I decided to write the story, to help me remember what I did. It's long, I don't recommend you read it.
Mount Slesse via Southwest Buttress Sept 30/2016 solo
Mount Slesse, where do I begin the story? I could go back to my first attempt, probably 20 years ago, as a young "climber" (hey I owned rock shoes AND a rope), I thought it's 5.6, I can do that. Luckily that one failed early, I only got as far as the knoll on the steep approach trail. Or my failure last year, when I dragged a partner up the crossover descent route, thinking we could reverse the descent and climb the peak. We failed on the ridge when we realized just how far away the peak was, plus the wet black lichen was treacherously slick. I've talked Slesse with many people, the NE arÍte is famous.
Or I could look back over my year, 25 new peaks make it the best one in a while. And some good ones in there, the long "days", Ossa, Shields, Castle Towers. The fast days, Cassiope/Saxifrage, Capilano, Fissile. The Tolkien group triple in a day. Mt Hood in the wind. Cirque went down much easier than anticipated. Maybe I'm looking for a big peak to finish out the year?
I left work on Thursday, stopped to load up on bars and dumped all my gear on my floor. I was still half packed from an attempt on the east ridge of Matier the previous Saturday and I needed to change out the winter gear for rock. I've done enough trips that the packing went quick. A few late evening messages with a '"responsible friend" to leave a trip plan and instructions as to when to call in SAR and off to bed with a 2am alarm.
Luckily my internal clock is well calibrated, as my alarm didn't work but I awoke at 2 anyway. Once I got moving, it was on. There was very little emotion all day, no anxiety, no fear, even though I knew what I was attempting was very serious. The drive went fine, I arrived at a washout in the road at 4:30am. It meant a longer walk than the old parking, and I decided the best thing to do was have a 20 minute nap before I started. I've never slept well before a big mountain day before so the fact I was able to nap was interesting.
At 5am I started hiking the old road. With the dim light of my headlamp, my hearing took over, an owl was heard in the dark morning, the rustle of fall leaves as I walked and the distant sounds of Slesse creek. The old road made for easy walking, it was mostly flat and smooth, and around 6:30 I reached the junction with the climbers descent trail. Alone in the dark and bored, my thoughts were to turn back, come back with a partner, I'm not sure I can do what needs to be done today.
But my legs kept moving, usually it the mind pushing the body, today the body went into autopilot and kept me moving up the hill. I distracted myself by watching my altimeter, trying to keep pace, 100meters of gain every 10 minutes, not because I'm fast or strong but because that's what the trail wanted. My pack felt heavy, I'm sure the weight of 5 failures on this peak was dragging me down, but like a husky harnessed into a heavy sled I put my shoulders into the straps and pushed.
I made it to the knoll at 1850meters and took a break. I could see the summit and most of the route ahead. It seemed so far and so hard. There were clouds swirling around the peak. I couldn't yet visualize how to climb it, but was determined to go until stopped. I had weak cell service here, I could update a few people.
After the knoll, the route drops a bit and the trail is less distinct. Still easy to follow and you can see where your going so up I went. Then traversing an open slope aiming for a large gulley coming off the left edge of the summit. Up the gulley and below the dark imposing rock of the peak. Searching for a line of weakness on the rock walls on my right.
At the top of the gulley, still looking for a route, I drop my big pack and gear up. Harness on, my merger rack on one gear loop, some slings and cord on the other side. I have a smaller pack for the summit push and move over some warm clothes, food and water. The best line up the rock also has a large rock at the base, perfect for an anchor for my rope solo. I tie a cord around, clip in one end of my climbing rope. I pay out a bunch of slack and clip in with a hard knot and also put a prussik on the rope and clip it too. The wall is near vertical, I'm careful but confident, I keep my rock shoes on good holds. I move a ways before I stop to place gear, a cam goes into a good crack, it inspires confidence and I clove hitch it into the system. The prussik doesn't auto feed and I waste time sliding it up the rope and moving the hard knot a few times. I move up and left, stepping over an overhang, the good foothold here doesn't look attached so I use one that's just ok. With the exposure below me now, I stop to sink a good nut, realizing I forgot my nut tool and this piece may be staying behind. Totally committed now, up is off so that's where I go, the angle kicks back and I see a rap anchor ahead. Tie the rope off to the rap anchor, clip my pack in and switch my self belay into a rappel.
Rap right back down, cleaning the gear, the nut was stubborn but I got it out. Untie the ground anchor and climb back up. It doesn't seem any easier a second time, ever with a fixed rope to belay off. Back at the rap anchor, coil the rope and find the route. Nothing looked good out left so I trended right. When I ran out of right, I had to go up. Dark black lichen on the rock, but not vertical so up I went. I reached the top of this step to find a large solid rap anchor. A trail in scree could be seen descending slightly into a gulley and wrapping around right towards the south peak.
I stay on the solid rock in the left side of the next gulley, in rock shoes it goes fine, but there are definite "moves" required. As I come up parallel to the top of that gulley, I'm forced to turn left and go straight at the summit. Real climbing in here, route finding around where I need to. The summit is getting close and soon I'm on top.
The summit is a ridge with a bunch of high points, the farther one looks higher so I traverse over. A direct line doesn't work so I drop down left and climb back up. Once I'm satisfied I've hit the highest point, I take a break. There's no real excitement on making the summit, I still have a serious descent to deal with.
I've seen many rap stations along the way on the way up so I start descending off the summit. The first one I reach looks ok, I can see a better one farther right but getting to it looks exposed so I just use the first one. It drops me 28m to a small ledge with overhanging rock below. An old rusty piton and some bad slings are all that here. I debate about adding a cord to backup the old tat, but 1 sling looks decent so I just trust it. Probably safer to get down quick than hang out on this small ledge. A fast but soft and light rappel and I'm back on easier ground.
A bunch of scrambling, down climbing and a few more rappels and I'm back at my big pack at the top of the gulley. Off the technical section of the trip I can relax a little but it's still a long way back.
The hike down was uneventful, other than losing the route a few times high on the ridge, but you can see the knoll your aiming for most of the time so I just headed for it. The long steep trail reminded me of the one off place glacier, I wondered which one is steeper. Then the boring road back to the truck and it's done.
I told a few people about my trip, after. No one seems to understand what I did, they just assume I went hiking again. But I feel different, which is the only thing that matters.