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I like being outside if it's nice out. This includes mountain biking, trail running, sailing, climbing, skiing and much more. If you're going on a fun adventure, let me know!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Gott Creek Ramblings

Matt Gunn, Dave Bishop, and I went back to do some rambling in Gott Creek. This time, the car battery didn't die, and we didn't get an ATV ride.

While driving up from Vancouver, the weather wasn't looking very nice at all. Matt was starting to lose trust in his UBC Forecast, but once we drove past Cerise Creek, the sky was completely blue. We drove up the West Fork of Gott this time, which gains over 900m of elevation from the highway. Access to the alpine in the Duffey is amazing!

Somehow we missed the trailhead, and ended up following some "recreation" flagging. Eventually we clued in that we were actually following a snowmobile route, when we realized that the flagging was way above hiking level, and the trail was named something like "Bob's Line" or "Gnar-fest." Actually I made up that last one. Once you break out of the trees, you get into a really nice open basin.

Life could be worse
Life could be worse.

 There's a really nice lake at 577848. From the lake, we hiked up the talus slopes to the north, and continued along a nice ridge with some good scrambling. I'm not quite sure if the peak that we climbed has a name or not. Regardless, the views were quite spectacular from the top.
Storm Light
Stormy lights setting the mood.

We were thinking of climbing Moomin peak the next day (another obscure peak unofficially named). Unfortunately, it started snowing and raining the next morning. I've had my fill of whiteouts on summits, so we hiked out instead. The UBC forecast said it wouldn't rain until noon, and that there wouldn't be many clouds, so I guess it's not that accurate. We found the trail this time, look for head level flagging, and not the ridicously long flagging that the snowmobiles hang up. We built a cairn at the bottom of the trail, so maybe future parties won't have to hike the "Gnar-fest."

Dave entering the tent with tea

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ashlu Mountain

Porterhouse Peak, and Tantalus, originally uploaded by RichSo.

Ashlu Mountain is a remote prominent peak, the tallest in the Ashlu-Elaho divide, and is visible from most places in the Coast Mountains. I’ve been pretty keen to come here ever since reading Dave Campbell’s article in the 2003-2004 VOCJ. You should read it.

On Friday night, Chris and I drove up the Ashlu Creek road, in his lightly modified Subaru Loyale [aftermarket cupholders]. The slide near Pykett creek has been completely cleared, thanks to the paddlers who frequent this road. We even saw a Delica driving through this section on the way back. However, once past the Chimai road turnoff, the road gets pretty rough, with lots of waterbars. There was one in particular that require some aggressive driving, and it took 3 attempts before Chris cleared the waterbar. Apparently his “new” Subaru has a bigger engine than the old one. We managed to get to within 3km of Shortcut creek, just before a large waterbar and some sinkholes. Watch out if you’re driving this road at night, since there’s a few sinkholes here and there, and some of them aren’t marked.

Early Saturday morning, Chris and I started to bike up the road. We took the bikes because we thought we might have had to bike 8-10km to get to Shortcut Creek. It ended up being quite short and pleasant. We bushwhacked up the north side of Shortcut creek, following vague flagging until we reached Rugged Lake. From Rugged Lake, we scrambled up steep slopes to get around the south spur of Ashlu. This involved some steep scrambling, and technical bush jumaring. I slipped at one point, and managed to self arrest myself on some heather! Maybe that should be taught at Glacier School.

The glacier below the south face of Ashlu wasn’t bad at all. We brought crampons, but didn’t end up using them. The route starts on the centre of the face, and you have to cross a terrifying moat. To get across, you have to face the rock, lower yourself down while dangling your feet in air, and extend your legs until it reaches the rock. Chris has longer legs, so I guess it wasn’t as bad for him. But I didn't feel like falling 30m down into the moat, so I insisted on a belay.

Alpine Select describes the route as 11 pitches. We ended up doing it in 3 pitches plus some simul-climbing. The first pitch goes up a short wall, and then onto a left trending ramp, which I kept climbing up until finding some pitons to belay from. Maybe Don Serl left those there on his FA. I did this part in my hiking boots, since part of the deal of belaying me across the moat involved me leading the pitch in my boots. The second pitch is supposed to be the “superb, sustained climbing up short flakes, corners, and cracks”. We were definitely on route, and there wasn’t any superb climbing to be found. At one point, a fist sized rock was dislodged by the rope, and landed on my backpack. If I hadn’t moved slightly right at the belay, my helmet would have been tested! We had to simul-climb a bit here, since Chris couldn’t find anywhere to belay me from. As I started up the third pitch, I was thinking that I would be climbing some of the nice 5.8 sections of “superb” climbing. I was expecting Chris to rope-gun me up the 5.10a pitch. Instead, I was faced with climbing a steep chimney/corner/face thing, with minimal gear. I think this was the 5.10a “corner crack”. I guess we skipped a few pitches. We carried up a fairly large rack, probably something like 12 draws, nuts, double set of cams up to #2, and a #3. The double set was a bit excessive, since there was barely any gear to place. I guess I thought we were climbing Bugaboo splitters.

