Inspiration Peak, East Ridge

July 30-August 2, 2007/ Glacier travel, 5.10, ~10 pitches, trad.

We dedicate this page to the memory of our friend Edward Romero, who passed away two weeks before we climbed Inspiration. Edward was an Inspiration to us and many other climbers. His positive attitude towards climbing and life in general is what we'll remember most about him.

Inspiration is a full-on alpine route with a bit of everything. The peak is really hard to get to (even by Cascades standards) as it sits high in the beautiful Southern Pickets cirque - one of the most beautiful basins we've been too. The climbing is mostly on good rock, except for the horrible loose junk found on the lower pitches. The descent is via rappels down the West ridge and South face. It is one of the scariest descents we've done. A long day by any standard. Probably an outing that will stay in our memories for a while...

Click for high resolution
Terror Basin, in the Southern Pickets; one of the most picturesque and remote places we've been to.
Click for high resolution
Inspiration Peak.
Click for high resolution
Leaving the trailhead at Goodell Creek.
Click for high resolution
The initial 4 miles are overgrown in places...
Click for high resolution
...but with long stretches of open trail.

On July 30, we drive to Goodell Creek trailhead, near Newhalem, and hike into Terror Basin. Aptly named, at least as far as the approach is concerned: long (probably about 7 miles and 6,000 feet), somewhat bushy, and STEEP (straight up the slope for 3,600 ft!). We have read various accounts of serious bushwhacking so we are a bit worried about the whole thing. As it turns out, there is a well-defined trail the whole way. We start hiking around 8:30AM. The initial 4 miles up Goodell Creek are severely overgrown in places but there are also long stretches of open trail, on the old roadbed. We find water after two hours of hiking, and 100 yards before heading straight up the slopes into Terror basin (don't forget to fill your water bottles, no water for the next 3,600ft...). We take a long break.

Click for high resolution
Goodell Creek seen from the trail.
Click for high resolution
Crossing a small subsidiary creek just before leaving the Goodell drainage. Last chance for water in a while.
Click for high resolution
The climber's trail branches right, off the main trail, at a small clearing. Obvious cairn.
Click for high resolution
It's a steep one!
Click for high resolution
First glimpse of the peaks (Mt Degenhart and Inspiration Peak).

The next section (very easy to find, following Nelson's instructions) heads straight up the incredibly steep wooded slopes for an unrelenting 3,600 ft! No water anywhere along the way, so we start with two quarts each. The climber's trail is pretty obvious the entire way, but requires attention to follow in a few spots (where it is overgrown or where short side-trails can confuse you). We never saw the bushy section that Nelson mentions. I guess the increased traffic in the last few years has better defined the trail. The going is pretty slow. We distract ourselves on the grueling climb by eating the abundant blueberries right along the trail. Some sections are solid class 3+ root pulling… Eventually, we come out of the woods (in more ways than one) and reach the alpine benches at about 5,200'. Water! It's already 4PM; it has taken us 4.5 hours to grind up the last 3600ft. We take a long break, eat and drink. Two climbers (a German and an Ecuadorian, both living in Seattle), are on their way down. They are finishing an 8-day long loop trip around the basin and have climbed almost every peak along the way… ouch! They are the last humans we will see for the next 3 days.

Click for high resolution
Solid class 3 root pulling section.
Click for high resolution
Terror Glacier, seen from alpine benches around 5,500 ft.
Click for high resolution
Picking our way up the benches after loosing the trail.
Click for high resolution
Looking down the final slopes, leading to camp from a small col.
Click for high resolution
Descending the final snow slopes.

We continue along the trail for a few hundred yards to another stream, then loose the trail altogether. It turns out (as we realize on the way out) that the trail here follows the streambed straight up for maybe 400 feet or so, before heading left again for a long but beautiful traverse in the high alpine meadows. Instead, we end up making the same traverse a few hundred feet too low, through a fair amount of scrambling and some bushwhacking. Eventually, we recover the trail a few hundred yards before the col. Easy way up to the col, which is under snow. It's now about 7PM. Some steep downclimbing on snow off the back side of the col leads to a beautiful camp area, on a moraine flat, with a beautiful little stream flowing between moss and flower beds.

