On September 20th we (Kurt Buchwald and Martin Volken) went to the Chair Peak North Face in the North Central Cascades of Washington to check out the possibility of a more direct line to the summit.
What we found was surprising. Chair Peak is not known for good rock - quite the opposite acutally. It is a little known fact that the highly fractured and brittle rock that seems to characterize the entire Chair Peak area sits on high quality Snoqualmie batholith.
I figured this out when I went to climb the seldom visited West Ridge of Chair Peak a few days earlier. The rock certainly seemed good on the polished slabs right below the North Face and there seemed to be a promising line coming straight down from the summit area.
I guess you never really know until you get there. So we hiked up into the Chair Peak basin, switched over onto the North side, walked passed the classic North Face route for maybe 200 meters to the intended route entrance. The temperature was surprisingly chilly. It took a while to warm up, but we slowly started off on the first pitch. This pitch is characterized by an obvious - slightly right trending crack that is easily protectable. The climbing was fun, the rock was very solid (seriously) and the pitch went at about 5.9.
The first part of the pitch was steep for about 60 feet. Then we got to a right trending bench and then the crack went straight up to a cove below a slight overhang. There were good anchor possibilities in this cove (could be wet).
On the second pitch we went around this slight overhand to the right and then straight up in solid rock with fun climbing up to 5.7. At the top of the second pitch we came to a dish that had steep dihedrals on either side.
We decided to climb the left dihedral (easier), since the right side was wet. The dihedral offers more 5.7 climbing in decent rock. The second half of pitch three made us climb straight up in heathery terrain to a solid tree belay.
The fourth pitch trended slightly rightward towards an obvious gully over less attractive heathery benches. We climbed up into the gully and made our fourth anchor once we got to the base of a short and steep headwall.
The fifth pitch gave us the option of climbing straight up a good looking crack (it was wet) or some steep left trending face climbing. We climbed that and it went at about 5.8. Exactly where we crested over the steep part, the rock went to hell, but the climbing was over. We found ourselves on a short and easy ridge that led in 50 feet of scrambling to the summit crest.
We popped onto the crest about 15 to 20 yards to the west of the true summit. From the crest we scrambled a few yards to a little notch and then easy up to the true summit for maybe 20 yards.
For the descent route we took the standard route down. We burned up about 4 hours to get from the base of the route to the summit.
We rate the climb at Grade 3; 5.9. We had a full rack, 2 60 meter half ropes and rock shoes. One 60 meter single rope would do it.
All in all, a very positive surprise on Chair Peak. We felt like we were actually climbing an alpine rock route.