Slesse: What's up with that?
By Jim Lawyer

"We can do this in two days, Simon" I said with confidence as we drove
north on route WA 9 towards British Columbia. "No problem. It's only a
four hour approach, and the climbing on the first 14 pitches doesn't
get any harder than 5.8. Most of it is 4th class"

"What about the descent. Don't most people leave an extra car at the
descent trailhead?"

"Well, uh, yeah, but it's only 6 miles or so around the mountain back
to car. We can hike that easily in an evening...a few hours tops."

Resigned, Simon replied, "Well, we've come this far, might as well
have a look."

Our idea was to climb Mt. Slesse in the Skagat range of the North
Cascades mountains. By all accounts, Slesse contains all the
attributes of a great route. From a distance, the Northeast buttress
is an amazing sight-a perfectly formed ridge rising 6000 feet from the
adjacent valleys that separates the east and north faces of the
mountain. Perhaps "ridge" isn't quite right, more of an immense rib.
It rises out of an alpine basin with two cavernous glacial cirques on
either side-albeit small glaciers-but glaciers nonetheless. The
mountain itself stands as a massive square topped fortress among its
peers and, when seen from a distance, is the most prominent spire of
rock in the range.

Adding to its initial appeal are testimonials from a multitude of
sources: Beckey calls it " of the greatest rock pillars carved
by the forces of nature in western North Americas...." Steck and Roper
say "the ascent of this astonishingly beautiful buttress was one of
the most daring and sustained alpine climbs yet accomplished in the
Cascades" and "continuously enjoyable climbing all the way to the
summit." Ted Nelson and Peter Potterfield say "This route on Slesse
Mountain is truly a classic, one of the most challenging in the
range." Well, I for one can't pass that up.

It was not without note, however, that I noticed words such as
"intimidating", "challenging", "massive" and "rugged". What's up with

"What do you think, Simon", I asked as we drove east on Canada Highway
1 with a view towards the tooth-like summits off to the south.

"Well, we might as well have a look."

Fair enough. First on our agenda was finding a map. Our route beta was
slim-a photocopied section from the Beckey Bible, and Selected Climbs
in the Cascades-and we needed a map to match against these
descriptions. Apparently, the only store in Chilliwack that sells maps
is an RV outfitter. Fittingly, we were sold a giant bonus map
measuring four feet across and three feet high, the "bonus" being that
it includes much of the useless surrounding quadrangles. Examining the
map at the counter, I could just picture Simon and I hanging from some
cliff face unfolding this giant map, four square inches of which we
were interested in. It turned out to be a real winner of a map, as it
contained no logging roads or trails, and we never removed it from the
pack. I guess Canadians aren't into providing lots of details.

Provisions were our next stop in Chilliwack, an ample supply of which
we found at the Safeway just off Vedder Road. Focusing on weight, we
ended up with a few chewy fruit bars, some gummy fruit, a couple of
bagels, and some granola. At the checkout counter, it didn't look like
much, nor did it look tasty, but it's only two days, right?

Then off we went to the crag.

Driving out Chilliwack River Road, Simon pulled the route description
from Nelson's book and started reading.

"Hang on! This 'six miles' looks more like ten. Looks like you forgot
to figure in the distance on the main road."

"Ten miles isn't so bad, just a late night, that's all. We've done
that before", I said optimistically. Keenness is something I'm quite
known for.

A few minutes later, Simon exclaims, "Hang on! After you add up these
incremental distances, it's more like twelve miles." Being the
physicist, Simon's good with numbers, so who was I to argue.

"Ten miles, twelve miles, what's the difference?" I asked.

"Uh...Jim, it's more like 16 miles. I've just added it all up and
that's a bloody long way."

"Whoops.", was all I could muster.

Strangely enough, Simon didn't ask me to stop the car and, by this
time, we were more than half way to the trailhead. I suppose he
thought that, after descending the mountain, he would just sit there
while I sorted out the car. After all, it was my idea, right?

What's up with that? There's no way I was going to walk 16 miles after
a day's climbing. Recently, I had hiked 17 miles in the Adirondacks
with some friends and have been limping ever since. Six miles, ok. Ten
miles, that may be pushing it. But 16 miles? No way, man.

