Eric stands before the memorial for the 1956 plane that crashed into Mt Slesse. The Northeast Buttress is the striking route that climbs the right skyline.
Climb a Grade V with a complete stranger? Sounds like a good idea to me, so I head to Mt Slesse with Eric L. Not too many problems getting past the border plus plenty approach uncertainty takes us from Seattle to marching down Nesakwatch Creek Road in 5 hours or so.
The approach is surprisingly easy. This is quite a relief since I never put forth the necessary effort to get a Canadian topo map. It only takes us a couple hours up the road and an old logging road-turned-trail to reach the memorial for the 1952 plane crash. The route looks SWEET!
We bivy just short of the slabs. Eric decomissions a zipper on his convertible pants, making one leg permanently short. He cleverly uses webbing to fix it, but his situation still looks drafty. Regardless, he has nothing on bright red-orange wool superstar tights! This is the first of many pleasantries for Eric in his tour de force Slesse trainwreck.
I really want to climb the Complete Northeast Buttress for the sake of, well, completeness. We hike to the toe of the buttress and see some garden-filled cracks. Slightly above us and to the left is a cleaner looking system. I lead a pitch with a few funky, hard moves that gives us a choice between steep, unprotected slabs, or the flatter slabs of the pocket glacier. On and after this pitch Eric loses a foot, among other things. We scrap the direct idea and head for the normal start after plenty head-scratching anxiety and a significant waste of time.
We scramble a whole bunch, up to some mid-5th moves before we rerack and retie the rope. I lead a really fun pitch before Eric leads a pitch around someone's considerately-deposited poo. I climb over it to take the shitty, direct route. Next we are at the crux pitches, which Eric is kind enough to leave for me.
In my hallowed tradition I stretch the rope to an awkward belay below an intimidating headwall. Three-piece hanging belay arranged, I study the Nelson/Potterfield topo for clues before honing my attention on the huge roof directly above us. I climb until I'm under the roof on a really cool lieback crack only discover all feet have vanished and the roof looks BIG. Some comment of Eric's about the look of the thing further saps my confidence and I downclimb while pulling gear until I can look around the corner to climber's right.
Things are looking really sweet around the corner. Later we notice Kearney's topo clearly shows the pitch being to the right of a big roof. Glad I left that behind for the extra adventure. Some really sweet hand crack action leads to steep, texturey rock. Noting "thin wires," Kearney's topo is on the money. Some bulges requiring balance-intensive moves on ample but small holds comprise the highly-entertaining crux. I am really happy about this pitch.
Eric is not quite as psyched. I left one piece in the midst of my downclimb/traverse. Protection was thin getting around the corner. For his sake, I neglected gear until I was well above this last piece, hoping to avoid leaving him with really wicked pendulum-fall potential. Alas, alack, and Eric was a swingin' chap. From my secure two-nut-and-zero-cam belay I hear a striking thud and feel a small tug on the rope. Whoops! Thinking sorry dude I ask, "Are you all right?" Apparently he is as he starts climbing again immediately. To his further dismay, he also manages to lose his warm hat climbing this pitch. I sure loved it, but Eric must have found it a bitch of a pitch.
Eric is able to shake the rust, finish the last tiny remnant of steep stuff before the ledge, lead the short 5.8 layback, and belay me to another bivy ledge. I climb a really fun pitch to the large bivy ledge and we're simulclimbing toward the upper headwall in no time.
The pitches of the upper headwall are absolutely spectacular. The exposure is relentless, the climbing is interesting, and it just couldn't be much more fun. I must dispute those who claim Bear has better rock than Slesse. On the whole, DNB Bear and NEB Slesse seem to have a similar average of rock quality; Bear ranges from poor to excellent, while Slesse maintains acceptable mediocrity throughout. Or so I thought.
We hit the summit just in time for sunset. I still have thoughts of beginning the descent, but for some odd reason Eric is thinking rationally. Later, as I sort my gear at my bivy, it occurs to me that it is a good thing to bivy when one has lost one's headlamp.
A pleasant night near the summit in my standard sans-sleeping-bag style leaves me ready to go at the crack of dawn. Believe it or not, I sleep well and I'm plenty warm. It's the wool tights: they give me all kinds of superpowers.
The views of the North Cascades are stunning from this vantage; the Picket Range and the Border Peaks add some sugar to my granola and sesame stick breakfast. I feel great this morning. Eric had exhibited a bit of suspicion when I only toted 2 liters up the route. Obviously he doesn't understand the benefits of my regular, rigorous coffee-and-beer drinking regimen. I'm trying to quit drinking water; it's an addiction that afflicts the alpinist.
It is pleasant to make the descent in a leisurely fashion so early in the morning. We find the slender gendarme, nice rappel stations and the traverse out of the gully without a problem. A proper dose of misdirection after gaining the climber's path puts us in some steep terrain. Eric makes an impressive trundle, which gives us both a better-than-coffee adrenaline surge. I'm quite glad to learn he was not the projectile. Off the loose crap, returning to the trail on the steep, wooded ridge, we'll be on the logging road in no time.
Thanks for the ride, generous Chilliwack four-wheeling guy!
Eric enjoys my standard border treatment on our return to the United States. I'm less amused, but it's good to be home.
→Alpinist: first ascent of Mt Slesse article by Fred Beckey
September 2007: Alpinist has removed the article. Weak sauce, oh well.
July 2009: Well, if you click the link you'll see that alpinist.com is slangin' ads on a page to notify the disappointed reader: this page is not available. So I don't feel the least bit bad about the trifling bit that I'm adding to the side of this page.