Sloan Peak - 7835' - West Face Class 5.8
Last Thursday was the last nice day for what looked like over a week so when I got a call from a contact on CascadeClimbers looking for someone to climb with, I wasn't going to say no, and we agreed on the west face of Sloan Peak. The trip began at 4am when I picked Taylor up in West Seattle and we drove out the Mountain Loop Highway. As we headed over Barlow Pass and continued down the gravel side of the loop, we reached the bridge over Bedal Creek, we couldn't find the FS road leading to the Bedal Creek TH. Google Maps on my phone said the road intersects the MLH next to the bridge but in reality, that wasn't true.
We spent the next 15 minutes driving back and forth near the Bedal Creek bridge looking for the road. We finally found it nearly 1 mile past the bridge! I should have looked in more depth where the road was rather than just relying on my phone but we made it up the steep switchbacking road to its end and parked. We were the only ones there, and after quickly grabbing our packs, we started hiking up the continuation of the old, overgrown road. Needless to say, we spent the next hour looking for the actual Bedal Creek Trail. Heading up the old road, any resemblance of a path quickly disappeared, and even hiking up either side of Bedal Creek where the old road crossed it, we could not find a trail. Just before we decided to begin bushwhacking up the creek, I ran back to the car, since it was only a few minutes away and checked to see if the trail started ascending in a different direction from where we parked, and sure enough that was the case. For whatever reason, I have done this multiple times and took the wrong direction from a trailhead. It was now 7:45 am when we started up the actual trail and I was already concerned about making the summit since we had hoped to start up the trail by 6am.
Luckily, the trail was in fact in good condition and our faith in our beta we had brought along was restored. We quickly made it all the way up to the east-west ridge dropping off the west face of Sloan at the head of the Bedal Creek Valley. The view of the stunning NW face on the hike up was incredible, and one of the trip reports we were using as beta mentioned that face hasn't been climbed!
Once on the small ridge, at about 5,700 feet I had hoped the trees and bushes would disappear but walking along the crest towards the west face proved more annoying due to many small trees. We reached the base of a small rocky crag and some class 3 scrambling ensued as we continued a couple hundred feet and over the small tower. A 15 foot drop brought us to a broad saddle directly at the base of the now very steep west face. From this saddle, the first two pitches of the most common way up the west face began just off to our right, heading up to a large ledge covered partly by trees. Our goal was to climb the awesome right trending dihedral that most people labeled 5.8 however since I left my C3 in the car I was a little worried about it.
We ended up bypassing the first 2 dirty pitches and stayed off to the left, more or less heading up the ridge as it slowly merged into the west face. We made some low 5th class moves and continued solo until we reached the large ledge, and racked up. I led a short overhang and continued up an easy slab for 20 meters or so to the very base of the awesome looking dihedral. Taylor followed up and we decided he would lead the dihedral. Most of the climbing was face climbing on the 70-80 degree slab and the entire pitch had to be run out as good protection was few and far between. Taylor did excellent making his was up the long pitch and upon reaching the top, belayed me up. Most of the pitch was fairly secure climbing, but with the exposure, and lack of good pro (since the crack was 4" or bigger) it was a bit scary.
I then led up the continuation of the large crack another 30 meters or so. This pitch was pretty dirty and offered little pro. The hardest section being a large pod that required a couple overhanging moves. Once on the large ledge above, I slung some webbing around a large rock and belayed Taylor up. From here, we traversed slightly leftward on this ledge and then made a short simul-climbing pitch up a 4th class slab and onto a second, larger ledge. From here we decided to continue well off to the left, per the beta we had but we quickly realized that probably wasn't correct. I led up another awesome crack about 25 meters to get above the next cliff band. This pitch proved to be the best climbing on the route I thought. Once on the next ledge, which was massive, we traversed right towards the south side of the mountain. We never ended up finding the standard corkscrew route, but we reached the southwest ridge and the remainder of the route (final 400 feet) was class 3 or less following s nice boot path with cairns. From the summit we had excellent views of Glacier Peak and the Monte Cristo group.
The amount of individual fires we saw was astounding, but luckily the air was fairly clear. Three Fingers, and Mount Pugh off to the north looked impressive. Glacier Peak was incredibly dry as well...so dry I barely even saw any glaciers!
It took us about 4.5 hours to reach the summit from the base of the west face (which we reached at 10:30am). We spent about 45 minutes on the summit and signed the summit register. Unfortunately there wasn't any real register panel in the brass tube. Looking down the northeast side of the summit, the glacier well below us that is crossed on the standard route was broken up like I never could have imagined! No wonder I have read of parties having issues on the corkscrew route.
We started down at 3:45pm to give us plenty of time to make the descent since we didn't really know how hard it would be. We read the best way was going down the south face which included anywhere between 1-3 rappels. We located the "super-highway" which was a perfect looking trail heading around a large buttress on the southwest side of the mountain roughly 300 feet below the summit. We retraced our steps back to this trail that we saw from near the summit. We followed it around a ridge and along a large ledge. Below us we saw an additional ledge that we had to get to. I looked around for what was supposed to be an established rap anchor and after descending about 50 feet down a broad gully, found it. A 25 meter rappel took us to the next ledge down. We then headed skiers left and descended this ledge all the way down to the small snowfields below the south face. The final 100 feet was steep polished slabs that some people rappel. I actually found a 30 meter rope that someone had set up as a single line rappel because someone didn't want to downclimb the slabs. Their rope was just left there though as it wasn't long enough. I ended up scrambling up to the top and packed it up, then descended to the moat below the slabs. It wasn't any harder than 3rd class I didn't think, plus that rope was in good condition, and appeared to have been left this summer sometime.
Upon reaching the snow, it was unfortunately hard as a rock and very slick. We both left our axes, and were only wearing tennis shoes without any traction because we didn't think we would have much snow to deal with. I tried climbing around the moat and onto the 20 degree snow but quickly realized I would quickly start sliding uncontrollably down towards the rocks below, despite being only 20 degrees. So we set up a rappel by slinging a large rock inside the moat, then rapping down the snow utilizing the full 60 meter rope. It took us right to the rocks at the lower end of the snowfield and from that point we were able to continue hiking along the slabs below the snow. By this point it was 6:30 and we still had to cross the south ridge, where the great bivy site is, then continue a descending traverse back to the east-west oriented ridge we started the climb on. This however wasn't very bad and we made it to the awesome bivy spot on the south ridge at 6,550 feet in only 20 minutes from where we finished the rappel across the snowfield.
From the bivy spot, we started down easy tundra and grass towards the northwest. Instead of descending down an awful looking gully, we traversed above it and eventually reached 5,700 feet along the ridge and quickly made our way down, finally meeting the trail as the sun was setting. I took a nice photo of the red glow and we made the hike out down the easy trail in the dark reaching the car just before 10pm, about 14 hours after we started (not including time we were lost looking for the trail).
Here is a map of our ascent route (orange) and our descent (red):