I slammed on the brakes and turned the car around.

Options. On the way back to Chilliwack we considered our options:
renting a car, hiring a taxi, hitch-hiking, hiring the helicopter
mentioned in the guidebook, rappelling the route, or descending over
Crossover Peak back to the base of the buttress. Most people leave a
bike at the base of the descent, we didn't have a bike; clearly, this
is the ideal option (clearly, we weren't thinking properly). Once back
in Chilliwack, we found our way to the nearest Zellers, which was just
about the only store open at 8:30 in the evening, and purchased the
cheapest bike they had - a child's mountain bike with deflated tires
for about $119.00 Canadian. The sales person said that her
thirty-year-old son still rode on the same bike, and, we could always
raise the seat up. We were convinced.

We raised the seat, purchased a wrench-set so that we could remove the
tires (a quick release mechanism probably costs as much as the bike),
inflated the tires, and away we were.

"You know, Jim, this is obsessive."

"What's your point?"

We drove the car back towards the trailhead in growing silence.
Perhaps it was the late hour, but, for me, there was an increasing
sense that we were getting into something over our heads. I was
definitely apprehensive.

We found Slesse Creek Road after backtracking and realizing that all
the mileage distances in the guidebook were bogus. Slesse Creek Road
is a logging road; I had read on the Web that this road was recently
regraded, so I thought it would "go" without a hitch. Think again. The
road contained numerous dips-or, rather, ditches-to accommodate stream
crossings. These dips were gentle at first, giving us confidence to
continue, but quickly became more abrupt. The worst part was the
considerable scraping on the underside of the car near the gas tank
and muffler.

"Uh, that one was pretty bad, Jim. You better slow down a bit or we'll
lose the bumper."

I slowed, but that simply prolonged the scraping noises, making me
grit my teeth until my jaw ached. One section had a dozen of these
dips, one after the other, which we crawled by at a snail's pace,
scraping the underside of the rental on each one.

"The guidebook doesn't mention crappy roads, does it?" I asked.
"What's up with that?"

Clearly logging roads in Canada are made for more robust vehicles,
which was confirmed when we came across another rental vehicle parked
near the edge of the road at a particularly heinous section. We jumped
out and examined the other car; the interior was empty except for a
copy of the Beckey Bible riding shotgun. Jackpot! With this evidence,
combined with some climbing tape on a stick (a cheater stick?) that we
found nearby, we decided we must be near the Slesse Creek descent
trail, although it didn't look much like a landmark. In fact, we
barely had room to turn the car around. We stashed the bike anyway,
along with our new wrenches in case we had bike trouble. Always
thinking ahead.

We made our way back to the main road in the dark now and turned right
in search for the next logging road that would take us in to the start
of the approach on the east side of the mountain. By the patches of
rubber on the road, it appears as if everyone misses the right turn
onto Nesakwatch Creek Road-probably the bogus odometer readings again.
According to the guide, we were supposed to drive until we reach a
gate, park, then start the approach. At the second open gate (with no
parking area and no marking of any kind), we parked and scoped out the
area by headlamp. Beckey writes that the approach follows a logging
road for five minutes and then crosses a "decadent bridge". A
"decadent" bridge? What's up with that? Anyway, we hiked for under a
minute and then crossed a huge log bridge. Jackpot!

We set up a tent, then began packing for the next morning. Sue
Harrington told me about her 1993 adventure on Slesse. She said, "We
spent a few days on the route, traveled light."

"So, no tent, right? What about packs?" I guess I'm pretty naive about
routes that require more than one day.

"Yeah, no tent, just a bivy sack. We only carried one pack so the
leader could climb unencumbered."

Sounds reasonable, I thought. So, Simon and I sorted our food, rack,
approach shoes, six quarts of water (enough for two days), bivy sacks,
water proof jackets and pants, and various other items.

"Simon, you have the second 9 mil rope, right?"

"Uh, no. I thought you had it."

What's up with that?

In our haste, we had only a single 9 mm rope, which is completely
inadequate for a route of this size and commitment. What if we have to
rappel? Luckily, Simon had packed a 10.5 as a spare, so we decided to
use this rope for leading and carry the 9 mm-an extra 8 pounds for the
poor sole that wasn't leading.