We ended up simul-climbing another 10m, until I could find a decent boulder to belay from. From this point, the way ahead is basically a large talus slope. I saw a corner crack just below the summit, but Chris pointed out that we’re alpine-climbing, and not some craggers trying to do a hard variation on the route. So we ended up traversing right across the gully, and scrambled up some 3rd class to get to the summit. You could also traverse left to gain the west ridge.

The views up here are pretty spectacular, and its definitely a peak well worth visiting. I highly recommend coming here. It definitely has the Coast Mountain feeling of being out there, and seeing glaciated peaks, granite slabs, and the ocean. I wouldn’t recommend climbing up the south face though, as the climbing wasn’t that great, and you have to carry your climbing gear a long ways. I would be just as content scrambling up the east ridge (described in Matt Gunn's book). We scrambled down the west ridge, and followed a gully back onto the glacier. We could have tried to get down to Shortcut Creek from here, but we ended up reversing our approach. It ended up being 12 hours car to car.

The next day, Chris, Krystil and I climbed in the Bulletheads. The rock there is quite nice. I highly recommend climbing Golden Labs, it's tons of fun.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Go here - Athelney Pass

Go here, originally uploaded by RichSo.

Aug 20-22 2007

You have to go here. You start hiking in a wide open creekbed and you end up high in the alpine with expansive views of glaciated mountains.  It’s definitely one of my favourite places in the Coast Mountains.  I’ve wanted to visit this area for a long time now, and finally went there this past summer with Matt Gunn, Dora Repard, Grahame Quan, and Jan McPhee.  Unlike a week ago when I was climbing in the Salal Creek walls, the weather wasn’t very nice. Since my memory was still fresh from last week, I tried to explain the views in the area, despite everything looking like the inside of a milk bottle.

We followed vague flagging tape from the end of the road, and contoured down towards the open creek. Active logging is taking place in Salal Creek, and the logging company will probably continue pushing the blocks further up into creek. Salal Creek has wide gravel bars on both sides, so you're walking on smooth pebbles most of the time.  The exception is when the creek changes direction, and sections of high water, and in those two cases, there's flagging tape that lures you into the slide alder.  The slide alder is never bad, and is far better than getting wet feet. We didn't quite make it all the way to Athelney Pass on the first day, approx 2km before it. The valley up here is nice and wide, with lots of camping spots.  
Usually organizing food for five people is complicated, sometimes people forget items, or bringing too much of something. Somehow Matt managed to divide up the group through email so we could have a mexi dinner and a pesto pasta dinner one night.  Mexi dinner consisted for beans, cheese, salsa, peppers, avocados, and that was delicious! I highly recommend dividing food groups by email, and assigning each person to bring one item. You’ll be amazed at the results.

The weather wasn't very good the next morning. I woke up, looked outside, and it was socked in. Eventually we woke up, and had breakfast sometime around 11am. A good alpine start. To quote John Clark, you’re already in the alpine, and you’re starting, and that’s good enough. From our camp, we walked up the valley, which continued to widen as you get toward the pass. The glacier off Ethelward is quite amazing. It has a classic tongue shape, and there are successive moraines below it, with a moraine dammed lake too! This would be a great place to ski in the early season if you could time it right. You could drive up the road, hopefully ski up the creek, and the Ethelward glacier looks mellow enough to ski on without falling in a crevasse. 

From the pass, we hiked up a steep slope covered in wildflowers to gain the flatter terrain below Ochre Mountain. Along the way to the west ridge of Ochre, we saw approx 20 oil drums sitting in the meadows. I'm not sure if these were left behind by the prospecters, or if they're from heli operations. Regardless, it seems like a bad place to leave oil drums behind.
You can’t miss Ochre, the entire peak has the same name-sake colour.   Ochre Peak is basically a big scree pile, and it’s quite easy to ascend from any direction, but we followed the easy west ridge. From the summit, you can see all way to the headwaters of the Slim, the Lillooet Icefields, and the Manatees. On nice days on top of a mountain, I like to just look as far as I can, and think about all the nice places to visit. At least until it gets too cold and windy.

