Lick of Flame

October 1, 2022


Cascade Pass, WA

“Lick of Flame” is an impressive spire on the ridge between Horseshoe Peak and Buckner Mountain and in many ways similar to Phyllis’ Engine next to Castle Towers in SW BC. I climbed the latter in July 2021. The difference is the rock quality as the area around Buckner Mountain is known to be chossy and there’s no exception on this peak, whereas Phyllis’ Engine has excellent granite. The “Lick of Flame” had been climbed only one time, in 1982 via the east face, graded at 5.8. There does not appear to have an “easy” route as all sides seem rather vertical, but Eric analysed some photos and determined the west face was “doable”. Eric and Talon decided to attempt the first ascent of the west face and I was invited to join. I knew nothing about the existence of such spire but I agreed to make an attempt. The primary objective of this day was actually Buckner Mountain as Eric needed to find out the truth as which of its two peaks is the true summit. The Lick of Flame was the secondary objective after Buckner Mountain.

Lick of Flame is definitely an imposing rock tower
Lick of Flame, west face first ascent. Red: P1, Purple: P2, Green: P3
Another angle of Lick of Flame.. No wonder why this spire gained a name…

We loaded up the ditched climbing gears and traversed more choss and a low-angled snow field to the gully on the west side of Lick of Flame and then ditched a bunch of gears again. The snow field was low-angled enough that crampons weren’t needed. I made a mistake to leave my jacket behind and I ended up having to descend back down to the packs to grab the jacket later as the wind picked up. We racked up and ascended the chossy gully (class 3) to the base of the west face. Instead of making an ascent right away we climbed a smaller bump on the west side to scout things out. The route appeared harder than expected with marginal protection, but after about 20 minutes of hesitating we decided to give it a go nonetheless.

The east face of Lick of Flame where the first ascent took place
Eric and Talon traversing the first patch of snow
The second patch was snow was ascended on this arete
We then ascended this loose gully to the base of the west face
We ascended a bump to the left and scouted out the plan

Talon volunteered to lead the first pitch which seemed to have the lowest angle but the least amount of protection. That was true. The initial step-across move to get onto the face was tricky but above that, the climbing was mostly under 5.6 but the protection was scarce. Talon had to clean the route and tossed a shit ton loads of rocks down and some were basketball sized. The rocks on this peak could not be trusted and every move had to be tested multiple times before committing. Even seconding felt sketchy as Eric and I had to make sure that we wouldn’t dislodge a boulder onto each other as we climbed up together. Eric then led the second pitch which had the most enjoyable climbing. The second pitch started with some 5.7 cracks and finished with an off-width chimney and some airy face moves.

Talon committing to the lead of Pitch 1
Talon about 2/3 of the way up Pitch 1
Eric belaying while I stood on an uncomfortable position
Eric preparing to second the first pitch
Eric and I came up to the belay station
A sideways shot to show the slope angle of Pitch 1
The anchor that Talon built was bomber
Eric leading the crack moves on Pitch 2
Eric nearing the top of the second pitch. It looked hard…
Talon about to climb the second pitch
Me starting up Pitch 2
Me and Talon seconding up the second pitch. Eric’s photo

The final pitch onto the summit appeared “easy” so I volunteered to take the lead, but turned out harder than expected again. There were a few meters of vertical terrain to pull through (5.8). Thankfully the protection was great. It took me a long while to figure out the sequence of the moves and I also had to toss down a bunch of loose blocks. From the summit I then belayed Talon and Eric up using a gigantic boulder which we would also use to rappel off.

Me leading Pitch 3
Talon topping out on the third pitch
Eric on the summit of Lick of Flame.
Talon on the summit of Lick of Flame with Buckner Mountain behind
Me and Talon on the summit of Lick of Flame.
Northern view into Thunder Creek valley. It’s a very dramatic area.
Eric on the first rappel off the summit
Summit Panorama from Lick of Flame. Click to view large size.
Forbidden Peak and the broken Boston Glacier
Horseshoe Peak in the foreground with Boston Peak behind
The fire near Ross Lake was definitely growing

The descent was done in two rappels as the upper two pitches were short enough to be connected into one rappel. The rope was almost stuck upon pulling but somehow freed itself. That was a huge relief. We also found a not-so-great rock horn near the belay station of Pitch 1 and used that to rappel off the lower route. Talon placed a piton to back it up and we all got down with no mishap. We used a 60m twin rope and a single rack of cams up to size 3 and used most of the cams. The small cams were particularly helpful to protect the 5.8 moves on pitch 3. Two 60m ropes would get down the peak in one rappel instead of two. This climb turned out to be the definite highlight of the day. I’m not the type of peak-baggers who like to chase the “firsts” as I prefer to have certainty for granted chance of success, but pulling such a feat off was definitely satisfying. We still had a few hours of daylight time left so we had to resume the plan to ascend Horseshoe Peak as that’s not a peak to be missed.

Talon still on the first rappel
Talon rappelling off the lower part of the route
Talon finishing the second rappel
Eric on the second rappel where the Pitch 1 took place
We then descended this chossy gully out of the fire zone
Descending class 3 terrain now with the summit behind
Talon with what we just climbed behind