Big Four-Dry Creek Route 6160-ft

March 4, 2006

A few weeks after our climb of Big Four, Paul Klenke and group climbed Bedal Peak and took some photos. Thanks for this Photo Paul! It made my day. You can go to his Bedal TR here.

Jason, Josh and Phil STORY: Jason

Yesterday I went and skied Big Four. My brother and I left Tacoma at 4 in the morning (because it is such an appropriate number...four) to meet Phil in Seattle. From there to the parking lot we talked about the climb. I had convinced Phil to go the night before by telling him that "I just want to go look at the mountain." He wasn't a fool though. Late the previous night he agreed to partake in my foolishness. Like Sky says, "Don't be stupid but sometimes you have to be in order to get anything done." Sky has a great way of putting things, but he's no fool either. Both his and my philosophy has always been to go and see what there is. Don't guess. Don't think. But go and see. My guess would be that avi danger was high and that any snow on top would be buffeted off. What I found wasn't quite different. What it was was right within my comfort zone, which is all that matters. I was comfortable with my decisions.

The approach was a nice stroll.

Phil looking down at Jason who is climbing up the headwall at the top of the Dry Creek Route. Photo: Phil Fortier.


The approach is a joke. We skated along two miles of road and maybe a mile of trail before putting skins on. Along the way it snowed; some of the flakes were truly massive! My hopes of seeing the mountain were obscured by the same clouds from which that snow fell, but I didn't need to see it just yet. Like Phil said while looking at Big Four that morning (the Big Four we couldn't see a lick of), "It looks really filled in, no cliff bands at all."

To which I added, "Yeah, its a total joke. Powder day."

Another mile brought us to the Ice Caves. This isn't a place to dally. We quickly skirted another mile around the mountain to the base of the Dry Creek Route. Here the climbing finally begins (It always feels good to finally start up). A rightward slanting couloir leads through cliffs that would otherwise block the entire face. The snow inside was bad, full of frozen ice balls.

A traverse leads from the top of the couloir over to the base of the upper couloir. The snow here was powder on top of a soft crust. I would have stopped here if the slope was any steeper and if the cliffs above didn't keep it cleaned off. We didn't see anything fall down, but it is a place made to generate falling shit. Again we didn't dally.

At the base of the couloir, which rises some 2000-ft, I finally felt comfortable. I had no idea how steep it would be, so when I saw that it was pretty moderate and full of incredible powder, I couldn't have been more excited. Josh and Phil led the skin track until it became too steep. We were about to quit there because the snow was just too deep. The sluff track on the right side of the couloir was harder and the powder wasn't wind affected. It is very protected from both sun and wind. So I continued onward and upward. I couldn't believe our luck. I climbed up the entire couloir until near the bottom of the upper headwall. This is where the real fun began.

The headwall is several hundred feet high and steep. Phil took over for me part of the way up and was kind enough to unlace my axe. The snow was very hard here. I would've put on crampons, but Josh was using the heel piece from his crampon for his binding. Earlier he had traded his for his powder skis and forgot to replace it. We nearly returned home that morning when at the last second Phil thought of the quick fix, which worked out great except for the hassle it would take to reverse the process. I chipped good steps for him where ever Phil had kicked up the slope. With an axe I felt comfortable and enjoyed the climb.

Phil Fortier in the couloir.
We skied down the left side of this photo.
Josh finally completes the final traverse.
The last few feet were incredible.

At the top Phil continued to the ridge. I yelled at him, "So, does it go?" He said that it didn't. To my right was a steep traverse, so I continued traversing across the face until I could mount the ridge. I was exhausted by that point. There was enough room to sit and break comfortably.

I looked over the side and Josh saw me and yelled, "So, does it go?"

I looked up and wasn't sure. I looked over the ridge at him again and hollered, "It goes!"

When they both arrived we took a much needed break. It's funny that the climbing only bothers us because we are thinking about its skiability. Does it go? It runs through our heads a thousand times. Does it go? Does it go? I climbed up the ridge without my pack and scouted it. The climb was doable. The skiing was questionable. I told Phil, "I don't want to climb this piece of crap again. If it doesn't go, we'll downclimb a few sections. Heck, we have a rope. C'mon."

I let Phil take the lead since I was worn out from the couloir and traverse. With some pushing he finished off the last traverse. As soon as he was done he leans over. I (of course) holler, "Does it go?"

His response was music to my ears,
"The summit is ours!"

Yep. It doesn't get any more incredible than that.

Josh and I finished off the traverse and climbed to the top. It's pretty flat up there; the only place on this mountain! We didn't break long. We were so excited to be on top of this bad boy. We put our skis on and skied down to the ridge. I've never had so much butterflies on a 20 degree slope. Below us is the 4000-foot north face, something I no longer have aspirations to ski.

The first traverse was the most difficult part of the route. In corn snow conditions the ski wouldn't be bad. I just don't see the whole thing being filled in, especially the lower section, the upper headwall and ridge, in spring. In my opinion, this is only skiable during a good winter, and no matter how you look at it, Big Four is a risky place to be.

I skied across the traverse first. I found very hard snow with an inch of crust on top. It didn't look bad but it felt bad. Within several feet I reached the ridge again and powder. I told the others to be safe and take it slow.

Phil taking his time side stepping. The snow here looks soft, but is only fluff over concrete.

Josh led the ridge down to the next traverse. There were a few very steep steps, but none were long. There wasn't room to turn with exposed terrain to either side. I led the next traverse which brought us to the top of the headwall. After the traverse I finally had room to make a few turns, but when I got down to hard snow I traversed to the far right side of the face. The snow gripped well. The edges bit in and you could hear every inch they moved. It felt like ice skating. I really wanted to get some photos because the layout was so cool, but I didn't. When I was near the far side of the face I worried that the last roll would be too steep, but I knew from looking up at it earlier that it should go (looking up at something isn't always a good indicator though). There were a few steep flutes and a couple exciting turns here.

You can't see it, but I can assure you there's a smile on his face. Photo: Phil Fortier
Jason nearing freedom. Photo: Phil Fortier
Looking up the headwall. You can see Phil in the center and Josh further to the right.

At the bottom: POWDER. Poof! Phil was next, and when he got to the powder he didn't stop for a third of the couloir. It was that good. I couldn't believe it. My legs were so tired, I downhilled most of it. Even then, I'm embarrassed to admit, it was good. Huge cliffs on either side and on such a great mountain, I was ecstatic. The hardest part was over. Now for the reward. Time to go get it.


Time for our reward. Powder. Poof!

After we reached the bottom, we traversed to the second couloir and skied down to the flats. Our legs were shot and the snow in the second couloir was a nightmare to ski. Fortunately it's not very steep. We took a break before traversing past the ice caves again and back to the trailhead. From there we could now look up and see Big Four. It looked glorious. Wow!

While looking up Phil chimes in, "Man, we're pussies."

We skate skied to the car, ate food at Granite Falls and drove home. Fourteen hours roundtrip (because 4 is a great number).

Here's Phil's great Trip Report: BIG FOUR MOUNTAIN

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