Ptarmigan Ridge - 2007

Ptarmigan Ridge Route Conditions - July 30th

RMI guide Clint Helander sent this thoughts on a recent attempt of Ptarmigan Ridge.

With a few days of high pressure in the air, we decided to go have a fun jaunt on Ptarmigan Ridge. We took care of logistics and arrived at Mowich Lake at about 9:15PM.

We had light packs since, intending to do a single push to the Disappointment Cleaver route. We made quick time to Spray Park and found the climber's trail heading towards the mountain; the mountain, btw, was illuminated by the full moon. We took a good break at ca. 8,400' before dropping down the left side of the ridge to make better time via the snow. We didn't rope up, but we did throw on our harnesses and rescue rack. We stayed close to the ridge and navigated without any difficulties, never feeling uncomfortable despite the sometimes steep and icy slopes. After an hour or so of elevation gain, we made it back to the ridge when the sun came up. The Stuart Range, Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan, and every other visible Cascade north of Rainier greeted us as we neared 10,300'.

We were prepared to take a short break and then begin the descent/traverse to the true start of the route but our hearts sank as we noted out path was through the “gun barrel” of death. To get on the route would be irresponsible and not worth the dire and deathly consequences. While snow still lined most of the route, the route was still covered with immense signs of rockfall and icefall. Most notably was the traverse under the 11,5K buttress (where the two variations begin). Even that left couloir variation was splattered with rockfall and icefall/slides. We explored every option from the Ice Cliff (Beckey) variation to the Mowich, but our time was up. We took a short nap and watched the Willis Wall rip a few times before descending.

It took us less than 8 hours to reach the 10,300' level and we had expected it to take roughly 24 hours in total. Next year, I guess.
For a party still looking to do the route, it could probably be done, but it would be wise to be at the 10,300' level in the afternoon and then hit the shrund at midnight, giving them optimal protection from the inevitable rockfall that is currently present on the stretches of the route under 12,500'.

On the way out, we were startled to see a FRESH slide on the left variation of the route (the ice couloir). Our minds raced as we wondered if it had occurred that morning, but it was clear that it was VERY new. It shined in the sun as we hit Spray Park and it was a clear sign that this route is not only physically and technically challenging, but extremely mentally challenging as well. We met two friends in the parking lot who were going to attempt the route as well. They ended up camping at 8,400' and paralleled our thoughts of the current route conditions.

Disappointing as it was to not even get on the fun parts of the route, it was a great trip with tremendous friends and will surely be attempted under better conditions next year with improved times and even lighter packs. Fresh ski tracks on the Russell and lots of hikers on the trail. Just goes to show that a summit isn't always the only reward of climbing.

July 8th

Another report of Sky Sjue.

Dan and I climbed Ptarmigan Ridge and descended the Edmunds Headwall this weekend. We left Mowich Lake Sunday morning at 1:45 am.

Ptarmigan Ridge was in great shape on Sunday. Lovely snow, big exposure, plus some ice and "snice" made for exhilarating climbing to the upper rock buttress. We took the climber's left variation and braved possible flak from Liberty Cap Glacier. Only one pitch was really exposed to the objective hazard, but it went quickly with wonderful plastic blue ice. It was that one-stick wonder where your pick goes "thunk" and visions of world peace fill your head. We belayed four pitches from the buttress to the mellow upper Liberty Cap Glacier. The fourth pitch featured a few tenuous vertical steps on rotten vertical bulges - unprotectable and heady, but not too difficult. Liberty Cap Glacier was easy to navigate to Liberty Cap, albeit arduous with never-ending rolling slopes toward the top, late in a long day.

We were hoping for good conditions to make a quick ski descent of the Edmunds Headwall. I made turns off the top on perfect corn, but became increasingly wary of blue glacier ice lurking beneath the corn. Sidestepping got old after several hundred feet so I changed into crampons - always fun to hack a platform and exchange gear on a fifty degree slope with blue ice. We donwclimbed the Edmunds Headwall because it wasn't in good condition to ski. It is, however, in excellent condition for an exciting climb. We reached the North Mowich Glacier by scrambling on some rock to get to a good bridge over the bergschrund on climber's left of the left rabbit ear. Photo of ice sections (climbers right variation).

