photo by Bradford MacArthur

Monday, 8 December 2014

Winter Alpine in the Tantalus

I e-mailed my mom to tell her about our spontaneous trip into the Tantalus Range last weekend. She responded with: 
“A spontaneous heli drop?!” 
She had clearly seen this photo that Marc had posted on Facebook:

  But it was spontaneous.  Our plan was to climb in the Joffre Range but a power line had fallen across the road and blocked off the access so at the last minute we had a change in plans.  An hour later we were unloading our bags from the helicopter onto the glacier under Mt. Dione.
Where the heli dropped us off (thats Dione in the background)

We made a quick stop at the hut to drop off the extra gear and went out for an afternoon ridge scramble between Serratus and Dione. Then found a quick 2 pitch mixed route to get a feel for the conditions.  

The first pitch was a chimney iced over with rime on the right and flakes of rock on the left. I torqued my left front-point into a microscopic crack and stemmed with my right. The pitch led us to a nice ice gully to the top of the ridge.  

This gave us a great feel for the conditions, and conditions were excellent.  The season had been bringing a west wind that had scoured the entire west face in rhyme. Our timing was perfect because just as we arrived the temperatures dropped and the Arctic Outflow kicked in; meaning a change in wind direction, now from the north. The north face was experiencing freezing winds up to 70km, while the west side was protected, sunny, and covered in ice.  

Day two brought extreme winds to the col where the hut was located.  We put on our arctic war proof jackets aka: Arc’teryx Dually, and faced the storm. 

The second pitch on of our first day climb.
The wind is blowing through the col behind me

The next morning ee woke at 4:30 to boil water for the day, then headed out across the glacier to attempt route on the west face of Tantalus.  The approach took about 2.5 hours to the base of of west face, including a steep down climb of step kicking.  

We chose a line called the Kay- Mannix.  We kicked steps in the steep couloir for quite a while 

Mount Dione (right peak) and Mount Tantalus( left peak), view from the South west.  We were headed fro the west face, the longest face.
Me climbing the coulior

until the ice tuned totally vertical, into a small waterfall.  This was the limit of my ice soloing ability so Marc made a quick belay and I tied the rope around my waist.  Just as I had finished the knot a spin drift avalanche came shooting over me.  
“Keep your head down and hold on!”  I could hear Marc shouting from above.  He was off to the side and protected.
Literally this was the only thing I could do. The steepness of the section I was climbing was just enough to protect me from the debris and it projectiled over me.  I was completely enveloped in the snow but I was able to pull out my ice tool and scale over to the right and out of the fall line. 

From there we decided to avoid the gullies and head up a steeper mixed section. Marc took the first lead but at the end of the rope was struggling to find a belay.  I was admiring the pleasant rock to the left imagining that it would be a superb rock climb. I then realized, this can’t be a good sign when the rock to my left is happily baking in the sun, and im climbing a route of frozen water.  Either way, I  climbed the pitch which was super techy and fun and I then lead an unprotected pitch of steep snow and ice. We then climbed to a sunny and melting ridge and decided to call it.  

The sun was heating up the upper mountain and sending ice avalanches down all the couliors and the route would certainly take us the entire rest of the day to finish, possibly into the night. And descending winter routes is not always as straight forward as rock routes.

We descended the arête and made it down in 5 raps no problem.  

That was the extent of my tantalus winter weekend.   
The amazingly beautiful sunset from the hut
Unfortunately I didn't have a camera so I didn't get any shots of Marc on this trip, but ill get one for next time.  

Monday, 29 September 2014

East ridge of Alpha, Tantalus Range

Marc- Andre at the lovelywater dock at noon just before we split to opposite sides of the lake.
Yesterday I solo scrambled the East ridge of Alpha for the first time.  It apparently goes at 5.8, but the crux section is super short, only about 20 feet or so... and the rest is a nice 4-5th class scramble.  From this photo you can see the summits of Niobe and Omega about 1000 feet below (where Marco was climbing).  Car to car, including the cable crossing it took us about 9 or so hours.  I passed a team about half way up the ridge who decided to bail due to lack of time, and were surprised to see me arrive so late in the day to do a casual scramble.  I explained that going solo is much faster in situations such as this.
Heres a nice photo of the integral ridge of Alpha.  For whom it may concern, there is a complete marked trail through the dense forested approach up to the ridge, but the carins are hard to spot, and the decent is flagged with yellow and pink tape, but keep an eye out. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Shadow

The shadow, what to say about the shadow... well, its one of those routes where I found myself in a unique place I have titled the ‘self-encouragement stage’.  That special point where you have to verbally encourage yourself to keep pushing on. The thing about stemming, I have found, is that the longer I spend in one position the more likely I am to slip. Thats how this route goes, its unrelenting.  Fortunately my mental games worked and I was able to send the pitch on the third go ground up on lead. I made two attempts on sunday with very close calls and some fun runout whips into the corner (they were all clean falls)  We returned on the next day for the send.  
Photo by Anders  Ourom. The Shadow 12.d or 13a? The sheer dihedral which hangs high on the Squamish Chief, the direct line of Univeristy Wall- both esthetically and stylistically eye-catching.  

