Prusik Peak - South Face

Cascade Mountains, Washington

July 16, 2006

Dave Svilar, Matt A.


Follow the red line to the summit of Prusik Peak.


Familiar view of Prusik taken on a climb of the west ridge in 2003.

11:07 p.m.

"G--da---mned mother f-----er.  Sh--.  Son of a ------.  F------!"  At the fringe of my headlight beam meeting the blackness of a moonless Cascade night my climbing partner for the day was senselessly beating a trailside rock with a trekking pole.  Over and over he raised the trekking pole above his head and brought it down with a slam against what appeared to be a harmless boulder.

11:11 p.m.

Forward progress was again interrupted, this time by an equally comical scene.  Once again, the edge of my headlamp beam shone on a violently shaking trailside bush from which only the horizontally prone legs of my climbing partner appeared.  Like Wile E. Coyote over the edge of a cliff the legs were still walking, but were treading on nothing but the cool night air.  In his weary state my partner had tripped on a rock and teetered sideways into the bush.  Obscenities followed.  If it was anyone else there would be cause for concern, but over the years this sort of disdain for his own body had become par for the course.  In fact, a mere month ago his bloodied body had caused a traffic jam in the heart of Seattle rush hour.  I was just glad to have one more day to climb with the Redhead.

One month prior...

In the period following his expensive purchase of a road bike Matt enjoyed his new wheels to the extent that he would take long detours from any intended destination.  One evening his detour took him along Mercer Street, four lanes of angry one-way Seattle traffic - not reputed as a bastion of biking safety.  While attempting to cross the four lanes in one shot he was flattened by an oncoming vehicle, shattering the vehicle's windshield, dislodging a mirror, and causing minor front-end damage.  Meanwhile, the Redhead squirmed on the pavement in pain as traffic backed up onto Interstate-5.  The ambulance crew quickly peeled him off the street and rushed him to the Harborview trauma center, where after deciding death was not imminent, allowed him to lay in his drying blood for the next six hours.

Despite copious damage to his body over the years none of Matt's injuries have put him on the long-term disabled list.  Why would getting run over by a car be any different?  It wasn't.  In the past month he had returned in a big way with two trips to the contiguous United State's cruelest wilderness: the Pickets.  However adept Matt had become at defying death, he wasn't ready for the equally brutal adversary that blindsided him next: responsibility.  Our plans for a glorious 10 day trip to Canada had been shrunk into a tiny one day window.  My beloved climbing partner who had always seemed more interesting in measuring the length of his turds than the latest trends in the real estate market was about to purchase his first home.

Hey Matty, want to climb the north ridge of Stuart?  "Sorry Davey, I need to trim the holly bush."  How about something quick in the North Cascades?  "Nope.  The rat traps need monitoring."  I couldn't believe it.  Our time together, which used to be every weekend was now going to be squeezed into one day.  We used all but one hour.

(Readers concerned about the mental condition of the Redhead can take solace.  On his own terms he contacted the staff at AlpineFever about acquiring our exclusive 8-Step Program to Less Responsibility.)

4 a.m. 

We left Seattle stopping only for topo copies at Kinko's.

7 a.m.

Departed the Snow Creek trailhead taking extra time to park the truck outside the designated fee area and visit the outhouse.

12 p.m.

A pleasant, fast-paced hike through familiar terrain brought us to the steep, snow-white granite of the south face of Prusik Peak.  To find rock this beautiful and climber-friendly one would have to travel to California or perhaps Squamish.  Two routes get climbed on Prusik: 1. the easy and fun West Ridge and 2. two variations on the hard and steep south face. 

Matt took the first pitch choosing a chimney over a more pleasant looking crack to the left.  After a forgettable second pitch, the third offered mostly face climbing on large chickenheads that are always synonymous with high quality granite.  The fourth pitch did not disappoint as it followed a gully that led underneath a giant chockstone.  Climbing through the chockstone was mildly memorable as was the hand cracks that followed.  My fear of the flaring off-width was justified, as I chose to yard on fixed gear instead of solve the problem with my limited climbing prowess.

As Matt led out on the final pitch, one of the most notable pitches in the entire Cascade Range, he was met by an unexpected adversary.  Highly annoying Mountaineers.  A group had just topped out on the west ridge and was admiring Matt as he struggled up the difficult finale of the south face.  Unfortunately they could not simply admire, they also felt compelled to inquire.  Reminiscent of the scene from the movie Princess Bride where the group tried to engage the masked man in conversation as he attempted to scale the final few feet of the cliff.  "Wow.  Nice job.  You guys climbing the south face?"  Yep.  "How was that flaring chimney?  Can you climb with a pack?  What did you pack for lunch?  Did you know that Pluto is not really the last planet?"  Matt, while dangling by his fingertips 600 feet off the deck was somehow able to politely address the annoying Mountaineers, "Sorry guys.  I'm right in the middle of something here.  It's actually pretty difficult.  Can we talk when I reach the summit?"  Matt climbed on, moving slowly but surely until he was able to sit on the summit and belay me.  As a follower I also moved slowly, but not nearly as surely.  I expected challenging, but not overly difficult climbing, but instead was met with a four inch-wide nightmare.  My scrawny arms chicken-winged, arm barred, and even tried an ugly lie-back.  Without a tight rope from Matt I'm afraid I'd still be scratching at the off-width. 

6 p.m.

As usual the summit was anti-climatic.  My lack of progress had taken its toll on my blood sugar level, which likely led to the death of my rope on our rappeling descent.  We tried to rap straight down instead of using the west ridge like I had done previously.  Not only was this a time consuming mistake, but on the last rappel I inexplicably kicked a rock onto the rope slicing it like a knife through hot butter. 

7:30 p.m.

Our long and tired descent back to the Toyota began in silence.  All attempts at conversation were extinguished by the fatigue of a long day that was still far from over.

12 a.m.

Contrary to his impulsive and highly explosive nature Matt does think ahead.  Warm beers and a bag of over-seasoned delicious chips awaited our tired bodies.

3:30 a.m.

The Toyota used all of Highway 2's two lanes as we took turns behind the wheel weaving our way back to Matt's place in Seattle.  In any normal circumstance I would have stopped and gone to sleep in the back of the truck, but Matt had to be back the next morning for the all-important task of moving his fence one foot to the north.   

A sign at the Snow Lakes dam points out the obvious.
Redhead maintenance.  Blisters, knees, IT band, sunburns, temper, etc., etc.
Matt hiking above Lake Viviane nearing the base of the route.
Matt, not carrying the backpack, chooses to dig into the chimney on pitch 1.
Cracks and knobs and chickenheads, oh my!  All climbing should be like pitch 3.
Matt enjoys the continuous high quality climbing on pitch 4.
Matt peeks back through the giant chockstone.
Dave contemplates the last, steep, hard pitch of the climb thinking he's glad Matt goes first.
Dave and his out-of-shape forearms are thankful the final steep moves are on hand jams.  All three  pics = last pitch
Matt organizes the rack on the summit preparing for a costly rappel and a looong walk back to the Toyota.

-written August 2006

Take Me Home