Maude, North Face

Carolyn Cuppage and I climbed the north face of Maude (9027) Tuesday 6/22. It's a magnificent route:1800 ft of steadily steepening snow culminating in an "exhilarating" (Porterfield's description) final 250 feet at 50-60 degrees.

Beta: We followed Porterfield / Nelson's route over the col between Maude and Seven-Fingered Jack, not Becky's route around Ice Lakes. The Nelson approach is steeper, but doable and much shorter. Carolyn has coveted this climb for a few years, and knew of a spectacular tent site high in Leroy Creek basin, elevation 6900, roughly 6 miles and 4000 vertical feet from the car. We camped there monday night, beating the sun to bed one day before solstice.

Carolyn was confident. I was petrified. I only agreed to go under the condition that she promised to lead the top 500 feet and belay me up if i puckered. We climbed well insured: crampons, two tools apiece, harnesses, 30M of 8-mil rope, 3 pickets, helmets, and a small rock rack so we could bail the North Face and climb via Crawling Rat Rib if our testicles or ovaries failed. Other than the helmets, however, all this gear served only as ballast. Maude threatened to drop rocks on our head and to sweep us off her skirts with heavy slough avalanches, but she unveiled no steep ice or frozen snow: it was too damn hot.

The approach from the Jack col was the most difficult part of the climb. "Negotiate several small shoulders", became a thrilling exercise in threading cliff bands on thin lines of steep snow and muddy gunk. The western edge of the bottom of the main route passes under a huge, broken overhang. We were very glad for our hard hats as we snuck past this beast on little mouse feet, quick as we could: rocks of all sizes lay splatted in the snow all around.

Things got much better once we achieved the main route proper. Just up and up. The rope and second tools never came out. We just kicked steps in soft, steadily steepening snow sinking our ax shafts to the hilts for comfort. Pat and I have been playing with really short lead changes, 50 paces up front and switch, and Carolyn and I used the same technique on Maude. It works well especially when you need to move fast. The top of the route was indeed exhilarating, mainly due to fear that the whole slope would release send us on a 3,000 foot sleigh ride to the valley below. But it held and we topped out at 11:45, four and three-quarters hours after leaving camp.

The summit register canister was cracked, and the picas had poked their cute little noses in and shredded all those nice climbing stories into no doubt cozy but entirely illegible nests for their piquets, so i brought down what was left ungnawed. If there are any Mounties reading this y'all need to take up another register and canister. There are lots of decent options off the south side, and ours went easily.

I doubt the route will stay in this shape much longer. The top soft layer is melting and sliding off fast. Once this season's snow has fully consolidated, I'm told broken bands of rock appear and it gets much harder. But if that happens there's always Crawling Rat Rib....

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