Argonaut and Sherpa, Part 1

Sunset on Argonaut

Sunset on Argonaut

A wise man once said, “Good plans are all alike, each bad plan is bad in its own way”. Cassondra suggested (for the record) that we try Argonaut and Sherpa over Labor Day weekend. I love being enveloped in 30 mph winds as I bask in summit glory, so the forecast seemed about right. We took most of Saturday to organise gear. After spending all summer in 30L packs, we decided to dust off the ol’ 60L to make sure we wouldn’t go hungry. We got a few hours of sleep, left Bothell at 4am and arrived at Beverly Turnpike trailhead around 6:30am. A casual 3 hour approach with brilliant views of Argonaut brought us to Ingalls Creek.

Ingalls Creek Forth Creek campsite

Basecamp: where we spent a total of 6 hours all weekend

We pitched camp and I asked Cassondra for the stats on Argonaut. Four thousand feet of gain? Hmmm, that’s not super tall. We can probably take a nap. We packed our summit packs and set out around 11:30am. The trail up was hard to find. Emotions alternated between “I think that’s a footprint” to “Nobody has been up this way since 1987”. Bless the GPS. It got us above the tree line and Argonauts domineering south face was visible the rest of the way.

Argonaut south face with route

Argonaut S Face (climbing route in red)

Once out of the trees, the trail wove through steep meadows of blueberry bushes in sandy soil. Any hope of water vanished when we crossed the last remaining stream bed and it was flowing with dust. By now it was after 2pm and the sun had amped up to full power. We tried to look for existing trails but often felt like we were just blazing our own. Every hour or so, we tried to find some shade and cool our body temperature down before carrying on.

Argonaut peak shade spot

Shade break. Elusive Cassondra wink caught on camera

Eventually we traversed right and entered the main debris gully coming down from Argonaut. From here it was boulder hopping, slab walking and some class 3 scrambling. We ditched the trekking poles about 1000 feet from the summit as the approach got steeper. At 4pm we found ourselves at the base of the south wall. It was getting a bit late. We talked about skipping the rock climb and doing the speedy class 4 scramble up the east ridge, but why carry bivy sacks if you’re never going to use them. Am I right?

Argonaut peak gully

Game face. Scrambling to the base of the climb

Now I have to pause here for a moment and talk about the “beta”. I found the Mountain Project description to be a bit vague. The climb starts in a left facing corner but there are two left facing corners about 20 feet apart. We took the left most left facing corner because it felt more left. But was it right? (pun intended)

Argonaut peak south face topo

Climbed yellow. Maybe should have climbed green?

The route was awesome. It had a big wall feel to it. Not much moss but some loose rocks linger and we had a small scare as I sent one towards Cassondra. It was awe inducing to see it pulverised 200 feet below. The granite is a bit sharp like J Tree. We wouldn’t wear shorts again. A lot of features also have that hollow and crunchy feel that makes you feel they might shear off at some point.

Argonaut south face first pitch

Cassondra finishing the first pitch

Route follows the crack for about 100’ then there is a horn to your left that you can sling for an anchor and a nice ledge to stand on. From there I avoided the large off-width crack and went slightly left for another 100’. I belayed from a stacked boulder to my right. The third pitch was just twenty more feet up a chimney and if I did it again I would link pitches 2 and 3. The reason I chose not to was because I couldn’t see the finish and I wanted to make sure I could see Cassondra and hear her above the wind. Lots of gear anchor options at the top. We brought a set of nuts, #.4, #.5, #.75, #1, #2 cams, 5 quick draws and 2 doubles.

Argonaut peak summit

Reading the summit register

We stayed on the summit until 7pm. Cassondra found a book about tears in the register. It spoke to her soul. The wind wasn’t terrible and we could see some distant mushroom clouds of wildfire smoke. The down climb from the summit had one or two spicy moves. We rappelled the class 4 gully and descended about 1000’ through the boulder field before it got dark. The sunset was beautiful. The stoke was high. Then I remembered we walked by where we left Cassondra’s trekking poles. Luckily, it was only a 10 minute climb up to get them.

Argonaut peak downclimb

Down climb from the summit

The rest of the descent was blood and tears. The trail was hard enough to find in daylight, but on a moonless night it proved impossible. We should NOT have worn shorts. At some point I abandoned all efforts to look for a trail and just took a straight line down hill. It alternated between thorny bushes, alder and stepping over blowdown. Getting to walk on a smooth log for 20 feet felt like winning the lottery. Also we had pickles. Drank pickle juice. Just sat and looked at the stars. Enjoyed the stillness. We finally emerged back at camp around 11pm, took a quick dip in the creek, ate dinner and set an alarm for 5am the next day. The longest day was still ahead…

Argonaut peak descent

Golden hour

Link to Argonaut and Sherpa, Part 2


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