Afterwards,  Jan and Dora headed back to camp while Graham, Matt and I continued on towards Salal Peak. Along the way, I climbed the Elephant, while the other two waited. The Elephant is an volcanic outcrop, with a steep loose east face, similar to other choss piles like the Black Tusk, or Little Ring Peak. However, getting to the top from the west side is much easier. The summit wasn't very exciting, as it wasn't much higher than the surrounding ridge. 

We continued towards Salal Peak afterwards, hiking along the big glacier on its north face. It felt like ski touring terrain, with the hot sun, the mellow snow, the long slog, except we didn't have skis. We saw heli-ski wands near the top, so it must be good skiing. It was really nice to be high up there though.  From up there, we had really good views of the Bridge glacier. Descending back to camp was much easier. We glissaded most of the way, and then luckily choose a good gully to hike down.  It was somewhat unnerving boot glissading down the steep snow in the gully, not knowing whether it would reach the valley bottom, or end up in a waterfall.

Naturally on the third and last day, the weather was the best. Unfortunately, we had to hike out.  Mount Gunthrum looks like it would be a nice climb, maybe a steep scramble via its north ridge.  It's a bit of a long walk getting out from Athelney Pass, but the views are always great. I would definitely recommend doing this as a three day trip. We finished off the trip by taking a nice dip in the Pebble Creek hotsprings.  Matt is now thinking of doing a "Scrambles and Hotsprings in Southwestern British Columbia."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Adventures in Salal Creek

Richard below the lower buttress of Lillarete. Photo by Nick Elson. 

Salal Creek is located in the Upper Lillooet River valley, approximately 70km past Pemberton. This past summer, I had a chance to visit the area twice, once to climb on the Salal Creek walls, and another time to hike into Athelney Pass. Both of these areas are well worth visiting in the summer, whether you’re an experienced mountaineer, or a hearty hiker.


For those who don’t know me, I tend to read a lot of guidebooks, especially at social events. While flipping through Alpine Select, this route caught my eye. Lillarete, 18 pitches of 5.8 which leads to the summit of the Randy Stoltmann Tower.  Lots and lots of pitches of moderate climbing in a remote area, what else could I want? It’s somewhat of an intimidating route, especially after hearing of Arlin’s epic (see VOCJ44), and Pete Hudson’s epic more recently on the route.

After climbing in Squamish for a few days, I was longing to get into the mountains. It didn’t take too much effort to convince Nick Elson, Ian Garber, and Stefan Albrecher to go climbing. It was middle of the summer, and it was suppose to be hot. From the end of the logging road, you can see the Salal Creek walls, and realize why the route is 18 pitches long. We met a confused party on the logging road, looking for a trail to the top of Mount Athelstan. It was quite strange. We weren’t aware of any easier trail up Athelstan, and we would they just want to snipe our route. The approach to the bivy site is short but steep, but with every step you get a nicer view of Plinth Peak. This volcanic peak has a steep north face, which is all that remains of the crater wall when the peak erupted.

To save some time for the next morning, I started sorting out the rack with Stefan once we got to the bivy site.  Stefan really likes aid climbing, so he has a ton of nuts and sketchy looking gear, like offset aliens.  It turns out that he lost most of his nuts, but he brought the one carabiner which had a full set of nuts, except they were all the same size, just different manufacturers. 

The bivy site here is probably one of the best that I have experienced. There are a series of dug in platform on a pumice slope, just wide enough to fit one or two sleeping bags. It was a clear night, and the Perseids were putting up a spectacular show. I didn’t sleep much, it was too hard to close my eyes and miss out on another shooting star.  

From the base of the climb, you can see a large square flat face, which has a diagonal crack cutting across it. Apparently this is what you want to climb up to. This is the first half of the route, which takes you to a notch below the summit of the Gnomon pinnacle. I can’t say the climbing in this section was particularly enjoyable.  Most of the rock was a bit loose, and there was pitch after pitch of classic grass. Climbing with two parties can be tricky on such terrain; there is a real risk of knocking rocks down onto the lower party. This entire time we were in the shade, wondering when the sun would hit the rock. We brought a lot of water, since Pete and his partner had come close to dehydration on the route, but I think I barely drank any. Somehow we went further climbers left than we should have. After climbing through a few pitches of less than memorable gully pitches, we reached a full pitch traverse on a ledge.

At the end of this ledge, we found a bail anchor. These are never reassuring. But we knew we had to be on route, the ledge was described in the guidebook, and we could see the Gnonom pinnacle above us.

