Elevation Gain: 2100m
Total Time: 11 hours 52 minutes
Date: May 11th, 2023
Back in Mid-April I was invited to join Elise, Mel and few others on a trip to Whitehorse Mountain. It was a summit I had never heard of, located just a few hours south in Washington. It’s a rather impressive formation, as the surrounding farm land abruptly gives way to a 2000m+ glaciated massif high above the lush fields below. As I researched more, I came to discover that it’s a tricky summit to time as the terrain is quite complex with most of the route flanked by or running through big avalanche terrain. Going too late in the seasons poses a different problem as a large bergschrund blocks access to the summit. During our first planned ascent, we called it off the day before as the avalanche danger suddenly elevated too high.
Now, nearly mid-May another opportunity formed and Elise rounded up a few of us take on the challenge. Elise planned for us to take advantage of clear skies and an overnight freeze, so that meant a 2am start from the trail head to avoid afternoon snow pack troubles. I promptly booked my Thursday off and packed up for the following night. Unfortunately, I already had plans for climbing in Squamish the afternoon before, so I didn’t get going towards the border until 9PM. By midnight I had I pulled up to the trail head where Brayden and Elise were already camped out. I attempted to sleep in the passenger seat of my truck for the remaining two hours, but I never did manage to pass out.
At 2AM, tired of pretending to sleep, I packed up, ate some breakfast and joined the party outside. We headed towards the parking lot area where Mel, who had just driven down, was awaiting us. From there we started up the trail. The first 200m proved to be an erroneous starting point and we had to do a quick backtrack to find the proper trail. Then we pressed on through the night and up the well-worn Neiderprum trail. In the early morning blur, with 0 hours of sleep to my name, it dawned on me that I didn’t even know how long of a day this would be. Ignorance is bliss as they say, and I made the call to keep that information away from my tired brain.
The trail up was in great shape and while we lost a switch back or two in the dark, it was relatively easy to follow. We didn’t hit continuous snow until 800m or so, just around the time that we passed by another pair on the mountain. From the snow line, we followed up a large gully system towards the top of Lone Pine Pass. The sun began to rise at this time and so we paused for a nice snack break near the top to take it all in.
After our break we pushed up the last slope to the pass and then followed a pleasant ridge line for 6-700m. I’ll add that the snow felt really firm and secure the entire ascent up. It was a pleasant change from the sketchy spring conditions in the prior weeks around the coast range. At the end of the ridge we had to drop around 80-90m and then traverse through the forest below for almost 2km. On paper this section looked like a serious side hilling mission, but in reality it was no major issue at all. There was already a huge line of tracks from a previous party, so we simply followed those.
Soon, we reached the base of a narrowing gully up to the So-Bahli-Ahli Glacier. I had read recent reports that this section went up to 45 degrees, but on our arrival we found much tamer terrain. It probably went to 35 degrees at the steepest, but for the most part was a moderate ascent. I was feeling the lack of sleep on this section, but I felt motivated by Brayden’s unwavering speed and pushed on to keep up.
As we crested the exit of the gully and broke out onto the other side of the ridge we got a full view of the summit route ahead. The glacier looked steep and exposed on climber’s left and a large bergschrund was clearly visible running the perimeter of the summit block. Nonetheless, it was worth checking out as we had come prepared with ropes and pickets to make a safe crossing. We stopped for a lunch break first though and ditched snow shoes and a few other dead weight items. Slowly we trickled out on to the glacier, with Mel leading the charge. I followed third and found the exposed traverse was actually not so bad once I had wrapped around the corner. Just below the final summit slope was a broad bench that eased the run out if one were to fall on the final section. Overall, a lot tamer than it first appeared.
Brayden and Mel lead the way up to the bergschrund while I swapped out for a second tool and ditched my pole. I climbed up to the meet them and we had our first good look at the bergschrund. It was quite wide, perhaps 1-2 meters between the slope below and then vertical section above. I managed to find a position to safely peer down the bergschrund and saw it went out of site, at least 5-7 meters down. There was already some recent racks through this section, so it was clear it could be done, but the vertical 3 meter section above the bergschrund was going to be the crux for sure. Everyone was still deciding on the best action, so I decided to give it a go and asked to be roped up as a fall would not be great. Brayden put me on belay and we used a large snow mound to act as the counter balance if I fell.
I stepped out across the bergschrund and planted my foot onto the other side. Searching around I was able to push my axe down in dagger style through a solid section and then swung my tool into an ice over foot hold. With that I was able to pull myself onto the other side. It was a bit of a balancing act, but another swing higher up put me in a better stance. From there I shuffled between the dagger position in my left hand and a pick placement on the right to ascend out of the vertical step. From there I climbed up onto the tamer slope above and tossed the rope back down. Elise came up next and we pushed up to the summit. There was one icy section, where I was able to get some great swings in and then it turned to softer snow again. Finally, I cut climbers right onto the rock and the summit was attained.
Mel came up after and then we put Brayden on belay using an existing tat/rappel anchor at the top. We hung out on the summit long enough that the pair we had ran into before had now also reached the summit block. They didn’t come equipped to tackle this section, so we offered them a belay and they soon joined us on the top.
The day was getting on though, so we setup a rappel to head back down. Without the bergschrund, the downclimb would have been fairly comfortable but all were keen to skip that considering we already had the ropes with us. Mel and Elise had two 30m ropes with them and that was sufficient to get us past the bergschrund. The pair only had a 40m rope so we offered our line to them for that as well. I went 4th and witnessed one of the old pitons explode off its position as Brayden was rappelling. Thankfully, there was a significant amount of back up tat, that we didn’t feel too concerned. The other pair rappelled next and then Brayden started to clean the rope. However, he quickly discovered it was stuck and had to fire back up the slope, unwedge it and then rappel again to clean it.
With that out of the way we descended back to that gully entrance, gathered our gear and then made the long traverse back to Lone Pine Pass. The afternoon sun was hitting us with all its might, but the snow pack stayed resilient to it and we continued to enjoy bomber conditions. From the top of Lone Pine Pass we had an excellent glissade/boot ski session down to the forest. In the day light the forest route was easy to follow and we were back at the cars for around 2PM!
Whitehorse made for an amazing summit and I was stoked to get to join along on this one. I can see how it would be a hard summit to time as the terrain is consequential and at least in our case the bergschrund was nearly out. The coming heat wave will probably render it unclimbable soon.