chimney rock - 7731' - direct east face class 5.6
Kelly and I enjoyed a fantastic weekend on Chimney Rock last weekend in what was a smoke free endevour with 9 pitches of rock climbing. On Saturday morning we grabbed a quick breakfast in Seattle and were on our way to the Pete Lake TH and started hiking up the popular trail at 10am. The 4 miles to Pete Lake went quick, and we continued on the Lemah Meadow Trail to where it intersected the PCT. Turning north onto the PCT we hiked another half mile or so to the second switchback where it begins ascending over the pass to Waptus Lake. At this switchback, we left the trail and began heading northwest through open forest, descending slightly until we hit the North Fork of Lemah creek at 3380 feet. We crossed on a nice log and located the boot path heading up the steep slopes towards Chimney Rock. The trail was marked with a large cairn and the first couple hundred feet had flagging to mark where the trail goes.
There are a couple areas where it is hard to follow and we lost it at some point, having to traverse leftward through some heinous bushes about the 3700 foot level. I think we lost it at a spot where we traversed right to try and round the base of a lower cliff, when we should have went left. Once we were back on the trail, we continued up through a brushy section of vine maples, traversing leftward at the base of another large cliff. Overall, the trail trends leftward, and if you're ever in doubt, trend slightly left to stay on it. At about 4:30pm we arrived at the large bivy boulder that sits at 4800 feet and to our suprise there was already another party occupying the boulder. They were also planning to attempt the east face direct, and informed us they heard of a party who climbed the route the prior weekend and had no issue crossing the moat which was a concern (our backup plan was to just climb the normal improbable traverse route. We chatted with Jiri and his climbing partner for a few minutes, and continued up to the crest of the moraine hoping for another good spot to bivy higher up. We found a small sheltered hole in the moraine with some dirt at the bottom offering a soft mostly flat spot. This was at 5400 feet, right at the base of where the route continues more steeply up to the east side of the ridge guarding the glacier. I had to move quite a few rocks to make the sot large enough for two people but it worked our grerat with the only issue being the spot had no running water. Went to sleep early.
Jiri and his partner passed us as we were sleeping before 5am, and we started walking up about 7am after breaking camp and having breakfast. We hiked up the steeper slope to the ridge and more or less followed it westward hoping to avoid the elevation loss other parties typically take. There was one short but very exposed hand traverse we had to do to get past a gash with a deep notch along the ridge but otherwise staying near the ridge as you approach the east face wasn't bad. About 5950 feet as the ridge turns nore northward we began traversing horizontally across the NE facing slopes. The only feasible place to cross west and get onto the glacier this late in the season was at the saddle closest to Chimney Rock just below 6400 feet.
Once on the glacier we put our microspikes on and traversed west towards the base of the route. As we approached, I started looking for the first pitch, and a place to cross the gaping moat. We consulted our beta photo provided by Rob Busack on Peakbagger and located the first pitch. Amazingly, the only spot where the moat was crossable was right at the base of the route via a small snow bridge. We stashed a bunch of our extra gear (hiking poles, ice axes, spikes and stove) here and melted some water for the climb since we hadn't any running water since the previous day. I began climbing the first pitch which went up a nice crack in a right facing dihedral, with mainly 5.4 climbing with a couple 5.6 moves. Protection was great and I ran out the full ropelength. The 2nd pitch was pretty easy mostly 4th class and dumped us onto the large grassy slope (see my route topo I made below depicting the exact route we took).
Once we were on the large grassy ledge we continued scrambling class 2-3 terrain up the long left trending ramp that cuts up most of the lower face until we reached the end and climbed our 3rd pitch, which followed 5.4 blocks and face climbing near the crest of the ridge to another ledge. We walked right to the end of the second ledge and began climbing the main part of the route, which consisted of three 40-50 meter pitches of low 5th class terrain. The first 30 feet off the ledge I thought was the hardest part which I had to make a delicate rightward traverse without much pro. Then I climbed a flaring grass and dirt V shaped constriction which I was not a fan of. I realized when it was too late I was slightly left of the typical way people climb. I stepped right and got to the correct gully and belayed Kelly up. The following two pitches were much easier and dumped us onto the key ledge. Once on this ledge we walked left to where it wraps around the east buttress where we found a couple awesome bivy spots. Just before the ledge reached the east buttress though we located the final pitches which are shared with the Improbable Traverse normal route.
I led up the chimney pitch which did have a small overhang to climb over with less than inspiring loose blocks wedged in the chimney. Next pitch was a short romp up an unprotectable class 4 slab, then another short low 5th class slab pitch that took us on a ledge. These two pitches could have easily been combined. I walked right on this ledge to the base of a deep and big chimney which led to the summit, making a total of 10 pitches we did (should have been 9). As I was finishing this final pitch, Jiri and his partner were just about ready to start rapelling. We all agreed to work together to tag-team the rappells with both of our ropes, doing single rope rappels. The two of them went down first while Kelly and I took our summit break and enjoyed the views. Lemah and Overcoat were stunning just across the way and the skies were clear enough to even see Rainier. Mount Hinman and Daniel also were dominant to the northeast. Chikamin Peak was unfortunately mostly hidden behind Lemah, which I have a very personal connection to.
We then made a total of 13 rappels down with the 4 of us all working together to get them pounded out as fast as possible, since Kelly and I still had to hike all the way back to the trailhead that evening. At about 5pm we finished the last rappel and started hiking back down to our bivy. The hike out was uneventful and we reached the creek crossing and the PCT just as it got dark. We smashed the three beers I stashed in the creek and hiked the 7-8 miles of easy trail out, arriving at the trailhead about midnight.