Beyond the Gnonom Pinnacle, the route got a lot nicer. We were finally in the sun, and the views of the mountains were incredible. We had trouble naming most of the mountains in the area, which meant there were more trips to do in the area. Some of the climbing in the upper parts were actually enjoyable, with some exposed moves on good rock. We even found a short hand crack near the top. Based on my limited alpine experience, it seems that the rock in the alpine around the Coast Mountain lacks the splitter features that you find in Squamish.  The entire time on the route, Stefan and I were trying to beat Nick and Ian to the summit, just so we could claim the booty Max cam that Pete left behind on his epic trip here. The other two got the top of the narrow summit first, but didn’t find a good place to belay from. I went over and down the side of the pinnacle, and tied some slings around a solid block to belay from.

The two rappels from the summit to a col are not trivial. Both rappels are at awkward angles, and there is a lot of loose rock up here. When we pulled the rope, we found a new core shot, right in the middle of the rope. At this point, you can either climb another pitch of 5.7 on what looked like very loose rock to reach the glacier descent, or you could go down a couloir on the left.  It was already late afternoon, and refrigerator size blocks were beginning to tumble down the main glacier, whereas the couloir was still in the shade and wasn’t releasing any rocks.

The descent down the couloirs was equally, if not more terrifying than climbing down the route. We were going light and fast, and didn’t have the best glacier equipment. For example, Stefan had a combination of approach shoes and new-matic crampons. He used climbing tape to hold it all together, and a glove to pad his feet against the metal. If we all had proper gear, we could have down climbed most of the gully. I was glad Stefan and Nick were here, since it took a full bag of alpine rappel tricks to get down the gully. This included a hex and tied blocks, multiple v-threads, one snow bollard, and a single #2 knifeblade. We bootied the pin from higher up, and Stefan thought the placement was so good that he rappelled last on it.

Rocks were still tumbling down the main glacier, so we had to move fast to avoid being a human bowling pin. The sun began to set as we arrived back at camp. It didn’t feel right to go back to the city when the surroundings were so beautiful, so we spent another night watching the meteor shower. 

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mount Urquhart

At 10:30pm on Saturday night, Matt Gunn asked me if I was interested in a short day up to Mount Urquhart with Andre Zimmermann. Urquhart is one of those slightly obscure peaks that not a lot of people go to, or know of. It's a granite dome east of Harrison Lake, north, with an overhanging east face.

We left Vancouver at 6:30am, drove a long ways east, and then a long time on the bumpy East Harrison FSR. I think we woke up some of the yahoos camped by the lake. We drove past the Bear Creek logging camp, and then approx 10km up Cogburn creek, passing some minor washouts. We turned left onto Charles Creek, expecting to drive another 5km to the base of Urquhart. However, at approx 500m up the road, we encountered another washout. It took us a while to clear it up, cut down some slide alder, and then Matt managed to get through it, only bottoming once. We drove another 100m, only to find a massive debris flow. This one would require a bulldozer to fix, so we drove back and parked before the first washout. It looked like our short day was actually going to turn into a full day, with more exercise than I really need.

Mountain bikes would be great for this road, since it's mostly flat, with some switchbacks. We bashed through a cutblock at the end of the road, and then followed game trails up the steep ridge. It was quite nice (and buggy) once we broke out of the trees, and into the nice sub-alpine meadows. We traversed underneath the south face (there are some 4th-low 5th routes on this face), and then onto the southwest ridge. From below, this ridge looks really hard, but its actually quite fun and easy once you're on it. The rock is also quite solid, none of the loose volcanic stuff. It's quite similar to the west ridge of Needle Peak, except with a bit more exposure, slightly steeper, and more scrambling. Andre forgot his camera, so it was up to me and Matt to play mountain paparazzi. The summit is quite spacious, and would make for great naps if the weather was nice and warm. Unfortunately it was quite windy and we couldn't see too much, so we didn't hang around too long. I went over to check out the east face, but its quite overhanging, so I didn't go too close to it. 

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Elusive Peak

DSC_9001, originally uploaded by RichSo.
Matt Gunn and I wanted to go out into the mountains, originally for two full days. However, the weather seemed to just keep getting crappier and crappier, so we decided to drive somewhere far (and hopefully dry) on Thursday and climb something on Friday. Matt warned me that he's a weather optimistic. Thursday afternoon, Matt showed up at my house, and we checked the weather forecast, realizing that it was calling for thundershowers and rain on Friday, even in Lillooet! After browsing through some topo maps, we decided to go to Gott Creek, and try to climb Elusive Peak. Gotta love the names.

As we were driving north, we kept telling ourselves that the blue breaks in the sky were not sucker holes. Our weather optimism reached a low point in Whistler, when it started raining ridiculously hard, and I couldn't even see Wedge! Bad sign. We were almost about to turn around at this point, but its hard to do, even when its foggy, and raining hard.

