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Apache Peak
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Northwest Face 
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Northwest Face 

YDS: 5.7 French: 5a Ewbanks: 15 UIAA: V+ ZA: 13 British: MVS 4b WI3 M4+ Mod. Snow

Type:  Mixed, Ice, Snow, Alpine, 10 pitches, 2000', Grade IV
Consensus:  YDS: 5.7 French: 5a Ewbanks: 15 UIAA: V+ ZA: 13 British: MVS 4b WI3 M4+ [details]
FA: Possibly Dougald MacDonald and Greg Sievers, June 3, 2007
New Route: Yes
Season: Spring-Early Summer
Page Views: 5,663
Submitted By: Dougald MacDonald on Jun 4, 2007

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BETA PHOTO: The MacDonald-Sievers line on Apache's northwest f...


This is a big, big face in a remote location. Gerry Roach describes the northwest face of Apache as "steep, broken, and uninteresting." Maybe so in summer, but in the spring, with lots of snow cover and some ice, it becomes a major alpine route. We picked out the line of least resistance leading to the summit. We started with a 750-foot gully (containing two of the route's three cruxes), then some steep rock (5.7) and easy mixed ground leading to a long traverse to the right (south) to skirt a blank headwall. After turning a prominent "see-through" buttress, we climbed steep snow and easy ice bulges to rock ledges about 100 feet below the summit. We measured 2,000 vertical feet from the start of roped climbing to the summit. We did 10 pitches with a 70-meter rope, plus a total of about 750 feet of simulclimbing, including one 500- or 600-foot "lead."

Has this face been climbed? We saw no evidence of prior passage. In most places it would have been climbed long ago, but it's so hard to reach in the right season that we might have gotten lucky.

The grade of this one may not be all that high, but it adds up to a tough and highly rewarding day. Three stars for continuously interesting climbing, moderately hard but well-protected cruxes, and an incredibly beautiful setting.

A look at the photo will show other potential lines, given better conditions. A cold snap in early May might be very good. Maybe ski in from the west, camp, climb a route, and descend via Fair Glacier? Or maybe a cold spell after a late October or early November storm.


When this route is in season, it's very hard to reach. We approached from the east. From the gate on the Brainard Lake Road, we biked to the Long Lake trailhead, then walked to Isabelle Glacier. We climbed one of the Southwest Couloirs on Shoshoni to reach the plateau west of Shoshoni, at about 12,800'. From there, we headed northwest to a steep couloir and descended about 2,000 vertical feet to a camp at Triangle Lake, just east of Lone Eagle Peak (about 10,800 feet). The route starts about half a mile away.


Single set of nuts and cams, four pitons, two ice screws, many slings and quickdraws. We used it all.

Photos of Northwest Face Slideshow Add Photo
Greg Sievers in the middle of the long (600 feet or so) seventh pitch on Apache's northwest face.
Greg Sievers in the middle of the long (600 feet o...
Dougald in The Corridor, end of P4 and the trickier mixed sections, but facing the rock crux. ca: 12,000'
Dougald in The Corridor, end of P4 and the trickie...
Dougald kicking steps at the top of Pitch 2.
Dougald kicking steps at the top of Pitch 2.
The middle of the third pitch.
The middle of the third pitch.
Dougald leading the 5.7 rock crux w/ pack and pons
Dougald leading the 5.7 rock crux w/ pack and pons
From the summit, looking down the NW Face. Upper Cascade Creek drainage and Triangle lake below.
From the summit, looking down the NW Face. Upper C...
Pitch 9, next to the Blonde Tower
Pitch 9, next to the Blonde Tower
Does anyone know anything about this painted symbol? Found it at the base of the NW face.
Does anyone know anything about this painted symbo...

Comments on Northwest Face Add Comment
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From: Santa Monica, Ca.
Jun 20, 2008

I personally know that the NW face was climbed 2 times in the '70s and once in the '90s. Did they/we take your exact route?....most probably not (I remember 3rd classing some stuff that was a little hairier than I counted on). Cool route, bring your brain bucket. The route we took was 5.5 at the hardest and seemed to follow a more direct line up, to the climber's left of your line, maybe I'm confused as to which way is NW?

The more I look at it, I think we followed ramps back and forth, generally up the left hand side of your route picture.
By Allen Hill
From: FIve Points, Colorado and Pine
Jun 20, 2008

My brother and I also climbed this face in the summer of '79. I was scared shitless as was the norm following him around. We took a route to the right.
By Dougald MacDonald
Aug 3, 2008

Scott and Allen, thanks for filling in some history on this face. Your comments about scary third-classing reinforce my feeling that the best time to climb these big Indian Peaks faces is in the winter and spring, when snow covers most of the loose rock and the alpine ambiance makes the whole enterprise seem more attractive!

I wish your notes had come sooner. After posting this ascent here, I waited nearly a year for feedback and then submitted a report to the 2008 AAJ claiming the "probable first ascent" of the face. Should have known that nearly everything good in our local mountains got done by the '70s hard-core.
From: Santa Monica, Ca.
Aug 4, 2008

Hey Dougald, your particular line may have been an FA, especially for the time of year that you did it. Anyway, doesn't matter to me, I'm pretty sure that someone was up there before I was, it's not the kind of face where there are obvious asthetic lines to choose from.
By clay meier
Mar 27, 2010

I have approached this area in the winter from the west and I think that might be the safer bet as far as avalanche danger and distance goes. You start at the Monarch Lake TH (usually the road is plowed to about 1.5 miles of the actual TH). Ski up the Cascade Falls trail. Near Lone Eagle Peak there is the fork to Mirror Lake (the lake at the base of Lone Eagle). Triangle Lake (mentioned in the original approach info) is just upvalley to the southeast from Mirror Lake.
By Dougald MacDonald
Mar 27, 2010

Clay, I think you're right about that approach being easier. But there's a problem: If you're doing Apache out of this valley, what do you do once you're on top? The only good option to return to the base for your skis, etc., is to traverse south to the head of Fair Glacier and then descend the glacier. But then you've got afternoon avalanche danger on the west-facing glacier, and having done the Mohling Traverse from Lone Eagle to Apache, I can tell you that the traverse from Apache down to the Fair Glacier is not trivial. We decided it was better to get the hardest part of the journey out of the way on the first day; then we carried our bivy gear up the route, and from the summit of Apache it was relatively easy to descend to the east, pick up the snowshoes we had cached, and then march out to the road, where we had stashed bikes for the last couple of miles.