With the additional bulk, we decided to carry two packs: a small light
pack for the leader and a heavy burdensome pack for the second, then
swap leads and trade packs at each belay. The impracticality of this
maneuver was lost in our optimism. So much for Sue's advice, although,
to be fair, we probably couldn't have squeezed our gear into anything
less unless we decided to share a bivy sack, and I wasn't going to be
the one to suggest it. When it was all packed, we were each carrying
between 30 and 40 pounds. Water is heavy!

Sleep was difficult that night. I kept waking up freezing cold, but
covered in sweat. An anxiety attack? I've never had one, so I don't
know for sure, but I definitely had the sinking feeling that I was
getting into something over my head.

"Simon, what do you think? Should we bag it?" I asked at one point
about 3:00 AM.

"Well, we've come this far, might as well have a look."

Why am I always with Simon when I feel like I'm in something over my
head? The last time I felt this way was on Diablo's Path on the
Outrage wall at Potrero Chico in Mexico during a mid-winter holiday.
Tucked in amongst the 5.13s is this nice 6-pitch 5.11+ route that
overhangs from bottom to top.

"Simon, do you get the feeling we don't belong here" I remember saying
on the second pitch. "Some of these bolt hangers still have price

"Well, we've come this far, we might as well have a look."

The next morning at first light, we started up the logging road on the
approach to Slesse. Things went ok until we decided to take the short
cut up the 600' dirty gully. This thing was quite steep in places,
with large rocks and boulders literally stuck into the mud. We made
short work of it and arrived at the scenic overlook ahead of schedule.

From the scenic overlook, you can see the vertical relief of the route
from bottom to top. It looks awesome. You can easily see all of the
lower basin, the steep slopes that lead to the cirque containing the
infamous "pocket glacier" the bypass variation, and the buttress
itself. Here, there is a large plaque in remembrance of the 62 victims
of the TCA North Star crash that occurred in 1956. The plaque says
that the mountain is a national "grave site" since the bodies were
never recovered.

Bodies not recovered? What's up with that?

As a grave site, the mountain is protected against logging. Since all
the other mountains within sight have huge swaths of clearcut, I guess
this is really a good thing. Hmmm.

Making good time, we headed off into the lower basin. The guidebook
says to "descend into the left side of the objective basin. Continue
on talus and moraine under the flanking ridge slope to a deep gully on
the upper left side." Easy enough. Well, we hiked along the basin,
passing a few laughably inaccessible gullies to the first one that
looked only mildly ludicrous, but climbable, and headed up. Initially,
the rock was clean and peppered with square cuts, but gradually
steepened to near vertical when, coincidentally, the square cuts
disappeared and the rock became dirty and loose. What's up with that?
Scaring myself silly (and still in my sneakers), I topped out and
threw a rope down to Simon, who could barely tie on with a single
hand. Whew.

The excitement of having gained some height was short lived when we
realized that we just climbed a gully separating a rock tower from the
real gully-a gently sloped gully just behind. I guess we should have
photocopied the area map! Idiots.

So, we headed up the gently sloped gully for 1000' or so, until we
realized that this was the wrong gully as well and that we were now
separated from the pocket glacier cirque by about three deep
uncrossable ravines. So, we descended back to the lower basin in hopes
of finding the correct gully.

After some exploration, we discovered that there were no additional
gullies and that we were probably correct after all. Instead of
retracing our steps, we decided to attack the cirque by climbing a
buttress directly beneath it. It was at about this time that I
discovered that I lost the Beckey route topo.

"Simon, I think I lost the route topo."

He seemed surprisingly unaffected. "We still have that other one,
right?" referring to the one from Nelson's book.

"Yeah, but it has, like, half the detail" I replied feeling stupid.

As it turned out, examining the guidebook after having climbed the
route, we could only identify about three of the fifty or so landmarks
on the Beckey topo. It's almost as if we climbed a completely
different mountain.

