I had climbed Berge's long East Ridge in August of 2008 with Tana Beus and my old college buddy Chuck Sink. Yes that would be the Sink of the Sink/Gerber Route on Dragontail's North Face. When he and Eric Gerber put up the route on Dragontail, I had just arrived at WSU, and although strong and enthusiastic, I didn't know much about placing pro. I learned a lot from Chuck and Dave Neff, and we did a number of good climbs together, including the second ascent of Mount Stuart's Northwest Face in 1972. Here we are on the summit skinny, strong, and young; no marriages yet, hence no divorces, and none of our friends had been killed in the mountains. Time has a way of altering all that; and Chuck and I are fast friends to this day, getting together for climbing trips every couple of years (even though he lives in Anchorage, AK).
|Alan and Chuck Sink on summit Mount Stuart, 1972.|
When we climbed Berge in 2008 it was obvious there were a couple of other unclimbed buttresses on the south side of the peak that was comprised of decent granite. Although I had never been to the top of Berge before 2008, I was familiar with the area. In 1967 at age 16, I joined a group on 25 Mazamas including my parents, for a week long outing at Buck Creek Pass. I was fascinated at being in the midst of a sea of mountains, and even got to the top of Helmet Butte and Napeequa Peak with the group. Twelve years later I led an Outward Bound patrol up and over the Louis Creek High Route to High Pass, and across the steep heather slopes of Mount Berge's west side.
|Mount Berge from Buck Mountain, new route is far left buttress|
After a grueling ten hours of marching, the last bit on snow, we found a dry patch of ground to camp on just before the sun went down. In the distance I could see Napeequa Peak that I climbed in 1967 with the Mazama group. We were there in August of that summer and wildflowers carpeted the slopes and meadows, mosquitoes whined in the air, and every night we sat around a roaring campfire; back when fires were still allowed.
Marsh Marigolds were the only blossoms popping up after the snowmelt where Matt and I placed our camp, and the tiny dentist drilling bloodsuckers were noticeably absent. We ate the largest dinner from our heavy packs, and contemplated tomorrow's route to High Pass and up around Berge. The route to High Pass followed a trail on the east side, but that was covered in snow. I was hoping that the crest would have some bare sections where a climber's path snaked along, saving us a lot of extra effort.
Luck was with us next morning as we discovered that the west side of the ridgecrest was bare, and we picked our way along a narrow path up and over several humps leading to the pass.
|Matt on approach to High Pass|
|Matt crosses the shoulder of Mount Berge|
It is always this point in the story of our heroes that they wish they were somewhere else, (enjoying happy hour in camp for instance), but the weight of a full rock rack, 60 meter rope, camping gear and six days of food created that bone- crushing load of reality. Any sign or porters, sherpas or helicopters was distinctly absent from the scene.
Once we topped out on the ridgecrest, we could look down to the southeast and see the basin of our intended campsite. Bright green Larch trees dotted the otherwise snow-covered terrain. We hoped to find a patch of dry ground to pitch the tent on, and in this we were not disappointed.
|Matt approaches the Southeast Buttress|
Enroute to our camp we passed the unclimbed buttress, and it looked like good clean rock. And like the baby bear's bed that Goldilocks slept in, (not too hard or too soft) and in our case just right; not too steep and not too big.
Once settled in camp (on dry ground) we plunged into happy hour and fixing dinner. Not trusting to the wonderfully lightweight Nextex material of BD's Firstlight tent, we brought a big nylon tarp to put over it in case of rain. So much for modern technology in the Cascades. Odd isn't it that most of those single-walled tents are manufactured in Utah or California! But based on the weather prediction we'd brought the tarp, and it looked as though we were going to need it as high cirrus clouds moved in over Berge that evening.
A sullen thick blanket of grey blotted out the sky on the following morning, but as Matt and I were itching to climb something, we racked up for a damp adventure. I figured if we could even get in a couple of pitches before it rained, we could fix our one rope and make it to the ground. And the first two leads looked blankish and wandering.
|Matt cleans the first slabby pitch|
Matt was having troubles extricating one of my small cams from under an overlap, and all I could think of was we were going to get soaked and nowhere on the route. But he pulled it, scurried up and we exchanged gear for his lead. "Where to?" he asked. "Well I think if you go up to that block, work left across that roof, and then up into that corner system, we can still reach the ground with our rope." I replied. Moisture was imminent. It looked as though he might beat it, but I was surely going to be cleaning the pitch in the rain.
At least we were not far above the ground, which is a much different feeling than being very high on a big
|Matt leads pitch two just before the storm|
There wasn't any hot porridge or feather beds in our temporary home in the woods, but plenty of dry clothing and makings for hot drinks.
Matt made quick work of pitch two as the clouds grew darker, and it began to sprinkle. A pin driven in here and there made the lead a lot safer, as I became anxious wondering whether I'd be cleaning his pitch in a waterfall.
It was a close thing when I reached his tiny belay ledge just as the rain poured down hard. Our single 60 meter rope just reached the ground, so we fixed it, donned raingear, rapped off, and headed for camp. The hope was this little storm would pass on through tomorrow, and we could reascend our rope and finish the climb. In camp there were hot drinks, books, and a cozy tent, but we hadn't brought enough food to hang for more than a couple of days.
|Getting ready to rap in the rain|
|Camp in the Larch forest|
|Tossing off a loose rock on pitch 4|
|Matt scrambling toward the summit|
|Matt near the summit|
where we dumped our gear, and scurried toward the top. I had descended this side three years before after climbing the East Ridge, and knew it was easy. Waves of fog rolled in and out, but high above the sky was blue.
To the south the gigantic North Face of Buck Mountain loomed above the valley. And although Cal Folsom and Mark Moore climbed it in 1976, they warned others away saying the face was; "extremely loose and dangerous." I had scrambled to the top up the backside two summers before, and at one point I peeked over the north side to try and see where they might have climbed up. For over 2,000 feet black schist dominated the scene; rubble on every ledge, teetering chunks of unstable rock, and the paucity of cracks gave the wall a creepy feel. This was no hidden prize that climbers coveted, it was something to avoid.
Matt and I had a couple hours of light left, and as the descent to camp was easy, we knew we'd make it back before dark. He was excited about reaching the top since he had never done a new route before, and he liked the idea that we picked our own line, and each pitch was an adventure.
|Alan and Matt on the summit of Mt. Berge|
|Night sky and Mt. Berge|