Huckleberry, West Face – First Ascent, 16 Sept 2001
Team: Gary Hehn, Dave Stephens
The project got started when I read the description for Huckleberry Mountain in Fred Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Guide and noted the statement “The only known route is still the original one”. These words, seeming to offer an open invitation, sparked my interest. So, after climbing Mount Thompson and gazing over at the west face of Huckleberry, I talked Steve Kness into making a foray with me to give it a closer look.
A couple weeks later we went to take our look. When we did it was late in the day and getting late in the season, sometime in the fall. We worked our way into the pleasant little basin west of Huckleberry and climbed a small ridge opposite the west face to attain a good vantage point. The upper wall looked intimidatingly overhung, but we figured that in the morning we could get to the large ledge that separates it from the lower wall and if necessary there appeared to be plenty of rap potential.
The air got grey and wet, clouds slipped quietly in. Steve had a bivy sack and I covered up with a space blanket. The morning saw us wet and chilled. Huckleberry, shrouded in cloud, just didn’t look inviting – we bailed. Soon after we got back to the trail, still about ten miles in, we came upon a trail runner wearing skimpy running shorts, a T-shirt, and a minimal fanny pack. I remember us thinking, “one sprained ankle and that guy is epic potential if not a statistic!”
Four years passed and I went back to Huckleberry with my nephew, Ben Witzenman. Steve didn’t join us. His wife, Karen, had fallen ill and so he was staying closer to home. She and Steve and their two children had hiked up Mount Saint Helens with a group of us within the previous month, immediately after she had finished a barrage of chemotherapy treatments. She was an inspiration to us all and Steve’s brother echoed our thoughts when he told her that she was his hero.
It was a beautiful late September day when I returned to Huckleberry with Ben. We climbed a wide chimney to attain the large ledge separating the lower and upper west face. The climbing in the chimney was terrible; one of those pitches that a person would like to never repeat. I was afraid that because of it I wouldn’t be able to recommend the climb. We did a good bit of exploring and found a section that we felt would go but we couldn’t tell how much further we had to go and Ben had to pick his wife up from the airport that evening. So, we backed off and in doing so found a way to avoid the perilous chimney.
Another year passed and I returned again, this time with Dave Stephens. We’d had a sporting time of it volleying emails back and forth. I started by telling him that I thought I had a potential first ascent but didn’t want word to get out for fear of sparking interest. I couldn’t tell him where it was, he had to show up at the meeting place, and I would possibly have to blindfold him for the approach! He had fun coercing me into giving him enough hints to eventually make the correct assumption. So, I bagged the blindfold idea.
It was another perfect September day when Dave and I made our way to the spot where Ben and I had turned around. This was the weekend following terrorist attacks on the United States so we were considering it a day to escape the madness of the world. We studied the wall above, found a route that we felt might go, and sat down for a snack break before making our move.
As I worked my way up our route Dave suggested that we might be surprised at how close we were to the summit and he was right. Ninety feet from his belay stance and I was standing on top! Ben and I were only ninety feet from the summit when we turned around the previous year. Ben would have joined us on this outing if not for a basketball induced ankle sprain.
Dave and I got some quality summit time; the air was calm and the temperature near perfect. It was exiting to think that we most likely were the first ones on the route that got us here. Suddenly, our thoughts were jolted back to the world below and the horrific terrorist events of the past week when we heard a loud explosion and its echoes careening along canyon walls! We probably will never know where it came from. Fortunately, it wasn’t the sound of some far off building in Seattle collapsing.
Soon, our thoughts returned again to the task at hand and we worked our way down. It was a banner year for huckleberries; the season was at its height. And so, our indulging slowed our descent back to the world below.
The completion of our “project” prompted the following email to Fred Beckey to have the route documented:
Dave Stephens and I would like to report a new route on Huckleberry Mountain. Completing it this past weekend offered a welcome reprieve from the madness of the world following the terrorist attacks on the United States.
I believe that this new route is well worth documenting as it is quite pleasant. I haven’t climbed the original route but, after rapping the upper section, viewing the messy gully leading up to it, reading the route description and the reports in the summit register I suspect that this new route is of better quality.
Here is our description of the route:
West Face of Huckleberry Mountain First ascent by Gary Hehn and Dave Stephens, 16 Sept 2001
Soon after crossing the saddle between Edds Lake and Joe Lake when coming from Snoqualmie Pass leave the Pacific Crest Trail and work up a draw into the small basin located west of Huckleberry Mountain. Ascend the scree slope from the basin to near the base of the west face of Huckleberry Mountain. The wide chimney on the left side of the lower face is best avoided; it is very loose with few opportunities for placing good protection. Start left of this chimney working up and left to the ridge (80-ft, class 3). Climb on the right side of the ridge to the large ledge that horizontally bisects the west face (200-ft, class 3). Traverse south/right across this large ledge populated with conifers to its south end. From here ascend a small ramp that rises to the left to a bench at its upper right and located on the south edge of the upper face (80-ft, class 4). Immediately left of the bench locate a series of two right facing open books with a small ledge separating them. The upper open book has a large loose block resting at its top, assuming it is still there. Ascend these (70-ft, 5.5/5.6), the crux is at the bottom of the first open book. Another twenty feet of scrambling leads to the summit.
Gear: small rack to two inches.
Time: 6 hours from Snoqualmie Pass. Class 5.6.
The ascent route can be used on the descent.
belay off! gary