Click for high resolution
We set up camp on a moraine.
Click for high resolution
Home sweet home... (Degenhart, Inspiration, and McMillan in the background)
Click for high resolution
...running water and picture perfect views.
Click for high resolution
Eric getting some water.
Click for high resolution
Flowers are in full bloom.

Tuesday, July 31: Rest day at camp. We planned this one the civilized way. Hell, we don't have a job, so why hurry? Besides, after yesterday's grueling 8+ hour approach with heavy packs (took us 11hrs including numerous stops and the routefinding error in the upper basin), we cannot even imagine getting on a big climb today. We can hardly move. We spend the day lazing around in camp, under postcard-blue skies, eating and drinking at will. From a distance, we also do our best trying to guess a route across the fairly scary-looking Terror Glacier to the base of the West ridge of Inspiration. We both feel a bit tense about that aspect of tomorrow's climb. The icefall in the middle of the glacier looks pretty broken and open. We think we can see a way through, following a left-trending snow ramp right through the icefall. A fall back option may be to traverse far left, all the way around the icefall to avoid it completely. We'll see. Anyway you look at it, it looks like a hell of a hike to even reach the rock. We get to bed early (7:30PM) with the alarm set for 3AM.

Click for high resolution
Taking a rest day at camp.
Click for high resolution
The Pickets in early evening light.
Click for high resolution
An hour after leaving camp.
Click for high resolution
Watching the sunrise over Triumph with the moon still up.
Click for high resolution
Scrambling up rock slabs to get to the glacier.

Wednesday, August 1: Today, we climb the East Ridge of Inspiration Peak (5.9/5.10, 10+p, but that's the easy part…). We leave the tent at 4:30AM. The first challenge is to find a traverse down (yes, down) along snow slopes, grassy benches, and slabs, to the outlet of a small glacial lake that is completely surrounded by vertical rock walls (this small lake is due South of McMillan Spire and is not shown on USGS maps; do not confuse it with the much larger Azure lake). Eventually, we find an easy way across the outlet stream (at a large cairn), and start up the slopes on the other side, toward the glacier. Rock slabs, scree and snow slopes, eventually lead to a short slabby cliff that spans across the slopes at the edge of the glacier.

Click for high resolution
Good views of Mt Triumph.
Click for high resolution
Gearing up on the glacier.
Click for high resolution
Ditto.
Click for high resolution
The glacier is pretty broken in places.
Click for high resolution
Starting up the glacier.

A narrow and steep (but short) snow finger affords easy passage onto the glacier. From here, the icefall is some distance to the left and presents an obvious route-finding challenge.

Click for high resolution
Finding a way thorugh a broken section.
Click for high resolution
Glacier views.
Click for high resolution
Climbing up the gentle snow slopes of the upper glacier.
Click for high resolution
Entering the moat at a collapsed area below the start of the route.
Click for high resolution
Looking back toward the moat from the base of the route.

However, the snow ramp we had identified yesterday from camp looks promising. We head up in that direction. The ramp turns out to be a narrow ridge of snow that diagonals left toward the icefall, just above a HUGE crevasse (big enough for several houses). That narrow ridge leads to a good ice bridge through the icefall and onto gentler snow slopes above. Fun, actually.

Above this, we just have to skirt a few moderately sized crevasses. Looking good! We enter the moat at a conveniently collapsed area, exactly at the desired point: the base of a minor buttress of clean, lighter-colored rock. It has taken us 3 hours (taking our time) from camp to get to this point. We change to rock gear and take a long break.

Click for high resolution
Getting ready at the base.
Click for high resolution
Eric heading up and looking back at the belay.
Click for high resolution
Lucie, reaching the belay in the shallow gully after the first simul-climbing section.
Click for high resolution
Taking a break at the belay.
Click for high resolution
Starting the long pitch to the base of the lieback flake.

