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MASSIVE RIDGE CLIMBED IN NORTH CASCADES
Posted on: September 22, 2007
A foreshortened view of Megalodon Ridge (IV+ 5.10), Mt. Goode (9,220'), North Cascades National Park, Washington. The ridge, surprisingly unclimbed until Blake Herrington and Sol Wertkin made the ascent on September 6, offers "distinctly alpine" rock—with the harder pitches being solid gneiss—and 5,000 feet of exposure. [Photo] Blake Herrington
Earlier this summer Dan Hilden and I decided to begin a major enchainment with a trip up the unclimbed east ridge of Mt. Goode (9,220'), a peak in Washington's North Cascades National Park. The peak is frequented because of the famous Beckey route on its north side (Northeast Buttress: IV 5.5). Grossly underestimating the size of the east ridge, we bailed after completing only a few pitches of the route.
Ambition is a good thing, and for a climber, maybe even a necessary thing. However, once I realized just how big Goode's east ridge was—and after we made an exposed ten-rappel descent down an unclimbed, unknown face—I began questioning my ambition. But thoughts of this "big fish" would not go away. So Sol Wertkin and I, both from Bellingham, WA, returned to Mt. Goode on September 5, with an eye on climbing the line.
Sol Wertkin simulclimbing the lower part of the ridge on the morning of September 6. This was just the beginning: the deceivingly long ridge took the pair about twelve hours to climb; most of it they simuled. [Photo] Blake Herrington
Goode's brittle rock does not have a stellar reputation. Nevertheless, it is amazing that such a major line on one of the range's largest peaks had not been climbed. Most pictures don't do the scale and exposure justice—the route is long and committing, with 5,000 feet of exposure to the north and 4,000 to the south. True to its reputation, much of the rock is "distinctly alpine," but the harder pitches offer excellent gneiss.
Sol had dubbed it the Megalodon Ridge, in honor of the largest fish ever to swim the seas, and on this attempt, unlike my initial foray, we came fully equipped—with the right hardware and weather forecast—for a demanding, grade IV/V route.
Although the tallest peak in the park, Mt. Goode cannot be seen from any road. After hiking twelve miles along the Pacific Crest Trail we reached the north fork of Bridge Creek, which deposited us below slide-alder thickets, hidden cliff bands, and rumbling glaciers 6,000 feet below Mt. Goode's summit.
We soloed some fifth class rock along the east ridge that night to where the vertical terrain began. The next morning on September 6, we began climbing from our exposed bivy 4,000 vertical feet below the summit. Clouds passed overhead and occasionally allowed glimpses of looming gendarmes and the distant summit. After two hours of simulclimbing, we made one 50-meter rappel from the first tower of the ridge. From there Sol and I swapped leads and did running belays along the crest of exposed gneiss, finding climbing up to 5.8. As we neared the headwall of the southeast peak, the rock steepened abruptly and the climbing became more difficult. The direct line on the crest yielded two pitches of 5.10 crack climbing, and we afforded ourselves the luxury of a ten-minute break atop the southeast peak, the only such one we would take all day. From that sub-summit we scouted a path around the high glacial ice, and climbed through a moat atop the Goode Glacier to reach more technical rock that headed to the main summit.
Blake Herrington commiting to the 5.10 corner, high on Mt. Goode's southeast peak. [Photo] Sol Wertkin
The final crux of the day came when we attempted to descend into Black Tooth Notch, the last major gap before the summit. The traversing nature of this pitch prevented a rappel, forcing Sol to downlead an overhanging pitch of 5.10, which I, moments before, had dismissed as an option that "would not go." My initial reluctance to lead the pitch meant that I now had to follow the downclimb across an overhanging face, with 5,000' of snow and rock beneath my heels. Using perfect beta, which Sol shouted to me as I climbed, I was able to reach his sheltered belay alcove, and after a few more pitches of easier climbing we were on the summit, just as the sun was setting.
Our adventure on Megalodon Ridge (IV+ 5.10, 12 hours of climbing, simuling up to 5.8) was topped with an amazing sunset, a meteor shower and a perfect bivy: that night our heads were the highest point in North Cascades National Park.
The next day we took the standard descent via Black Tooth Notch and the southwest gully. This descent brought us to the south side of the peak and meant that we would have to skirt a forest fire and endure twenty miles of trail before reaching the car. For that ridge—or for any number of other unclimbed objectives, of which there are plenty—the long day of tramping is entirely worth it.
Forest fire smoke improving the sunset over the North Cascades. Herrington and Wertkin were rewarded with this view from their bivy on Mt. Goode's summit. [Photo] Blake Herrington