2014/10/4-6 – Copper Slam / 紅銅滿貫

Copper Peak from Mount Fernow

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Copper Slam = Mount Fernow + Copper Peak

This climbing season I had been blessed with great weather, optimal physical conditions, and new climbing partners. Late snow this season has allowed me to tag a few more Bulger List peaks. This weekend’s weather was indecisive. I wasn’t super excited about the possibility of no views on Mount Fernow on day one. But I looked forward to having good weather on Copper Peak the next day.

I spent the night before at the trailhead to get an early start. Partly cloudy sky to Leroy Basin, then clouds slowly moved in as I descended into Gloomy Basin from the notch. By now, most of Fernow was obscured and I couldn’t see much past the waterfalls above the 8,200′ basin. My first solo overnight trip, hard to shake the uncanny feeling that I was probably not alone.

West wind began to blow mercilessly as I slowly made my way toward Fernow’s south ridge. At one point it got so unbearable I took refuge behind a big rock while layering up and waiting for the wind to die down. Thirty minutes went by and the wind showed no signs of letting up. So I decided to start moving slowly before it got to be too late in the day.

The “key hole”

Photos from this trip can be found here.

The “key hole” looked just as described in various reports, enough room for one person to crawl through. Oddly enough, the minute I got on the ridge the wind speed reduced significantly. Visibility was poor, a few cairns placed along a faint climbers path helped guiding the way to the base.

A nicely constructed bivy fort at the base of Fernow’s submit block awaited my arrival. Straightforward climb via east ridge after shaving off overnight gear weight. West wind picked back up on the summit, so I took refuge on the east for another 15 minutes before wind died down for good.

Sunset time on the summit, clouds began to move downward and formed temperature inversions–one of nature’s great phenomena! Got a glimpse of some top 100 peaks before they were completely devoured by the inversions. Copper Peak looked terribly bleak in this weather.

Temperature inversions at sunset

Photos from this trip can be found here.

After sunset I made my way back own to my bivy spot and made dinner. The thought of spending the night alone at 9,000+ feet made me feel uneasy. I tried taking my mind off horror movie scenes and childhood urban legends by turning on music.

A pika appeared from behind a pile of rocks on the hunt for dinner. Even though it tried to chew through my bivy sack and steal my dinner, I was glad to have another breathing thing around to keep me company.

Next morning I got up before sunrise to savor early morning light and sky colors. After breakfast I headed up to Fernow’s east peak and scoped out the two routes to Copper Peak based on the two reports I had. One route was via the receding glacier east of Fernow-Copper connecting ridge and the other via the connecting ridge itself.

Mile-long club

Photos from this trip can be found here.

After an hour of trying get down onto the glacier and to no avail, I resorted to the other route of traversing the ridge. Also a much better option as I hadn’t packed any snow gear.

The one-mile long ridge from Fernow to Copper looked intimidating. The report I had with the solo climber traversing from Copper to Fernow and back, so I was pretty confident that there wouldn’t be many route finding issues.

Hard not to look back constantly at the jagged ridge and feel the airiness at every turn. I got a good view into Holden Village, where we made a stopover on the way to Bonanza and Martin Peak 8511 three months earlier.

Mount Fernow from Copper Peak

Photos for this trip can be found here.

Overall a fun and exciting traverse with a few technical moves and rappels to get around towers and cliffs. On the 8,500′ notch below Copper’s south ridge I contemplated dropping down east gully and climb via east ridge/face, but went with the ridge option instead. Getting up to 8,600′ in a steep, loose gully was tricky and more technical than expected. But I took ample time looking for solid holds to avoid mishaps.

Three and a half hours of intense rock scrambling later, I finally made it to Cooper’s summit. A great sense of pride and accomplishment as I looked all around with tears swelling up in my eyes. But most of all a sense of gratitude I made it out here alive, and now I just gotta do it all again in reverse! Dang it, summit register was missing a pen and I didn’t bring one with me.

There was enough light after sunset to get back to Gloomy Basin without my headlamp. Originally I had planned on hiking all the way out, but changed my mind soon as I noticed a pair of eyes blinking in the dark near the notch leading back to Leroy Basin. But whatever it was I prayed for it to stay there.

Replaying images from the past two days of climbing as I lay underneath the stars on this moonlit night and wondered whether I could squeeze in another climb before snow comes.

Approach: Phelps Creek Trailhead
Gear: helmet, rope

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