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MOX PEAK, EAST FACE, THE DEVIL'S CLUB
Posted on: March 1, 2006
How often does the opportunity to do a first ascent on a 2,500-foot unclimbed wall in the North Cascades present itself? "I'll send you a picture I took while flying by it," whispered Mike Layton, my most cryptic climbing partner. "It's huge!" The image seemed to explode out of my attachments: impossibly tall, its top 1,500 feet rolling in vertical waves of banded gneiss. I was in!
It took us fourteen hours to reach base camp. We arrived on the second day, beaten by underbrush and deadfall, soaked and hypothermic. A two-hour approach the next morning brought us to the base of the route and our first view of the sweeping wall. We simulclimbed the initial 400 feet of the white slab, then switched leads over the gradually steepening wall. The rock had become hard to protect, loose in many places, and increasingly difficult by the time we reached a small bivy ledge at the end of the slab. We looked up to see undulating roofs on an almost-plumb wall. Mike led up to fix the first pitch. As he lowered in the dusk, several pieces popped.
At 8 a.m. the next morning, we had 1,500 improbable feet to go. Pitch after pitch consumed the day, many of them zig-zagging across tiny runout ledges while we searched for ways through the overhangs. Protection continued to require nerve and creativity, the runouts got worse, and loose rock rained from ledges above. The fatigue, hard climbing and commitment took a toll on our energy as the hours wore on. Finally, I told Mike I couldn't lead anymore. He grabbed the rack without hesitation and proceeded to tear up more scary pitches.
As Mike said later, "Every pitch on the upper headwall felt like playing Russian Roulette with the rack. The pressure of forcing a way up, digging for gear and getting... poor belay anchors, not knowing if the wall would blank out, and the whole enormity of the situation almost got me."
At 4 p.m. we reached the summit ledge, shook hands, left a Joker in a Ziploc and started to rappel the route. Immediately the ropes got stuck. Soon we were rappelling in the dark, stretching the ropes to find marginal anchors. Rockfall was constant and chopped a rope five feet from its end. On our tenth rappel (from the chopped rope) we heard a wonderful sound: the "whump" of rope hitting scree. It was 1:30 a.m. when we returned from The Devil's Club (V+ 5.9+ A2-, ca. 25 pitches).
Erik Wolfe, Bellingham, Washington