Mount Kent - North Face

Another perfect weekend for climbing in this low snow winter set the stage for Phil and I to complete a project! Phil had noticed the somewhat hidden North face of Mount Kent a couple years prior while skiing on the other side of the highway. In the same circ as McClellan's butte, this face is only visable from the highway for about 10 seconds as you zip by on I-90 to larger destinations. But if you take your eyes off the road for long enough, you too may be intruiged by this hidden mountain. The North face is a maze of steep ribs and gullies with the occasional step of waterice flowing over a cliffband. Oh yes, and can't forget the trees that dominate the scene all over the 1,400 foot face. The only information we had ever heard on the face was a short blurb that I had accidently run across while researching in the AAJ (1994) where Dallas Kolke had climbed something on Kent's North Face, claiming its first ascent as well.

Kent Peak's North Face. Phil and I's route in red, and waterice steps in blue. Not a lot of snow in those gullies, eh Phil?

We decided to get an early start, so I picked Phil up at 6:30 and we were soon at the trailhead, just outside of North Bend. The hike in to Kent has a true cascade feel: A little bit of trail walking that would lead to more pedestrian ventures, and then a dash off into the devil's club to approach the mountain head on. Unfortunatly, we had to dash back to Seattle and pickup a rope that Mr. Fortier decided that he didn't want to carry from home that morning! :)

Leaving the Upper most road (that one can access from exit 38 in summer) on the East side of Alice Creek at around 11am, Phil and I made our way through a flat, snowcovered marsh. I would not recommend this approach in summer to any but my worst enemy! But seeing as a decent two feet of snow covered the marsh, we had easy going. I walked in with my snowshoes on my back while Phil tested out the death spikes of his new MSR Denali Ascents! The death spikes lead us through patches of Devils club that still stuck through the snow, and up to the snow slope leading directly to the base of the North face. We stayed mostly uphill of the river, and finished the approach through a nice dense christmas tree patch.

The snow had been so firm that we decided to ditch the snowshoes at the base of the slope. Even though we had chosen a "prominent" 2 ft. rock to stash them by, we decided to mark the spot with my fancy new eTrex GPS. Then up we went. Switching step kicking duties, we both realized how much sitting on our buts we'd been doing since our glorious day back on Eldorado in October. About 45 minutes later we were standing at the base of the face.

Now, from the moment we saw the face that day, we were intimidated. It seemed to have less and less snow on it the closer we got, and the "fat" ice we'd seen from the freeway was looking more like glazed rock. Phil had initially decided on an asthedic line directly up the center of the face. A Gully seemed to go from bottom to top without too many rock bands. This gully terminated in a steep rocky gully directly on the summit. We were soon to notice all the thin coating of snow and difficult thin ice entry into this gully. So we decided to start on a gully to the left and work our way back to mid face higher up. As we got even closer to our "left" hand gully, its entrance was also steep and on thin ice. Ug! This was supposed to be fun gully climbing with waterice, not steep rock and brush! Never the less, we were there, and we had to give it a try. It was 1 pm.

The map shows that the first few hundred feet of the face are the steepest. Phil and Dave get intimidated.

It was my lead, so I geared up with a barage of ice, snow and rock climbing gear. Cramponing up excellent frozen snow, I lead out half the rope to the base of the waterice smears. I sunk a decent picket, but the thin ice corner didn't look good. About 1" covered the rock, and at the top it thinned to snow over 60 degree rock. Not my idea of a good time! So I traversed right towards some easier looking rock steps on a rib. Finding a solid baby angle pin placment gave me the boost I needed to climb the moss covered rock up to as small ledge. From here I traversed over a rock slab (very hard with crampons on) with a small stump for hand holds. I teniously worked my way towards a small sapling which I quickly slung and relaxed. I had made it to the snow about the cliff! I brought Phil up to what is now known as "the wet butt belay".

When the trees below me started shaking violently, I knew phil was almost to the belay. With a grunt about hoping there arn't a lot more pitches like that one, he was off on a spectacular lead of groveling in true cascade style!

Phil's rendition of the second pitch. Now this is winter climbing!

Phil took a long time to lead the next pitch. "What could be the problem?" as I thought I saw easy-ish snow through trees above. When it came my turn to climb, I realized the severity of the groveling that Phil had endured. The pitch consisted of brushy rock with snow on it, about 70 degrees or so, and had nice little patches of frozen dirt that made for good tool placements. Everything was getting tangled in the little saplings and brush, but soon I made it up to the belay at the edge of out "left" gully.

