American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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North America, United States, Washington, Blockhouse Tower

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1950

Blockhouse Tower. In the latter part of July 1949, having a couple of days to squander, Ralph Turman and I set out for the fine granite spires of the Cashmere Crags. To our surprise and regret, mosquitoes were out in very great force. Nevertheless, having eagerness, energy and an ample supply of blood, we tramped up Snow Creek to Nada Lake and then across country by the base of Mt. Temple’s E. peaks and N. to a fabulous spot called Edwards Plateau. This is at 7500 ft., just E. of Rat Creek and at the head of Hook Creek. It is level for about a mile square, covered with grassy alpine meadows and scattered tamarack and pine trees. Since the sun was sinking as we trudged across the plateau, we made camp.

The next morning we scampered down Hook Creek to the lower (or valley) base of Blockhouse Tower, which is on the ridge separating Hook and Rat Creeks.1 The Tower is a huge cube of granite which drops off almost vertically on all sides. It is about 400 ft. from the base of the ridge to the summit, and on the valley sides the sheer distances are just a long way. About 70 ft. below the true summit is an enormous platform on which is perched Rectiloid Tower. This block has been eyed as an objective for the future.

Our plan was to follow the ridge from the Hook to the ridge base of Blockhouse Tower. From here the route (if any) went up— we hoped. After changing into sneakers and selecting a vast assortment of climbing hardware, we proceeded to the ridge and advanced to the wall of the Tower. This part of the climb proved very enjoyable, with a minimum of exposure and still some interesting pitches, one of which consisted of a stem between a tree and a rock wall. Soon we arrived at a point where the rock took on a fantastic angle, both up and down. At the time, since the exposure had quickly increased, I was more interested in the down.

Ralph braved the first lead across the N.W. face and found a belay point at a small tree. He informed me that he could not be budged with a ten-ton truck. I believed these wonderful words at first; but, after glancing down almost 1000 ft. to Rat Creek, I wished for a truck to test him. I managed to reach him, however, safely and without too much difficulty. From here our route worked up three leads to a spacious ledge 100 ft. below the base of Rectiloid Tower. This bit presented various difficulties, including a pitch that required one piton for direct aid.

Then our hopes were almost smashed by a vertical wall. After carefully examining it and fixing an ultra-strong belay, I worked up an extremely steep V-shaped chimney. Good luck and an accommodating rock fracture made it possible, about half-way up, to plant a good piton. This protective measure allowed further advance, without undue risk, to an airy rock projection, about a foot square, 30 ft. below Rectiloid Tower. The length of our rope was such that we could not attempt this pitch with the belay on the relatively comfortable ledge below. It was evident that a new belay would have to be established on this exposed perch. Two pitons having rendered the place a little less precarious, we prepared to move on. Ralph suddenly realized that there was not a mosquito around. We concluded that exposure is superior to Oil of Citronella.

The pitch above us was an overhanging crack, seven inches wide. Seven inches will admit a foot and part of a shoulder; but a crack like that is not very roomy, and it is likely to create nasty problems if it overhangs. We were able first to gain eight feet by a rather wobbly, piton-belayed shoulder stand to a spot in almost holdless surroundings. The only possibility, it seemed, was a risky flake crack. I tried it with an aid piton which enabled me to get just enough height for a hopeful fingerhold and another direct-aid piton. A little muscle work brought us to the dance-floor ledge which held Rectiloid Tower—a block of granite about 40 ft. high, with walls unscalable save possibly by bolts. The best possibility would be a rope-throwing operation.

Our summit, Blockhouse, was still 75 ft. higher. From below, this last pitch had looked hard; but it proved to be surprisingly easy. There was a tricky slab on the summit block, but we soon reached the top. After laboring over a witty message for the cairn, we made the spectacular rappels downward and headed for home— a little low on both energy and blood.

P. Schoening

[We have before us, and reproduce herewith, two photographs that convey a stunning sense of the climbs accomplished in this area. —Ed.]

1 Cf. A.A.J., VII (Sept. 1949), 248–55, 341–3.

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