We reached Pemberton, and it was looking better! We could see blue skies over the Duffy! So we kept on driving, for a long time, until we reached the Gott Creek turnoff. There were blue skies over the Gott Creek and Blowdown area, good sign! It's quite a drive, almost near the Downton Creek area. We drove for 3km along the road, and saw a couple with a big truck, their ATVs, and a trailer. It looked like they were going to have a romantic weekend of ATVing with the dog.

We kept on driving for another 7.7km, taking the left branch of Gott Creek (not the main one). This road had two minor washouts (doable in a 4wd HC), and some pretty smooth waterbars. Apparently the other road up Gott Creek is in better condition. We saw another truck at the end of the road, and decided to park there also.

Matt left the headlights on, so we could set up the tent. As I started setting up the tent, Matt said "The car is dead, did you see the lights dimming?" I thought he was joking. The lights weren't even on that long, maybe 5 minutes, but the battery was dead. The engine wouldn't start, and we were 10km away from the highway, and very far from Pemberton. At this point, I was thinking about the booster kit that Tim has, wishing Matt also had one.

We searched the truck nearby, hopefully to find a key under a rock so we could get to the battery. No such luck. We decided to hike out tomorrow morning, and ask the ATV couple to help us out. Otherwise we would have to ask for help on the highway. It was quite painful to think that we drove all this way from Vancouver, and couldn't climb anything! Sleeping was hard that night, since the idea of waking up at 6am to hike down a logging road is not very appealing. I kept on thinking that the noise nearby was the owner of the truck coming back from his trip. Some people say a bad weekend in the mountains is better than a good weekend in the city, but we totally disagree. This was a low point in the trip. I tried to convince Nick and Stefan to come along on this trip, but now I was glad I didn't sucker them into this mess.

It was painful to wake up the next morning, especially seeing that Elusive Peak wasn't hiding in the clouds anymore. We walked 7.7km along the logging road, with the highlights being two bridges that we crossed (one was Holy!), and picking raspberries along the way. Eventually we reached the ATV couple. It was still quite early, and we really didn't want to wake them up, so we laid down in stealth mode above their trailer. I wonder what the correct etiquette is here, if asking for help, should you wait until they get out of the trailer?

We walked towards the trailer, the dog started barking, and then we met Pete and Marilyn. They were incredibly friendly. I can't emphasize that enough. We explained our situation to Pete, and he offer to drive the ATV up the road, bringing along a generator. This guy is super prepared (he also has four spare batteries). He has this massive truck (but surprisingly won't take it up the road), with a hydraulic lift in the back for his two ATVs. With a push of a button, the platform with the two ATVs is lifted from the truck bed, and lowered to the ground. He also showed us his shotgun, and then placed it on his ATV gunrack.

We admitted to Pete that neither of us had driven an ATV before, so we doubled up with them. Secretly Matt wanted a picture of me driving the ATV, with the gunrack in the front. The dog was also on the ATV, and he looked like he really enjoyed it. We reached the car, Matt tried to start the engine again, no luck. Pete started up the generator, and it started to charge the battery. At this point, Pete explained to us several other ways to solve this problem. One method is to take the battery out, put it in the sun, and let it warm up. Another way is to get the car on a hill, put it in 2nd gear, and try to start it that way. Unfortunately we weren't on a hill. After a few minutes of charging, the car started again and we were quite happy.

Earlier we decided that if we could get the car started, we would just drive home to Vancouver and bring it to the shop to have the alternator and battery looked at. But Pete offered to leave us the generator, so that Matt and I could go and climb something. They even offered to ATV up to the end of the road. It wasn't long at all (maybe 100m), but they were quite keen on it. More ATVing!

With the early 10am alpine start, we headed into the wet cutblock and forest. It was quite short, and we reached the talus slope ahead. The weather was starting to get really good. We hiked up the talus slopes, reached a gorgeous lake, and continued up a steep north facing snow couloir to get onto the east ridge. It was quite steep at the top and the snow wasn't quite soft enough, so I went left onto the rock and scrambled to the top.

From here on, the east ridge is super casual. The sun was shining and the views were great. After some pleasant ridge rambling, we reached the summit of Elusive Peak. Not so elusive anymore. I was quite happy that we could see from the summit. From this vantage point, we could see some nice meadows below us, and on the north side of Gott Peak. Elusive Peak is quite high compared to the neighbouring peaks. I think we were in the Gott Triangle. There was blue skies above us, but the higher stuff around Joffre, Siwhe, and the Stein-Nahatlatch were all clouded in.

We decided to descend another couloir, since it was less steep, and had more snow to the bottom. While glissading down, we both thought about how soon ski season would come.

