About Me

My photo
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!

Friday, September 12, 2008

NE Buttress of Mount Slesse

Slesse Northeast Buttress

Yesterday Nick and I climbed the northeast buttress of Slesse. A bit of a change from the usual obscure peak that I seem to climb. Originally Nick wanted to drag me up the East Pillar, but we figured that since neither of us had done this classic alpine rock route yet, we should climb that first. The NE buttress is quite big, about 800m of climbing and 25 pitches up to 5.8/5.9. The climbing isn't all that sustained, but there's a lot of it. I've wanted to climb this now ever since seeing it in the front page of Alpine Select but wasn't sure if I was ready for it yet. I figured a few days of climbing in Squamish this summer would get me up to speed on climbing.

We left Vancouver rather late, since Nick spent the day in Squamish sport climbing (probably to get him warmed up for the steep headwall pitches), and we had to stop in Abbotsford for some groceries (ie. cinnamon buns, chocolate, and granola bars). The trailhead to the Slesse Memorial starts from Nesakwatch Creek FSR. It's in 2WD condition, slighty rough in some spots. It's amazing to think that a big route like this could be so close to the flat Fraser Valley. We started hiking in around 10:30pm, and arrived at the Memorial an hour later. The trail/roadbed here is quite pleasant, and is quite manageable by headlamps. The views of Slesse and its many steep buttress and walls from the memorial (and from the road) are quite impressive. Fortunately it was dark, so I couldn't get intimidated by how big the route actually was.

Apparently if you don't bivy on the route, you'll probably bivy on the descent. We didn't want to bivy on the route or on the descent, so we woke up at 3:45am, after having just four short hours of sleep. A short breakfast of cinnamon buns followed. I really do think cinnamon buns are the perfect alpine breakfast, there's minimal faff involved, and you get two out of the three mountain food groups. Fat and sugar. You don't get salt with granola or oatmeal anyways.

We hammered it up to the Propeller cairn along a pretty good trail. On Dec 9, 1956, Trans Canada Airline Flight 810 crashed somewhere around the south peak of Slesse, hence the memorial and propeller cairn. We probably passed by a fair amount of the debris, but we couldn't see anything in the dark. Nick thought that if either of us found a skull, our new nickname could be Dr. Doom. I'm not sure if that's the most confidence inspiring nickname for a climbing partner. It was quite tricky getting to the NE buttress in the dark. From the propeller cairn, you have to cross under both the Slesse Glacier and the Bypass glacier. I think we traversed too high at first which brought us level with the glacier or snow patches so we had to drop further down to slabs to cross it. There's also a notch in between them to scramble up, and then scramble down a grassy/mossy gully on the other side. It was probably a good thing it was still pitch black at this point. Although most of the Bypass glacier had already slid off, there were still large chunks of the glacier on the slabs above us. When we walked by what remained, it looked like a mellow snow slope. But from higher up on the buttress, you could see that it was still quite thick, broken up, and ready to slide off. I definitely wouldn't feel comfortable crossing it during the day at all. I don't think I would even want to attempt this climb if the bypass glacier hadn't slid off.

We managed to time our start perfectly. There was just enough light at this point to see the start of the route. There's two options for the start of the NE buttress. The first one is to start from the toe of the buttress, and actually climb the entire thing. This makes the route alot longer, and adds alot more grassy pitches to the climbing experience. The other option is the bypass variation. Basically you have to walk up slabs to the top of the cirque that the Bypass glacier sits in, and then climb 3rd class ledges to gain the ridge. That's what we did. Generally the rock in the lower half of the route below the massive bivy ledge was quite unpleasant. A lot of it was quite grassy or mossy, and there was a fair amount of loose holds here and there. We soloed mostly of the lower buttress, including an off-balance 5.8 move that scared us both. We roped up shortly after this, and began simul-climbing towards the bivy ledge.

I guess we weren't really looking at the route description too much, so somehow Nick lead up to the top of the first pitch of the direct headwall variation. The standard route traverses to the north face on ledges from here and then goes up some 5.7/5.8 cracks. The direct headwall route goes up an obvious overhanging bulge that you can see on the buttress in profile. This next pitch was quite a bold lead. The protection was quite sketchy, and all the jugs sounded quite hollow. I was quite happy that Nick didn't send any belay-slayer material down towards me.

