Guye Peak - S Gully
Saturday's forecast called for clear blue skies in the mountains, so Ambrose (my boss) and I decided to climb the famed S gully on Guye peak. We left Seattle with fantastic 7-11 coffee at around 6am and made it up to the pass under clear skies around 7. Amazingly, the dreaded "snoqualmie ice fog" had not taken hold of the pass. (Emily and I had spent the previous sunny Monday skiing in a total cloud with blue skies only a few hundred feet above all day!) We started hiking up the Sahalie rope tow area just before 8 a.m.
The trail was hard packed ice on the sledding trails, and breakable crust elsewhere. We quickly followed the right snowshoe paths into the woods and to the base of the avalanche run-out zone for the gully. The old debris allowed for solid footing, and soon we were up to the base of some ice leading into the gully! How nice it was to be the only ones around on such a sunny day at the pass. Was this really the Alpental valley?? Sure enough, before we had roped up, another party was above and to the left perhaps attempting the S rib. We roped up at the base of a short steep rock step that had enjoyable ice for about 15 feet. Little did we know that that was the only ice we'd see that day! Above this we contoured right into the base of the gully. According to Ambrose, the gully was in poor condition with very little snow compaired to other years. However, nice solid frozen snow lead up through short rock steps and past several good tree anchors. We cruised along, placing a piece about every ropelength (60 ft) until I quickly ran out of my few slings.
About then we entered the sun. Something unusual I though about a popular "ice" gully was that it is south facing! The temperatures soared into the 40's and the nice frozen snow of below turned to mush over rock. In a feutile attempt to protect a slushy steep rock step, I hand placed a nice picket half way into the "cold oatmeal" consistancy snow. Not to worry though, these down-sloping slabby foot holds should accept crampons great, right?? After running it out like this for a rope length or two with no protection between us I was able to work over to a tree on some solid 60 deg. snow. In general the gully isn't very steep, only 35-40 degrees. About every 60 feet or so there would be an interesting drytooling/rock climbing step to surmount which kept the climbing interesting and the rope on. Several medium to small nuts were nice in here, though I saw plenty of opportunity for a #1 and #2 camalot along our route.
High in the gully it narrows and eventually hits a headwall of steep rock. I think variations can climb you out onto the S rib from here, but we opten to go right (East) towards more gentile terrain (read: only had 6 chocks :). Ambrose was pretty sure we could just rope off once we were out of the gully and established on the right hand rib. This would have been true if he was in the lead! I decided that a snow slog through the glop was a bit unappealing, so I startined taking the "direct" route up the rib. We climbed up some nice rock terraces leading to a final slab-chimney that we bypassed by a traverse right under an overhang. The pro was fairly spaced still, about 2 per ropelength, but the climbing was easy and enjoyable. Finally there was no more rock for me to lead the unsuspecting Ambrose through, so we un roped.
What followed pretty much sucked! we climbed up mushy shin deep snow over more and more percipitious drop offs. At one point Ambrose exclaimed, "thank god for trees" as he pulled onver a steep slush step that was way exposed over the cliffs of the former gully. Eventually these snow slopes lead up and left, rejoining the gully just below the S (highest) summit.
We had taken just about 3 hours from car to summit, and enjoyed a chilly lunch in the wind while taking in the usual beautiful view on those clear winter days. Seeing as Ambrose had climbed the gully 4 or 5 times before, I expected that he'd know the decent too right? Well, that could be left to interperetation. We crossed over to a col between the S and Mid summits and then went down onto the W face over a big drop to climb another snow gully back onto the top of the Mid summit. Things wern't looking too familiar but it was "going" so we went on. Another detour onto the west face insued just before the North summit, but this time the exposure was more serious. We went along the base of an overhand on snow until it petered out into the face. The only way out was up, so we climbed a 15 foot low-fifth rock step up through a crack to a snowfield leading to the N ridge. Finally on safe ground we glissaded and postholed down towards the Guye/Snoqualmie Col.
The crust on the snow I mentioned from the morning was still in full effect on the shaded north slopes. We throughly beat our shin's up trying to walk down towards Alpental. After pacing back and forth along the cliffs above Alpental, we finally found the proper area to decend. This area seems to be notorious for getting cliffed-out on. The thing you want to do to get down is traverse until you are above the main Alpental parking lot and then go down. Simple, right?
Once down onto the road we had to walk a mile back down to the car. I think that a better decent would be to go down the N ridge until it's possible to cut back S and skirt along the base of the West face. This would deposit you right back at the car. But beware of the big cliff bands below this snow catwalk or you may be in for a first descent!