All my regular partners were otherwise occupied this weekend so I resorted to placing an "ad" on 14ers.com for partners. I got a bunch of responses with various potential partners coming in and out of the picture. By Saturday night the group had solidified into Mike, John, and me - an ideal number for the ambitious scramble fest I had planned.
Originally I was going to just do the Thatchtop - Powell traverse which Fabio had told me was excellent. However, Eric (who was in on the trip at one time) shamed me into adding two more legs to the climb: The Arrowhead - McHenrys traverse and the McHenrys - Powell traverse. All three of these ridges consisted of much sustained 3rd class, a good bit of 4th class, and even some 5th class downclimbing. Unfortunately Eric had a last minute emergency come up so he couldn't come on the trip he inspired.
Mike and I met John at the trailhead and were hiking by 3:45am. We had a bit of trouble finding the "flat rock" to cross Glacier Creek, but that wasn't a big deal because there were ample opportunities to jump it. However, the bushwhack on the other side of the creek to find the climbers trail resulted in all of us slogging through a marshy meadow and soaking our shoes. Bummer - not a fun way to start the climb. However, we quickly found the climbers trail and gained the steep 800 vertical feet up to Shelf Lake. As we rounded Shelf Lake the first rays of sunlight lit up the tops of the peaks.
On the way to the base of the Northwest Face route on Arrowhead I stopped to fill my hydration reservoir. I was going super-light on this trip and had left the car with only 1 liter of water. I topped up here with another two and a half and then we set off up the Northwest Face. The start of the route wasn't super evident so we opted for a nice featured crack system. This soon dumped us out on the obvious ledge systems described by Lisa Foster and we worked our way up these till we hit a big gully. We scrambled up the gully for a ways until the terrain mellowed considerably and the we angled up toward the east on a trajectory that led us almost to the summit of Arrowhead.
When we got to the summit of Arrowhead at about 7:30am we had a snack and took a nice break. The view of McHenrys peak was stunning, especially the amount of vertical we still had to gain to reach its summit. Soon we packed up and set off. We made quick work of the descent down to the low point in the saddle and then began chugging up the ridge. Staying close to the ridge proper provided the most interesting 4th class scrambling. Any major difficulties were easily avoided by dropping down on the north side of the arete. One cool section involved a narrow chimney.
A little over an hour after leaving Arrowhead we reached the summit of McHenrys Peak at 9:15am. We took another nice long break on the summit of McHenrys Peak before beginning the traverse to Powell Peak via McHenrys Notch. The first bit off McHenrys Peak was easy but soon got more interesting with some exposed 3rd class scrambling along the ridge crest. Soon we were at the top of McHenrys Notch looking down at the intimidating downclimb. Foster calls it 400' of 5.3. I believe her - it was probably the most intense downclimbing I've ever done. We took our time and carefully made our way down. Luckily the rock was pretty good with ample holds most of the way.
From McHenrys Notch it was just a 2nd class slog up to the summit of Powell Peak. We reached Powell's summit at 11:00am. This time we took a much shorter break because a breeze had kicked up and the clouds were beginning to build slightly. We did not want to get caught on the Powell - Thatchtop ridge in a storm.
We quickly made our way over to the ridge and began our descent. Some sections of the ridge were easy and some were quite difficult. By this time I was getting pretty tired - both mentally and physically - so the going was rough at times. The sections I liked the least were the blank slab traverses. I don't mind going up slabs - but traversing and downclimbing them are no fun in my humble opinion. The exposure wasn't really that intimidating because we were pretty much always on the north, gentler side of the ridge. Nevertheless a fall anywhere wouldn't have been fun in any case. Thankfully the weather held and we had great conditions for the traverse.
Eventually we made it down to Solitude Lake by about 3:00pm. Coming down off Thatchtop I stubbed the heck out of my left big toe. I began to slip on some scree and my reflex was to roll over onto my stomach to "arrest". Somehow in this process I absolutely mangled my toe. I don't know if I just mashed it against the rocks, or I rolled a big rock over the top of it, or what, but for about 30 seconds I was in some pretty intense pain. At first I was worried that I had broken my foot or something. Luckily the pain quickly subsided into a dull throb. There wasn't much I could do about it up here and as long as I could walk it wasn't really worth taking my shoe off to examine the damage.
We filled up on water again and began the death march back to the car - arriving a little after 5:00pm. It was a long, demanding day out but we covered some fantastic terrain and bagged a bunch of peaks I'd never been too. Good times.