I lead the next pitch up to the bivy ledges. There are several of them, with one massive ledge that could fit a tent or two or more. It would be quite the experience to bivy here and split the climbing up into two days, but I don't really like climbing with heavy packs. I had some really bad rope drag here and probably should have stopped to belay instead of struggling with it. We wasted a fair bit of time here.

Above the bivy ledge, the rock gets alot better, generally becoming cleaner and more solid. The final headwall looked really close from here, but there was a lot of simul-climbing along 3rd and 4th class terrain to get to the base of the first pitch. The climbing in the headwall is spectacular with exposed climbing and lots of holds. The crux headwall pitch involved pulling a roof using big flakes. Three more pitches later and we were at the summit of Slesse Mountain.

It took us just under five and half hours to climb the buttress. Somewhat slower than Perry Beckham's solo time of 3 hours, but we weren't really going for a speed record. At this point we realized that we brought way too much food up the climb. I was expecting at least 12 hours on the route, and Nick thought it would take about 6 hours. We tried to identify some of the peaks around here, but for most of the obscure ones, we needed somebody like Tyler Linn to help us out.

We only had one car, and didn't feel like biking 22km on a logging road, so we descended via the Crossover Pass route, instead of the standard Slesse trail. First we had to descend the southwest buttress route (standard route up Slesse on the south side).

We managed to rap the route with just one rope. The rock seemed to be more loose on the south side. Luckily we didn't knock any ropes onto our rope. There was one rap which didn't quite touch the ground (probably 50m), so Nick just downclimbed the 5.6 face. Fortunately there was an intermediate station so I opted to use that instead.

In general the descent via Crossover Pass was quite heinous. The guidebook recommends that you have sufficient time, energy, and good weather before doing this descent. It would be very difficult if not impossible to do some sections in the dark. From the snow/screen basin at the base of the southside, we walked to the notch of the west ridge of Fraser Tower. It was hard finding the right notch. From the notch we dropped down a scree gully before gaining a long mellow ridge towards Crossover Pass.

Unfortunately the ridge ends abruptly with steep cliffs before Crossover pass, so you have to traverse to the other side of the divide. We walked back a bit from the high point of the ridge, and started looking for the right notch to drop into. The guidebook says the notch involves a full rope rappel, but the notch we found didn't require this. Look for grassy ledges below, which allows you to traverse towards Crossover Pass. I really shouldn't call these ledges, they were more like 45 degree grassy slopes, with a vertical headwall below. I thought that was the scariest part of the whole day. From the end of the ledges, we had to drop down some more steep scree slopes and then climb up a bit to get to Crossover Pass.

We rested for a while here, and eventually realized that we just had to suck it up and make the knee-pounding descent to the Memorial way below in the basin. I made a mistake of going too far down from Crossover Pass, which ends abruptly in steep cliffs. It's best to keep traversing towards a large scree basin. At this point I was really wishing I had poles, and shoes with more tread on them. Once the scree leveled off, we headed off into the old growth on the opposite side of the basin from the Memorial. We should have stayed in the trees a little longer, but we ended up down in the alder and prickly bush choked basin. I didn't actually know where the Memorial was since I hadn't seen it in daylight. I reached the end of the basin when it begins to narrow, and realized that I had gone too far. I heard Nick higher up, and after trashing through some vertical slide alder, I reached the old road leading to the Memorial. We then hammered down the trail to the car. I think the key here would be to traverse the forest as long as you can, know exactly where the memorial is, and then traverse directly across the alder. Taking a photo of the memorial basin from the buttress would also help.

A fairly reasonable 14 hour day, with plenty of daylight to spare, and still enough time to go to Dairyqueen. Definitely an adventure that I'll be remembering for a while. We brought just one rope (which increases the commitment level a fair bit), half a set of nuts, and a single set of cams with doubles in the mid-sizes.

I can't believe we just climbed that

Nick looking back at the NE Buttress.

