After completing many routes in the Cascades that come “in” for many months at a time, we’re learning to adjust to watching weather on routes that come into condition for maybe a week or a few days. Although the North Face gullies are very climbable for much of the year, proper conditions for good ice and mixed climbing might only appear for a couple days, or a week or two depending on the year. It seems that on this route, the prime time is usually in the fall or early winter, before too much snow falls and buries much of the ice. We came expecting a challenging ice route, but found moderate steep snow climbing with two short ice steps.
The road was still shut down beyond the Tilly Jane Sno Park, so we parked the car there and were hiking up the trail at 2:10am. We debated carrying skis on this climb and ultimately decided against it given the supposed climbing difficulties and lack of snow at lower elevations. We happily confirmed our decision on the approach as the trail was patchy and icy until the Tilly Jane cabin and would have made for frustrating and slow skinning. We reached the cabin in about an hour and followed a well-defined bootpack up towards the Eliot Glacier.
Sunrise on the Eliot.
We marched by the stone hut and shortly thereafter, were able to find an adequate place to drop onto the Eliot Glacier (at around 7,000’). Our descent took us down a loose, half-frozen slope of scree and shale but that seems par for the course in the Cascades. We did not see the large rock cairn as reported by many, but we weren’t particularly looking for it either. We traversed the left side of the glacier, breaking trail and seeing no signs of other climbers, a welcome experience on such a busy mountain. We made steady uphill progress through boot deep snow and took note of a couple nice looking ice lines forming on the Eliot Moraine. The Eliot was fat and filled in and we were able to get a good look at some of the upper ice falls as the sun rose.
A few minutes after sunrise we reached the base, roped up and found a good route to cross the bergschrund on the left. We initially traversed in far right in an attempt to find a more direct path up the gully but found only difficult options for passage on that side.
Investigating a possible climber's right crossing of the bergschrund. No dice.
Trudging up to the first step.
Much to our surprise, the gully was in the sun from the moment it rose until we reached the summit, making for a long, hot ascent. This route sits on the Northeast side of the mountain and does not get any shade this time of year. After a short initial snow slope, we headed for the right gully and arrived at the first ice step, which offered excellent sticks for ~30’. At most, this step was in at AI3-.
The first step.
We then trudged through about a 1,000’ vertical feet of wind-packed powder and breakable crust, finding only the occasional section of alpine ice. We finally arrived at the second step: a longer and more vertical section of water ice. This bit was really fun and offered up to WI4 if the steepest sections were climbed directly, or a short step of AI3.
The second step.
Traversing on sugar.
After passing through this last step, we transitioned back to snow trugery up to the Cathedral Spire col, then up through a rock band directly to the summit. We climbed a groove through this rock band which was mostly filled in with snow between a few larger boulders, with no mixed climbing to speak of (unfortunately) but with plenty of breakable crust holding in unconsolidated sugar snow.
Above the spire.
After emptying our snack bags and polishing off the remnants of our water, we began the descent, and wishing very much that we had brought our skis, we de-cramponed and ran back to Timberline lodge. After some shenanigans, we were able to hitch a ride back to our car at Tilly Jane.
Equipment List- North Face, Right Gully
- 1 liter of water each
- Map and GPS
- One hiking pole each
- Ice tools and crampons
- Rope (60m 8.5mm)
- 6 screws (used 4), 3 pickets (used all many times)
- Small cams, a few nuts (used 1 cam)
Starting Elevation: 3,832'
Final Elevation: 11,276'
Elevation Gain: 7,444’
Lower Tilly Jane TH to Summit: 6.2
Summit to Timberline: 3.5
Lower Tilly Jane TH to Summit: 11 hours
Summit to Timberline: 2 hours
Total: 13 hours
Strava GPS link: https://www.strava.com/activities/1526177820