| Nokhu Crags - North Ridge/West Face
June 23, 2013
Partner: Brian Kalet
"Although Nokhu Crags are visually appealing, the dream fades as soon as the rotten rock of this area is encountered."
- Gerry Roach
"Alluring and mysterious, Nokhu Crags ... are nothing more than a set of tottering rubble piles staked majestically to heights well over 12,000 feet."
- Lisa Foster
The Nokhu Crags carry with them a sense of notoriety. The two guidebooks that contain them warn of precarious choss piles, while the few existing trip reports describe failed attempts and nightmarish conditions. Naturally, I had a sense of intrepidation when approaching the Nokhu, but still wanted a chance to experience and explore this striking peak up close. There was not much surprise that finding a partner proved to be problematic, but after several rejections, Brian happily expressed a desire to go.
Not being entirely sure of snow conditions in the gullies, we took a small amount of snow gear and a short rope. The drive up went smoothly and I was happy to see the Nokhu in person as I'd never been up Cameron Pass before. The summit pinnacles loomed above the road and gave the peak a rather striking appearance. The road to the Lake Agnes trailhead was in good shape and Brian's passenger car was able to make it all the way up. From the parking lot, we cut directly through the trees and after a short bushwhack arrived on the Michigan Ditch road. Hearing that the slopes above are steep and loose, we hiked close to a mile back along the road trying to find an easy place to gain the ridge. Eventually an opportunity presented itself and we left the road and worked up the steep slopes toward the ridge. A small talus field was encountered, and we were lucky enough to find a faint trail leading up to the ridge. The ridge was a wonderful change of pace compared to the steep slopes below, and we walked up the gentle incline until we topped out on a small knob with the summit cliffs looming overhead.
A short scramble put us in a comfortable saddle and we chose to don our helmets before continuing. The cliffs forced us onto the western scree slopes and we made a descending traverse until it was possible to continue around the walls above. There were numerous gullies to chose from, and it seemed that route finding would be the biggest crux of the day. Luckily, we chose correctly and continued into another small scree gully before turning left and working back up toward the summit. According to the guidebooks, we had to find one more gully to gain the summit, and entering it would be the crux of the route. Once again, we were very lucky and chose correctly. The start to the gully was steep, but Brian found a clever way to traverse into it from above that proved to be easier than I had expected. Simple class 3 led directly upward, and we arrived at the summit only 30 minutes after leaving the comfy saddle.
The summit was a marvelous perch, and we took in the views and eyeballed the southern summit. Loose rock and scree seemed to abound on the peaks all around, and rockfall was evident on the snowfields below. We laughed that we had carried the extra gear with us and never needed it, but we both agreed it's better to have it and not need it than the alternative. Eventually it came time to leave, and we carefully tiptoed down the gullies, staying close incase of rock fall. The descent was slow but smooth and we soon were back in hiking terrain. The weather had started to turn and the building clouds brought some gusty winds across the ridgeline. We cruised down the ridge and arrived back at the car just about 3.5 hours after leaving. We both agreed that the route was slightly overhyped, and it was not nearly as difficult as we had prepared ourselves to expect. The climb had been a great day, and it was a very fun scramble to a unique summit. It was a nice first summit in the Never Summers for me, and now I have a new motivation to go back and explore that range more.
Gear Taken: Ice axe, crampons, 8mm x 30M rope, cordellette, helmet.
Gear Needed: Helmet
Thoughts: The route went rather easily, and we both felt the peak to be a bit over-hyped. The rock is indeed quite loose and "rubbleish", but the scrambling section is short and mostly easier than the rating implies. The class 4 crux would be rated class 3 without the junky rock and can be passed without too much trouble. This is a very enjoyable day out for anyone comfy on easyish scrambling with marbles on the ground.
More photos can be found HERE