Brian & I had been climbing in the Park for weeks. We decided to push it a bit and try out the imposing, intimidating, Flying Buttress of Mt. Meeker. It had been on my goal list since I first climbed Mt Meeker the December before.
On September 12, 1998, we hit the trail at 4am. The rain started at 4:30am. Crap.
Determined to not to lose the weekend, we pressed on and hoped the rain would let up. We made good time as we hiked past the Ranger Hut and turned toward Mt. Meeker and the Flying Buttress. We weren’t sure of the best approach and so just followed our noses as we aimed for the impressive, steep, narrow, western-most rib of rock on Meeker’s North Face. It promised amazing exposure and great views in nearly every direction.
The rain did stop, but the skies didn’t clear. We managed to get up three pitches before the rain started coming down hard enough to convince even the hard-headed to go home.
And while that was not my hoped for accomplishment, it was a first. After 5 years of climbing in the Park, I finally had to bail on a climb. We took an awesome 145′ rappel to an escape ledge and then made the long hike out in a steady rain.
7 Days Later (9-19-98)
Once more toward Mt Meeker, and once again we hit the trail at 4am.
This time the skies were clear. But our late season effort delivered a cold, windy day. We once again approached the Flying Buttress, aiming for the right-most of the rock ribs protruding from Mt Meeker’s north face.
I did have some warning about the weather and brought a heavier jacket and some down mitts, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the freezing temps and 50 mph winds My toes were numb for an entire week after the climb.
I took the first lead. We took the easiest line up the right most dihedral on the east side of the rib that finishes up a 5.8 chimney. At the belay, to stay warm, I changed into my hiking boots and put on my mitts. It helped a little.
Brian took the 2d pitch, a 5.8 dihedral around the corner of a 5.10 line directly up the obvious line on the prow. The protection (or lack thereof) allowed me to follow the 10a variation just for the practice. I took a fall before reaching Brian at a nice belay ledge with a couple bolts.
This was the 5.9 roof pitch; I was delighted for Brian to take it. But after sitting in a freezing wind tunnel for 30 minutes, I was a popsicle. Still, I enjoyed the excellent pitch, right up to the moment that I became tangled in a sling right at the crux. It somehow got wrapped around my neck during my unsuccessful efforts to remove the #4 Camalot. But I couldn’t get it out and my arms were giving out. I needed to rest, but being so entwined, I couldn’t back-off nor could I yell over the heavy wind-noise for Brian to take in the rope slack. I had to get that piece out or die by hanging. Shit.
With the proper motivation, I persevered to success. I continued up a short distance to reach Brian at a nice ledge.
I took the 4th pitch. It was generally an up and rightward traverse over moderate ground.
I also took the 5th pitch, which turned into a difficult adventure. Pulling though a 5.8 crack I found myself below a crusty roof. instead of risking the dirty direct path, I decided to traverse around a bulge to the right and began a miserable rope drag struggle. It was a mistake.
After bringing Brian up and apologizing for my messy line, we started talking about the rest of the day. We had planned to do the entire ridge, including the upper section to reach Mt Meeker’s summit ridge, but the day was old. As it was, we’ figured we’d barely make it back to the car by dark if we started down right away.
Brian spotted a line to scramble off the buttress which we followed, scrambling (3rd-4th class) across the exposed top of the rib and moving right when possible. We eventually exited the Flying Buttress and reached a horizontal break on Meeker’s north face, from which we were able to scramble down to the base to recover our gear.
Another long hike out and the day was over after a 15 hour effort. I went home satisfied with the day, but still wanting to come back someday to finish the entire ridge.
But 13 years later, I’m not so certain of the inevitability of that success.