AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

North America, United States, Washington, Cascade Mountains, Soviet Climbing in the Cascades

Soviet Climbing in the Cascades. After their successful return from Alaska the Soviet team enjoyed a couple of days of “R&R” in Seattle. Then their attention turned to the mountains of the Cascade Range. During the weekend of June 11 and 12, Sergei Efimov and Alexei Lebedehin, accompanied by Yosemite veteran Chuck Kroger, headed off into the North Cascades for an attempt up the classic Liberty Crack route on the east face of Liberty Bell Mountain. When they arrived at the base of the face, they were dismayed to find another team already attempting the route. Fortunately, it started to rain heavily and the climbers on the face decided to rappel off. Kroger took the first lead up the nearly vertical wall. Efimov’s lead took him over the twelve-foot-deep, 190° roof of the second pitch. Lebedehin’s pitch involved the delicate A-4 section of the route. The climbing gained momentum with the fourth pitch as the threesome swung leads. After nine hours of climbing they reached the top: a remarkable time for this Grade V climb, considering that the two Soviet climbers claimed that they were “out of their element” on such a technical route. During the same weekend Eduard Myslovsky, Vladimir Shatayev, Valia Ivanov and Oleg Borisenok chose to traverse Mount Rainier. They packed their packs with enough provisions and equipment for a minor expedition. When I suggested that the mountain did not justify such heavy packs and that they certainly did not need tents weighing sixteen pounds, Shateyev replied that it is difficult to play cards in small tents and impossible with no tent at all! Early Saturday afternoon, I dropped them off at the trailhead of the Carbon River Campground (2600 feet). We reported to the Park rangers that this team would climb the mountain via the beautiful Liberty Ridge, traverse the summit (14,410 feet) and descend to Paradise via the Success Cleaver route: a two-day undertaking, normally. The Park Service was quite surprised to see the team appear at the Paradise Ranger Station the following afternoon. A couple of days later the Soviet team, Mark Fielding and I set off on a ten-day trip to the Picket Range. After a day and a half of hiking over Sourdough Ridge we descended into McMillan Creek Basin: a magnificent cirque of rugged peaks, tumbling glaciers, streams and waterfalls. We established camp at 3600 feet and felt dwarfed by the many summits towering 5500 feet above us. On June 19 Shatayev, Myslovsky, Ivanov and Borisenok undertook the second ascent of the 2300-foot north face of East McMillan Spire. Efimov, Lebedehin, Fielding and I set off to attempt the unclimbed north face of Inspiration Peak. The face is one of the shortest (1500 vertical feet) yet one of the steepest in the Cirque. At my suggestion, we left hammer and pitons behind and relied totally on American and Soviet “clean hardware” for protection. As usual, at the base of the face, the two Soviet climbers stuffed their heavy alpine boots into their rucksacks and put on tight-fitting “galoshes.” Fielding, who had just returned from several grade V and VI climbs in Yosemite Valley, roped up with Efimov. I shared the rope with Lebedihin. After about eighteen pitches of strenuous free climbing (almost every lead involved F8 or F9 moves) we reached the precipitous summit in dense clouds. The descent involved complicated traverses and rappels. We were benighted before reaching camp. The following day, while resting in deteriorating weather, we decided to head home earlier than planned. Back on Sourdough Ridge we found ourselves at the mercy of high winds and horizontal rain. After searching a long time for level tent sites the situation appeared to become distressing (for the comfort-loving group that we were). In diminishing daylight, Ivanov, looking wet and miserable, exclaimed in his limited English: “McKinley: no problem. North Cascades: problem!” The Soviet team departed for Moscow on June 26 after extending sincere invitations to meet again in the mountains of the USSR.

Alex Bertulis