The buttress directly below the pocket glacier is as dangerous as it
sounds. The pocket glacier is not really a glacier, but an immense
pile of ice that accumulates every winter, the sloughs off during the
summer. Being about 90 degrees, we were anticipating that some of
these giant ice cubes would come tumbling down over the slabs, just
like they were on all the other glaciers in sight. So, we made short
work of that buttress, climbing a couple of rock pitches and 4th class
slabs in about an hour before the sun made its way to the upper part
of the cirque.

By now, the heat was oppressive. We stopped often to drink, always
refilling our bottles in case that was the last water. We climbed
easily now on gentle slabs up to the pocket glacier cirque, stopping
often to gaze up the 3000' east face and buttress to the right. The
gendarme on which we intended to bivy seemed absolutely beyond
possibility, not only was it ridiculously high up, but it was
cantilevered over the east face-quite impressive.

After a while, the broken slabby area gave way to a large, unbroken,
featureless, slab, about 600 feet long and polished like a tombstone,
on top of which were sitting giant ice cubes-remnants of the pocket
glacier-now receiving direct sun. We decided to change into rock
shoes, as a slip from here would start one tumbling out of control
over some cliffs below. About 40' up, Simon does exactly that; he
slips and rides down the slab on the palms of his hands, landing on a
small outcropping of boulders at the bottom. The entire event took no
more than five seconds. Luckily, Simon was unhurt except for some
bloody patches on the palms of his hands, which we cleverly bandaged
with climbing tape (the sticky goo on the back has medicinal
properties, right?)

Clearly, ascending the slab wasn't going to be as easy as it looked,
as it was covered with a fine film of dirt; after all, this stuff is
usually under a glacier, right? After some experimentation, I found
that I could clear a circular patch of dirt from the slab with my
hands, then place a foot there and maintain reasonable cohesion. Under
threat from the ice cubes above, we slowly made our way up the slab.
Where the angle lessened, we literally ran up. There was no reversing
this featureless slab, adding to the feeling of commitment.

Five hours. It was supposed to take four hours, but with all the
messing about, it took five hours to get to the base of the route,
which was now completely in the sun. At the top of the slab (where it
meets the east face of Slesse) begins the Bypass Variation-a four
pitch variation that avoids the first 6 pitches of the buttress
proper. From far away, the Bypass Variation looks like nothing more
than a few plants growing directly out of the east face. However, from
our new position at the top of the slab, it's really a narrow
traversing ledge that breaks the east face, providing convenient
access to the buttress. We pulled out the rope to prepare for swapping

"What are you tied into?" I asked starting off on the first pitch.

"To be honest, just some resident slings and stuff." Leaning over to
get a closer look, he adds, "Don't ask."

And so it went. We climbed mostly loose rubble interspersed with
pockets of turf containing conveniently hacked-out foot placements.
The climbing wasn't particularly pleasant, but we weren't expecting
much. Lots of boulders, trees, turf, and a few one-move 5th class
sections. After about five or six pitches of this stuff, we stopped to
eat lunch. As it was, we had just reached the crest of the buttress
and we only (!) had ten pitches to go until the bivy ledges.

"I'm parched. Hand me the water." Simon takes a quick swig.

"That's all until dinner. We have to ration." I said with some
authority since I carried it.

We had barely started and already we were parched. We tried eating
bagels, but couldn't muster enough saliva to swallow them. We settled
on fruit bars as they contained just enough moisture for proper

Not wanting to waste valuable time, we continued, passing a few
exposed sections and a large gendarme to the "5.7 runout section",
which is given about one millimeter of detail on the topo. Good thing
it's Simon's lead.

"The topo shows it going slightly left, then back right", I yelled up
to Simon who was now about 75' off route to the left. After putting in
an Alien for protection, he decides he's off route as well, then gets
the Alien permanently stuck during the downclimb.

"I'll get you a new one," he yells down. I say nothing, just wishing
he'd get on with it. How hard can it be; it's only 5.7!

He retreats back to the ridge crest, then starts laybacking for 50
feet up a steep slab with no gear. With the giant pack, he looks like
he'll peel at any moment. He can't ride this one out on his
palms...maybe the pack will break his fall. I can't watch.

