Forgotten Alpine Ice Cascade Testpieces (FACTs)

A Lifetime of Adventure

This post is dedicated to all the tough, rugged alpinists who were willing to explore, get beat up, and pioneer all these incredible routes.

The two most famous (non-volcanic) alpine ice routes in Washington are ironically two routes that usually involve relatively little actual ice climbing. These routes are, respectively, the NE Buttress of Chair Peak and Triple Couloirs on Dragontail Peak. These were naturally two of my first alpine ice routes and see frequent attempts each year.

After climbing both of these classic routes, I started to wonder what else was out there. And so I retreated into the depths of CascadeClimbers.com and found a plethora of big alpine ice routes, largely dating from the heyday of Cascade ice in the early 2000s. They were climbed once or twice, then dropped off the map into the archives, left to rot. Most were not terribly difficult or remote, but definitely adventurous in character. There would be no asking on Facebook for current conditions, but that’s half of the fun: not knowing what you’ll get until you’re there.

The beautiful East Face Gully of Sperry. I made an attempt over Thanksgiving 2019, but conditions were not quite right. I’ll definitely be back.

To help revive some of these climbs, I’ve compiled this list of “forgotten” alpine ice Cascade testpieces, or FACTs. To attempt any of these is obviously a far more serious adventure than lapping Chair or some classic, but could prove a worthwhile experience for a team with the right attitude and skill set. This is just a starting point, so feel free to comment and suggest other routes I missed and should be added to the list!

Disclaimer: alpine climbing is dangerous and involves risks. Avalanches, falling, and inclement weather are all hazards to be aware of. This is merely a list of existing climbs, not advice on how to safely climb them. For some discussion about predicting conditions, see my post on The Hunt For Ice.

I90

I90 climbs offer the best access and easiest conditions to predict. There are undoubtedly many more climbs to be discovered in this area with easy access, generally good rock, and surprisingly rugged little mountains.

  • Mt. Kent, North Face (multiple variations): the greatest north face in the Snoqualmie region with many long 1000 ft lines. Bonus: you can see conditions from I90 near exit 42 while driving west! This has been super high on my list to explore.
  • Snoqualmie Mt, North Face (multiple variations): an abundance of mixed ice lines like the classic New York Gully and the lesser known Pineapple Express and Blue Moon.
  • Abiel Peak, North Face (multiple variations): the “Ben Nevis” of the PNW has many shorter alpine ice and mixed lines.
  • Bryant Peak, Hot Tubbs: Maybe this route hasn’t been around long enough since Jacob and I published it, but it reportedly hasn’t seen much action, so I think it’ll be forgotten soon enough…
  • Summit Chief Mountain, North Face: Colin Haley said this line had “more ice climbing than any other Cascade ice climb” he had ever done at the time. Big compliment. The North Face is much like Dragontail, just fatter.
  • Peak 3964, False Idol: An incredible 10 pitch ice route off the Middle Fork Snoqualmie that needs very cold temps to form. I believe this is just scratching the surface of the ice potential in the Middle Fork.

US2

US2 offers some hotspots like the Stuart Range, with its steep granite peaks, and a sprinkling of other incredible routes in the Lake Wenatchee area. Weather is generally colder and drier on the east side, which is good for ice.

Mountain Loop

Close to Seattle but tragically overlooked, the peaks of the Mountain Loop are as rugged as anywhere in the North Cascades but with surprisingly decent winter access. The myriad of big climbs in this little region speaks volume to the incredible terrain.

  • Big Four Mt, North Face (multiple variations): multiple routes, including the famous Spindrift Couloir. This is a mighty north face, and routes often take multiple days.
  • Hall Peak, North Face: little brother to Big Four supposedly has some ice routes.
  • Three Fingers, NE Face: This is a big route on a surprisingly big mountain. I believe there’s much more potential on the east side of Three Fingers.
  • Whitechuck Mt, E Face Couloir: A very aesthetic couloir ice/mixed route. Access can be challenging unless it is a very low snow year.
  • Whitehorse Mt, E Couloir: This steep route splits the Squire Creek Headwall for a fantastic line. I think it might even be visible from Darrington?!
  • Sperry Peak, E Face Gully: Another beautiful, long, moderate ice/mixed route that likely varies in technicality from fall to spring.
  • Sloan Peak, Full Moon Fever: This route climbs the weakness on the NW Face of Sloan. Having been at the base, I can say there is HUGE potential all over the place near the route.
  • Sloan Peak, Superalpine: I certainly hope this climb isn’t forgotten, as Porter and I believe it is truly the best moderate alpine ice route we have climbed in the Cascades (better than Cosley Houston or the NW Couloir of Eldorado), but I know how things go around here…
  • Lake 22 Headwall: who would think that one of the greatest alpine walls in the Cascades was just a short hour drive and hike from Seattle? There are so many unclimbed 2000 ft lines up this face, and you can get conditions updates by searching Instagram!

Highway 20

Highway 20 undoubtedly has many huge ice lines, but difficult winter access has limited exploration. During lower snow years, the Cascade River Road could be a great area for exploration and development.

  • Eldorado Peak, NW Ice Couloir: This route was sort of “remembered” in Fall 2019 when probably 20 parties climbed it (me included), but it’s a fantastic easier route, so I’ll leave it here.
  • Colonial Peak, North Face (multiple routes): The mega line Watusi Rodeo offers 4000 ft of front point terrain and is “easily” accessible all winter. First Date is another attractive route.
  • Pyramid Peak, NE Face (multiple routes): Home to some challenging mixed/ice routes on a wonderfully aesthetic peak.
  • Davis Peak, No Milkshakes: the north face of Davis Peak is supposedly the steepest vertical mile drop in Washington.
  • Graybeard, North Face: Everyone seems to report this deceptively big route deepened their sense of mortality.
  • Silver Star, West Face Couloir: Originally planned as a ski descent, it actually turned out to be a huge ice climb! Visible from the highway, but you probably need a sled to get up there.
  • Cutthroat Peak, Cauthorn Wilson: Gaining popularity lately, can be climbed right before the highway closes or after it opens.
  • Early Winters Couloir: This one is sort of a classic and can be climbed in both fall and spring.

Highway 542

The areas around Baker and Shuksan are generally well explored, but still offer great adventure. The Black Buttes are one of the centerpieces for hard alpine ice climbing.

Mt. Rainier / Tatoosh

This area is dominated by the mountain, but I’m guessing the Tattosh have good stuff and certainly easy access.

Mt. Hood

I don’t know much about Hood, but I’m sure there are some great routes that are infrequently climbed, so I’ll take suggestions here!

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