It's 9AM when Eric starts heading up the rock. The first ropelength is pleasant and easy (maybe 5.5); some pro in the first 1/3rd of the pitch, then nothing at all. It's easy going though so no worries, we simply start simul-climbing. Trouble is we were expecting to run pitches so we are set up on double 60m ropes. Simul-climbing on such long ropes is a terrible experience: bad communication, tons of rope drag, etc… Also, the rock is getting pretty dangerously loose up here, and still no pro, or hardly. Anyway, we keep going like this for probably about 2 ½ rope lengths, finally reaching a bad belay in the shallow gully, about 100ft below a prominent notch between Inspiration and the next tower.

From here, the climbing gets harder. We start belaying again. The rock is scary: good features but most of the large blocks you really want to pull on are loose. Dangerous. It takes a long pitch (up to 5.8+) to reach a belay at the base of the lieback flake mentioned in the route descriptions.

Click for high resolution
Eric belaying at the base of the lieback flake.
Click for high resolution
Views from the belay.
Click for high resolution
The lieback flake pitch.
Click for high resolution
More views.
Click for high resolution
The pitch you came for...

The next pitch goes up the flake (awkward and hard for 5.8, we thought), then on to a good size ledge at the base of the obvious wall with two cracks. Here, it is pretty clear that the 5.9 route described by Nelson goes up the right-hand crack (first right, then left, then right again, to a belay at the top of a block).

Click for high resolution
Eric higher up on the money pitch.
Click for high resolution
Views.
Click for high resolution
Eric leading the pitch above the incredible crack.
Click for high resolution
More views.
Click for high resolution
The rest of the route is typical ridge climbing.

The other crack (the left one) is so obvious and amazing-looking, there is no way you would ever consider going anywhere else. Looks a bit wide, but incredible. It is a sustained pitch. We have two #2 and one #3 Camalots. There are also many opportunities for smaller pro, so if one "walks" the #3 up the wide sections, then back-cleans it as soon as they can place a smaller piece, things work out fine. The crack narrows and then vanishes at the top, amost level with the obvious block on the right. At that point, traverse right on steep face with good edges (for feet and hands) to the other crack and do the final move to the block. Good pro is available in this section, which we both felt was 5.10. Good belay on the block (need small cams for anchor: green and yellow Aliens).

Click for high resolution
Close up of Eric on the ridge.
Click for high resolution
Looking back at Lucie.
Click for high resolution
An exposed section.
Click for high resolution
Playing with the camera.
Click for high resolution
More ups and downs...

From here, the climb turns into a typical ridge climb: complex, a bit slow, and with lots of up and down. The rock remains good all the way, and protection is widely available. We have a summit! It is 2:20PM. Plenty of time...right?

We take a long break, eating sausage and bread and taking pictures. Not a cloud in the sky. No worries. Or, maybe one worry: hope we can get off this thing without too much hassle. The reports we've read on the web are not too encouraging.

Click for high resolution
...
Click for high resolution
...and we are on the summit.
Click for high resolution
Views from the summit.
Click for high resolution
Looking down toward Goodell Creek.
Click for high resolution
Summit shot.

As expected, the descent is really painful (so painful that we didn't take any pics, sorry...). We leave the summit after 3PM. The first part of the descent is fast and easy. We start down the West ridge in 3 raps. The anchors are not the most trustworthy we've seen but they'll do (we both make sure not to shock-load the anchor…). The last rap ends on lower angle slabs. A small red sling is obvious, at the edge of the overhanging south face. We head down that way. Scary anchor again… the anchor block is just not looking that stable… but that's all there is. We reinforce the anchor, using one of our two cordelettes in its entirety, then cross our fingers and drop down into the void.