He ties off a pinch between two rocks and runs it out up to the belay
tree. Following, I begin to appreciate the seriousness of alpine
climbing. I can't say I'm addicted yet.

Grabbing the gear, I head up to the "short steep 5.8 crack" according
to the topo. There's about six of them, all parallel, all of which
look about 5.8 in difficulty. Picking the leftmost one, I run it out
until the climbing gets hard, then use my nut tool to excavate a crack
for a nut. The climbing gets harder, so I delicately reverse the
moves, then head rightwards to the next crack. The next crack
overhangs, and I waste many minutes getting in decent protection,
pumping my arms due to the weight of the pack. Testing out the moves,
I decide that, since the moves are way harder than 5.8, it must be the
next crack. If getting lost is called "route finding", then I'm doing
a good job route finding. The next crack went without a hitch; the
climbing was actually clean and fun-for about 20 feet-then turns back
to the usual dirty 4th class stuff we've been climbing for so many

Due to the late hour, we decide to take the "North Side Traverse", a
five pitch variation that, fittingly, heads out onto the north face of
Slesse, thereby avoiding the steep bits on the crest of the ridge. We
really had no idea where we were or where this traverse started (the
mysterious "sandy ledges" according to the guide book), but, feeling
lucky, Simon heads out onto the north face anyway. He traverses a full
200 feet with, maybe, two pieces of gear. I join him quickly and avoid
the usual examination of his "belay".

"To be quite honest, this is the most serious route I've ever been
on." Simon says as he hands me the gear. (He always says, "to be
honest"; when he really means it, he adds the "quite".)

I nod in agreement while looking up into a sea of rock. "Where the
hell do you think it goes?" I asked. It's a stupid question really,
and it went unanswered. We didn't say much after that, but rather
focused ourselves on the climbing. We swapped pitch after pitch of
consistent 5.7 rock, which would have been enjoyable if it wasn't
loose, dirty, wet, and unprotected. It seemed that the higher we went
on the north face, the more loose and wet the climbing became.

At the top of the fourth pitch on the north face, I set up a belay
using two small nuts in a dirty crack. I brought Simon up and handed
him the gear, thankful for the brief rest. The sun had long since
passed over the ridge and I was soon shivering in the shade. Simon
first traversed out right, fiddled with some gear, then retreated and
tried going up and slightly left. Finding that impassable, he tried
straight up, then back over to the right again where he started. Simon
was getting good at "route finding" too; perhaps we'll both be

Eventually, he settled on traversing left about 50 feet with no gear.
Reaching up, he pulled off a large block and stood there holding it in
his left hand. What's up with that?

"What should I do with this?" he yelled over. Another rhetorical
question. He tossed it off, making sure to clear the rope; it hit a
ledge, then I counted the seconds until I heard it hit again a few
thousand feet lower, at which point it shattered, then sprayed bits
out onto a lower glacier. For some reason, things seem scarier when
stuff starts dropping.

"How's it going up there?" I asked, which, as anyone who's climbed
with me will affirm, means "Hurry up!" Simon mumbled some
unintelligible British-speak from high above, then pulled on the rope
a little, which was probably his way of tricking me into thinking that
actual progress was being made when, in fact, none was. By the time I
heard the word "Safe!" from up above, I was shaking with cold.

I raced up the pitch as fast as I could trying to warm my hands and,
in my haste, didn't notice the toilet paper until I was actually upon
it. Apparently Simon had found the ideal spot, right below a toilet
(what's up with that?), which was a good sign that we were nearing the
objective bivy ledges. Without breaking stride, I continued slightly
up and leftwards I full rope pitch to the top of a large gendarme with
the bivy ledges. I quickly brought Simon up.

"Bloody hard work, that." Simon said has he approached the ledges. Our
"route finding" paid off (for once), landing us on one of the most
splendid bivy sites imaginable. It wasn't necessarily flat, but rather
in the most outrageous position. On the left, the ledge overhangs the
sheer east wall of Slesse; peeking over the edge on my stomach, I
could see down a few thousand feet to the pocket glacier, which looked
more like an unimportant snow patch from this height. On the right
side, we could easily pick out the North Rib-a striking rib that
parallels the Northeast Buttress for nearly its entire length-beyond
which we could see the eastern faces of Crossover peak and other
smaller summits. Looking directly down the buttress itself, we could
see our entire route all the way to the lower basin.

