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North America, United States, Washington, Cascade Range, Summit Chief Mountain, Alpine Chicken

Summit Chief Mountain, Alpine Chicken. Alpine ice climbing in Washington is so suck. From time to time, however, the weather does conspire to create decent enough conditions to grovel one’s way up a face using crampons and ice tools. Such was the case in early spring as Rolf Larsen and I set off for an unclimbed line on the north face of Summit Chief.

Rolf and I thrutched up the first ice runnel for five pitches, enduring nearly constant spindrift bombardment from the snowfield above. The going on this lower section was mostly near-vertical and the most sustained portion of the climb. The climbing was never too desperate, but scary, as it often felt like the whole ice sheet would rip right off the face. And frequently parts of it did as the leader climbed past, making the climbing twice as hard for the follower. Belays and pro were hard to find and mostly involved the occasional screw, as well as scraping off a lot of ice and snow to find poor blade placements in the crumbly rock.

By early afternoon we reached the snowfield in the middle of the face. We were thankful to be past the source of the spindrift but now stared at an imposing blank section of steep, protectionless choss that held little snow and less ice. The pure line would continue through this choss, but I suggested to Rolf that we lacked a strong bargaining platform and might want to compromise. We traversed right to the adjacent runnel.

From there a couple of easier long pitches got us to the ridge. A manageable mixed pitch and a bold lead by Rolf up an extremely chossy runout arête got us back on our intended line, above the scary pitch we skipped. A few more lower-angle pitches of steep snow took us to a spot on the summit ridge where a steep pyramid of rock stood between the true summit and us. With the afternoon sun sinking low, but us still a hundred feet below the summit, Rolf and I called it a day.

After a short rappel down the south side of the peak, some downclimbing, and a traverse, we reached the rappel anchor established by Dave and Colin the weekend before during their first ascent of the face. The rest of the descent was straightforward and we made it back to our bivy before dark. We decided to call our climb Alpine Chicken (IV 5.8 AI3+).

Peter Hirst, A AC