North Twin Sister (West Ridge)

July 8, 2007/ Grade II, mountain biking, 4th class scrambling, 50° snow

We're in the Bellingham area; having gone up Ruth Mountain, we're looking for another good 1-day conditioning climb. Going through Beckey's book, we find out about the Twin Sister Range near the town of Acme. The West Ridge of North Twin looks particularly good. It's a 4th class ridge scramble that Beckey describes as "splendid… hard to equal… rock is superb"! Beckey rarely expresses much emotion about any route in his books so this sounded good.

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The Twin Sister range, seen from the road, near Acme.
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The West Ridge follows the right skyline.
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Biking the steep gravel road.
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Sign on the right of the road just before the trail to the ridge.
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The trail leaves the road here (note the big log).

As was the case for the East Wilmans Spire, the weather is not on our side and it takes us two tries to climb the North Twin. On June 30, we drive to the trailhead. The forecast for the day is for gradual improvement from the terrible rain of yesterday and last night. A bit iffy, but we decide to go for it anyway (we want to reserve enough time to rest and pack before our planned attempt on Shuksan on Tuesday and Wednesday).

After a a bit of hesitation (we don't have a good map of the area and there are no signs), we finally make it to the access road (FS 38). We spot a black bear running away from the jeep on our way there! When we get to the bridge across the Middle Fork of the Nooksack river, we find the gate closed and two vehicles already there. Clearly climbers. We expected the road to be open almost to the quarry, based on what the FS rangers had told us the other day. Shit! This adds 3 miles and 1400ft to what we expected to be a short approach. The weather also looks worse than questionable; we had some drizzle at camp this morning, and clouds are now hanging really low… it's unbelievably humid too. Oh well, might as well go; we'll at least get a hike.

The road past the gate is in excellent shape but climbs fairly steeply and steadily. The people in front of us are on bikes (we can see their tracks)… looks like we should have left ours on the Jeep… After 3 miles or so, we branch right on a much less traveled dirt road which soon turns to an overgrown single track, but still very bikeable. We finally reach Dailey prairie and another dirt road (in great shape again) south for another mile or so. We catch up with the bicyclists (who are also carrying skis) at the turnoff with an obvious trail. We go up that trail only to realize we're one trail short of the one recommended by Beckey. According to the map this one also ends very near the base of the ridge so we keep going. We get to the end of the road and near the base of the ridge with thick clouds still hanging low; cannot see any of the mountain. We stop, sit, eat, drink, and wait, and wait, and wait… for over 3 hours. The clouds are very slowly moving up and small patches of blue sky are starting to appear, but we only get a quick glimpse of the base of the ridge between long strecthes of complete sog up… not looking good. We set ourselves a limit of 2:30PM for start time on the ridge. That time comes and goes and the ridge is still mostly in the clouds, so we head down - reluctantly. The clouds are obviously on the verge of breaking but we've passed our deadline. The three skiers from earlier are playing on the lower North slopes. Two others come down from the same slopes and we wonder if they went to the top. Two more come up very fast with helmets and ice axes... are they headed for the ridge? Oh well, clouds are shrouding the top again so we give up for good. Back at the prairie road, we see 9+ bikes stashed in the woods… this thing is obviously popular and everyone but us seems to know that biking the approach is the way to go (at least for the way down). We get back to the Jeep in a bad mood. By then, of course, the weather has totally cleared. Not a cloud in the sky...

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The climber's trail leading to the base of the West Ridge (marked by two large cairns).
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Eric hiking up the well traveled trail.
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First good views of the West Ridge from the trail.
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Higher on the trail and...
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...reaching the base of the ridge.

A few days later, and after climbing Mt Shuksan, we decide to give the North Twin another try. We're still not sure if the route is really worth it, but having turned around the first time is enough motivation to go back. This time, we take the bikes along. Biking the gravel road is steep but efficient.

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Scrambling the ridge.
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...and passing the first steep section (we contoured it on the right).
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Higher on the ridge.
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In the last section below the summit.
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On the steeper section just before the summit (can be avoided if desired).

We follow the same approach as last time, and find a good trail all the way to the rocky ridge. We have a rope with us but end up not using it. The ridge is a scramble, mostly class 3 with not much exposure. Near the top, we do some 4th class moves, but nothing too exposed here either. The weather is even worse than last time, but not going to approach this thing a third time so we push on. The ridge is engulfed in clouds. Fortunately, the route is unambiguous enough. No views from the summit.

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Summit shot .
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Looking back toward the ridge.
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Summit "views" .
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Descending the steep north slopes...first facing up, then...
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...down when the angle lessens.

We descend the North Slopes (steep at the top, maybe 50° or so) and traverse around the base of rock buttresses to rejoin the trail at the base of the ridge, just above treeline. Quick hike down the trail, back to the bikes. We change back to biking gear and hop on the bikes.

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Views from the north slopes.
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We finally get a good view of the ridge as the weather is improving.
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The Twin Sister range is unfortunately the victim of widespread clear-cuts.
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On the looging road, looking back toward the ridge.
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Changing back to biking gear.

The bike ride down is a thrill! Wow is this fast! We stop at the Blue Mountain Grill near Acme for dinner. Good burgers, great cobblers, and views of the Twin Sister range. The weather is now gorgeous. We're rewarded with great views of Mt Baker and the twin Sisters. Fun day. Not sure we share Beckey's wild enthusiasm for the route though…it's a fun day primarily because of the mountain bike approach. The ridge itself is mostly class 3 and not exposed at all…nice workout and fun day in the mountains, but not the classic route we'd hoped for …

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Riding our bikes on the gravel road...
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...and the mellow single track.
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Driving back toward Acme (road 38 forks uphill just past this bridge).
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Having a burger at the Blue Mountain Grill near Acme.
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Great views of Mt Baker and the Twin Sister range at sunset.