While driving down the logging road (the fourth time on it), we stopped by Pete and Marilyn again. We were trying to get back to Vancouver at a reasonable time, but Pete offered us a beer, and time started to disappear. I think if we had stayed any longer, we would have been completely trashed. We finally reached the Duffy at 7pm, to start the long drive home.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Four unemployed climbing bums spend time in the mountains

Photo by Nick Elson

July 24-27, 2007

Four unemployed climbing bums (Nick Elson, Tyler Linn, Krystil Koethler, and I) spent four days climbing in the Anderson River range, north of Hope BC.  This place is amazing! Big granite domes that resemble those in Yosemite, but without the crowds or the rock quality.

The first day was spent hiking into the area. Although you can see most of the Anderson River group from summits along the Coquihalla highway (like Needle Peak), you actually have to drive a long ways up the Fraser canyon from Hope, and then along a gated logging road. If you ask Cattermole Timber and tell them that you’re going climbing there, you can get a key for the gate (though it wasn’t locked when we drove up and down). I think it opens at 8am, closes at 3pm.

Five years ago, the approach to all of these peaks would have been much easier. But today, the logging roads are covered in slide alder. It’s fun. Once we left the road, we traversed along old cutblocks, second growth, and then up talus slopes to the Steinbok-Ibex col. Despite the four hours of slogging, the views and the atmosphere up on the col was worth it. From the col, you could see Old Settler, Baker, Urquhart, Silvertip,  Slesse, Breakenridge and more! It was nice being up high in the mountains. There was just enough snow at the col to get water from, but it was melting fast.

The next morning, Nick and I left camp around 10am (a real alpine start) to climb the classic southeast ridge of Ibex, 6 pitches of 5.9. After 10 minutes of walking, we were at the base of the route. Nick and I swapped leads, and we were on top by 1pm. It’s a really fun climb. The best pitch was a finger crack on an exposed face.   Krystil and Tyler arrived shortly after.  The highest point of Ibex is a refrigerator sized boulder. Nick and I took summit pictures on it, I napped on it for half an hour, not realizing that it actually moves. We tried to push it off the summit, but it would just rock back and forth. We rappelled the route, and was back to camp well before sunset.

The next day, Tyler and Nick were planning to climb the Springbok arĂȘte on Les Cornes, one of the more popular hard rockclimb in south western British Columbia. Krystil and I were planning to climb something more within our skill level; the north buttress of Chamois. It’s 12 pitches of 5.6, it’ll be so much fun. Plus, Tyler said he climbed it with his dad in a thunderstorm several years ago.  How bad could it be?

Unfortunately, the north buttress of Chamois is on the other side of the massif, which meant Krystil and I would have to hike down to the road. We considered traversing the west side of Ibex and then hiking around Chamois to avoid the logging road, but the slabs didn’t look easy to traverse. While bushwhacking down in the dark, we somehow managed to miss the higher switchback of the road. This meant an extra long bushwhack in the dark down the cutblock, until we stumbled upon a clearing. Both Krystil and I thought we were hallucinating when we saw the road.  We passed out on the road, thinking about bears. At least I was.

We left the road at 6am the next morning and did a long traverse across the cutblock to the base of the Les Cornes toe. This part is tricky, you don’t really want to gain or lose any elevation. Eventually we found some flagging tape which lead to an ok route up through steep trees, and then open talus and snowfield to the base of the Chamois north buttress. If you came here and only wanted to climb Chamois, the area below the base of the climb makes for a very nice bivy spot.

 It’s hard to mistaken the base of the route. Just look for the obvious buttress with the low angle slab at the bottom. Krystil led the first pitch, and we had to simul-climb a bit so that Krystil could get to the belay tree on the treed ledge. It was somewhat unnerving, since the last 10m to the trees were on wet grass with no protection. I would soon discover that wet grass is just part of the fun. We saw a rap sling nearby, and we thought about backing off. It’s always hard to get motivated by the first pitch, since they’re usually crappy, and it’s easy to back off the route. At this point Krystil realized that she usually climbs with a more experienced partner and I realized that I’ve never done any alpine rock route aside from Ibex. My only other alpine rock experience was the Camel, not exactly a long route.

