<-- Map of summer 2016
(click to enlarge)
On September 14, 2010, my sister and I started up the North Face route on Vesper. But we never made it to the summit. Jenny made it out on foot, but I ended up being plucked off of the north face by a helicopter. A rock had broken loose while I was leading, and I suffered a severe compound tib/fib fracture. (Here's a trip report for that rather harrowing and somewhat life-changing adventure.)
For six years now, I've felt I've left Vesper unfinished. I needed to return and climb the north face to the summit of Vesper. (I did climb the peak by the East Flank route in December 2011, but that was a pretty easy snowshoe and didn't really satisfy the need to climb a more technical route to the top.)
In 2013, a new route was established by Darin Berdinka and Gene Pires on the north side of Vesper. Called Ragged Edge, this 5.7 route climbs the right side of Vesper's north face, following shallow corners, flakes, and slabs on striking but low-angle terrain and finishing with an exhilarating pitch along the edge of the north face. From Darin's original trip report: "The position and the underlying rock quality were generally fantastic but the climbing itself was horrible due to a thick layer of lichen, heather and dirt that covered the face. Rock cruxes were protected by beaks, belays tended to be marginal and the actual crux involved mantling across a series of quivering hummocks. A good time was had by all (I think) but it sure as hell wasn’t anything you’d recommend to a friend." (Here is a link to the trip report for the first ascent). After Darin made this post, he spent several hours scrubbing the route to clean it up for more enjoyable and safer climbing. Also, this route appears in Blake Herrington's new (as of 2016) Cascades Rock guidebook, so check that out for more detail.
So in June 2016, I decided to make another attempt at the north side of Vesper. My friend Sam and I had been in the area climbing Mile High Club on Morning Star Peak the previous day. From the summit we had great views of the east side of Vesper. The east side of Vesper was still rather snowy, suggesting that the north face would be still be holding a fair bit of snow. But we decided to go for it anyway, and just bring our crampons and ice axes. Sure enough, when we gained the saddle between Vesper and Sperry and got our first view of the north face, we saw that the ledge traverse across the north face was holding steep snowfields, but were happy to see that the slabs above were mostly snow free. We decided to go for it.
This route ended up being a great adventure. The slightly spicy approach and the exposed and untraveled nature of the climb captured the essence of North Cascades climbing. Topping out, I felt the satisfying glow of completion of a climb I had started six years previous.
The following page gives a route overlay (from Darin's original trip report for the route) and some of my photos from our climb of the route.
(from Darin's original trip report)
|1. Cool exposed roots on the trail towards Headlee Basin.
2. Approaching the saddle between Vesper and Sperry Peak to access the ledge on the north face. Later in the summer this approach is snow-free.
3. Our first view of the North Face of Vesper, from the saddle between Vesper and Sperry. The Ragged Edge route begins on the right side of the ledge system that is covered in snow in the photo. Later in the summer this face is devoid of snow, but early season it becomes more of a mixed climbing adventure.
4. Sam entering the ledge system.
5. We took turns kicking steps across the steep snow. The temperatures had been in the 40's at night and 60's in the day with little direct sun, so the snow was soft but not dangerously sloughing.
6. Copper Lake far below.
7. Looking back across the snowfields we had traversed so far.
8. My scars from the last time I had attempted to climb the north side of Vesper...
9. Mid 5th climbing on Pitch 1. This is actually the first pitch of the True Grit route that is just left of the Ragged Edge route, since the early season snow made it difficult to access the start of the first pitch of Ragged Edge. Pitch 2 of Ragged Edge goes over the roof on the right and then back left onto the face above.
10. An old piton on Pitch 3 of the route. This pitch goes up the seam in the photo, and there are enough features to make it 5.7.
11. The zig-zag cracks (5.7) of Pitch 4.
12. Sam at the belay at the top of Pitch 4. Pitch 5 traverses right out to the edge.
13. Sam following the Pitch 5 traverse (5.7) out to the edge of the face.
14. Looking up at the awesomely-exposed ragged edge pitch (Pitch 6) that gives the route it's name. 5.5 climbing to the top.
15. Looking down while leading Pitch 6 along the edge of the north face. The exposure is exhilerating.
16. Sam picking his way up the moss carpet just before the summit. This final section makes you appreciate all of Darin's efforts cleaning the few hundred feet of face below this point.
17. The view from the summit towards the north. The glaciated summit in the distance is Mount Baker, while Three Fingers and Whitehorse are the rockier peaks past Copper Lake in the foreground.
18-19. Looking down at the slab on the right most north side Vesper. The standard North Face route goes up this slab—the route is 5.7 in dry summer conditions, but would be pretty gnarly in these conditions.
20. The quick and easy decent down the east side of Vesper. It took us only a couple of hours to get from the summit back to the car.
21. Descending the trail from Headlee Pass. A day of rugged terrain makes you appreciate the mindlessness of a trail.