This is the "official" trip summary. For two short reports sent out by participants shortly following the trip see the reports page.
This is being written in June of 2003 from memory, a review of the photos and a map. Life remained frantic following this trip and in the spring of 2003 when I moved these personal "mountain recreation" pages off of the Avalanche Center into their own domain I finally spent some time catching up on many of the loose ends accumulated over several years. Including the finalizing and/or cleaning up all of these Organized Trips pages. Thus is is brief and fairly general, but should reflect the nature of the trip. - Jim
Safety - In keeping with tradition I will share some reflections on safety from the trip here. Dick, Dave and Lois have skied and traveled together before and have a good idea of their goals, interests and abilities. Although they preferred to stick to non-technical travel Dick has done some significant mountaineering in the past and they were probably more than adequately prepared for what they wanted to do. One interesting comment from Dick was that setting up a crevasse rescue pulley system is a lot harder in practice than it may seem from reading a book or trying to remember it from some past instruction. This comment was a result of spending some time one day experimenting and practicing on the glacier in a real crevasse. It's a good comment to keep in mind.
Lyn was the probably the weakest of the group but found plenty of hiking to keep herself occupied and satisfy her enthusiasm. She found a bears den in the trees downstream of camp one day. Toward the end of the trip she hiked up towards Houston Pass and somehow got up some steeper rock or snow than she could come down. This is a common problem - beware when going up anything that you may need to come down it! Fortunately there were some others hiking up there to help her out. Much of the group had hiked to and from the pass multiple times and it may be that it was beginning to sound trivial when it obviously had some potential for problems given a lower experience level. When relying on the comments of others, implicitly or explicitly, remember to take note of their experience level in comparison to yours.
Activities - The weather for the week was mixed, which played some role in what we could do. It certainly wasn't all bad, but I'm not sure we ever trusted it to stay good enough for long enough to attempt anything too long and far. When we first were dropped off there was one party of 3 climbers camping there. They had crossed to Moby Dick glacier one day and reported somewhat tricky navigation around crevasses (by their assessment). Most of their week it had apparently poured rain, along with stiff winds. The afternoon we arrived was ok, if I recall correctly, but it then rained hard for a day or two afterward. Very hard, to the point that it really tested the tents. Most held up fine although I think Lyn did have some water problems. A couple days after we arrived the other group was to leave. The original arrangements had been for two of them to be flown over to a new camp by Oasis Lake in the Westfall group while the third would return to Golden with the helicopter pilot. When Alpine showed up they changed their minds and all left - we think they couldn't get out of there fast enough!
They had occupied the best basecamp spot, on the lee side of huge boulder offering some shelter. After some discussion and minor disagreement (mostly from me, being kind of lazy as far as moving camp) we took over their spot. This was a good move. Fortunately the weather got better after a day or two, but we still had rain with at least some wind at times through the week.
On the first nice day a group of us set out to try climbing an easy route on Claggart Peak, which towers right over the camp. The route description speaks of a snow couloir which we had a lot of uncertainty over. After a later assessment from camp we determined it was mostly gone. (In addition to the inevitable year-to-year variations there has been a clear retreat of glaciers and snowfields in the area. This is most notable when comparing 1980's photos of Moby Dick Glacier to its current extent.) Down low we had to scramble up some polished rock which took a while. One move in particular proved to be almost impossible for Iain in his plastic boots (with no sole flex or smearing capabilities). It was somewhat amusing to watch him keep at it with a combination of frustration and grinning. No giving up or bad attitudes here! Shortly above that section we realized things were going a bit slow, the route was uncertain, and most importantly that there were sprinkles of rain and thunder through the pass. So we traversed into Houston Pass and had some views from there to help us get oriented, then returned.
The rest of the week is harder to remember in terms of when people did things. I believe we did have some other days of at least marginal weather if not all-out downpours. While the order of things has been forgotten this is what people did:
The Tadpole - A mid-week climb by Iain, Chris and Jim. See below.
Houston Pass - Dick, Dave and Lois went up this way a couple times and explored some areas above and behind the pass.
Moby Dick Glacier - The same three went up on the glacier one day just to have a look around, do some general glacier travel, and practice/experiment with crevasse rescue.
Typee - This is a non-technical ascent although some travel and routefinding on snow at least (if not a glacier margin) are required. Dick and some subset of John, Dave and/or Lois found their way up to the summit late one day. This offers great vies down into Butters Creek and Butters Camp. Later Iain and Chris made their own quick ascent.
Rock Climbing and Bouldering - One afternoon Chris and Iain took off with a rope in the direction of the waterfall which drops out of Houston Lake. There are some steep rock outcrops in that area. I went to look for them later but don't remember finding them. Apparently they found someplace to do at least some top-roped climbing. The same boulder which offered shelter for our basecamp also had a handful of good bouldering problems on it which most people gave a few shots at. Iain in particular found this to be entertaining around camp.