Above the bivy ledges, the upper part of the route was cleaner, well
defined, and squared off like a fortress; here, the buttress widens
and merges with the north face. It looked like about four pitches of
climbing, which, because of foreshortening, turned out to be more like

The bivy ledge projects outwards from the buttress enough to catch the
last remnants of the sun before it dips beyond the western horizon.
Basking in the warmth of the setting sun, we set about the important
task of rehydrating, a difficult proposition given only a quart of
water to split between us. We had four additional quarts, but we had
to save these for breakfast, tomorrow's climbing, and the descent. We
ate most of our remaining fruit bars.

We put on all our clothes and climbed into the bivy sacks to watch the
setting sun, relaxing for the first time in two days. My anxiety about
the route drained away with the diminishing sun. We laid awake,
enjoying the absolute silence-no other people, no wind, no animals,
just the occasional thunder from the glacial icefall thousands of feet
below. I'm always surprised how my perspective changes after a climb;
actually, it's more like selective recall where all of the bad
memories are repressed. Earlier, I was ready to retire from climbing
(I actually said this, much to my demise, as I am constantly reminded
about it now); already, having not yet even finished this climb, I was
thinking of new alpine routes to be climbed.

What's up with that?

Before retiring, we decided to split an additional quart of water. It
disappeared in about 30 seconds; afterwards, we were still thirsty.

The night was not completely unpleasant, the worse part being the
discomfort of laying on rock all night. By morning, we were ready to
get moving. The only night casualty was Simon's new glacier goggles,
which were chewed apart by nefarious rodents during the night. Rodents
on a cliff face? What's up with that? I later read these were most
likely bushy tailed woodrats.

We redistributed the weight in the two packs as planned, with the
follower carrying the heavier pack. At first light, Simon sped up the
first pitch. Initially, we were committed to following the route topo
exactly, but that plan dissolved when we couldn't find any landmarks.
We continually wandered around the ridge crest, never really knowing
where we were. Everything felt about 5.7, even the 4th class sections.

Our plan was that, to save time, Simon would lead up to the 5.9 pitch
(about 6 pitches), at which point we would switch and I would lead the
remainder to the summit. We never really found a 5.9 pitch, but we did
see a bolt off to the right at one point.

Guidebooks describe the upper buttress of Slesse as "the magnificent
final pitches", "the real reason for doing the climb", "exposed and
sustained", and "continuously enjoyable climbing". Hmmm. I was
thinking of phrases more like "a giant choss heap" or "an exposed pile
of choss"; it was certainly better than the choss heap we climbed
yesterday. If you gauge a climb by the quality of the rock, then this
was, without question, a "no star" climb; however, if you judge
against position, exposure, or directness of the line, then this climb
is unequaled.

At about 11:30 AM, we arrived at a good ledge below what appeared to
be the final two pitches below the Summit. "We're home free now!" I
said confidently. We decided to get off the route as quickly as
possible and opted for the East Side Traverse which, like the name
says, traverses some ledges above the east face to a gully, then
climbs the gully for two pitches to the summit. Big mistake, as this
happened to be the loosest and dirtiest section of the climb so far,
but it did get us to the summit quickly, although a bit scary.

At 1:00 PM, we reached the narrow ridge of rock known as the summit of
Slesse Mountain. There were a few other climbers there, just having
completed the West Face which was the route we intended to descend, so
we prodded them for information. We changed into our sneakers, had a
quick sip of water and a fruit bar to celebrate, took a few pictures,
then quickly headed off to the descent ahead of the others. "We're
home free now." I said. I actually think Simon agreed at this point.

After traversing and downclimbing a short distance, we rappelled down
to a gully between the main face and giant gendarme. From there, we
scrambled down a few hundred feet, then headed out rightwards beneath
the west face-doing some pretty scary 5th class traversing in the
process-after which we did another rappel, some more traversing, a few
more rappels, finally reaching a large gully in the ridge between
Slesse and one of its northern neighbors. From here, we put the ropes
away and headed down the loose gully.

