Hard Mox (Mox Peaks SE Spire)

July 9, 2018


Depot Creek / Chilliwack Lake Road, WA

“Hard Mox” aka. the south-east spire of Mox Peaks has reputation. It’s the 7th most difficult summit in the state of Washington by any route according to the “WA Difficult Ten” and is considered by many the most difficult on the Bulger list (out of 100 peaks). The approach is a multi-day trek starting from Canada. Rough roads (HC 4×4 required), glacier travel, creek crossings, complicated route-finding, steep snow and pitches of 5th class climbing on choss is required no matter what. This is the test piece for those wishing to put their name on the wall-of-fame and the peak-baggers must learn to rock climb because of the “Hard Mox”.. The area immediately nearby has five more Bulgers and this group is also considered as the toughest in Bulgers list and the die-hard would plan enough time to pull all six in a single grab. I don’t hear anyone else has done it that way but Eric G. and I were hoping for that, and to make our trip more memorable we were pushing hard each day to finish the entire group in 4 days return from truck.

Earlier in this trip we had pushed through an 18-hour Day 1 starting in dark from trail-head with Easy Mox and Mt. Redoubt both in the bag. For the second day we had an lazy plan to only do Hard Mox so there’s no need to start that early. To most parties this climb itself takes a full day but we figured that’s not going to be the case for us. After a sort-of decent sleep we woke up at around 7:30 am and got going within an hour.

Hard Mox standard ascent route.

The first business was losing some elevation into the headwaters of Redoubt Creek. In terms of how much elevation needed to be lost it depends strictly on ones preference of elevation loss/regain vs. long ass side-hilling on snow or talus. Most of the route traversing into the “Col of the Wild” looked snow rather than talus so we chose to do that 2-km long side-hill bashing. It was awful but the snow was soft enough that we didn’t need to don any specialized gear. I especially hate side-hilling but I also hate unnecessary elevation loss and regain so pick your poison. The traverse took a hell lot longer than I thought and the last 100 m to gain Col of the Wild was on very loose talus or treadmill scree. The col was a cool place to take a long break. Only the die-hard has privilege to linger in this place.

Me traversing the long ass slope for roughly 2 km long

Eric on the side-hilling bash

It’s a long haul to get to the base of Col of the Wild (CotW)

The last bits before Col of the Wile was choss fest

Eric topping out on Col of the Wild

The south face of Easy Mox from CotW. Believe or not there’s a route up this side

The next stage is a loose but “class 2” scramble to gain the “Ridge of Gendarmes”. The route-finding appeared to be complicated but actually not. First of all we followed the line of least resistance traversing out to the climber’s right before cutting back left on a small “ridge” feature and then into a loose gully (hidden from view). To get out of this gully we had to do an awkward 4th class step and then we could follow cairns here and there. No more difficult was encountered to gain the ridge. Once on the ridge we had to do a diagonal traversing drop into the south side while losing around 50 m of elevation. This stage was again mostly “class 2” and has lots of cairns to guide the way. Before realizing we were already at the infamous foot-wide “terribly exposed traverse”. It’s indeed awkward and exposed but not technically difficult. After this bit of excitement we spotted the anchor next to the major snow gully and made more awkward descent on increasingly loose terrain to reach the anchor.

Eric scrambling up the short, 4th class step

The typical terrain on the “class 2” section to gain Ridge of Gendarmes

Me seeming to have some fun. Photo by Eric G.

Over to the south side we could see Hard Mox now

Eric gingerly traversing across the “terrible ledge”

After more ginger down-climbing we reached this anchor

Eric backed it up with a new cord and meanwhile we strapped the crampons on and took the ice axes out. A 30-m rappel down the gully wasn’t enough to clean the snow pitch so it’s indeed a good call to do gear transition beforehand. We had to down-climb an additional 15 m or so steep snow before we could traverse into the next gully system to the east. There’s still some snow in the lower party of this gully and we carried on to past the snowpatch before ditching ice axes and crampons. From here onward the route-finding started to get confusing because of the conflicting resources. The easiest option is to follow Steph Abegg’s line traversing far out to the right but we somehow missed that and were forced to back-track even with Eric leading on rock shoes. We totally fucked up the beta. Eric then led Steph’s pitch traversing out to the right before cutting back on an exposed ledge. The crux of this pitch was a short wall of face-climbing that felt legitimate 5th class to me wearing the Trango Towers. I again, regretted for not hauling rock shoes because those would have made my life much easier. I took over the lead on mostly 3rd class but loose terrain before the terrain peters out. I built an anchor and from that point we soloed the rest of this gully to the start of pitched climbing.

Me rappelling off the major snow gully. Photo by Eric G.

The rappel wasn’t long enough so we had to do extra down-climbing

Me down-climbing the bottom of snow gully

Across to the next gully system, me scrambling up

Me accessing a short snow finger to speed things up

We screwed up the route here apparently and Eric led a tough 5th class step

Me following a pitch of climbing in the gully

Above the technical sections the gully eases off

This is one tight squeeze spot that’s pretty fun actually

The weather’s deteriorating a bit to the west with some high clouds rolling in while the wind picked up but it wasn’t too miserable. Our plan was to ditch both of our backpacks and do the 3-pitch climb for as fast as possible. Eric volunteered to lead the first pitch to a “detached tower” with crux moves right at the start. The climbing felt more “Canadian Rockies” to me so even though I didn’t bring the rock shoes I could make a swing lead to take care the second pitch. It turned out to be a little bit longer and looser than the 1st pitch but well within the level I could handle. The 3rd pitch looked easy enough that we both just soloed. Eric took a line on climber’s right while I took the central gully system. I think Eric’s route is easier but overall I thought the pitched climbing never exceeds the realm of “low 5th class”. The rocks are loose (by coast standard) but to me I’d say it’s reasonably solid because I came from the Rockies. The climbing is very exposed, but “face climbing” with lots of up-sloping holds to reach so there’s no real rock-climbing technique needed. This is pretty much designed for my expertise on choss but minimal 5th class experience on granite.

