It was a sunny, hot, wonderful, exciting and terrifying day.
We all met at the Lee Ridge turnout at 8am. Our route took us up Lee Ridge then over towards Gable Pass where the Chief Mtn. climbers trail splits off, up to Papoose, then on to Ninaki, returning the same route. A total distance of 16 miles, with about 4000 feet of elevation gain. This was an exploratory climb, we had very little information on either peak.
Lee Ridge is a 6 mile trail hike. The lower 4 miles are in the forest with no views. Mosquitos abound, they were tolerable if you kept moving, but when you tried to stop for a break they are all over you. The trail is a good walk, a nice steady grade that allowed for a good pace. The next two miles are wonderful. Open alpine meadow with 360 degree views. In reverse the trip down is gentle and easy, though once you enter the woods it plays tricks on your mind, seems much longer than 4 miles. Every member of the crew reported the same thought, that we must have taken a wrong turn and were going down some other trail. It just seems to go on forever. Mosquitos were even worse in the heat of the afternoon.
Papoose was an easy climb for everyone. The toughest part is the first 20 feet. Starting about the center of the S.W. side we found a nice gap in the rock that was tight but climbable, could not wear a pack. That led to a little landing and second gap. Once above these itís a simple 45 degree walk up on solid limestone. At the top of this you come to two small spires one on each side of you, the left one is the highest. So another 15 foot climb and you are on the summit. The summit can hold at most 3 people, so no chance for a full group summit shot.
The walk around Papoose to Ninaki is not easy. Itís a talus field walk but that does not do it justice. Unlike most of the park where talus is flat shale like rocks. The stone that makes up Papoose is different so the rock are more like small square boulders ranging in size from 6 inch to 3 feet. Very unstable and many want to roll out from under foot. This walk definitely took more energy than I had anticipated for the short half mile between them.
Ninaki has three points, the one on the Chief Mtn. side is the highest summit. We walked around the east side to about the midway point. From here you can see an obvious ramp leading up across the east face. Lots of loose scree on the rock so, easy to slip. The ramp leads around a bend where you come to the crux of the climb. A step across a steep narrow gully, then a 30 foot traverse on a ledge angling up. It turns a corner with the rock wall pushing you backwards. Once around this itís a fairly easy climb up to the summit.
The crux, by technical difficulty is probably a class 4, but by danger it is a class 5. There is nothing to back you up. One slip and it is a 100 foot vertical fall. Those of you who have climbed with me, know I am not fast on the steep uphill. As a result I was the last to reach the crux. By the time I got there, several of the jack rabbits had already navigated around this feature. When I saw this my heart stopped and I said Oh Hell No, not without protection. Especially knowing the down climb was going to be twice as difficult. We were not carrying any placeable protection like cams or pitons. We did have a rope incase a belay was needed. But it was not going to be much help on a 30ft sideways traverse from below.
We did attempt to get the rope up to the crew that was now on the next level above us so they could set up a top belay if needed for the trip back. But during that process one of our members lost his footing and fell in to the steep gully next to us. The gully was about 15 foot long emptying in to space. I was sure we had lost him. Luckily he as able to arrest his slide about 4 feet short of oblivion. We first checked on his condition and he said he was not hurt, we instructed him to sit tight and not move. Since we already had the rope out and were setup with a belay anchor it was fairly quick to fashion a chest harness loop he could slip over himself for a safety line. We lowered it down to him, put him on belay and he was able to climb back up. After this none of the rest of us had any desire to attempt the crux. And we were unable to get the rope back to those above.
The five that had gone up made the summit and came back down. It was the most nerve racking experience watching them down climb the crux. Everyone has different abilities and comfort level. Watching Frank come down first it was walk in the park for him, the rest needed a little step by step coaching/coaxing to different degrees. All made it down safely.
I will probably go back to do Ninaki again someday,since I didn't make the summit this trip. But I will bring better equipment so it can be done more safely.
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