So I Cut the Rope
(Norman Clyde 13,920+ ft)

21-22 Jul 2005 - by Ron Karpel

We were chatting about the movie Vertical Limit (as climbers often do) and I mentioned how they cut the rope twice in the movie, when Greg said "so what? You cut the rope yesterday." "Yes," I said. "I cut the rope." Luckily, there was no one on it at the time.

There is surprisingly little information about climbing the North Face of Norman Clyde Peak. Secor talks about the North Northeast Ridge. I have talked to one friend who said they needed 4 roped pitches to gain the ridge climbing that line. Another friend said that they have climbed a prominent gully farther right, and needed a rope for just the last 20 feet. The North Face of Norman Clyde Peak looks to me like a 1000 feet wide by 1000 feet tall climbing wall, there are many ways to go, and each person is likely to climb a slightly different route. Following is the description of the route Greg and I climbed on Monday, July 18, 2005.

An Impossible Camp

We slowly made out way up from Finger Lake towards what Secor calls "the ridge that runs north and south from peak 12,640." I will call this the North-South Ridge. One way to get on the ridge is to go right (north) gain the ridge and follow it south to Norman Clyde Peak. There is a big notch on the ridge, which you will need to downclimb and traverse. For some reason, I thought that the way to get on the ridge is to climb directly to the notch. So we hiked on the snow towards a large boulder and sand sloping field below the notch and set up camp. Our camp was at an altitude of about 12,300.

A Test Piece

6 AM we made out way from camp to the base of the ridge and started to climb the ridge. It was class 4 climbing on solid rock and moderate exposure. This was fine for me and Greg, but Aaron who had a bad experience last year decided that he doesn't like the exposure as much as he used to. Given that later, the level of commitment required for climbing this mountain is even greater, it was a good time for him to decide to turn around. We found a stack of rappel slings attached to a big boulder and Aaron rappelled down, almost directly into camp.

8 AM. Greg and I kept traversing on the ridge staying on the east side of the ridges crest. There were a few large patches of snow, but they were easily avoided. We never used our ice axes. Closer to the mountain, the ridge steepens and eventually becomes the Firebird Ridge. The crossing point from the ridge to the North Face is just before the ridge steepens significantly. There is a large kern at the crossing point. The traverse starts a bit airy for about 30 feet, traversing to a small wall. It looks kind of improbable, but as soon as I poked my head over the wall, I could see a large ledge on the other side. That one move was a bit hard, but the hand holds were solid and looking carefully, I could find a few footholds.

We have identified a couple of main ribs going up and down the North Face. Going between Firebird Ridge and the first rib is what I think Secor calls the North Northeast Ridge. We didn't climb that. We traversed right climbing just slightly over the first rib into a nice looking 3rd class gully. This is what we started to climb. I have left a couple of small cairns at the point where we started to climb.

We started climbing up, then right, and then up again, towards the second rib on the right. We crossed the second rib about 200 feet above the point where we crossed the first. Again, there was a kern at the point where we crossed the second rib. We continued up and right for another 200 feet or so, and eventually ended up on a nice large ledge that kept heading right and up. I marked in my mind that this ledge is where the class 3 ended and the class 4 started. We kept climbing up on class 4 going left and right, trying to find the easiest why. Eventually we have found this loose class 4 gully that kept going towards the prominent notch on the ridge. This notch is about 200 feet left of the notch formed by the snow couloir. It is about 30 feet deep and 2-3 feed wide at the bottom, and very easy to spot from a distance. There was no snow in this notch or anywhere around it. I could see that the climbing is going to get harder, so we racked up on the last convenient ledge. I led towards the notch (class 4, 20 feet).

Someone was Here Before

Once at the notch, I checked several possibilities. The wall above was overhanging, and the nice crack going through it would have been a great gym route, but not for leading at 13500 with a pack on my back. I tried traversing left on a small ledge and without any hand holds, but decided that that would be too dangerous. Finally I went through the notch to take a look. I was able to traverse the notch stemming and about 15 feet into it I found a nice crack system that led on the left side (east) of the notch (class 4 or low 5, 30 feet), and setup a belay for Greg. There was an old rusty pin with a rap ring attached so someone must have rapped from here to the south face. From here there where several other possibilities: straight up, a traverse right and slightly up (east), or try to downclimb right to reach easier ground. I chose the traverse right-up. There where good hand holds, but only a sloping ledge for the feet. It was hard to put protections, so I just kept going untill I reached easier ground (5.4-5.5, 20 feet), but it felt harder with a pack and mountaineering boots. This was the crux of the climb. From here I climbed this interesting (class 4, 30 feet) crack leading to the ridge proper, following by a traverse around a large boulder on the ridge to a large sloping ledge. I setup another anchor and brought Greg up. The 2 pitches where about 80 feet long each. The hardest area was the 5.4-5.5 traverse.

An Airy Traverse

The first 50 feet on the ridge seemed like an exposed 4th class, but later it seemed to get easier. So we decided to simulclimb. Being roped up, we have done most of the ridge traverse on the ridge proper, looking at a lot of air on both sides. On the way back from the summit, we climbed unroped back all the way to those last 50 feet, but we stayed on the south side of the ridge proper.

12:45, what a great summit. I yelled to Aaron below at camp, and he called back, but said later that he could hear but not see us.

Back from the summit, we traversed the entire ridge back to a point right above the notch that we have climbed. There were several slings attached to a crack in the rock. We have added one of my blue slings and a locking biner. I have left the biner, because if the rope got stuck on this rappel it would be a disaster. This was the very area that I have looked at and decided not to climb. The rappel started with about 100 feet of overhang until it reached the class 4 area that we climbed on the way up. We used my double 60 meter. A second rappel of only about 100 feet got us to the ledge, which I marked on the way up as the start of the class 4.

We down climbed all the class 3 pretty much the same way as we came up. There were a lot of loose rocks, so at a couple of places we took turns. We have found the 2 small cairns that I have left marking the start of the traverse, and we made it uneventfully back all the way to the initial North-South ridge.

Back near the prominent notch on the North-South ridge, we found the rappel slings (about 100 feet below the ridge proper). We needed to rappel from this point to get back to our camp. One can also go up around the notch and continue along the ridge without rappelling. I though that this rappel route is a rope eater, so I sacrificed a second locking biner and was extra careful to leave the ropes at a good spot as I was coming down. It took most of my double 60 meter ropes to make it down. We started to pull the ropes, and they were coming great, but just about 10 meter above the ground, the very tail of the second rope caught something and would not come down. This point is in a middle of the overhang, and there is no obvious way to climb up. I decided to cut the rope. It is an old rope after all.

I can't stop thinking about my decision process at the notch. I now think that it might have been possible to somehow downclimb or rappel from the notch to the south face of the ridge and climb back up and right (east) on easier terrain. There was an old rusty pin with a rappel ring at the point where I belayed Greg after crossing the notch, so someone must have done that variation before.


Aaron Schuman, Greg Johnson, and scribe: Ron Karpel.

click to enlarge AaronOnRappel.jpg click to enlarge FingerLake.jpg click to enlarge GregOnTheSummit.jpg click to enlarge NormanClyde.jpg click to enlarge NormanClydeZoomed.jpg click to enlarge OnTheSnow.jpg click to enlarge RonOnRappel.jpg click to enlarge RonOnTheFace.jpg click to enlarge TreeInLake.jpg click to enlarge Trees.jpg

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