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SLOAN Peak Route: Fire on the Mountain (5.10d, 1000' of technical rock, 500' of scrambling)

Category: Washington      Trip Report #: 229
Partner: Duncan Ralph
Rock Type: Diorite
Summit Elev: 7,835 ft

An adventurous 5.10 with a handful of excellent pitches and some so-so scrambling. As far as I know, our ascent was the 4th ascent of the route.


Sloan Peak stands high above the peaks of the Mountain Loop Highway. Because of its distinctive profile, visible from so many locations in the Cascades, I've always thought of it as the "Matterhorn of the Cascades". The most popular route up the mountain is the Corkscrew Route (3rd and some glacier travel), named for its corkscrew-like path around the mountain to the top. I've long had this route on the back-burner, but whenever I've started to make plans to climb it, I've been distracted by a more technical (i.e. more rock climbing) objective. But my interest in Sloan was rekindled when I caught wind of Fire on the Mountain, a 1500' rock route on the steep southwest face of Sloan put up by Rad Roberts and Blake Herrington in 2009. This route involves 1000' of technical rock climbing (up to 5.10d) and 500' of scrambling to the summit. 

In their trip report for the first ascent of Fire on the Mountain, Blake and Rad reported that the rock on Sloan's southwest face is excellent, featuring wild knobs and diorite fins, unusual for alpine rock climbing and reminiscent of California's Lover's Leap. The route tackles many sections of face climbing between terraces running horizontally across the face. Although it had been seven years since Blake and Rad's first ascent, I could only find two other reports of it being climbed since (Sol's TR, Ryan's TR); both reports were an adventuours day of climbing in the Cascades on generally good rock. With its inclusion in Blake's Cascades Rock guidebook (2016), the route is bound to see more traffic in the coming years.

My first attempt of Fire on the Mountain was in July 2016. NOAA forecasted a sunny day, but when Rad and I got to the base low clouds had settled around the mountain. Fire on the Mountain had become Mist on the Mountain. So instead we climbed the descent route to the summit (SE Shelf to Upper Corkscrew Route). We had no views the entire day. Click here to see my trip report for our scramble up the SE Shelf to Upper Corkscrew Route.

So a month later, in late August, I returned with Duncan Ralph to climb Fire on the Mountain. (Surely NOAA's sunny day forecast cannot be wrong in August!) We started up the route around 8:30am, under blue skies. The first pitch (the technical crux of the route, at 10d) was excellent, featuring challenging 5.9 climbing up a chimney and finishing with splitter 5.10 cracks up a steep face. The second pitch was also excellent, featuring 10- climbing up a handcrack and then a featured face and then a hand traverse under a roof. There was a reasonable amount of lichen, moss, and dirt considering the route had only seen a few ascents, but the rock was surprisingly solid and cool knobs and fins abounded. Pitches 3-5 were not quite as good as Pitches 1-2, but they still offered decent climbing up interesting features. Pitch 6 was back with more great climbing, up a steep face of fins and knobs (5.8R) to a challenging steep corner (10c). Pitch 7 finished with a lot of rambling upward, trying to navigate the route description when several options exist. The white-out conditions (looks like NOAA had it wrong again....) did not help. But we eventually found our way to to a giant heather shelf which looked familiar to me from when I had scrambled up the descent route in July. Given the lack of visibility and the fact that I had tagged the summit a month previous, we descended from here rather than scrambling to the summit. Despite our disappointment in the lack of views (I imagine that the views from Sloan are excellent) and gloomy aura rather than the sunlit meadowy terrain characteristic of the upper mountain, Duncan and I felt an element of satisfaction for climbing the challenging route we had set off to climb. We agreed that Fire on the Mountain is a worthy route given its position on such a big mountain and its unique climbing on diorite fins and knobs and generally good rock. It's a good 5.10 route to do if you are looking for a little adventure off the beaten path.

The following page contains some photos from the climb. As far as I know, ours was the fourth ascent of the route.

Map (click image for 8.5x11 size for printing):



