photo by Bradford MacArthur

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-AndrĂ©, 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).