I walked along the treed ledge, and saw a nasty wet chimney, but walked past it, thinking that it was too scary looking. I climbed up approx 15m on some easy blocky – off width terrain, and ending up downclimbing when I saw blank face above me. I ended up climbing the chimney pitch, which was more of a wide corner, with abundant face holds and a lack of gear. Part way up, I wondered if my #3 camalot in the wet mossy crack was really confidence inspiring. Krystil later told me that on some of her pitches, she was swearing as she tore out moss chunks to place gear.  I found another rap sling at the top of this pitch. It’s really unnerving to find rap slings on a route, since you don’t know whether you’re on route, or making the same mistake as somebody else who is now safe at home. Krystil lead the next gully pitch, which wasn’t too bad. The following pitch is terrifying. It’s basically a 40-50m pitch along a “long, exposed, sloping grass ledge with a few trees.” Fairley also calls the ledge traverse from Crown Mtn to the Camel “incredibly exposed,” but this ledge is far worse. It was wet, and at one point in between pro, I was grabbing wet tuffs of grass praying that my feet wouldn’t slip on the mud and send me in a pendulum down the north face. After a little bit of sweating, and some creative gear placement, I belayed Krystil across. Since it was my idea to keep on climbing, I took the next pitch, supposedly the crux pitch. I traversed across a slabby platform, and then up into a gully/corner. Krystil lead the next pitch up to underneath a dripping roof. McLane calls these two pitches the difficult 5.6 pitches.

However, the next pitch on the slab traverse below the roof was far more terrifying. Fairley describes it as “go left on slabs (5.4, much harder when wet) to a belay ledge.” I wiped my shoes on my pants, clipped a tattered sling, put in a bomber tcu next to the sling, and then stepped out of the gully onto the slab. On my first attempt, I carefully placed both feet on some small wet ledges, but got scared of the potential to slip, and pendulum across into the gully. I managed to make it across on the second attempt, by stretching out my left foot until it touched a dry spot, smeared on it, and finally found some better crimpers. I think I might have **** my pants. I’ve climbed easier 5.9/5.10 slabs. In retrospect, this would have been way easier if it was dry. Maybe try late summer. The rest of the traverse is easier, since you can now put gear into the roof. We took a well-deserved break at the belay ledge, and then realized that it was already 3pm, and we were only averaging an hour a pitch together.  We kept on talking about quitting climbing, how you only get 10 good years of climbing, and taking up golf yoga and jigsaw puzzles.

I lead the next pitch which steps out left from the ledge, up blocky terrain, up slabs to another ledge. The next pitch consisted of runout face climbing. The crux involved faceclimbing similar to Star Chek, minus the bolts. There was one hard move where I was only protected by a small nut far 10m below, and a non-confidence inspiring yellow tcu with one lobe sticking out. McLane isn’t joking when he says good routefinding is essential for the route, and that you have to be willing to run it out on mid-5th terrain. He also mentioned something about greasy conditions in the early season.

The next two pitches were much better. Krystil lead one, and I lead the final pitch to the summit. I was quite happy at the top, since we didn’t encounter a cornice, we had topped out, and it wasn’t dark. There was a cornice further to climber’s right which drips water down the route until August, but we managed to avoid it.  I managed to build my most bomber anchor yet, with 5 glorious pieces. Maybe it’s just my lack of climbing experience, but it was hard to trust any of the anchors we built on the route.  It makes you appreciate the shiny 3/8” bolts that you find in Squamish. It’s funny when you top out of a route, since you suddenly become ecstatic about finishing the route, forget about how scary the route was, and start dreaming of more routes to climb. I guess most climbers have short-term memory. Maybe that’s why we write trip reports.

I walked over to the true summit of Chamois, higher by maybe 1m, and further along to see how Nick and Tyler were doing. It turns out that they had summited 2 hours earlier around 3pm, and were already finished with the descent at this point.

The descent is straightforward, basically walk towards the Chamois-Anderson col, climb down loose rock, and then descend on scree until you can traverse back over to the north face. There’s still some snow lingering around, but ice axe/crampons were not needed. We ended up bushwhacking through the cutblock in the dark. It’s tricky here. Once you leave the flagged route, keep traversing just below the toe of Les Cornes, and continue over the forested ridge. It was very tempting to descend, but you’ll end up in trouble if you go that way. We stumbled onto the logging road again in the dark, and decided to bivy on the road again. I thought a bear was going to eat me.

We hiked out to the main logging road the next morning. With lighter packs, the slide alder wasn’t so bad, but it felt like a washing machine with all the morning dew. Tyler and Nick showed up shortly afterwards (they slept at the Steinbox-Ibex col, and had a longer walk out).

 To summarize, go here, and climb some of these awesome routes. Ibex is amazing, and feels more casual even though it’s technically harder.  Chamois would make for a nice day in the mountains if you go in the late summer, as long as you’re comfortable running it out on easy climbing.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Mount James Turner

A piece of history, originally uploaded by RichSo.

