Hall Peak

5484 Feet, up from 5452' on the 15-minute quad

Prominence: 964'

USGS Silverton

May 3, 2006

Map (crosshair is just beyond Kloke route, just short of Blanton route)

Party:  John Roper, Mitch Blanton, Don and Natala Goodman, Fay Pullen, Mike Torok, Mike Collins, Don Beavon

           

            Hall Peak from NW on Short Long (E Pk of Long)

            Our approximate route is in red

            Consider the green arrows

 

A carrot Mitch Blanton offered me before we first met and did our first climb together of Storm Ridge and Goblin Mountain up the N Fk Sky on 6/10/1997 in exchange for some mutual trips was that he would take me up his secret “easy” route to Hall Peak. I'd previously failed on this on one of only three climbs I've ever done with the Mountaineers.

 

After Mitch and I climbed Storm and Goblin and many other peaks, he became mesmerized with Jeff Howbert 's monumental work figuring out all the peaks in Washington with over 400-feet of prominence.  Mitch then coaxed Mike Torok to sort this then-secret list of Jeff's into North Cascades summits with more than 500 feet of prominence. Or maybe Mike just sent Mitch the list, unasked?

 

Anyway, once this NC P500 list was identified, Mitch went merrily nuts for several years, climbing almost all the peaks in this challenging project, and when I occasionally reminded him about his promise to haul my ass up Hall, he told me that his original offer was maybe not quite completely serious, but instead was more like “something I said to court you.”

 

Well, happily Mitch has mellowed these last couple of years, and now is redoing some of his old favorite classic climbs with old friends. And a couple of months ago he started talking up a return to Hall.

 

***

 

Our gang of 8 gathered at the Granite Falls McDonald's at a time that seemed a little late (7:20 AM), but this was not my trip, and I was just along for the ride and fun, and I trusted Mitch and all the rest of these competent climbers.

 

We drove on up the Mountain Loop HW to Silverton, and parked at a wide spot just before the bridge over the S Fk Stilly.  The locals don't want cars parking along the spur road on the other side of the bridge. Packing up but leaving snowshoes at 8:20 AM we walked across the bridge and up the road past quaint cabins for about 0.3 mile to a spot recognized by Mitch and Mike T with an orange newspaper box nailed to a tree next to a trashy trailer on the right. Just beyond on the road was a gate.

 

An obscure path at the trailer led right to an ancient road which turned into a trail which stayed on the east side of the creek draining Silver Gulch all the way to where it petered out in rocks where the trees disappear at an amazingly low elevation of 2300 feet opening up views to some nasty no-way vertical brush walls and 600' waterfalls. 45 minutes to here from the cars. After a rest (for 7 of the 8 of us), we continued up on snow as the valley arced left.

 

Mitch sent an email a couple of days before the trip noting that “When I did the route with Tom Rainey many years ago [2/28/92], we roped up with 8mm and did running belays, slinging trees (and twigs) at times. I also remember the route being an avalanche runnel/face so mostly no trees. I forget the details, but I think this route is scary steep, but then I get scared at 35-40 degrees, so I think that is what we can expect for most of the face with short sections probably to 50? It would be good to have several ropes, maybe some pickets and deadmen, crampons, slings. It promises to be a wonderful day.”   Deadmen, hmmm.

 

As our party headed upvalley, we went past what looked to me to be the best approach route, on the map and from the above photo I had taken from the NW, up a snow gully that doglegs right up high into an open basin below Versailles (ver-sigh, the 5148' peak standing between Marble and Hall Peaks and named for the greatest marble hall in the world). This is marked in the photo with green arrows, and is Kloke's recommended route. Mike T and C had done this gully route to the Versailles basin on a thwarted attempt on Hall in 2004.

 

Mitch kept us kicking up the creek to the base of his route where we re-gathered. I was impressed and concerned at the length and breadth of an avalanche swath that had swept down from the north wall and ridge of Hall a few days before, burying the uppermost reaches of Silver Gulch, nearly to the point we stood. This avalanche was a 1962 ancestor of the slide that killed a 15-year old boy, Steve Skubi, who was trying to climb Hall with Dan Davis 44 years ago, on May 20, 1962, and here we were on May 3.

 

                                            Fay, Mike C, Natala, Mitch, Don B, Mike T at base of Hall route

Dropping our poles and some gear, the real climbing started at about 10 AM as we headed right (south) up into Mitch's Madness via a snow gully that was boxed in by a vertical rock wall on the right and a brushy, cliff on our left. About half-way up the snow slope, Mitch led his minions left into the brush while Don G scouted higher on the snow to soon shout the good news that he found a snow dog-leg left bypassing the lowest cliffs.

                                           Lower part of our route

 

Above the dogleg, we level-traversed a tilted but solid snow bench (where we ended the worry-part of our day on the final rap down), then came to an ascending traverse up an exposed snow slope with a quick rock problem mid-way. The ropes and crampons came out here (~3300') and stayed on until 3:30 PM when we reached the 4900' saddle between Hall and Versailles.

                                           Don Goodman and the Skubi Slide in upper Silver Gulch

 

Progress was safe, but very slow, as the lead climber headed up punching steps, pulling up on bushes, slinging branches, then tying off the rope when he reached the end, waiting for the next leader to catch up with a new rope and proceed doing the same thing while the rest of us caught up, self-belaying with ascenders or prussiks. With eight people, we weren't moving efficiently. We did four 120-150-foot rope lengths like this. Except for one 3-step rocky band and one 10-foot pitch of thin snow over steep rock, the route to about 3900 feet felt safe and solid, though deathly exposed if a slip happened. It was good to have a rope on.

