American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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North America, United States, Washington, Cascade Mountains, Witch Doctor Wall

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1970

Witch Doctor Wall. Aerial photography has illuminated the few remaining “secrets” of the North Cascades, but a newly cut logging road south of Darrington led to the ‘discovery’ of a marvelous 75° granite wall, which rises 1100-feet. It can be seen from the summit of Jumbo. The wall forms the east flank of a northwest spur of Helena Peak, the spur peak simply marked 4235 on the topographic map. It is as well hidden as a face can be, for flanking summits and crooked valley patterns keep it well out of view. Interestingly enough, the low summit point of this spur had likely never been reached before 1969, and is quite possibly the most difficult 4000-foot summit in the state; we are not certain what the easiest route to its top would be, but nothing simple has been apparent to date.

An exploration in the fall of 1968 led to the discovery of a simple route to the base, as well as the seemingly classic route near the center of the wall. Weather was disagreeable, and after doing two pitches we decided dry rock was essential. David Wagner, Thom Nephew, and I made the climb on July 17 and 18. We repeated the “running leap”, downward from a dead-end ledge to a groove. From there on, the route nearly alternates pitches: an aid pitch followed by a free one. The discovery of a solitary, very thin face crack up what looked like a certain blank wall allowed us to keep the bolt bag in the rucksack for the entire climb. Loose blocks on the fifth pitch almost caused a “let’s go down” vote, but fortunately the rock above suddenly improved. A vertical wall festooned with cedars required some interesting techniques with tie-off loops; somehow, the growth seemed more permanent than the blocks. An entire pitch of exposed nailing was followed by the alternating free pitch; this one included another “leap”, but this time from tree to tree. Above here the rock became more massive with very little growth. Jam-cracks, friction, and confident nailing concluded the difficulties. We scrambled south to the point of 4235, and there encountered mild panic attempting to traverse the narrow teeth leading toward Helena. Racing a rapidly descending sun, we gave up on that and made a series of fast rappels down the western slabs. NCCS V, F7,A3.

Fred Beckey

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