The South Face route on Prusik Peak is reputed to be one of the classic alpine rock climbs of the Cascades, with six pitches of steep climbing (5.8 to 5.9+) on excellent white granite. Some of the best rock to be found in the range. Prusik sits high in the Enchantment Basin, one of the most scenic areas of the Cascades located within the Alpine Lake Wilderness, west of Leavenworth. The south face rises above Viviane Lake, at about 10 miles and 6,000 ft total elevation gain from the nearest trailhead.
There are two ways to get to Lake Viviane: one can either approach from the East and the Snow Lake trailhead, or from the West at the Stuart Lake trailhead. Both approaches are about 10 miles long. The western approach starts higher (3,400 ft) but climbs the brutally steep 2,200 ft from Colchuck Lake to Asgard pass (7,800 ft) and then drops about 1,000 ft from the pass to the lake. In early season, the climb to Asgard pass may also require steep snow travel and an ice axe. The eastern approach starts from the bottom of the Ice Creek canyon at only 1,300 ft but follows a very good, gradual trail to Lake Viviane. We opted for the eastern approach, from the Snow lake trailhead.
Besides the long approach, the only major obstacle to climb Prusik is to get one of the overnight permits for the Enchantment lakes. Given the popularity of the area with backpackers and the proximity to Seattle, these can be very hard to get. Most of the permits for the summer season are reserved long in advance. A few are kept for distribution each morning through a lottery system. Unfortunately, the lottery is held around 8AM the morning of the permit entry day, forcing you to a pretty late start for the approach. Knowing this, when we arrived in Leavenworth, we went straight to the ranger station. We lucked out. There was one permit left from the advanced reservation quota, and we were able to make a reservation on the spot.
We did the long hike to Vivian Lake on July 2. We got an early start (highly recommended) to try to beat the heat on the approach. We got up at 3:30AM and were at the trailhead at 5:30AM. It took us eight hours to reach Lake Viviane. We were moving pretty fast over the first 4,000 ft of elevation gain but slowed down considerably after that. We were carrying about 40 to 45 lbs each.
The hike is very scenic and pleasant, passing gorgeous lakes along the way. It follows very good trails, except for the steeper stretch from Snow Lake to Lake Viviane which involves some scrambling on rocky benches. At one point, the trail goes across the "neck" between upper and lower Snow lakes by fording maybe 200 ft along the top of the shallow dam through a few inches of rushing water... interesting.
The terrain around Viviane Lake is quite steep and rough, and one side was still under snow. It took us a while to find a good camp but finally found a good platform on a bench just above the north shore of the lake. This also put us immediately below the south face of Prusik, with a direct approach to the base of the climb. We felt really tired from the hike-in so we had a quick dinner and went to bed early.
We slept more than 12 hours that night. After a quick breakfast we decided to take a rest day and attempt the climb the next morning. We hiked to the base of the face to scout the start of our intended route. The route is named for a very large chockstone, stuck in a chimney high on the face. The route literally squeezes behind the chockstone to reach the base of the crux pitch.
We spent the day enjoying the scenery and taking pictures. Descending from Prusik Pass (the base of the West Ridge route) toward Gnome Tarn to take the traditional picture of Prusik Peak, we ran into a couple of mountain goats. This was to be the first of many more goats on this trip. We went back to camp and prepared our gear for the climb. We were having dinner when we had a visit from another mountain goat and this year's baby. We were all excited and took zillions of pictures. After chasing the goats around for a good hour, we went to bed around 8PM.
The next day, we got up for the climb around 5:30AM, had a quick breakfast, and hiked to the base of the route. We were ready to climb by 7:50AM. Lucie led the first three pitches: a 5.8 wide crack, followed by an easy pitch up a ramp, then a slightly runout 5.8 pitch that involved face climbing up a ramp to the right. Eric led the rest of the climb. We ended up doing shorter pitches than shown on our topo, to allow us to take more pictures and haul the pack through the chockstone pitch and the crux chimney. The chockstone pitch is fun and easy. Just don't eat too much before this one... The 5.9 squeeze chimney, on the other hand was really burly. We have done quite a few "classic" chimneys and wide cracks (5.9's from the mid sixties which are a lot harder than any 5.10 sport climb) but this one just felt pretty desperate. At one point, Eric just couldn't resist pulling on a fixed sling, conveniently hanging at the crux. Oh well, it's alpine climbing, anything is permitted, right? Lucie managed to follow the pitch clean, so at least one of us freed it. The last pitch (5.9+) looked deceptively easy from below. It goes up a striking left facing corner for a full rope length. Once on the pitch, we found it sustained and strenuous, with some awkward moves on off-sized cracks.
We reached the top at 1:30PM and took the usual summit pictures. We started the descent at 2PM with 5 raps down the north side. That side of the peak was still covered with snow. We made a long and tricky traverse to Prusik Pass, trying to avoid the steep snow by linking several rocky patches (we had not brought boots). We were finally back at our packs around 5:30PM and got back to camp shortly after that.
We were already in the sack when we heard noises around camp: the goats were back, and not just the two that visited us two days before but two more cows with their calves, as well as a few males. We counted 10 goats in all. We spent about two hours taking pictures and observing them. What a great day!
We hiked out the next morning. When we got up, the goats were again hanging around camp (do they ever sleep?). As always, they fought to be the first one to lick the salt from our urine on the rocks around camp. Observing their social behavior is really interesting. There is a clear and well established order of dominance in the group. The lower ranked individuals have to show more cleverness to ever get to the good stuff without being immediately kicked out by another. As time passed, the goats got less and less shy. Eventually, some of them started literally following us around, waiting for us to relieve ourselves! One of the smaller, younger goats (we called her "Sneaky" because she would sneak up on you very quietly) was coming so close that we could almost touch her (as a matter of fact Eric did).
It was hard to leave this very special place but we eventually packed our gear and got ready to go. It took us about 4 hours to descend the 6,000 ft back to the car. After a long overdue shower at the bus, we drove to town to satisfy our craving for a burger and fries (we'd been dreaming about fries for the last two days... something about carbohydrate rich and mostly fat-free freeze-dried food).
Prusik Peak - S. Face (Chockstone)
|Prusik Peak viewed from the southwest.|
|Reflecting pool near Nada Lake.|
|Eric's new mustache!|
|Hiking around Snow Lake.|
|Prusik Peak from Lake Viviane.|
|Our idyllic campsite by the lake.|
|...from our "kitchen" ledge.|
|South Face (Chockstone) route on Prusik.|
|Lake Viviane and Little Anapurna from the base of the route.|
|Mountain goat near Balanced Rock, at the base of the West Ridge.|
|Eric with Little Anapurna in the background.|
|The classic photo of Prusik Peak, from Gnome Tarn.|
|Marmot back at camp.|
|Our two little friends.|
|Lucie leading the 5.8 offwidth of the first pitch.|
|Starting up the 3rd pitch.|
|Eric approaching the chockstone (pitch 4).|
|Looking up through the chockstone tunnel.|
|In the "5.9" flaring squeeze.|
|Lucie in the squeeze chimney.|
|Eric leading the final pitch (5.9+).|
|On the pointy summit block.|
|"Sneaky" and the three calves, playing.|