                                            Mike Torok tackles a thin move

At about 2 PM and a standing lunch, I floated the turn-around time balloon. With 1700 vertical ahead of us, at the rate we were going, it was clear we weren't going to make it out before dark. I was thinking 3 comfortably, or 4 at the very latest, but 5 seemed to be the more-accepted answer, and I wasn't going to be going down this route alone.

 

Goody suggested we go another hour and see where we were and revisit the idea. Don B was out in front going as fast as he could with this 7-person albatross around his neck, hoping to get back to the car at 5 PM so he could go to 10-year old Anna's play. Let's see: 5 PM turn-around time, 5 PM at the cars—seems to be a little disconnect here.

                                           Hall route at 4000 feet

 

The route above 3900' forced us left a bit where the snow became significantly more secure and the runouts not quite as deadly, so we were able to simul-climb with continuous step-by-step progress. Just below the 4840+' saddle between Versailles 5148-Hall 5484 the route became downright relaxing. We all gathered at the saddle at 3:30 PM. Hall-elujah.

 

The handwriting was on the wall if the gang was going to the summit. This was going to be an Hallnighter. It was a simple 600' vertical punch to the top of Hall from the saddle, and 7 of the party made it at 4:14 PM, a smidge less than 8 hours from the car. I took the opportunity to enjoy the next hour, hanging at the saddle, shooting photos all around, re-hydrating, and even taking a short nap in preparation for the descent and work the next day. Most impressive was the view of Big Four standing on edge and the sweep up from Copper Lake to Vesper Peak . Across the N Fk Stilly valley was Long Mtn and Short Long which had stared at us all day.

                                              Big Four

                                          Vesper Peak (L) and Little Chief Peak (R)

                                          with Copper Lake lower center

                                       JR at 4840+ Hall-Versailles saddle with Long, Three Fingers, Whitehorse in back           Mike Torok photo

 

The maps still show a 4WD road going up to 2590' on the south ridge of Versailles. But the Williamson Creek valley above Spada Lake looks to be a no-man's-land for years to come after the road around the north side of the lake up Pilchuck River has been gated almost back at civilization. Bruce Gibbs, Dave Housley, and I were probably among the last climbers to make use of this old access on 2/24/91 when we made a winter ascent of Little Chief Peak.

                                           Copper Lake and Little Chief Peak (L center), Williamson Creek, and Spada Lake (R)

 

We left the saddle at 4:54 PM after deciding to deal with the devil we knew rather than one we did not, risking possible problems getting onto Kloke's more western descent route. So down our uproute it was, face-in, back-down, kick-kick for the next couple of hours. The terrain varied, and since we were all tied together there were plenty of chances to tug on the climber above you. Sorry, Fay. We finally reached the start of the slow-motion section again and set up the first of three double-rope rappels.

                                              Don Beavon on the first rappel at twilight

 

Mitch rapped the second rope down a line just west of our uproute avoiding the diagonal traverse problem, but leaving us with a bushy vertical cliff as our third rap with a possibility that the double rope would not reach. As night fell, the predicament we'd gotten ourselves into was comical in a way. Several of us remarked that we'd never done a rap in the dark (to our credit). We were stuck on a cliff slope, all of us variously tied into bushes so thick we couldn't see each other, since there was no room to hold even half the crowd. A testy word or two were uttered. We needed to get two ropes down to this point to set up the final rappel to clear the bottleneck. Don B was the canary in the mine as he started his rappel hoping the rope made it. The bad news was that darkness hit during his descent, but the good news was that the ropes reached. My last shot of this day was at 9:36 PM of Don on the snow after I was off rappel.

 

From here Don and I scooted pretty quickly down to the main valley, doing sitting glissades down our moderate approach couloir. It was over an hour later that all of our comrades joined us after completing their raps and getting all the ropes gathered in.

A faint one-third moon gave a little light, but not enough to travel by, even on the snow. Fay found the meager trail start for us, and after losing it a couple times, an hour later we were back at the cars at 12:15 AM for me. Pretty close to a 16 hour day: 8 up-8 down.  I actually enjoyed this, quite a lot.

Hall looks pretty wicked on Terraserver's aerial photo.

Harry Majors provided these historical and geology notes about Hall.

"This peak was named in 1891 in honor of one of the pioneer prospectors of the Silverton area, George T. Hall, who that same year discovered the nearby Anacortes [Hall was from Anacortes] and '45 mines. Hall Peak was first climbed in 1891 by local prospectors, who from its summit gazed down at the ice caves snowfield below.

"A dense sill of volcanic gabbro or dolerite tops the summit of Hall Peak, giving it a pointed appearance. Were it not for this protective cap of erosion-resistant rock, the peak would by now have been worn down closer to the level of the Hall-Big Four saddle. In marked contrast, the deeply eroded notch immediately to the right [north] of the summit of Hall Peak represents a weakened fault zone, whose crushed rock renders it more susceptible to weathering." ("Big Four Ice Caves" guidebook, 1998, p. 37).

Dolerite is so hard, that the Egyptians used round balls of it to bash out and chip away at granitic rocks just below the First Cataract of the Nile, with which to excavate their obelisks.