American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Montana, North Face of A Peak, Cabinet Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1963

North Face of A Peak, Cabinet Range. The Libby Quadrangle Map of the USGS shows the elevation of A Peak to be 8634 feet. This is the second point in the range, the highest being Snowshoe Peak, about a mile to the southeast. The map also shows the summit to be a “triangulation point or transit-traverse station”, which probably accounts for the name “A” Peak. Its north face drops 4051 feet into Granite Lake, though the talus and dirt slope at the base accounts for nearly 1500 feet of the height. The rock is a type of limestone and is, for the most part, very sound. In places it has been worn so smooth that no holds can be found, while in others they are so good that overhanging pitches can be climbed with comparative ease. After two previous unsuccessful attempts with Dean Millsap, I was joined by Dan Doody. We started in on the afternoon of August 24 on the 6-mile trail to Granite Lake. The next morning we rafted across the lake. After a very tiresome grind up the dirt and scree slope, we discovered that there was somewhat more snow than last year in the small snowfield at the base of the cliffs. On the first attempt Dean and I had to make a very difficult 100-foot lead to gain access to the face, but this time we could ascend in the bergschrund, chimney-style between the snow and rock, about 200 feet to the east of that pitch. The first 300 feet were moderate and we did not rope until we reached the base of a long, vertical chimney. Since this did not look inviting, I led the face to the left for about 50 feet and brought Dan up, who, after a futile attempt to climb higher, led a very delicate traverse around the corner to the left and up to a good stance. We had not started on the rock until 12:45, but we were making good progress. About 800 feet up we arrived at a grassy ledge leading over to the big couloir which divides the face. Dan led out and up to the right for a rope length, hoping to find easier going. Since this could be continued only with aid, we rappelled back to the ledge and scrambled up to a horizontal niche. Although not very level, it turned out to be a good bivouac site.

As the sun began to brighten the tops of the surrounding mountains, we set off up the grassy ledge to the big couloir, where a small stream provided water for our canteens. We proceeded up the same route that Dean and I had previously taken, namely up the right wall of the couloir. On mostly 5.5 to 5.7 going we soon arrived at the point where our last year’s route went around the corner to the right and out onto the face. To avoid our previous difficulties, Dan continued directly up the right wall of the couloir using a combination crack and open chimney, a traverse across a blank wall, followed by another crack ending in a very difficult and awkward double jam crack. Instead of easing off as we had hoped, the angle became steeper and was very nearly vertical by now. The weather, which had been warm and sunny during the morning, turned cloudy, cold and threatening. We alternated the next two leads, which brought us to a completely vertical section. We had earlier observed two or three gendarmes which we hoped to pass on the right. The square, flat top of the first of the gendarmes was now visible just below us and to the right, but the second completely blocked all routes to the right. Dan led straight up the face, a really fine lead. Some of the moves were on noticeably overhanging rock, but the rugosities and cracks in the limestone provided such excellent holds that it was possible to surmount the face without aid, although just above it two stirrups were required. This brought us to a small, relatively flat, grassy spot where, as it began to snow, we had lunch. We decided to traverse to the easier going to the west on a ledge system which led to the right, and we arrived at a spot where we could rappel down to the easier rock. The snow stopped but the wind came up and it was getting colder. Though we gave the direct line another try, it became obvious that we could not climb it without another night on the face. We rappelled 130 feet to the easier rock to our right. A broad band leads upward and to the east and terminates in a snowfield just below the highest gendarme, perhaps 300 feet under the summit. Once on this band, we made very good progress up the 3rd and 4th-class rock and attained the west ridge some 400 to 500 feet west of the summit. In strong winds and under a very cloudy sky, we arrived at the summit cairn at about 3:30 p.m.

William Echo

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