Photo descriptions:
Bedal Creek Trail
1. The trail ended 2.5 miles from the trailhead at a large washout coming down Bedal Creek from the basin below the West Face of Sloan. From here, we clambered up the washout towards the basin, eventually exiting the washout (cairn) and getting on a trail in the forest. There was a path all the way into the basin.
2. West Face of Sloan Peak.
3. To get to the SW Face, we crossed over the ridge shown in the photo, which separates the basin below the West Face from the basin below the SW Face.
4. SW Face of Sloan Peak.
5.10d, 50m
5. Looking up from near the base of the route. The first pitch goes up the left-facing and left-leaning corner and chimney system on the right side of the SW Face. This is the crux pitch and also some of the best climbing on the route. It is a long pitch and there is a decent ledge halfway up, so I split this pitch into two leads.
6-7. Duncan in the 5.9 chimney in the first half of Pitch 1.
8. Duncan on the cracks on the second half of Pitch 1. The 10d crux seems to be an near the top of the pitch where the crack arches left and becomes a little overhanging. But the gear is good. 
5.10-, 60m
9. Looking north from the belay at the top of Pitch 1 / base of Pitch 2. You can see how steep the SW Face is. Also note how the sun is creeping towards us—the route was in the sun around 11am. It would have stayed in the sun all day, but low clouds rolled in around noon....
10. Duncan leading Pitch 2. This pitch is sort of a journey, full of really good and interesting climbing. It begins my moving right along a grassy ledge, then ascends a hand crack, then a featured face, then a OW crack, then a hand traverse under a roof.
11. The hand crack near the start of the pitch.
12. The featured face.
13. Steph climbing up Pitch 2 (photo by Duncan).
14. The hand traverse under a roof. Here Duncan is at the belay at the end of the pitch.
5.8, 40m
15. Pitch 4 goes us a right-facing corner and ends at a giant heather ledge. The photo is taken looking up from the belay below the pitch. The correct corner is to the right and out of view. The corner shown in the photo is NOT the correct corner (I initially started up this way, but it turned out to be very dirty and not at all 5.8, so I backed off and went up the corner to the right which was much better).

5.9, 45m
16. Pitch 4 ascends a left-trending crack system to a clean dihedral with an OW crack and ends on the top of a pedestal. The topo we had shows the pitch ascending the right side of the pedestal. So we climbed the crack system ascending the right side of the pedestal, shown in the photo. However, we never did come across a "clean dihedral with an OW crack" (we did climb a dirty dihedral and I guess you could have set a #4 at some point), so we never did conclude whether or not we were on route. In either case, we arrived at the top of the pedestal and seemed to be right on route again.
17. Old pins at the top of the pedestal. These pins are from an earlier attempt of the route by Dana Haggin and Alan Kearney which reached the middle pitches via aid by a different start.
18. The view from the route. Monte Cristo area to the south.

5.10c, 45m
19. Looking up Pitch 5. This beings with some wild climbing up knobs and fins (5.8R) and ends in a right-facing corner (10c).
20. The 10c corner at the top of the pitch. I pulled off a handhold here and went flying off, but fortunately I was following and Duncan had me on a good belay, so the fall was short.
21. Looking down from the belay below Pitch 5. Clouds moving in. Goodbye view. Darn it. Part of the reason to climb Sloan is for the view!
5.8, 50m
22. Looking up from the belay below Pitch 6. This pitch climbs straight up the featured face to another major heather ledge.
5.10, 60m
23. According to the route description, from the heather ledge at the top of Pitch 6, the route tackles the gendarme/prow directly. We spent awhile looking for the "steep boulder problem (small roof) through hand cracks and past a big chockstone" but we were unable to find anything that fit this description exactly, so we headed up above where Duncan is in the photo. We ended up doing it as two pitches, where I led the first pitch and Duncan led the second. For the most part it seemed like 5.8 terrain until Duncan's pitch when we traversed left (seemed more like 5.10 here).
24. A nice handcrack on the first part of Pich 7 (my lead). Maybe this is one of the "move right to easier hand cracks" from the route description.
25. On the second part of Pitch 7 (Duncan's lead), we moved left, which seemed to fit the route description's "beneath the headwall, move left traversing on positive flakes". This traverse seemed 5.9-5.10. It makes sense to do this as a separate pitch rather than linking it in with the previous.

Scramble to Summit
3rd no photos From the top of Fire on the Mountain, it is about 500' of scrambling up 3rd class terrain on the Upper Corkscrew Route to get to the summit. Because of the white-out conditions, because we wanted to get back to the car before dark, and because I had already ticked off the summit a month previous, we decided to just start the descent rather than running up to the summit. To see photos for the upper Corkscrew Route and summit, see my trip report for the SE Shelf to Upper Corkscrew Route.

26. This is a photo of near where Fire on the Mountain tops out, on heathery class 3 terrain close to the intersection of the SE Shelf and the Upper Corkscrew Route. We headed down from here (i.e. down the slopes behind Duncan in the photo, which are the upper SE Shelf).
27. The granite slabs of the lower SE Shelf just before the snow. When I had been here in mid-July, there had been a giant snow wall on the left and we had made a rappel to get off the slabs. Without the snow we were able to easily scramble down the slabs.
28. Scrambling down the slabs.
29. Looking down at the snow below the SE Shelf. In these conditions, it was an easy scramble down the slabs to the snow below. The snow was soft and flat enough that we did not need crampons or axe (we had debated and opted not to bring them, but lightweight crampons and axe might be nice to have if climbing this route earlier in the summer or during cooler temperatures).
30. Nearing the base of the route to pick up our stuff. The steep walls of the SW Face tower above Duncan in the photo.