Sometime in the middle of the week several of us decided to climb a small tower in front of Proteus called "The Tadpole". According to the guidebook it provides "an interesting, short, rock climb for an off day" and rates as (I, 5.3, A1, s). It turned out to be a bit more than anticipated but did provide an adventurous day. Iain, Chris, John and myself set out in the morning but not at an alpine hour given the description we had.
First we had to scramble up the polished boulders and slabs above camp and below the glacier. Pictures in the guidebook and also in a photo-book of the range sold at Glacier Park show the glacier extending much, much further even 15 years or so ago. But there is now quite a bit of easy 4th class scrambling to get to it. Somewhere towards the top of this John realized he had dropped, lost or forgotten a jacket and set back to look for it. He said if he found it nearby he'd catch up otherwise he would return. He ended up returning to camp.
Chris, Iain and I continued until we reached the glacier. The initial climbing on the ice was pretty steep, to get up onto the glacier. It was something I am entirely used to, and Iain could handle it pretty well. But Chris was less experienced and required some coaching to become more confident on it. A good learning experience, and not too high or long.
Next we crossed the glacier towards the Tadpole. This was pretty straightforward with only a few minor crevasses to watch out for, and a bit of routefinding to get onto the rock at the base. There we could stop and rearrange gear and take a break on some flat rocky areas that were safe from objective hazards.
The bottom third or so of the Tadpole was blocky and steep but not all that steep so we agreed to scramble up it unroped. Therefore it went pretty quick. At the top of this section where it steepened we roped up and began fifth class climbing.
I vaguely recall some minor challenge, perhaps with decent protection points, at the start. Although it wasn't too hard until we got up about a rope-length or so. There appeared to be two options at that point, keeping in mind the route description called for an aid move someplace. There were some cracks heading straight up which appeared to involve more than one or two simple aid placements, and there was an awkward overhanging corner to the right which looked possible to aid and had a piton in it. I hung a sling from the piton hoping to be able to step up high enough to continue in some manner but could not. I tried variations on this for a long time, and it was one of our longer delays. Eventually I was able to make a move around a corner to my right which was exposed and reliant on friction to a great extent but worked out. This ended up getting us around the difficult spot onto the east face of the upper Tadpole. At the top of a somewhat tricky ramp was a good belay location. There may have been a piton here also, I can't recall any more. I belayed Iain up and then Chris and both found it a bit airy and interesting even with a top rope.
Having solved what turned out to be the crux I led out to the right and angled upward on some moss covered blocks and ledges with minimal good protection points but only an occasional 5th class move. We had to belay once more when the rope ran out but were just below the summit, which we may have scrambled to 4th class at the end.
We enjoyed the well-earned summit and assessed different ways down, then set up rappel anchors. It was a long drop into the gully between us and proteus and we had to use 2 ropes. I went first with no problem, and Iain came second. He used an autoblock for security and learned that it is a pain in the butt when there is that much rope weight below. So his rappel was slow and awkward but not unmanageable. This left Chris to come down last, which may have been a mistake since he was the least experienced. We wanted to test the pull-down to make sure the rope would come through the anchors smoothly but he wasn't familiar with the need to do this and due to the long rappel communication was strained. So he rappelled down and we hoped the rope would pull smoothly.
Well, it didn't. I had run it directly through webbing, which in retrospect was a poor idea given the length of the rappel. And we hadn't really been able to test it out. It seemed like with enough pulling it very, very slowly budged. So we climbed up the gully to a reasonable stance, worked from some anchors, and pulled it with a mechanical advantage system (most likely the standard 3-1). This was tedious but worked and eventually towards the end the friction reduced and it went quicker.
We had another rappel or two down the gully before ending up at the top of a steep snow slope. There was some shallow debris at the bottom indicating some surface slides in warm and/or wet weather and the steeper part was a slow descent, primarily for the less experienced. After getting down the snow we reached the bottom of the rock and crossed it below the lower apron to reach the point where we had arrived.
Now we just had to cross the glacier and descend the slopes below. Descending the steep ice was tricky for Chris again, and we tried to give him some instruction in French technique.
Before returning to camp it finally got dark. The rest of the group had turned on the lantern. Most had gone to bed hoping we'd get back late, or had seen our headlamps. They hadn't expected this "short climb for an off day" to take us so long, but they weren't going to worry until morning. When we returned to the guiding beacon of the propane lantern we found John waiting up for us with some hot food ready to serve. What a team player - it would be hard to find a better group member!
For some parties this may indeed be a short easy day. A few things probably made it long for us. The lower slopes are no longer snow/ice, and that may make a slight difference. The ice to gain the glacier is steep and that was slow with inexperienced climbers. A lot of time was spent trying to do what appeared to be the aid move when there was a better way. And the descent was slow due to a poorly rigged rappel (lack of foresight), steep snow for inexperienced climbers, and then the short but steep ice to descend.
So this little "Tadpole" thing actually turned into quite the adventure and provided us with some good varied climbing, a few lessons in efficiency (or at least timing vs experience level), and a great time for the less experienced climbers. Iain found it to be interesting and learned some things as well as gaining experience, and for Chris it was his first true Alpine climb of any kind anywhere.