“Castle in the Sky” First Ascent of the South Buttress of Whatcom Peak IV 5.10b TD


Joe traversing the challenger glacier with the S buttress in view behind.

Lani and I have been using our friend Kyle as one of our check In people in the front country on personal trips. He is a rational human that understands climbing and good decision making. While we were climbing Mongo, he was unknowingly relaying our progress to Wayne. By the time we got into the front country we already had an invite to dinner to celebrate the climb! Wayne is full of stoke, in an awesome, uncontainable way. I asked him at dinner what the biggest unplucked fruit in the cascades may be. He waffled a bit then suggested the South Buttress of Whatcom Peak as a worthy objective. Trigger some research, and the hook was set. Lani and I had offset schedules for a couple weeks, so I lined up a couple trips into the pickets to prepare for the climb. The weather was exceptionally fruitful and conditions lent themselves to relatively easy passage. The pickets were for once obliging.


Lani on the pitch 1 hero ledge traverse


Our original plan was to go with a 4 day itinerary and bivy on route. Lani was coming fresh off Triumph the day before we were set to leave and we decided we needed a day to rest and pack. So, with a little uncertainty, we pushed it up a day to a relatively aggressive 3 day plan. The first day was relatively uneventful as we pounded up easy peak. We got to the end of the ridge with enough daylight to drop down and traverse the impasse. future parties should consider a bivy on easy ridge to help break up the days a little bit easier. We found a Cush camp just past the impasse in the basin below the climb.

Looking Down at the first pitch of 5.7 slab

We woke up early on the second day to unusually cold temps. Our intended line was up the west end of the buttress, so we knew we would be into some cold misery if we stomped up there too early. We redid our time plan like 6 times and decided to sleep in until the sun hit the buttress. Maybe bold, maybe stupid for and FA. But we left camp at 9AM. The approach only took about 45min as we found a cozy spot in the moat below the face to belay. The cracks we originally planned for looked wet, so we quested up the slab to the right. We found clean, bulletproof rock and awesome climbing up to a ledge that took us back to our intended crack.

Looking up the second pitch, we choose the gully on the left

There were two options above. One looked a little steep and improbable to protect. So we kept it easy and followed an obvious gully to the left. After about 50ft we hit a ledge and had to do some face climbing. This was super steep bucket jugs on solid rock. No pro, but as secure as it gets!


Second Pitch from above

The third pitch was a bit of a bit of a question mark on the route. There was a large, obvious left facing corner, and we knew we had to get there, but cracks seemed a little discontinuous to get there. A little left and right route finding took us up to a slab and corners that fed into the route. I pulled the pins off my harness for the first time on the route and sunk in a bomber knifeblade to protect the slab.

Looking down at the Pitch 3 slab

Looking up, our corner was intimidating. Steep, mossy, loose rock and no pro. Not the splitter we signed up for. We weighed options and decided to roll the dice. I had seen cracks out on the face to the right in some high res photos I got on a previous mission. I climbed up to the base of the corner and placed a nest of gear and down-climbed to the right, out of sight and into the void. I could see cracks and flakes, but they were guarded by a slab. Only about 25 ft wide, but surely 5.11 I thought. Some inspections revealed more features, and I could identify a piece of gear in the middle. It was worth trying! I again climbed up to a high crack and got a nest of gear in then downclimbed and traversed the techy slab. Great rock and super fun movement made this a highlight for the season!


Lani following the 10b slab traverse

Our sneaky little traverse spat us back out on solid gneiss, and a crack! There was a thank god crack that seemed to split the face and take us to the top. The next pitch was equally good with a well protected 10- roof pull and some genuinely fun crack climbing.


Finishing up the second 5.10 pitch

A short bit of 5.8/9 climbing above took us to an exit traverse that took us up to the massive gaping gully that splits the upper wall. We belayed right on the edge of the gully and dreaded what was inside…


Finishing pitch 6

The next two pitches climbed up into the major gully system. Once inside we were pleasantly surprised to find solid water polished rock rather than a garbage chute like we were expecting. The water polished slot canyon took us up to a saddle in the ridge and onto the main ridge crest.


Lani up in the hangin slot canyon

Once on the ridge, the bulletproof gneiss transitioned into your standard affair of compact shattered pickets rock. The climbing was low to mid fifth for about 800’ of ridge scrambling to get to the west summit of Whatcom. We did a mixture of pitching and simuling but found limited gear, the rock was “good enough” for scrambling.


Finishing up a simul block on the upper ridge

Conclusions

We felt like this was an excellent alpine climb, one of the better I’ve done in the cascades and fully worthy of repeats. Go get it!