Matt Gunn pose

Summit shot

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Backyard Alpine - The Widowmaker Arete

Nick Elson and I went off to climb the Widowmaker Arete on Crown Mountain today, the closest alpine rock route to Vancouver. But once you're back in there, after having dodged all the tourists at Grouse, it feels quite rugged. We were trying to avoid an epic since the route apparently takes a long time, so we loaded up our pack with lots of water, and endless amounts of sugar. Despite his appearance as a healthy fit climber, he actually sustains himself on mostly sugar. His food today consisted of a large Kit-Kat bar, a strudel, chocolate milk, cinnamon buns, and a post-climb meal of a slurpee and fudgesicle. If it works, why change?

We got an early start of 6:30am on the Grouse Grind. It wasn’t actually open until 11am due to trail maintenance, but we took the nice side path from the parking lot to go past the locked gate. Getting to the base of the route isn’t too bad. There’s a large network of trails, but they’re all well signed. We accidentally dropped into Hanes Valley too soon. We followed a side trail (the actual flagged route was 10m ahead), which took us into thorny bushes. At least the blueberries were tasty.

It’s not obvious where the base of the route is. You have to drop about halfway down to Hanes Valley, and then climb back up some scree and talus. There’s a large snow gully on the left about half way up, that’s not where the route is. As you’re climbing up, you should be able to see a large slab to the right of a small gully. From here, we put on our rock shoes and started to solo up the mostly 3rd class slabs, with the occasional 5.7/5.8 moves. None of them are exposed though. And the rock is quite good, with lots of incut holds. There’s still loose blocks everywhere, but it’s quite obvious which ones they are. Walking up the slabs was quite the calf workout, but eventually we reached the really nice arĂȘte sections. This section is quite similar to the Acrophobe towers on Angel’s Crest; really nice ridge climbing with lots of exposure on the far side of the ridge.

We roped up for the first steep section. There was some really good climbing in here. Nick took the harder left-side start up a handcrack and then into an offwidth. I think you can bypass this if you scramble/grovel up grassy ledge by a tree on the right side. There’s lots of variations here, but I think you can keep it to 5.9 if you look hard enough. Nick went for the exciting options.

We simul-climb along another great ridge section, which takes you to a steep headwall below the Camel. Then, we climbed up a left-trending ramp, then a handcrack, and then along bushy ledges (not very aesthetic climbing). Watch out for loose blocks in the cracks here, Nick knocked off at least two, fortunately it was well off to the left and I was belaying under an overhang. The crux on our variation was a handcrack, which happened to be the only wet spot on the route. Nick clipped a forged friend in the crack thinking it was fixed in there. When I removed it, I was horrified to discover that it was quite rusted, and the lobes didn’t move. I later placed this same piece as a “nut” in a crack near the top of the Camel.

This was Nick’s first time on the Camel, so we soloed up the head also. Two rappels are required to get down from the Camel, one very short one to the neck, and one longer overhanging one to the base. You may want to bring some long webbing, as the ones around the blocks are fairly sunbleached. There’s a pretty good view from here of the Crater Slab route up to Crown Mountain, which is mostly just 4th class slabs to the summit. Looks fun with rockshoes!

While hiking through the forest to get to the route, it’s quite hard to imagine an alpine rock route nearby, so close to the city. Not quite a classic, but it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s closer than Squamish too! It took us around 7 hours to go from car to summit to lodge, including a nice long lunch break on Crown Mountain.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tim and Richard's Excellent Car Camping Adventures

I had a few days off before heading back to school, with nothing to do, and a forecast less than stellar for Squamish cragging. Tim Blair needed somebody to help him out with fieldwork for a few days in Quesnel, and then he said we could go climb some mountains on the way home. There’s an unwritten disclaimer when you sign up for a trip with Tim. This guy bikes twice a week to campus from the North shore, and goes on four hours runs in the mountains regularly. He’s also faff-negative, reducing faff wherever he goes. Tim also claims that a long slog increases the value of a trip, not decrease it. I did tell Tim there’s also an unwritten disclaimer when you go on a trip with me though, I’m never in shape. 

