After dumping all of our camping gear out of our packs to mark where we wanted to set up camp that evening, and throwing our packs back on, we headed for Devil's Peak. It took us about two hours from the valley to the notch just south of the summit block. On the way we managed to climb into a dicey little 60-70 degree loose snow chute that was about 20 feet long. The sun was warm enough, and the snow soft enough, that stuff was sloughing off all around us. It was a little tense, but after climbing the chute we were in the area that is probably the meadow under the summit when the snow melts.
Our instructors rigged a top rope for us over the class 4 slabby stuff, and a hand line to go across the sloped ledge and up to the summit gully. I was the first student with my swami tied correctly (lots of practice - I can even do it with my eyes closed now!), so I got to be the first to climb, and the first up to the summit - kind of cool! The view was stupendous! I identified Big Four, Hall Mountain, Jumbo, White Horse, White Chuck, Glacier Peak, Shuksan, Baker, Sloan, Vesper, Sperry, Del Campo, and probably a few more that I'm forgetting. We were able to watch the other group of climbers summiting Devil's Thumb. It was way cool! The instructors were working on setting the rappell line, and since I was first up, I got to be first down (after one instructor). All the rest of the students in our group who were waiting to climb saw me start approaching the edge we rappelled over, and there was no lack of encouragement for me to just jump over the edge! Once I did, and my feet were free, I really enjoyed the ride down! I was even trying to talk my way into climbing up just to rappell down again, but I didn't realize how long it took to get 9 students up on a summit like that. To get the route all rigged, and everyone up and down took over 3 hours! Fortunately there was plenty of sun for us all to sit in while we were waiting, so no one got very cold. Maren was REALLY nervous about the rappell, but the instructors talked her through it, and I got a (hopefully great) picture of her dangling in mid-air, with Devil's Thumb in the background!
We got back down to camp about 6:30, and built a great snow kitchen, with seats and tables for everyone in our group. We definitely had the classiest digs of any of the groups! Everyone had brought extra treats to share, so we feasted on BBQ pork with Chinese hot mustard, fresh baked corn bread (our contribution), sparkling cider, Graham crackers with Dove's chocolates, and tons of other good stuff I'm forgetting. No one wanted to carry any of their treats back down with them the next day, so everyone insisted on eating everything! Two of our instructors had just returned from some climbing in Nepal, and one of them brought back this bizarre stove that the Sherpas use to cook for the climbing expeditions. He got it for $6, and it's this huge aluminum contraption that runs on pressurized kerosene. He was going to brew up some milk tea for us as his treat, which he got hooked on in Nepal, but he couldn't keep the stove running long enough to heat the water in his 1-gallon (I kid you not!) teapot (which he also picked up in Nepal). He promised to try again on another one of our outings. Half the students didn't have to bring treats - they carried up presto logs instead! That evening, after dinner, as we were watching the final two teams drag in from their climbs (the reason we wanted to be second, and not fourth), we dumped the presto logs in the snow, and lit them, and had a wonderful bonfire! I was sure they were just going to melt straight down into the snow, but I guess most of the heat just goes up, because after an hour or so, the snow pit was only a couple of feet deep. We sat around telling war stories and bad jokes, drying out socks and boots, and comparing our climb with the other groups. What a great night!
The next morning we were on the trail by 6:30, this time heading to Devil's Thumb. One group had successfully climbed it the previous day, so we had tracks to follow, and didn't have to kick our own steps until we got close to the north end of the valley. There, the snow was still very steep, and the previous day's group had plunge stepped down the route, which made it really hard to use their steps to climb. The snow was just perfect, though - an ice crust about a quarter inch deep, with hard solid snow just underneath. I had just come to the front of the line, and it was the best lead I had all trip! I took us up about 200 feet without even resting - it was just jam the ice axe in, kick a step for one foot, then the other, reef on the axe and step up - I loved it! I took us up to the first little belay ledge where the instructors set up a line for us to have on the class 4 stuff. The views were fabulous, again! And really surprising here - you've just climbed really steep snow for 30 minutes, and all of a sudden you step up onto a ledge, and there's Baker and Shuksan, with Darrington in the foreground! Wonderful!
We scrambled up to the top of the ridge, and then the instructors set one final rope along the ridge to the true summit. The left the rope fairly loose - probably 25 or 30 feet of slack. They had us use prussiks, but they wanted them there for safety, not to actually be used. They wanted us to do the traverse using balance, ice axes, and the snow and rock that were there. Yow! That was a bit more exposure than I was comfortable with! There's one spot where you have to take a fairly good sized step down, with nothing for your hands to help your balance. The rock we had to step on was covered in a real thin film of snow/ice, and that took me a minute or two to work up the courage to "just do it!" Give me something like that two feet off the ground, and I wouldn't even think twice about it. But, when the drop on one side is 1000 feet straight down, and the other is an 80 degree snow chute that goes on forever, and I know there's 25 feet of slack in the rope I'm tied into - well, let's just say the pucker factor was running high! When we were all over on the summit and getting ready for our group summit shot, Maren asked our lead instructor why he did this stuff. I liked his answer - he said he liked to be on peaks like this with people who were more scared than he was!
Things were starting to run a little late, and our head instructor wanted the two assistant instructors to go ahead, and set up a rappel with one of them above and the other below. He was going to clean the traverse, and needed one of the students to belay him while he did that - I was flattered when he asked me to do that. I assume if you're an instructor you choose the student that you think is most capable of setting up and clipping in to an anchor, and safely belaying you across, so I hope it was a compliment!
It was pretty late in the afternoon as we started down, and we could see avalanches going off all around the valley as we headed down. There were even some small ones on one of the slopes we were coming down. Made for some very tense moments. We got down close to the valley floor, and he had us go from the head of the valley back to camp single file, spread out by 50 yards, and stepping very lightly. Maren was one of the first to head out (she'd tweaked her knee pretty badly, and the lead instructor wanted to keep a close eye on her), and I was toward the end. As the first four folks got out onto the valley floor, the rest of us saw some snow start pouring over a rock ridge directly above them. It came down onto the next ridge and started moving more snow down. It just kept building and building until there was this tremendous roaring, and it looked just like a waterfall. We were all yelling at everyone on the valley floor - Maren took one look up above her, and moved like a snowshoe rabbit over the snow - it was amazing how fast she could move, even with a bum knee! The avalanche stopped a good 100 yards away from anyone, but it was still very frightening - really makes you take outings like this very seriously.
We were the last group back in camp, and so only had 30 minutes to grab something to eat, tear down tents, and get packed and ready to roll. After we got back down to the cars, we headed to a little place called the "Mountain View" just west of Verlot for dinner. They'd been warned they would be invaded by a bunch of grimy looking mountaineers (oops - that should be climbers - Seattle has Mountaineers; Boealps has Climbers!), and they had the entire dining room closed off just for us. It gave us another great opportunity to sit around with the instructors and other students, and relive our climbs and experiences!