Sloan Peak August 25th, 2001Michael and I had decided to hook up and try a little-known route on Sloan Peak, the north ridge. The Beckey guide had a description that said it was class 3 and 4, and another that said there were 3 roped class 5 pitches. There was apparently some rotten rock in a few of the notches you have to cross (one part of the description described a "difficult" move out of a notch - then why are you calling it class 4!? Class 4 ain't supposed to be difficult). One slightly confusing aspect of the route description was that it states to follow the east side of the ridge. However, the photo with the route drawn in, shows it well below the ridge, on the west side. There is also a question mark stamped on the photo. Heh heh.
At some time before 7am, we left the trailhead - ours was the only car there. We spent almost the next hour trying to find a way across the river. Instead of following the most obvious trail, we tried to "outsmart" the flagging, and kept coming to difficult, deep-looking sections of river. Finally, after exhausting all path options, we ended up on the right one, which was a combination of mini-crossings on logs, and then a final ford, which was straightforward and only calf deep. On the other bank, there were two guys. We waved. We assumed they were coming back from a Friday climb (but then where was their car?). Anxious for beta on the conditions of the glacier, we hurried across. When we got to the other side, they were gone. Huh? Turns out, they were also heading up - they had parked, and passed us and forded the river while we were wandering around in the Sauk river brush fields. I think Michael and I could now draw a map of all the path options around the Sauk.
We found the trail on the other side of the river. It was well-flagged, and we began the phusically arduous descent. I was a bit hungover, and maybe still tired from the previous weekend (Garfield), and Michael was tired from his two previous exhausting weekends (Mt Index, and Mesahchie Peak).
A few hours later, we came to an open basin and lost the trail. We headed up easy talus towards a sort of headwall. Options looked grimmer up here, and we ended up climing a sketchy slick gully, with loose rock and occasional brush holds. This was more difficult than the brush on Garfield approach in general, due to the slick mud-covered slab underfoot (instead of pine needle dirt slopes). But it was short, and 100 feet later, we arrived on the hill top and found the proper trail.
Descending to a stream, we hiked up a moraine-y thing, and then headed right on heather, and finally onto really nice solid class 2-3 slabs. This is further right than the normal route, but it would take us directly to the north ridge. After several hundred feet of fun slab scrambling, the crampons came out and we headed up firm snow to an overlook of the Sloan glacier, a few hundred feet below the north ridge. We spotted the party ahead of us on the glacier, doing some route-finding.
We debated ditching the north ridge, and just doing the standard route - partly because we were tired, and partly because we were unsure of the passability of the glacier, which we would be doing on the descent. In the end, we decided to give the north ridge a shot, and hiked up the remaining few hundred feet to the base of the ridge.
Nothing was immediately obvious as a route. The east side looked ok just below the crest - shattered and loose-looking, but blocky. The tower right in front of us looked like it started out with (easy) stuff you'd probably want to be roped up for. We crossed over to the west side of the ridge to get a look at the line marked on the photo in Beckey. Holy crap! It looked absolutely heinous - like 70 degree dirt. Maybe it was just the foreshortening effect, but it looked exceedingly dangerous. Above the 70 degree dirt was steep rock. It looked like any route would be on the other side, near the crest.
Back at the base, we decided to just go for the standard route. We both were already very tired (5000 feet of ascent to here), and I was feeling kind of bonky. Not really up for "n" number of roped pitches.
We found a place to get on the glacier, and proceded across. The glacier is beautiful - it looks like one on Rainier. Lots of seracs, deep ice caves, even a natural ice arch. The route was rather circuitous, but overall straightforward, and brought us right beneath the east face.
Easy walking among piles of rockfall on the snow brought us to the big ledge on the south face. Here, we met the party ahead of us, just coming down from the summit.
We hiked along the well-traveled path on the heather ledges, up around to the west side, and up easy dirty gullies towards the summit. The final little bit has some nice solid exposed scrambling. I think it was 2 or 3 o'clock when we got to the summit.
The view from the summit of Sloan is quite spectacular. Not in the sense of cool stuff close by, but because of what you can see in the distance. It's position, and height above the surrounding peaks give unobscured views in all directions. We also spied a much better-looking route across the glacier, that follows the base of the east face almost all the way.
The descent down the ledges and across the glacier was straightforward, with a little bit of steep exposed snow above a crevasse. We spotted a bunch of tents at the popular bivy site, and descended down that way, hoping to be social and pick up the main trail.
There were at least 4 parties camped here, intending to summit tomorrow. Wow, popular place! Below the bivy site, we picked up a trail, and were able to follow it most of the way down the basin. We set a fast pace for the descent, and reached the truck just before dark. A nice "relaxing" day overall, with great weather and great views.