I also want to mention that I wasn’t on sighting, I had climbed the route on second last fall but wasn't ready to lead it. 
The corner has small pockets for gear but they are quite spaced which requires some exciting run outs.  About half way up the pitch the crack widens to #1 for about a meter which is the only rest on the route. However the transition move out from the jam and into the stem is what I found to be the crux. The walls are slightly undercut at this point making both my hands and feet insecure. The rest of the route is protected by stoppers which are run out, but super solid if they are placed right.

Saturday, 6 September 2014


Yesterday I was able to send my project up at Gonzalez Creek in Squamish at the Fferys Wheel crag.  I was lucky enough to have Marc Andre jug up my fixed lines to get some cool shots while our buddy Luke gave me a belay.  The route is quite complex with a lovely crack climb leading into various roofs, stemming, sport and dihedral techniques.  The actual grade, i'm not completely sure of, but a consensus has led me to call it 5.12c.  The gear needed for the stemming is super key,  A blue alien cam, some rp's and a single set up to #1.  I'll add a topo shortly and can give gear beta for anyone who is interested.  
Some laybacking on thin cracks leading into the stem corner. 

The stemming corner

The top of is a cool chimney feature into a #1 crack to the anchor

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Slesse Sessions

Earlier this month we ventured out to Chilliwack, BC, on our return trip from the Waddington Range.  The plan was to stop by Mt. Slesse to climb the NorthEast Buttress on our way back to Squamish.  For my first time to Slesse we team free solo the northeast buttress in 12 hours car to car.  On the approach Marc pointed out a distressed looking rock face which followed some thin dihedral systems on lose rock called Navigator Wall, which we unknowingly would be returning to in the days that followed. The pocket glacier that lies in the cirque below the buttress was still sending threatening ice blocks down, but we ninjad our way across the cirque under a minute judging our probability of danger lower the faster we moved.  The polished walls of the cirque curve upward like a giant spoon which we mastermindedly used our team acrobatic skills to extend our reach between the ledges.  This consisted of me standing on Marc's hands to reach the ledge and hold on as Marc then climbed up my legs, or Marc extending his leg so I could use it as balance to ease my way around an arete, then hold out my hand for him to balance on.  We cruised up the buttress in the sun, affirmed our ascent in the registry at the top and descended via crossover pass.
The Northeast buttress went so well that we decided to return a few days later to climb the Navigator Wall. We looked up some trip reports of Navigator wall which has had only 3 ascents before us.  The consensus was that the route is full on with lose rock, long runouts, and unprotected climbing is not recommended for anyone looking for a pleasant climb.  However, we were not interested in a pleasant climb but rather intrigued by the disconcerting commentary so we decided to give it a go.  We managed to climb the entire 21 pitch route (which we linked and soloed into just 7 actual pitches) and downclimb the southeast ridge (5.7) in 11 hours.  The mental focus needed to maintain a calm yet bold headspace  is particularly crucial for this style of climbing. 
After climbing in Squamish for a few days we decided to head back to Slesse.  I wanted to free solo the north Rib, and Marc was wanting to do a triple link up of the Navigator wall, East Buttress, and NorthEast Buttress (of which he has written his own blog about).  I headed up the crossover trail at about 5:30 am while the sky was still dark.  Marc spotted my headlamp from the propeller cairn at the base of the Navigator wall as we exchanged some flashes of hello.  I began up the steep trail in the dark which felt like it had no end.  The North Rib was going to be another onsite climb so I was only vaguely informed about the approach. The sky was lightened by the time I made it to the glacier at the base.  I was told that it shouldn't be a problem to cross from Marc who had done it before and gave me the beta.  This however was not the case.  The sun had exposed large crevasses which split the glacier in half, and half again, and again.  At first glance it seemed impassable but I spotted a line that would entail a few minor crevasse jumps.  I climbed up some technical slabs and cracks in order to reach the area which looked easiest to get onto the glacier.  This may be a good time to mention that I was only wearing my approach shoes and was holding a stick as an ice tool.  Therefore the steepness of the glacier felt 10 times steeper as I had a very limited chance to recover a fall (which, given the circumstances, was not going to happen)  I reached the first crevasse and carefully scoped the potential danger.  At this point I had to fully commit to the climb because there was no way I would be jumping back up the ice field to retreat.  I jumped across and continued on my way, making another larger jump from the glacier onto a small ledge at the base of the climb.  
I deemed the direct line above me as the most convenient, although it did entail quite technical climbing.  This turned out to be the most insecure section of the entire day.  The cracks became thinner and thinner and diminished into nothing, just in time to expose small crimps that lead to more thin climbing.  I was fortunate enough to have chosen a route with very little backtracking.  The north Rib is a sustained 5.7 and 5.8 with 5.9 cruxes.  I was so excited and happy to be climbing that I barely noticed  the party on the Northeast Buttress to my side.  I kept thinking that at the next ledge I would stop for a break, but each and every time I reached a ledge I continued on because the climbing was so good.  I didn't stop until I was just beneath the notch, and realized that the fog coverage had completely engulfed the summit tower. The winds were strong in the notch, blowing an updraft of wet fog.  If anyone knows me in the slightest, they will know that I am not in good spirits when i'm cold.  I found myself skirting back around the left face to avoid the winds but then realized that I would be going completely off route if I continued up.  And knowingly going off route while onsighting a 25 pitch alpine route in the fog allowed me to justify a wise decision in retreating.    I'm content for now in my 20 pitch climb up the north rib but will leave the summit tower for another day when conditions are better.
I descended by the crossover pass in the fog, carefully downclimbing and traversing the ridge.  I reached the memorial plaque around 2:30 and fell right to sleep.  Marc showed up about an hour and half later to my surprise, he was so super fast on the triple link up, I wasn't expecting him for another 4 or 5 hours at the least.  I'm very glad to say that we both succeeded with our missions and made it back for Marc's sisters wedding.  (We celebrated with dancing and partying the entire next day).  