The original plan was to head to Chilko lake, paddle down to Franklin Arm, and then climb every mountain that we could. For some reason I thought Chilko lake was a casual paddle, after looking at some photos from a previous trip there. While in Quesnel, we constantly checked the weather forecast, but it didn’t look great. We decided to go there anyways. After counting enough pebbles in Baker Creek on Monday, we drove towards the gorgeous Nemiah Valley. We didn’t quite make it all the way there that night, stopping at a nice recreation site next to the Taseko river. We woke up early the next morning. This would become a common theme of the trip, where Tim would wake up early, and try to wake me up. At least Tim doesn’t boil water on summer mornings. We finished the rest of the drive to the campground by Chilko lake, stopping to admire all the grand and wild mountains in the area. It’s definitely a nice spot to check out. One of Dave Campbell's favourite spots on the planet, and that's saying a lot.

Apparently Chilko lake is known for its strong winds, especially in the afternoon. It’s one of the largest lakes in the southern Coast Mountains. We launched the canoe from the campground around mid-morning, with Tim giving me a crash course in canoeing.

The water was quite choppy, with whitecaps in all direction. Needless to say, we didn’t make it very far before the waves started to bug us. It was almost impossible to paddle against the crashing waves, and turning around was almost as difficult. We made it back to shore, and decided to wait for calmer waters before another attempt. In the meantime, we hiked along a short trail towards Canoe point. From this vantage, we could see down the rest of the lake, and it looked just the same, turquoise blue with white specks everywhere. 

Waiting for the wind to calm down reminded me of waiting inside a tent during a whiteout on a ski traverse. So naturally I took three naps that afternoon. I think Tim wandered around the campground looking for more interesting company. The wind didn’t let up that evening, but we insisted on the campsite right by the water so we would know immediately when the wind died down. This was somewhat silly. For the next two nights, we cooked dinner on the lee side of the truck, and then sat inside the truck eating dinner, and listening to the U.S. democratic convention. That and CBC seemed to be Tim’s choice of radio. And oh, the long term forecast on News1130. We checked that several times a day. Another source of entertainment was canoe-soccer. Tim found a tennis ball in the bushes to kick with, and the net was our canoe, and another canoe 5m away. The alarm was set for 3:30am, just in case the wind did calm down in the early morning. I woke up, and the tent was still shaking in the wind.

The next morning Tim said he had difficulty sleeping because he thought the tent was going to blow away. I reluctantly woke up at 8:30am. Tim was getting antsy that we were car camping, and not doing anything at all. The obvious solution was to climb Mount Tatlow, a 10,000 footer, considered a god by the native population of the Nemaiah valley, and also a “weathermaker”. We drove up an old road and found a cattle track which led up to the alpine. The alpine meadows here are gorgeous, its just endless rambling along heather and low grass. It reminded me of the tundra in Alaska. 

And it was just as windy. In fact, the wind never let up that day. Our route was the north ridge, mostly a big slog on talus. Somewhere just below this ridge, I started to get a really bad headache which didn’t stop until that evening. I thought it might be the rapid rate of ascent that Tim was dragging me up at. Tim also suffered from the headache (though his pace would suggest otherwise), and thought it was just the dry cold air. We almost made it to the summit, but there was a notch plastered with hoarfrost between us and the true summit.

That was ok though, afterall as Tim likes to say, it’s about the journey and not the summit. I don’t have too many good photos from this trip, since everything was blurred because we were moving too fast. We moved to a less windy campsite that night. We woke up again at 3:30am, and we could still hear the waves on Chilko lake. 

After waiting at Chilko lake for three mornings, we decided that the weather wasn’t going to be much better and started thinking of where else to go.

We were so close to the Tchaikazan, but in the end I decided not to go since Tim just wanted to climb big choss piles there (he’s already done all the interesting peaks). Instead we would head to the south Chilcotins, where Tim claims it never rains, and then off to mountaineering camp. The drive from Lillooet to Gold Bridge is quite interesting, the road is quite windy, through steep canyons, and one section of the road has unsupported overhanging rock!

We camped at the Jewel Creek recreation site. The next morning we set off for Dickson Peak. The route is described in Matt Gunn’s book. A steep mining road leads you quite high, and then the route passes through some gorgeous meadows in a steep valley bottom. 

