12 miles up and down grueling terrain to experience some of the best granite Washington state has to offer.
I set a goal for myself this year to do one real Alpine climb. There are a
number of people I could have approached for this experience, but the person
that came to mind first was a climber I've come to know over the years named
Like me, Jens had been known to haunt the local eastside gym from time to
time. I'd hear of his trips and be in awe of his aspirations. It was never
something I saw myself taking on, but admired those that did. I had looked
up to Jens like I look up to most strong climbers. His style is unique and
his manner guinely friendly. When he came back with the suggestion to try a
Brooke Sandahl route in the Enchantments in the North Cascades: 'Der
Sportsmen- III 5.11+.' I was psyched and naively jumped at the opportunity. I knew this
route would be an undertaking for myself, but I trusted Jens and really
wanted to take it on.
I suppose had I been psyched to free climb the route and snag a first female
ascent, I would have trained most of the year to be ready for it; but that
wasn't my goal. I did however, want to avoid being a big bumbly. Therefore,
I did try to brush up my trad skills and get my legs ready for the heinous
hike. The biggest part I underestimated was just how fit Jens was. Of all
the things I did to prepare and be ready, I don't think I would have been
any more fit to keep pace with him.
Not being an alpine climber, one of the biggest question marks I had on my mind was what it would mean to ‘go alpine.’ I knew Jens well enough to know that this would be his
preferred approach. I asked everyone who I thought might know and got similar and varied details. ‘Going Alpine’ was slang for go as light as
possible. But, what was light, really?
Minimalist packing meant the absolute minimum necessities…gear, which Jens went heavier than normal on for my account; rope, which screwed us since
both of us only had 70m lines (mine was a
Sterling 9.5mm Ion which weighs in at about 60g/m; not the lightest but not the bulkiest
out there either); helmet, harness, shoes, chalkbag; sleeping bag, sleeping pad, bivy sack (thanks, Paul!),
puffy, hat, gloves, camera, light toiletries, headlamp, hiking poles (which I bought right before the hike after seeing Jens with some), a light layer, one heavier layer and water bottle. For food, I made a few sandwhiches and hiked them in, as backup, I had tuna pouches and
those super quick and easy to hike with meals in a pouch (just add water), oh and chocolate and GU (again, thanks, Paul!). The GU was really a lifesaver.
Even though Paul also gave me a water filtration system, I opted out of using it and took my sunglasses and a hat instead. I had a UV light for water
purification, which was small and light.
What I would do differently? Take half the amount of food, apply the sunblock that I took the effort to hike in and out with or a lightweight, long sleeve layer, leg wamers
or calf warmers (Jens had these and they looked warm and appeared easy to put on
and take off), extra batteries for my headlamp (just in case), coffee filter or similar for filtering out
large particles in the water after UV treatment. If I did that, then I would not hike with water.
Oh, and bring comfortable climbing shoes!
I had misjudged the timing for the hike and left late for Peshastin to pick up Jens. Traffic hindered my trip by about 30 to 45 minutes, too. Therefore,
after a quick stop to the local store and we were off to the trailhead. It was about 5 in the evening and I knew that meant late…we were able to hike
to Colchuck Lake by sunset then make the decision to hike Aasgard’s pass or camp on the lake.
The next day we would climb Prusik so I opted for hiking Aasgard's Pass in
the dark to save my legs for the climb the next day.
Up on the plateau, we made camp. Jens had hiked up a small stove and made
some hot chocolate. The sky was clear and moon had not risen, yet. We
chatted for a bit, enjoyed our surroundings, then crashed for the night.
It was an uneventful evening. There was a slight breeze, the moon lit up the
walls around us and with my anticipation of the next day, I semi-slept. At
dawn, I was wide-awake and eager to take in my surroundings by daylight.
We breakfasted, then set about getting to Prusik Peak.
I think we were trying to be really fresh for the climb so we took our time.
In hindsight, I'm not sure we should have done that. We got to the wall
about 10am and Jens set about for the first pitch.
Everything was just as I had imagined it would be to start. The first pitch
was exactly as described by
It was beautiful. at the belay, Jens offered me the lead, which I took. I
had a brief epic up around the corner where I went off route and up a crack
system that Jens pointed out (after I was some ways above my last
protection) was off route. It took a lot of mental will power to explore my
options up there and even more to make the moves into and up that section.
Downclimbing was not an option. Jens had been pretty sure I should go out
right, but I could not make the squence work so opted for the 'more obvious'
left and up alternative. Jens could not see me from his belay stance and
therefore, I was on my own to choose my way.