August in the Waddington Range

Quite frequently we find ourselves adventuring in some super remote alpine areas, or cranking up a daring finger crack high up on a multipitch...

With Alpine climbing style is everything-  Light, fast, and efficient is the way to go.  I have just recently gotten back from a two week trip into the Waddington Range, a remote range at the highest peaks of BC where we put up many new lines as first ascents.  My partner, Marc-André, and I were so psyched on day one and scrambled up a 1,500 meters of 5th class on a mountain called Serra 2. Inspired by an unclimbed direct headwall we established a new line (5.11 A1) we have named Straight no chaser. We continued up to the summit ridge and downclimbed a 50 degree exposed ice face into the technical glacial fields.  We made it back to base camp before dark, without the use of a headlamp.  

We woke up the next day and trekked our gear up to the Plummer hut, which would give us better access to a route we planned on trying to free on Stilletto when goes at 5.10 A2 ED2.  At the arrival of the Plummer hut we quickly team scrambled a 5.6 route up Claw peak and went to bed.  An early morning allowed us to cross the Tellot glacier on firm snow and ascend a giant burgschrund, cross through the notch between Serra 1 and Stiletto,  and downclimb bullet hard ice in a rock fall prone gully. The wind was so harsh this day, and the hazards were too extreme so we called our original plan off and decided to climb the Stiletto Needle from the point where we had arrived.  The change in plans was a blessing in disguise because the line we chose allowed us to do the second ascent of a Guy Edwards variation of the needle (the direct line 5.11 TD) instead of veering around the last pitch while also climbing an unclimbed splitter hand crack dihedral.  We then descended as the clouds billowed and darkened, and made it back to the Plummer hut before the wind storm hit.  
The day that followed we moved our gear back down to base camp, and took a rest day.  
My next excursion involved two different partners as we climbed the Integral South Ridge of Dentiform TD+ as a first ascent. This was majorly encompassed by a long ridge scramble, while summiting an unclimbed mountain we named Jawbreaker.  Jawbreaker is a giant pile of lose rock, which calls for many clever rappels and simul climbing.  

The last notable climb and probably my most exciting, was a climb my partner and I established on the Grand Cappuccino, a beautiful 10 pitch rock pillar, hidden deep behind Phantom Pillar in a notch 1000 meters above basecamp.  From the gendarme between Serra 2 and Phantom Pillar we scoped out a line that appeared plausible, we then downscrambled some lose rock and entered an ice gully (Cappuccino couloir). 
We arrived at an Indian Creek splitter dihedral crack 5.12- as our first pitch.  The route is comparable to an Astroman from Yosemite, except in the high alpine of the Waddington (5.10-5.12).  Including beautiful offwidths, splitter cracks up an incredible line, we climbed the technical face up to 8 pitches. (Pitch 7 was a perfect splitter stemming system 5.11+).  I began the 8th pitch with a bit of hesitation because the rock appeared to be deteriorating within an offwith.  We were lacking the appropriate wide gear for protection and I did not trust my number two Camelot being wedged between exfoliating flakes within, not to mention my partner was being covered in lose rock debris. With a bit of disappointment we decided to call it and bail about 40 meters from the summit.  Our predetermined turn around time was 3:00 which was 5 minutes till, the sun had left the south- east face and the wind chill was becoming icy, and above all, we lacked protection.  So all things considered, our decision was a wise one which now gives us high motivation to return to the Waddington and finish our incomplete project (Tuxedo Mocha 5.12 ED2, 10 pitches).