It was getting late, towards 3pm now. We had only climbed a maximum of 300 feet on a 1,400 foot face in two hours! The gully looked inviting, but we couldn't be sure if it would deadend into more technical cliffs. The curvy nature of the gullies restricted our view to about one pitch, but we decided to give it a try anyways. If we weren't able to make it up, we'd have to rapell the brush pitches in the dark. Ils fout rester motive! (we have to stay motivated)

Thin snow, thin ice and trees on Mt. Kent's North Face

I climbed out on steep snow, and traversed over a snow rib into the farther right of two gullies. The first aparently dead ended in cliffs, so we tried our luck with the far one. We began to wish we had brought a picture of the face with us! Fun gully climbing continued, and soon Phil and I were simuclimbing decent 45 degree frozen snow. Every time we ran out a pitch and had to sling another tree, Phil would ask how it looked. Several times I replied, "I need to go a little higher to see!" Every time the slinky gully curved out of sight. Eventually I found that the gully we were in joined up with another large gully. At first it seemed that we would have to make a committing rapell into that gully, but we soon found that a steep snow traverse was possible.

Phil leading out into the third gully.

We were making good time, and the climbing was enjoyable. Phil lead while I collected the annoying pickets after each rope length. We came to a branch and took the left fork--It would probably top out faster. The angle increased to about 50 degrees and narrowed. Soon Phil called down that he saw snow to the ridge crest! We were soon to be off the face! I joined him at a belay under an overhang and then lead up that last bit of 50-60 degree snow to the ridge crest. It was now 4:50pm.

Looking down the Left gully. Notice the setting sun!

We decided to traverse more onto the SE face before heading down. Due to the late hour, we skipped the summit. The decent was pleasant with breath taking view of Mt. Rainier with bright red alpen-glow. Before we made it down to the valley, it became dark. We followed the creek that drained the valley back around the mountain to near where we had cached our snowshoes. What a perfect time to use my GPS I thought! It is dark, and our prominent rock looks a lot like all these other prominent rocks. After dialing in the way point, we happened to be only 500 feet away. As we arrived at where the GPS said the shoes were, we entered a thicket of brush. Damn that 130 feet of error! We ditched the technology and just looked for our tracks.

We quickly followed our tracks out through the forrest by headlamp. When we were about half way back to the road, we heard a familiar sound. A sort of low pulsing-humming sound. I figured that it must be a grouse or two following us, for I had heard the same thing following us on the Slesse Creek trail a year before. As we made it out to the road, we yelled out with joy for we were done route finding in the dark, and dinner wasn't too far away. But as we emerged, we saw a flashlight shining through the trees. Then came a shout, "Do you have a truck??!?" Oh great, locals. We walked a hundred feet up the road and found a guy with his truck deeply stuck in the 2 feet of crusty snow on the road. With his questionably legal girlfriend in the cab, he explained how they had been stuck there since around 11 that morning. They had valiantly kept up the fight to extracate the truck from the snow bank for almost 8 hours now! Perhaps the 4 mile walk back to the exit 38 was too far to do in 8 hours.

It was their lucky day becuase the happened to be stuck about 300 yards from the McClellan's butte trail, AND phil had extra cookies. The girlfriend was quick to snap those up, but didn't much care for my offer of yogurt covered rasberries (hey, I liked 'em!). Aparently she said she was "a cookie kinda girl." The walk out was filled with all sorts of interesting conversation. Phil and I were from such different worlds that it was hard to find anything to talk about. I tried to turn my brain off and concentrate on walking, as I was getting pretty hagard. The following are some exerpts that Phil could remember of our conversations.

"So do you guys love to mountain climb a lot?"
"Mah mom's gonna have a hell of a time bleaching the dirt out of mah pants!"
"When I get home, the first thing ahm gonna do is take a hot shower. If my brother's in the shower, well he better get out! If don't come out, ahm gonna go in there and drag him out bah his nuts!"
"Ahm wish ah had mah fuzzy purple blanket which is made of the same stuff as the sweater ahm wearing right now - it's a nice sweater, I told mom she shoulda got wun - just like those gloves she got .....[blah blah blah]"

We dropped them off at the Cheveron in North Bend were other "small town" things were going on. They were getting a ride so we went off to stuff ourselves full of pasta as a reward for a fun and stressfull day of climbing.

We were later to find out that in Dallas Kokle's self-published book, One day winter Climbs, he describes climbing the gully route in the center of the face, leading right to the summit. Aparently our gully route had not been done before!

[Return to Home Page]