Duke & Duchess - Royal Traverse

September 21, 2002

Phil invited me to spend this sunny Saturday with he and Ed for some sub-alpine groveling in the I-90's Range. The idea was to go up and traverse the "Duke and Duchess" peaks which are located on the East end of the cirque with McClellan's Butte and Mt. Kent. Ed had spotted the intriguing looking group a few weeks before from a logging road reconnaissance.

Ed's picture of The Duke (left) and The Duchess (right).

Phil touted the climb as a "drive approach", meaning we could take logging roads all the way up into the Alice Creek basin, and right up near the base of the peaks. In reality, we ended up taking a wrong spur road and began the day with a solid 45 minutes of pointless bushwhacking. A theme that would become all too familiar in this sub-alpine underworld...

After pushing our way up through all sorts of brush (suspended in slide alder, thrashed by sharp bushes, an early visit to the Christmas tree farm) we made it into the loose scree basin below the first col on the route. We stumbled our way across the scree and up through very steep and slippery dirt. Phil mentioned how nice it would be to have crampons, while Ed marveled at the delicate root system that allowed access to the col.

Ed pushes for the col! Photo: Phil Fortier

Ahead we could make out a steep and brushy headwall. Hmm. Up we go to inspect. The face had few features, and seeing as this was only a small bump before the big steep looking summit ahead, we decided to scramble up through rocky 3/4th class gullies that cut across the face. Along the way Phil starts fighting with a wasp. Unfortunately the wasp wins, and Phil gets stung on his hand. As his hand begins to swell and hurt, Phil decides to cover it with a glove for protection. From then on he was known as Phil "Michael Jackson" Fortier!

Just before the top of the spire we rope up and running belay over the top and down the other side. Easy scrambling leads to another slick steep dirt slope before the next col. As I work my way down (first) someone above sends down an absolute torrent of rocks. With an early warning I'm able to run to safety, but the size and quantity scare us a bit. As Phil comes down in the middle, Ed sets loose a television sized chunk. It again pounces over the rope and across our track. Yikes!

At the col we can see the face above is very steep, but has some obvious weaknesses. I lead up on a dirt gully that soon has an edgy low-5th class step. Above follows yet another slick 40 degree dirt slope. This turns out to be way scarier than brushy rock because it is so tenuous. Crampons really would have been great!

Here we have dead ended into a steep 40 ft. headwall, so I traverse left to a ledge and bring the guys up. Around the arete lies a short near-vertical wall with some good looking cracks. I head up, expecting great edges and pro. At the first series of "edges" I clean about six medium sized blocks off the wall. I then notice that the remaining "solid" blocks are actually "solider." So much for all that great pro, but the climbing is pretty mellow with a few good edges left and tree limbs thrown in for good measure (brushy 5.5). Above we running belay through forest up to the ridgeline below the summit.

We finally get a view of the impressive North Wall of The Duchess. Very steep, very mossy, and few weaknesses. We climb up to the ridge crest, and I am relieved to find that there is a mere 20 ft step of 5.6 to attain the rocky ridge crest leading to the summit.

Phil climbs up the crux on The Dutchess. Photo by: Ed

After determining that there isn't a summit register, Phil pulls out his secret pre-prepaired register. Now unveiled before our eyes, the cut-in-half pop can lacks that romantic luster of registers made from ammo boxes and the like. However, it does the job.

The way ahead... Photo: Phil Fortier

After a quick lunch, we took off, slightly worried about how long it took us to climb only a small section of the long traverse. The terrain ahead eased considerably and we hiked and scrambled quickly over the next few peaks. After attaining part of the middle group of peaks, Ed set to work on leading a short steep step to the next summit. As he was placing a piece, Phil commented on how the wall above him appeared to be a huge pile of loose rocks. After some grunting Ed made it up the loose and difficult move. But before he could move up, his foothold literally tumbled away, and he nearly went with it!

Ed tangles with the loose step. Photo: Phil Fortier

After that we cruised along again over easy terrain. We downclimbed a steep scree slope as we approached a blank and long looking arete on the next peak. Luckily we were able to avoid the imposing feature by climbing a brushy gully on its left side. Atop the spire we had a steep cliff that lead to the final notch before The Duke. Phil began looking down the hill for a cut-in from below, but a rib cliffed out the entire way down. After some optimistic looking, I spotted a way to downclimb. I lead down, gingerly slinging boulders to protect Phil coming down last. When Ed was downclimbing second he pulled off the key hold (which was also slung as pro) and sent it down into the chasm. Doh! He and Phil eventually decided to rap down the step instead.

After a short knife edge we reracked and I lead off up the ridge crest of The Duke. Pleasantly solid and clean rock lead up the ridge with two 20 foot sections of 5th class. Both were nicely exposed and with solid cracks. That was more like it!

Phil climbing the nice rock. Phot by: Ed

We soon were all on top, enjoying the views of Rainier and relishing in our sub-alpine victory. We dubbed the route "The Royal Traverse".

Ed and I on top of The Duke. Photo: Phil Fortier

The descent was all sorts of madness. We dropped down the ridge and then down to talus on the East side. We traversed a quarter mile and then climbed back up to the crest at a prominent col. From here it was an arduous scree and brush bash back to the road near the head of Alice Creek. A short walk back to the truck topped off the 10 hour day. Spartanly, Ed wore a T-shirt and shorts the entire time, however, his legs looked trashed! :)

The Royal Traverse exclusive topo!

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