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).  

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