We left our shoes by some rocks above 9,000 ft on the Russell Glacier, so I had the great pleasure of climbing more scree than usual up Ptarmigan Ridge. Dan and I parted ways on the Russell Glacier, where he was going to take a nap and wait for the snow to soften. I wanted to get home in time for an afternoon meeting at the lab, so I skied the Russell and hiked through Spray Park to reach my car by 11:30 am. Spray Park is really beautiful right now - the avalanche lilies are in bloom. This was a very engaging 34-hour push.

July 4th

Yet another fantastic route report with photos, by Joe Sambataro.

Einar Osterhaug and I climbed Ptarmigan Ridge on July 3rd to make up for last year's faded plans. With all the recent trip reports and with a week off, we felt hopeful to climb Ptarmigan. Despite Mowich Lake Road opening up June 28th, we went in via White River to avoid a car shuttle as there were only 2 of us. Leaving late on Sunday, we took a leisurely approach and camped at Glacier Basin the first night. We finished the approach to Point 10310 up St. Elmo's Pass and across the Winthrop, Curtis Ridge, Carbon, and Russell on the second day. Conditions were still good for the traverse.

After a windy (and sandy) evening at our bivy spot, we packed and headed up around 4:45 a.m. We took the standard start across the shrund (still easily crossable) and tended left. At the standard traverse into the gully system, we traversed high directly under the large roof. Einar belayed me out on snice and loose rock while I looked down at the easy snow traverse we could have taken (see photo of route and traverse). We pitched/simuled the right variation with some fine sections of snow and ice (see photo of Einar leading up right side). The short rock step provided some fun hooking on solid rock--I clipped the fixed pin and got a knifeblade higher on the left (see photo below on left).

Once on the lower Liberty Cap Glacier around 2:00 p.m., we unfortunately encountered 1-2 feet of unsettled, windblown softpack, most likely due to the snowfall earlier in the week when Paradise got 4" of new snow. It was slow going trying to plow through so we opted to bivy at 13,000' on the western end of Liberty Cap Glacier out of the wind (see photo lower right). One day short of seeing all the fireworks in the cities below, we finished the climb to Liberty Cap and descent via the Emmons back to the car and home.

Overall, the approach and route conditions were in great shape despite the relatively high freezing levels of 13 k. As for gear, we carried 2 pickets, 2 flukes, 4 screws, 4-5 stoppers, and 2 shorty knifeblades.

June 26th

Here is a close up aerial image taken on June 26th by Stoney Richards of the Ptarmigan Ridge crux, above the North Mowich Icefall. The route is still looking quite good for climbing.

June 21st

Presently the Mowich Lake Road is still closed (FYI, now it's open), adding approximately 4 miles to the approach to Ptarmigan if coming from the northwest side of the mountain. To mitigate this, a number of parties have been approaching the climb from White River, traversing the lower Winthrop and Carbon Glaciers to access lower Ptarmigan Ridge from the east. This approach remains in good shape. There is a solid boot track (made by Liberty Ridge teams) all the way from St. Elmo's pass to the Carbon Glacier. From there, straightforward ramps lead across the glacier and safe snowfields ascend to Ptarmigan Ridge at its 9,000' point. At some stage enough snow will melt that this approach may become more difficult and/or exposed to rockfall, but it should last a few more weeks at the least.

This approach route to Ptarmigan makes sense as it can help avoid a cumbersome car shuttle, assuming you descend the Emmons Glacier back to White River. Parties continue to routinely descend from their Liberty Ridge climb to the DC and Camp Muir by accident, at Columbia Crest mistaking the well-trodden DC for the barely noticeable Emmons route. Try not to do that if your car is at White River.

Photo by Tim Matsui, Dan Aylward leading out from Ptarmigan Ridge high camp towards the rock bands below 11,500 feet.

~Report by Paul Charlton, NPS

For more information on Ptarmigan Ridge, see our spring 2007 achieved conditions