Vanishing Point

My good friend, Travis Kemp, and I climbed Vanishing Point about a month ago, and I know some people have been curious about this route and would benefit from even a short trip report. There is still time to climb this route this season, but it's dwindling!

Vanishing Point on Dolomite Tower, a subpeak of Mt. Baring, climbs one of the most impressive, clean faces in the state, even country. The Liberty Bell group at Washington Pass is hard to beat as far as aesthetics and quality of climbing goes, but the north face of Mt. Baring is almost right up there with it. It's beautiful! But no one climbs on it!! Yeah, yeah, the rock is not quite as good. But the rock on Vanishing Point was overwhelmingly good--loose rock was the exception. If this thing was in Europe, it would probably be famous. I mean they climb on shit over there and this is definitely pretty good! Right? Just kidding...

Bryan Burdo first climbed his masterpiece Vanishing Point in 1999 and gave called it Grade VI 5.12b--which is a pretty big grade (The Nose on El Cap is Grade VI!). Taken as a whole, to climb the north face of Mt. Baring, you must ascend around 3000ft of semi-technical to very technical (overhanging!) terrain. To get the base of the Dolomite Tower prow ('the approach'), you must climb up steep gullies, a 60-70° forested rib with fixed lines, and around 800ft of mostly roped-up slab. Finally, where the real climbing starts, you have a nearly 1500ft overhanging prow looming above you that is VERY sustained at 5.11+/5.12. Bryan Burdo took 3-days on his ascent, though now, competent parties have done it in one long day.

Travis and I had been talking about doing this route since we saw it in Blake Herrington's book Cascade Rock. After a year of waffling, we finally set a date. In order to cut out the 1.5 hour drive from Seattle, we drove to Travis' cabin in Skykomish on a Thursday night after routesetting at Seattle Bouldering Project. The next day, we were up at 5am and were at the Barclay Lake Trailhead by around 6am. The approach starts out on a pleasant level trail until you reach a creek bed, which you can walk in, or alternatively, walk through relatively open forest right of the creek, until you reach a boulder field. Once in the boulder field, you can see your whole route: up a rocky wash to a ramp onto the forested rib; up fixed lines in the forested rib; back left into the gully; up the gully until reaching bolted slabs to the left; up the slabs; across a large ledge to the left; up a gully with bolts and gear occasionally on the face to the right; up more slabs and ledges diagonaling left to the base of the tower. (Phew! That's you're brief approach beta from me!). We nailed the 'approach' without pre-scouting, thanks to a good description in Blake's guidebook, and were at the base of Dolomite Tower at 8:30am.

Man, I'm writing more than I thought. I need to wrap this up! But onto the real climbing...but briefly! I lead the first two pitches combined with no event. Travis took the 3rd, which is runout and the site of a huge fall and injury of a competent northwest climber. Sure enough it was sketchy and scary--glad Travis lead it! We thought a #2, which we didn't have, might have protected the moves off of the flake. Pitch 4, the only all-gear pitch, was fun and well-protected. Then pitch 5, the pitch that almost ruined our day. Travis set off up towards a roof that we were supposed to climb through, according to Blake's description, but Travis found hard climbing, no bolts, and very loose rock that would likely break and fall directly on me. Spooked, he lowered and we talked about bailing. I decided I would go and check it out. I put in a #1 in a suspect flake under the roof and thought about committing to some slopers but had no idea what was above them. I bailed, and moved to the far right where there were some bolts on the face, back cleaning as I went to lessen the rope drag. I'm not sure of the difficulty of the climbing because of the hanging and back cleaning, but I was able to climb around the roof and the loose flakes to the 'alt. belay' marked in Blake's topo. OK, I thought, we were going to do this, but now it became about getting to the top. Free climbing wasn't the goal anymore. Just climbing fast. And that we did.

After many, many gloriously exposed, hard, sustained, overhanging, and nerve-numbing, but safe, pitches we reached the top 7.5 hours after starting at the base of the tower at around 4pm. The descent, thank god, though long, is fully non-technical, and we were back to the car at 6:30pm. Grade VI, car-to-car in 12.5 hours--not bad! Maybe Grade V is more appropriate... But since we failed to free climb the route, at least we were fast. And we were definitely happy--it was one of the most exciting climbs we had ever done. I definitely would do it again, but I might need some time to let the memory settle...

I talked to Blake afterward about pitch 5, and he dug up a picture of the roof from when he climbed it. Sure enough, as we suspected, a serious chunk of the roof is now gone. The route as they climbed it is no longer possible/recommended/safe. If it weren't for the mystery bolts out left, the route would not safely go. I have no idea how hard the climbing there is though, but probably between 5.11+ and 5.12+, so it is likely another crux. Below is a marked-up copy of Blake's topo. Do it!!