S Shoulder (September 9-10, 1997)

A fine, nontechnical climb in a beautiful area. Head up Phelps Ck trail. I missed the Leroy ck turnoff (no sign), and wasted an hour this way. Your main landmark is the wilderness boundary sign. ~10 minutes later, reach a large stream (this is Leroy ck), and you'll find the trail here. The Leroy ck trail is steep, but reaches a beautiful basin at about 5500 ft, nice camps at 6000 ft. I took the carne high rt south to where it crosses a saddle in a W spur of the main range. Scramble up the spur to meet the jagged crest at 7700 ft. Scramble the loose spur to where the shoulder starts (8000 ft). There are less technical ways to get here (by Beckey's route: from the basin, before the saddle, when you're crossing a talus field, look up and see the jagged crest - the objective is to meet the ridge just N of the jagged crest. This is probably just talus climbing. Or, from the spur at 7200 or so ft, traverse SE to hit the main divide at the saddle 7500. Then drop down onto snow field on the Ice lakes side, and climb snow back up to regain the shoulder at ~8200 ft. This would be a good way to get to Ice lakes, too.) From the shoulder, the ascent is easy. Time from car to summit, 6 hrs. I bivied on top (bivy sites poor).

In the morning I descended the shoulder, and snow on E side of divide, then regained the divide and scrambled over pt 8033 and on to the notch south of here (terrible rock). From this notch is another feasable approach to Ice lakes via snow on the E side. From here I dropped S to meet the Carne high rt, which I followed to the rock ck trail, which I took back to the car. 5 hrs, summit to car. The rock ck trail is easier than the leroy (switchbacks!), but probably more distance than Leroy, in terms of reaching Maude. Also, the Carne route has lots of ups and downs, which can be annoying. I took an ice axe. If the objective was just Maude, and you didn't mess around scrambling, a day RT is certantainly feasable.

North Face (July 11-12, 2001)

Taunted by reports of good conditions and a more direct approach to the North Face of Maude, I decided to make a solo attempt. I left Seattle late (5pm) and then sat in traffic for ages, stuffing myself with a healthy "dinner" of Doritos™ and greasy blueberry muffins. I reached the trailhead shortly before 9pm. I taped my feet and was walking by 9:15. By 9:45 it was dark enough to require a headlamp. I found the Leroy ck climber's route about an hour after leaving the car, and spent the next hour suffering up its steep grade. Two hours from departure I stumbled into the campsites around 6000 feet, in Leroy basin. I threw my bag down, ate a quick tuna sandwich (flavored with BBQ flavor Corn Nuts™) and was sleeping by midnight.

I awoke at 5AM to grey skies and mosquitos. I ate one of those espresso bean-laced CliffBars™, to attempt to stave off the inevitable coffee headache. The mosquitos were bad, so I crawled back into my bivy sack, zipped up the netting and spent the next hour tormenting them and contemplating the weather. After two weeks of solid sunshine, why should the weather crap out today?

By 6 I was bored with killing bugs and decided to at least hike up to the col between Seven Fingered Jack and Maude. From the camps, a direct ascent faces some bluffs, which can be easily passed on the right, especially if one follows the trail for a bit (until it starts to round a spur with open timber). I like this approach because you gain some elevation on the trail, and then minimize your scrambling up to about 6800 feet where you're forced onto the talus slopes beneath the West face. I reached the col (head towards the left (lowest) side) by 8AM. Within minutes the hail and thunder started. Dark clouds were building up in the Entiat river valley. I futzed around, snacking, checking out the very unlikely-looking approach to the North face for about 45 minutes, before deciding to at least do the approach and then decide on the face.

The approach is strange and dangerous. Probably 80% of it is in a death fall zone. Mostly it consisted of traversing steep snow slopes with short runouts before dropping off over a 500 foot cliff band. It reminded me of the East ledges descent from Forbidden. When not on snow, there were a few (wet and exposed ) gullies to cross on rubble covered ledges. The basic strategy is to stay higher than you think you should and traverse SE. The saddle is about 8100 feet, and I'm guessing you're aiming to hit the N Face at around 7700 feet (my altimiter was having fits, so I'm taking these readings off a map). At this point in the season, it's definitely an option if the party is prepared for this kind of stress level. It's also worth noting that this approach lands you on the North face approximately 500 feet above the bergshrund, so calling it the 'complete' North Face might not be doing justice to teams who've had to wrestle with the shrund crossing. I reached the face at 10AM and given that the weather looked to be improving (although it was hard to see what was on the other side of Maude) I decided to try it.

Once on the face, the route angled up and gradually left on snow all the way. There were places where the snowcover over rock was only about a foot. I moved as quickly as I could, kicking steps all the way. About halfway up it started raining. Much of the route is exposed to rain induced rockfall by the bluffs and ribs above, so opportunities to rest were few. When it wasn't raining, the sun was threatening to come through the clouds -- thankfully it never broke through, because the snow was soft enough as it was. I didn't spend much time looking down either, as the exposure on the face is great, and playing those sorts of headgames when I was alone didn't seem like a good idea.

Rather than climb ice for the last 80 feet, I angled right onto a rock rib. Once on the rib (wet, downsloping ledges covered with mud and debris) I headed up for 30 feet and onto a steepening snowpatch ending in a nice cornice, which I managed to turn on its left side, where it was merely a vertical 10 foot snow face. The exposure was tremendous and I was happy to have brought a second tool at this moment.

I flopped over the top and into the sunshine like a beached whale. I was more relieved than anything. It was 11:30 AM. I ate another tuna and corn nut sandwhich. I rested for a half hour, skipped the summit (I know, I know, but who cares at this point?) and headed down the SSW shoulder to about 8000 ft and then more or less due W. There are some bluffs down this way, but nothing bad. I was back at the 6200 ft camp at about 1:30 PM. I don't understand all the raving about descending gullies down the West face. I guess if they're full of snow (they aren't anymore) you might save a few minutes, but is it worth getting badly off route? I guess it's all about setting fast times these days. I'm pretty unfit and made a round trip from high camp in under 8 hours (this includes an hour waiting out the weather). Who cares?

Anyway, it's a nice route, but for the real N. Face experience, I'd recommend the approach via Ice lakes. You can still camp in the Basin, cruise the trail to below the saddle between Maude and pt 8033 (W of Ice lakes). This probably takes an hour. From there, it's probably 2 hours to the base of the N. Face. In any case, it's certainly not that much longer AND you climb the full N. Face, a point which seems to be lost in all the hubub regarding this "revolutionary" new approach.