It would have been quite enjoyable, if only it wasn’t raining so hard. Every time I caught up to Tim, I would find him hidden underneath a boulder, somewhat sheltered from the rain and wind. We slogged up the never ending talus slopes to the summit in a full on summer blizzard. Somewhere near the top, I saw Tim, asked him if he already got to the top, and then he just pointed to the top. We both realized the last time we were on a summit with such bad weather, was on separate trips with Fred. Tim was tempted to climb Mount Penrose on the way back too, but it looked way too nasty from this side (imagine vertical scree separated by bands of chossy cliffs). We didn’t actually have a map or route description here. Instead we were relying on Tim’s GPS topo map the whole time. After all, this wasn’t a planned destination.

That evening we drove towards mountaineering camp. We were planning to climb another peak before hiking into the Harrison Hut. We checked out the Truax road and the Noel Creek roads, but figured we didn’t have enough time to climb those peaks. We settled for Grouty Peak, which is on the other side of the Railroad Pass group. There’s good camping a few minutes in on the Semaphore lakes trail.

Once you get pass the steep bushwhacking and steep grassy slopes, the rambling up here is quite nice. 

I was actually here a month ago, but Tim claims that getting to the sub-summit wasn’t good enough, and I actually had to climb the true summit with him. Grouty was also high on Tim's ticklist, which he claims is not in any sort of priority order. This was the first summit of the trip where it was actually sunny. We dueled with our hiking poles to release some inner rage at this point. 

Descending the steep grassy slopes to the Hurley road was quite terrifying this time around, everything was frozen or slightly wet. We wished we had crampons. 

The day wasn’t quite over yet though (I wish it was). It took a while to pack our bag. You get really lazy when you’ve been car camping for a while, gear was exploded everywhere inside the truck.

At the top of the road, we had to redistribute the group gear. Basically I gave everything to Tim to slow him down to my pace. Tim thought we could get to the hut in three hours from the bottom of the road, but it actually took us four hours. Once at the hut, we realized our mistake of leaving behind the rope in the truck. Most of the peaks around here are spectacularly glaciated. Tim would have carried the rope anyways. 

The next morning, most people roped up and took the Rollercoaster glacier route to Overseer, but Tim and I were ropeless, so we went the convoluted way. Tim wanted to climb Urea’s Heap first, but Overseer was the far sexier mountain. We ended up walking on the Madhorse glacier most of the time, it was bare ice and we had crampons. The views from the top of Overseer were great! I think we could see from the Tantalus range to Mount Monmouth (hidden in a cloud). Going fast and light, Tim decided to use a compass instead of a spoon to scoop peanut butter.

Tim had somewhat ambitious plans for the day so we never did hang around in one place too long. The climb up Urea’s Heap was just as expected, a grand heap of boulders and scree. One thing about Tim is that he has endless energy. Pika Peak was nearby, and even though it was lower in elevation and essentially another heap, Tim had to climb it. So we did.

I think I've fallen in with the wrong crowd. I now have a fairly long list of obscure peaks that I've climbed, but most of the obvious peaks have seem to evaded me. We actually passed a higher bump on the ridge leading to Pika, but didn't climb that bump since it wasn't named. If Overseer wasn’t in the area, most of these heaps might actually be legitimate peaks and more people would climb them. We thought of climbing Frozen Boot on the way back to the hut, but I wanted to save some energy to socialize. 

The next morning, while everybody else was still sleeping, Tim woke me up early again. Tim was hoping to drag me through another sloggy day. The plan was to traverse the glacier and ridges from Three Stooges to Frozen Boot. 

With borrowed gear from the Nelson’s, we climbed the glacier towards the Three Stooges. We thought the east stooge was the highest one, so we climbed that first. This soon triggered a game of summit chasing, with each westward stooge being higher. I don’t know why it’s called Three Stooges, there’s actually five bumps that we climbed. From the top, the weather looked like it was coming it quick, and neither Tim or I wanted to be in a whiteout around the Pemberton Icefields again. 

We went back to the hut instead, packed up, and headed down the trail to catch up with some others for dinner at the Splitz Grill. On the drive home, I discovered that my pocket knife can opener was right-handed only (I was opening canned peaches). Tim was surprised (he tried to make a left-handed joke moments earlier). Good thing school is starting again, I can finally take a rest. Or maybe climb a bit.