"Looks like, from the bottom of this gully, we're home free." I said
to Simon with some encouragement. To the uninformed, this was indeed
the case, as one can see the descent for quite a distance as it
traverses an easy talus slope, then descends a ridge to some open bald
slopes below. We couldn't see the 5000' descent beyond.

Now in obnoxiously direct sun, we attacked the descent with gusto,
motivated by eventual rehydration. We made short work of the talus
slope and ridge beyond, pausing only to take a quick photo of the west
fact of Slesse. Shortly beyond the open bald slopes, things fell
apart. The slopes beyond are extremely steep and covered with gravel.
For consistency, we immediately got lost (from the numerous false
paths, so does everyone else). The guide indicates that we should
descend until picking up the Slesse Creek Trail; fair dues, but where
the hell is it? We descended back and forth until we finally picked up
a trail of orange tape. Expecting "many steep switchbacks" according
to the guide, we were disappointed to find the most heinously steep
trail on earth, or so we thought at the time. Straight down with no
switchbacks. What's up with that?

For two hours, we racked our knees, blistered our feet, and complained
incessantly. We were so dehydrated that our lips cracked and tongues
swelled; we were beyond sweating, as there wasn't enough water in our
bodies. To protect my knees, I found I had to bend over at the waist
and take little steps, more or less sliding my feet down the path,
which, by this time had developed numerous blisters, which I wrapped
in climbing tape. We gauged our descent by comparing our elevation
with the mountains on the other side of the valley, we lost elevation
with painful slowness.

Someone told me that some "friends" had rappelled the descent trail.
That was most likely an exaggeration (probably an urban legend),
although not a bad indication of its grade. There were no breaks in
the descent, no flat sections or logs to rest on. It goes without
saying that we fell often.

Then, without much warning, the trail spit us onto the logging road at
its base with a stream nearby. We filled our water bottles and popped
in a few iodine tablets, wishing we could drink immediately. As it
turned out, we didn't wait long enough for the tablets to dissolve and
drank it anyway. Two quarts each, and still not enough.

"Now we're really home free!" I said again, with optimism. Simon
looked comatose. Really, I thought we had just a mile or so to go
before reaching the bike. To Simon's credit, he didn't complain until
the third or fourth mile. By 7:00 PM, we reached the bike and, just as
expected, Simon sat down and didn't move while I sorted out the bike,
and, eventually, the car.

"I'll see you in an hour." I said as I started off on the bike. The
first mile on the bike was ok, mostly downhill. In fact, the first 6
miles went without a hitch; I only stopped once to repair the brakes.
I reached the main road in no time flag and started the long grind
towards Nesakwatch Creek Road. Since this was a kid's bike, my legs
quickly cramped and my thirst returned with a vengeance. As I neared
the turnoff, I pulled into a campground and seriously considered
trading the bike for a ride to the rental car. Certainly, thumbing a
ride would have been easier, but, in the end, I decided to complete
the adventure in good style.

For the last few miles, due to cramps, I couldn't pedal uphill;
instead, I was forced to dismount and walk the bike uphill. It didn't
help that my brake repairs caused the brakes to rub and that the tires
had somewhat deflated. After two hours, I reached the car. In
character with my obsessive nature, I wanted to retrieve Simon before
the other climbers caught up. So I quickly packed the bike into the
backseat and drove back, the distance which was 17.1 miles according
to the odometer. As it turned out, the other climbers arrived just
after I reached Simon.

"You know, we could have just taken a nap here and waited for the
others." Simon said, which is, in fact, exactly what he had done. I
tried to explain how my sacrifice had preserved our adventure, that
taking the easy way would have been in contrast to our entire
experience. I think we were both to tired to care.

So much for our adventure on Slesse Mountain. After returning home, I
did a little reading about the route, something that I should have
done beforehand. I read about Alan Kearny returning three times to the
north side of Slesse, about Beckey's adventures on the first ascent,
and about the other routes on the north side put up by well known
names such of Jeff Lowe and Greg Child. Consensus had it-and I have to
agree-that the Northeast Buttress of Slesse Mountain it is truly a
classic. How quickly one forgets.

What's up with that?