Eric starting the first official 5th class pitch on the face

Me partway up Pitch 1

Eric at the “detached tower” belaying me on Pitch 2

Eric partway up Pitch 2

Another shot of Eric climbing on the second pitch. It’s looser than the first

Me picking my way soloing the 3rd, easiest pitch. Photo by Eric G.

Summit Panorama from Hard Mox. Click to view large size.

Looking down Little Beaver Creek valley into Ross Lake valley

Mt. Logan and Buckner Mountain way down south

Luna Peak, Inspiration Peak, Mt. Terror etc. on Picket Range

The bulk mass of Mt. Fury is also on “Washington Difficult Ten” list

Mt. Blum in the distance, behind Whatcom Peak

Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan do not need much introductory

Jack Mountain and Nohokomeen Glacier

Me on the summit of Hard Mox

After signing the register and taking the obligatory photos we immediately started the rappel. The 1st rappel was fun going straight down the central gully but then the rope got completely stuck. We spent at least 10 minutes trying various techniques to free the rope but failed one way or another. I lost my patience here and volunteered to climb back up to the summit. This time I used the “climber’s right” route which I would say significantly easier. I started with a self-belay on the ropes but the climbing direction had created a lot of dragging so after 1/3 of the way up I unattached myself and soloed the rest. The knot was indeed stuck deeply in a crack so I freed it and made a rappel. The ropes were still super stiff but upon pulling as hard as we could it started to move a little bit. Eventually Eric took care of the rope’s pulling while I threaded it through the next anchor. I was in the position for leading the two lower rappels and was pretty fun actually. We packed the ropes and down-scrambled the 3rd class gully and then made two additional rappels. The first gully rappel was not steep but thankfully Eric dealt it pretty well. The next task was to traverse down and into, and climb the steep snow gully (45-degree ish) for 30 vertical meters back up to the “gully anchor”.

Me handling the rope mess on 1st rappel. Photo by Eric G.

Eric on the first rappel. Straight off the summit

Me getting ready for the second rap.

Eric finishing the 3rd rappel.

Carefully down-climbing into the loose gully

As typical as the gully goes

A view from the constraint. Only the die-hard has privilege to see this view

Down-climbing the tight squeeze

We set up two additional rappels in the gully

Then this is me down-climbing the short snow finger. Photo by Eric G.

Eric descending the snow finger at bottom of this gully

Crossing over to the major snow gully. Going up.

Eric climbing up the main snow gully

It gets pretty steep at places but the snow was soft to kick in

There’s a reasonable stand for a 2-person team to take the crampons off and then we scrambled the loose and exposed 2nd-3rd class terrain to access that “terrible ledge traverse”. Going back across the ledge felt easier due to the upwards angle and then we had no problem following cairns back up to the “Ridge of Gendarmes”. Looking back at the summit block of Hard Mox was the most inspiring sight of the day because of the afternoon sun’s angle. Down-scrambling from “Ridge of Gendarmes” went by easily except for that short 4th class down-climb. It wasn’t exposed but quite awkward. Back to “Col of the Wild” we took another long break before reversing our foot steps back across that long ass side-hill traverse to our camp. We still had a couple hours of daylight but it seemed like weather’s really moving in so we quickly cooked dinner and then watched the peaks engulfing in clouds, one after another.

Traversing upwards towards “Ridge of Gendarmes” now with good views

Eric managing exposed and loose terrain above the snow gully

Me slowly approaching the “terrible ledge traverse”. Photo by Eric G.

No fall on the ledge. Loose, 1-feet wide with exposure but technically easy

A review shot of Hard Mox. Route goes up left skyline

This is looking down into Perry Creek valley which is pretty much untravelled

Gaining the “Ridge of Gendarmes” on loose terrain

On the “Ridge of Gendarmes” now ready to descend into the north side

The south face of Easy Mox

Clouds rolling in from the west. Mt. Baker slowly soaked in clouds

Descending from “Ridge of Gendarmes”

Me picking my way down. Photo by Eric G.

Down-climbing that short but tricky 4th class step

Great view of Mt. Spickard

Descending into the Col of the Wild

The terrain around here is very rugged

Going down west from CofW

Looking back at Col of the Wild

Starting the snow traverse. It’s a long haul to get back

Me enjoying fast travel on snow. Photo by Eric G.

Luna Peak stealing the show

Entering a field of debris zone

Not a place to linger around

This snowspider is huge…

Partway across the long ass traverse, looking back at the Moxes

Eric leading the way traversing

As you can see weather’s really moving in…

Got our rain gears out before it’s completely soaked in.

In about an hour the rain came and then we were soaked in a white-out. Through the night the rain never stopped and at times it’s pissing hard. The next morning we woke up at various time but it’s still pissing so we went back to sleep. Eventually the rain stopped and a sucker-hole appeared over the Moxes so we quickly packed up the tent. Of course the clouds rolled in again but it’s too late to change decision. The whole 3rd day would be spent staring at my phone’s screen while navigating inside a “ping pong ball” but we had to keep up the schedule. And then there went Mt. Spickard and Mt. Rahm both bagged in a white-out on Day 3. As fun as it seems but this is the Bulger game for you.