By the time Eric reaches the end of the ropes (double 60's), he has not been able to locate any further anchor… He stops on a small ledge and sets up an anchor behind a large flake. Two options: we could belay ourselves and downclimb until we hopefully find another anchor (we should have), or we can set an anchor on a horn 20 feet to our left. We go for the horn. Make a shoulder-length sling with a piece of the second cordelette, drape it on the horn, and rap down to yet another shitty anchor (rotten slings). There goes the rest of the second cordelette. Lucie pulls the ropes, it starts falling down, then stops… we pull as hard as we can but it simply won't budge (it turns out it wrapped itself twice around a big block on a ledge 100' up). Eric climbs back up the easy but totally unprotected terrain (low fifth) and frees the rope. Instead of taking more risks climbing back down unprotected, he leaves a mid-size nut in a crack for toprope protection on the way down. The rope is just long enough for him to make it back to the anchor.

Long rap again from here, trying to diagonal right (climber's) in hopes of making it to the snow tongue… we don't. We find one last anchor: a double-length Mammut sling around a large block. We back that up with another long piece of webbing. Not knowing whether we'll get a good stance below to change into our boots and crampons, we take turns at the semi-hanging belay to change footwear. We then rap down to the very left (climber's) end of the snow tongue, at the left edge of the South Face, and directly above a giant, gaping bergshrund... Fortunately, we're able to stand on a short scree slope, just off the snow, and get off belay while we carefully pull the ropes. It's 6:45PM. It has taken us 3h45 to get off the climb...

Click for high resolution
Looking at the gaping bergshrund from our small stance on the scree slope.
Click for high resolution
Lucie on the scary traverse above the 'shrund.
Click for high resolution
Views from the glacier.
Click for high resolution
Broken section.
Click for high resolution
Coming back down the ice bridge we used in the morning.

Now for a scary and steep 200' traverse rightward above the 'shrund. Eric goes first. I tuck myself into the moat to give him a belay. I go second. Eric belays me for peace of mind, but since he has no anchor… I try not to think about plunging head first in the huge 'shrund. The traverse seems to take forever but we finally make it back onto the glacier proper. We reset the ropes for glacier travel and start down. We are amazed to find that our tracks from this morning have absolutely completely disappeared. Should have left some wands. Finding the correct way down is a bit more difficult from above… but we find it. We get to the edge of the glacier just in time to watch the sunset (about 8:30PM).

Click for high resolution
Crevasse below the snow bridge.
Click for high resolution
Descending the mellow snow slopes.
Click for high resolution
...and enjoying the views at sunset.
Click for high resolution
Back at camp after a long day.
Click for high resolution
Views from camp.

We now just have to descend back to the outlet of the glacial lake, then back up toward camp on the other side… We break out the headlamps for the last ½ mile, reaching camp less than two hours after we left the edge of the glacier. It's been a long, tiring, and very stressfull day.

Click for high resolution
Another beautiful day.
Click for high resolution
Eric having breakfast before packing.
Click for high resolution
One last look at the cirque before heading down...
Click for high resolution
...actually, first up to the col.
Click for high resolution
The cirque from the col.

The next morning, we get up late, feeling tired. We take our time getting ready, basking in the sun, and enjoying the views. Still nobody around! It is 2:30PM before we are finally ready to go. A pair of climbers has just arrived. They are the first people we've seen in three days. They did the approach in two days. We make the steep climb back to the col then head up the nice trail we had missed on the way up.

Click for high resolution
Traversing beautiful alpine benches around Terror Basin - this time on the trail.
Click for high resolution
Taking a break to enjoy the views.
Click for high resolution
It's a long way down!
Click for high resolution
Downclimbing class 3+ root moves on our way to Goodell Creek.
Click for high resolution
Mmmh, blueberries!

The trail stays high, traversing through beautiful alpine terrain, with lush heather and small stand of pine trees. The views are stupendous. We eventually reach the last stream crossing, before the steeps at 4PM. There is almost no water flowing here anymore! What a difference from 3 days ago! Just enough to pump from a small puddle between boulders. We drink all we can and have a snack, before facing the inevitable… Two hours later, with throbbing knees, we find ourselves back at the old roadbed. Not a minute too soon. From here, it's a 4 mile hike back to the car. We make it there just before 9PM, after a 6.5hr descent.

Click for high resolution
Water break at the end of the steeps.
Click for high resolution
We're there!
Click for high resolution
Topo map of Terror Basin.