This trip was inspired by Dave Campbell’s article in the 2003-2004 VOCJ about places that capture the essence of the Coast Mountains. The idea was to follow Robin McKillop and Dave Campbell’s route where they climbed Oasis Mountain, Eureka Mountain, Mt. Neal, and Mt. James Turner over 2.5 days. Tim and I had talked about this trip before, but I didn’t think I should try it until progressing further on the “10 steps to getting fit with Fred” program yet. But on Wed during Frisbee, Tim couldn’t find anybody else who would want to go all the way out there to climb James Turner. Fred has already done James Turner in a 22 hour epic hut-to-hut. I should have realized at this point that I was going to be in way over my head.

We left Vancouver Fri afternoon, and carried our skis most of the way up the trail. We kept it to a rambling pace, so we wouldn’t tired ourselves out for Sat and Sun. After 3 hours of slogging up the trail, and skiing up the top part, we made it to the hut just after sunset.

Mt James Turner in the distance

Tim and James Turner.

The snow froze overnight, allowing us to quickly ski up to the Wedge-Weart col. The north arĂȘte was looking really nice and close, while James Turner stood far away to the east. Tim realized here that he had almost forgotten how James Turner looked like, and it was just a big remote peak in his mind, like Mt. Pitt. Most people make it to this point, but it’s only the gateway to numerous other peaks which are rarely climbed. The descent down from the col was fast over the hard snow, and we flew down the Weart glacier. Being on skis, on hard snow, is the only way to fly.

From the Eureka-Oasis col, we skied most of the way up to the summit, except for a short bit of easy scrambling. After a short nap and briefly naming all the peaks we knew, we skied back down to the col, enjoying some nice corn snow that was forming. Two weeks of sleeping, Halo, and eating doesn’t make a person fit, so I decided to cut my losses and napped in the warm sun. Tim continued up the northeast ridge of Eureka, mostly snow, and a steep sketchy rock section. The ski descent down the north face of Eureka looked really nice, but Tim continued to the col to make sure I wasn’t dead.

From here we skied up to the col south of Eureka peak, and then contoured high along the Needle glacier. It was only 2pm, so we set off Mt. Neal. From where we left our packs, we skied most of the way down the Needle Glacier, and up to the south ridge of Mt. Neal. From the ridge, we could see two sections of steep cliffs that didn’t look easy. We didn’t have the gear, or the balls for it, so we backed off the ridge and ski towards a south-facing gully to “check out the snow.” I was secretly hoping that it was complete slush, so we could just ski back to camp and eat dinner. But amazingly, the gully was filled with firm supportive snow and we bootpacked up to the summit. The first ascent of Mt. Neal was on Sept 6, 1949, by Arnie Ede, Heming McConnell, and Bob Nicholson, all VOC members. Somebody needs to bring a new pencil and paper to the summit, since the lead for the pencil fell out of the register into the rocks. By the time we made it back to camp, Tim was tired, and I was completely knackered.

The impressive north face of Mt. James Turner

The North Face. We did not climb that!

Since we were going fast and light, we didn’t bring a full tent. Instead, we only took the tent fly, and rigged it over a set of skis and ski poles, and then anchored it with our ice axes. It took some modifications during the night before Tim was satisfied with how it held in the wind.

Sunset over the Cayoosh

Sunset over the Cayoosh

We woke up early on Sunday at 4:30am to climb Mt. James Turner. There were ski plane tracks and boot prints on the upper Needle glacier; maybe Don Serl came in to try something on Fingerpost ridge. The north face of James Turner is impressive, it looks completely different than anything I’ve seen in the Coast Mountains, steep rock, ice, with rime covered runnels. From the Needle-Berna col, we skied down the Berna glacier, contoured around the Turner glacier, to the southeast face of James Turner. If you’re not a hardman or hardwoman going for the TD ice route on the north face, you have to ski around the entire mountain to climb it. We climbed up through a snow gully until it turned into waist deep slush, and then went onto the rocks. Tim was really enjoying the scramble on the rocks, but I was feeling a bit too out of shape to have fun. The views from the summit were amazing; we could see from the Manatee range all the way to the Cheam range and Baker.

Approaching Mt. James Turner

Approaching James Turner. Almost there.

The rock was a bit too terrifying for me, so we went onto the snow instead and went down in nice sluffs while roped up just in case. It took a while to get back to the Wedge-Weart col. We fried our brains out, and tried to pass the time by thinking of all the places that Robin has been and Tim hasn’t. The descent down from the Weart-Wedge col was quite nice, and I set a new record for myself with one fall per 1000ft (usually its one fall per 100ft or worse).
I was getting a bit delusional on the hike back down the trail and managed to walk off the trail in some parts, but I eventually made it back to the car, thinking that I should avoid trips as strenuous as this one (at least until I start doing regular exercise).