July, '05


Lizard Head Peak

a.k.a. "The Tottering Pile of Choss"

with Brad and Steve

Written by Koren Nydick


    In the parking lot we peered upward into a mass of low clouds. It didn't look good for keeping dry during our ascent of the Lizard Head. The crew consisted of Brad (my rock-loving husband of almost a year), his buddy Steve, our fluffy dog Ari, and a friend's dog Sidney . The humans were still groggy after waking up at 4 am and driving two hours to the trail head, but the dogs switched into high gear right a way. “I was born ready” seems to be Ari's motto.

    We, the groggy humans, tried to cheat the mountain a bit, however, and piled everyone into Steve's big ol' truck. Steve drove up what appeared to be the road to a higher trail head. (It turned out that the real trail head actually began from the parking lot and that Steve would have to walk up the road at the end of the day to retrieve the truck - so much for steal brawn and cheating the mountain). We walked on our road until it disappeared (of course!). From there on we hiked up steep slopes and contoured others following game trails when we could until we found ourselves in a flat meadow. We followed the drainage around the corner, fought through some willow thickets, skirted muddy spots, and caught a glimpse of the Lizard Head in the still early light. The clouds were gone by now and we found ourselves in a window of beautiful blue sky. Eventually we intersected the real trail just under the Lizard's talus cone. After a quick snack break below the rubble, we started the ascent of loose rock to the base.

    Steve beat us to the base and narrowly escaped a falling rock kicked loose by a party ahead of us. We decided to embark on the Original Route to avoid rock fall from these early risers who beat us to the climb. I tied Ari and Sid to a piece jammed in the rock around the corner, away from dangerous rock fall. Oh, the doggies were so disappointed. Sid tried to strangle Ari with her leash in frustration at first so I reset Ari's placement just a bit farther from his spirited girlfriend.

    Brad began leading the first pitch up a chimney. It looked pretty easy, but the real challenge was not to kill your belayer with all the loose crud. Brad yelled "rock" so many times that eventually he just told Steve, his belayer, to assume he was screaming "rock "all the time. When I got on the route I began to understand that in this type of climbing the trick was never to put too much force on any one hold. "Distribution of weight" was the name of the game. Steve led the second pitch, which was actually a scramble up a steep slope of loose talus - no big deal except that without a rope, a slip could end in a fatal dive off the cliff below. The pitch ended in a traverse across ankle-deep loose scree. 

    The third pitch began with a bit of a tricky move to get above an overhang into a chimney. Brad led and I was second. As I pondered how I would make this first move, the rope kicked loose a big boulder above, which fell down the chimney. Brad later told me he had a moment of fear when he thought he would lose me to that plummeting rock. Lucky for both of us that I like to take my time and was still below the protecting overhang when the chimney spit out the boulder. I made the move by using "brain over brawn" or "mind over muscle" or whatever it is that we mere humans do. The chimney reminded me of a Fun House at the amusement park. You weren't sure which part of the floor (or which hold) would move, but you were sure that it would move when you least expected it. I exited the chimney and found myself next to Brad below a choss pile called the summit. Steve climbed up next. While he was playing the delicate game of "which rock is solid", the wind picked up. Steve made the trip to the summit first. It consisted of a scramble up and across a bunch of rock balanced on a spire with a huge split in it. I am convinced that someday, not too long from now in geologic reckoning, the Lizard will loose half it's head. On the other side of the steep choss pile is a knife-edge cliff. With shifting rock, a stiff breeze, and that kind of exposure, the scramble made me pretty nervous. Brad and I made the trip next. He spotted me as I made the scariest moves and we sat on the summit together waving at Steve. We retraced our steps slow and easy and made a plan for the descent.

    Let me first make it clear that I am a wimpy rappeller. I just have a hard time lowering myself below the anchor, especially if there isn't a ledge for my feet or worse yet it is overhanging. I did it. That's all that matters. Steve went last and the anchor knot got caught or something and he ended up having to do a shorter rappel to somewhere he couldn't set another anchor. He carefully descended some talus and then rappelled down to us from a fixed piton. We had to climb down into a notch for the second rappel. As I remember this rappel station was pretty small and we were all scrunched together on this perch. I ended up with a rather exposed view and was happy to descend to the ground, even the shifting surface of the talus cone.

    Ari and Sid were overjoyed to see us. We descended that talus and walked along the real trail to the parking lot. Steve hiked on ahead, retrieved his truck, and arrived at the lot just as we reached the trail head. He was in a rush to return to his pregnant wife and 2 year-old. Would that be Brad in a few years? How would I feel about being left behind? I guess I'll face that challenge when it happens, but for time-being I was part of the adventure. The Lizard had spit gravel, rocks, and boulders at us but we made it unscathed to the very top and even followed the proper trail back down.


The weather looked as though it could go either way when we left the trail head.

Of course we started in the wrong place and started hiking this road, which seemed to lead in the direction we wanted to go.

We're doing well. we still have a road and we can see the peak in the distance.

Now we are back to just blazing across the countryside. Brad takes a break

Steve takes a breather on the approach.

Steve and I walking across a wet meadow.

We turned the corner and saw the Lizard Head.

Lizard Head above a valley of wetlands.

Ari, looking stoic in the morning light.

Getting closer!

The Wilson Group to the Northwest.

Ari wonders why I am so slow.

Taking a breather and checking out the view.

Gotta love the talus!

First taste of the choss pile.

Brad, self-portrait with dude hat.

Steve is way up ahead.

He's cute, isn't he?

The early-risers above us on the top pitch.

"Hmmm...is all rock climbing like this?" asks Steve, the seasoned ice monster.

Brad begins the chimney on the first pitch.

It looks easy except you can't pull on most of the holds without nailing your belayer with rock fall.

Ari and Sidney had to wait in a safe place at the base around a corner.

Near the top of pitch one.

A great view!

The second pitch was a scramble up loose rock

The third pitch has a hard move at the beginning to climb into the chimney. This is where I almost got hit by a big rock.

In the chimney.

Portrait of Brad's feet with me below.

Brad at the summit...almost.

Steve peaks his head into the chimney of choss.

Steve exits the last of the hard climbing.

The summit is a bunch of loose rocks with a knife edge on the other side.

Be careful!

Steve made it!

Brad - the master of the belay pose.

Brad and I make the final attack on the Lizard.

It's windy up there.

This move is not too hard, but the consequences of a fall could be big.

The summit is like a big fluffy dog. I think if you took off all the loose rocks (or shaved the dogs head), there wouldn't be too much left underneath!

Brad and me on the summit!

Here I am on the first rappel.

The clouds came back.

Waiting for Steve to pull the stuck rappel ropes.

Steve on the final rap. This is also the first pitch if you climb the "normal" route.

Getting situated for the second rappel. It doesn't look airy, but there is not too much rock below me..

"Smile, honey!"

Goofing off.

Hurray, I am almost down!

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