I made my way to the next bolt and above that piece to what looked like good
knobs left of the flake system I was in. At that point, Jens could see me
and knew I was off route. I had to choose, continue into the unknown,
which Jens also was unsure what was to come or try to downclimb to avoid a
Keeping my cool, I calmy attempted the downclimb. My shoes were nothing but
sand by this point and my feet would not stick easily to the rock. It would be difficult to
make it all the way. I did manage most of the way down but at the cruxy
start after the bolt, my feet slipped off and into the air I went. I
took too long on this section and with the fall, I lowered down to Jens and
suggested in an effort to speed things up, he should just lead the pitch. He
led this one and each successive one and still we made it to Aasgard's Pass
In hindsight, I could have gunned it for the ledge, which turned out to be
the belay station, but it would have been super bold of me and with my first
alpine experience maybe a stupid thing to do. Therefore, although I was
bummed to have it go down the way it did, I was happy we were safe and still
able to climb.
On each of the next successive pitches, I was amazed at what they offered
and even more amazed that Jens, on the sharp end, was so relaxed in this
environment. He casually led the entire climb and met me at each station
with a grin and a word of encouragement. I was no longer feeling brave. The
magnitude of what we were doing was very real to me and I let it sink in.
This was a different space to be in and the mental sharpness required to
sustain oneself up there was something I had not experienced before. I was
'Der' is only 6 pitches and I've climbed more than 6 pitches before, but
something about the wilderness aspect to the climbing made it seem bigger.
Must have been the 8000 ft peaks surrounding me that had an impact, too.
At the summit, I was excited to have completed the climb. We quickly rapped
down and made haste for our stash. My hope was to be on Aasgard's Pass
We made the Pass at sunset, again. My headlamp light was dimming but did not
die on me so Jens had to stay closer to help light my path. Going down
Aasgard's was scarey. I often lost the trail and was sliding on loose rock
trying to make my way toward Jens. I cursed my caution but reminded
myself it was better to get down safely then pretend I wasn't scared and
clumsily find myself with a twisted ankle or worse.
Back at the lake, we set up camp, again. I knew Jens would long have been
out of there, but it was late and I was tired and worried my headlamp would
fail me. Camping one more night didn't seem so bad. It was another gorgeous
night and with my extra food was able to feed Jens and myself for one last
night. We awoke early and made haste for the parking lot. Jens had to work
and I'd already made him late.
On our way out, I ran into one of the women from the class I teach. She was
on her way to Prusik. We'll be swapping stories on Tuesday. 🙂
The weather for this adventure couldn't have been better. Hiking at the
times we did actually protected us from the sun. I still managed a slight
burn from the hike to Prusik and probably from the climb, too. Otherwise,
bugs were not an issue, goats were not an issue, bears were not an issue
(though Jens did point out a bear print in the snow on the way up) and most
importantly, people were not an issue. We went up late in the week to avoid
the crowds. The parking lot was packed when we arrived down on Saturday
morning at 9am.
Many sites have information on how to get here, etc. The
main thing to know is that you need a permit to camp anywhere in the
Enchantments. Permits are limited The hike to Prusik Peak is at least 10
miles (maybe as much as 12). Aasgard's Pass is about 1.5mi, but is super
steep. This is not for the faint of heart. I recommend doing it in the
daytime for the best possible advantage.
Take US 2 Icicle Creek Road past Eightmile Campground, then left at 7601 /
Bridge Creek Campground. Pass the campground, over a bridge (drive slowly
over it) and up a dirt switchback to traill 1599 Lake Stuart / Colchuck
From the trailhead, follow trail 1599 Lake Stuart / Colchuck Lake trail for
2 1/2 miles to the split. Take a left toward Colchuck Lake up switchbacks
for about 1 1/2 miles. Proceed around the west side of the lake toward
Colchuck and Dragontail Peak. The trail then ascends to the left of
Dragontail Peak to Aasgard Pass at 7800’ after 2 miles. Descend into the
Enchantment Lakes for almost 3 miles to the base of Prusik Peak located
north of the trail. (taken from
Obtain permits at the Leavenworth Ranger Station ($5 per person per day)
600 Sherbourne Leavenworth, WA 98826 (509) 548-6977
Or go to Wenachee National
I owe a huge thanks to Jens for hosting me up this climb.
This was an experience I am thankful to have had. After taking Jens home, he
gave me a tour of the winery he works at (and lives at). I met one of the
owners, Lou, who was preparing the Press for pressing some Eidelweiss
grapes. The tour of the winery was short. It is a small family business. Lou
built the house that holds the wine tastings and events. It is made from the
wood in the back and is an impressive piece of work. I bought a bottle of
wine to try and Lou was generous and gave me another bottle. I have a red
blend and their ice chardonney. Now, I only need an excuse to open them!
If you have read this, and are still reading, then you should know that Jens
is hosting a slideshow at Redmond Vertical World on Sunday September 20,
7:30pm. Check it
out. You can also track Jens at his
More pictures can be found at My Webshots site.