a rest day between Sharks Fin and Forbidden Peak, so we did some gear placement and anchor building practice as a rest day. Summiting Forbidden Peak ended up taking about 15 hours round trip from the low camp once you include time to regroup, so it was probably a good judgement call by the lead guide to have the rest day. For the summit attempt on Forbidden Peak, Steve had already bailed due to an injury and one of the other hikers graciously hung out at camp for the day so as to let us climb at a 1:1 guide to client ratio.

Mountaineering is fun, but requires a lot of skill and physical fitness. We carried 50+ lbs packs into base camp. While I agree that the physical moves for the climbing was only 5.6, the exposure of climbing on a ridgeline while looking down 500+ feet to a glacier while the rope is just wrapped around a rock horn takes some getting used to, so isnít for everyone. In particular, while Matt was OK with having that as his first multi-pitch experience, itís probably prudent for most people to try following multi-pitch trad at Seneca or some other crag before doing so on a mountain thatís a ten hour hike from the trailhead, as thatís a lower expenditure of time and money.

My estimate is that I ended up spending between $3,000 and $3,500 on the trip. The fee to IMG + 20% tip was about $2k. Figure on $600 for the round trip airfare and $400 for lodging on the first night, rental car, shared group expenses, etc. I already own a lot of equipment, so didnít spend that much additional on equipment this year, but expect that cost to be higher if you donít. Naturally, itís a lot cheaper to do these trips if you can go with people who already know what they are doing, but itís prudent to be picky in who you go with as itís a higher risk activity than even just rock climbing.

DC UL is not a mountaineering club, however, by doing a number of VMO trips, one can build up the base fitness level for this activity. The local mountaineering club is PATC-MS. For the most part, even with PATC-MS, mountaineering trips are run as invite only affairs, which seems reasonable to me given the skills, fitness and risk required.


Jen posted on

Thanks for this, Andrew. It does sound like an amazing experience.