Saturday, May 23, 2015

Slesse - Northeast Buttress Free solo in Winter

I know it has been months since I posted here, and while it seems that I am okay at climbing, I am terrible at consistently writing about my adventures. I know that my last post was about the same mountain, as if the only thing I climb is Slesse Mountain, but I promise that a story about my Patagonia trip is in the works. Writing about 'The Corkscrew' on Cerro Torre has proven to be a bit of a task, so I'm posting this first, to get some content up on this page. I've written a couples accounts of this particular climb already, but this is my favorite so far, so here it is:

I had always wanted to climb a big route on Slesse in the winter, and after learning to 'really' mixed climb in the Canadian Rockies during the Fall season following the triple, it became even more of a priority. I spent most of my winter in Patagonia, managing to complete some great climbs in the Torres, including a solo ascent of the beautiful Cerro Torre.

As I made the journey back north to Canada a bit of sleuthing had me convinced that Slesse must be in the 'condition of the century' for winter climbing. I tried to find a partner to attempt Navigator Wall, but with only one or two days of stable weather remaining it was too short of notice. Listening to an interview with Stevie Haston on the airplane, I heard him describe his free solo ascent of The Walker Spur in winter which got me psyched, so I began to formulate a new plan.

I had now climbed the Northeast Buttress of Slesse too many times in summer, but in winter I hoped that the climb would regain much of the mystique and formidable aura it had possessed in my younger years. The line had only seen one winter ascent, in 1986 by Jim Nelson and Kit Lewis, and that ascent had required aid on the crux pitches. The unknowns lying behind the difficulty of free soloing the route in winter only added to the feeling of a true adventure in the works, but it did seem a lofty goal, so I brought along an 80 meter 6mm Esprit cord and some pins and wires to bail with 'just in case'.

The Buttress head on from the air, taken the day of my solo ascent.

My sister, who lives in Chilliwack dropped me off at the start of Nesakwatch Creek FSR and I briskly walked to the Memorial Plaque beneath the mountain where I spent the night. I awoke at 4am the following morning, and after spending nearly an hour huddled in my sleeping bag I mustered the psyche to get moving.

At 5am, I left the memorial and approached directly through the basin beneath the mountain. The snow conditions were generally quite good, and a short WI2 step soon brought me to the slightly threatened slopes beneath the toe of the Buttress. I veered left here, joining the standard summer approach through the pocket glacier cirque. The upper section of the cirque still held a surprising number of deep crevasses, likely caused by avalanche debris from the East Face forming deep craters on impact.

I crossed over several bergschrunds on the right hand side of the cirque then climbed directly up to the bypass ramps leading to the Buttress crest. This section, normally a third class ledge walk in summer, was a surprisingly steep and exposed traverse on snow. As I neared the crest the angle and exposure kicked back and I quickly made my way upwards on good snow to the first 5.8 rock pitch.

This pitch was surprisingly easy in the conditions I found it in, the air was just warm enough that I could climb barehanded, as long as I stopped every two minutes to re warm my numb fingers. The pitch only required a few minutes of careful climbing and soon I was back on steep snow and neve, now accustomed to the exposure.

On the traverse into the Beckey Ramps I climbed slightly too high and had to make a very exposed down climb to reach the correct ramp on the north face. The ramps were coated with perfect ice and neve, making for fun, fast and easy climbing with a spectacular view down into the 'Heart of Darkness'. "This is rad", I said out loud.

The ramps led me back onto the crest of the Buttress and the second 5.8 rock pitch, which looked to be slightly more mixed than the pitch lower down. I removed my gloves again, and was able to climb about half the pitch with my hands before transitioning to proper mixed climbing. Finding a thin crack for my right tool, I danced over leftwards with my feet on small patches of ice until I could reach a thin veneer in which to place my left tool. The pitch felt around M5 in difficulty, and above the climbing slowly eased off until I reached to huge bivy ledge at mid height.

At the bivy ledge I took a break to eat some snacks and assess conditions on the upper headwall. The steepest pitch appeared to be fairly free of ice, but above, where the angle relented slightly, the rock was decorated by a patchwork of thin white ice. It looked interesting to say the least.

The snowslope leading to the headwall was relatively boring and does not need much description, nor does the WI3 runnel I took to bypass the first 5.8 pitch on the headwall. The 'rotten pillar' pitch was straightforward enough and soon I was on the crux, stemming in crampons around detached flakes in a corner. On top of one of these flakes I paused to remove my crampons and warm my hands before embarking on a slightly insecure bit of climbing on downwards sloping holds.

I traversed back right to a small roof which I passed on juggy finger locks, and now at the apex of the small overhang I was able to peer upwards to the iced up slabs I had observed from below. It was clear I was going to need my crampons again.

I placed a large nut and clipped myself to it for security, then gingerly stepped into my crampons one foot at a time. I mentally rehearsed my next sequence as it appeared from my airy stance, then removed the nut securing me to the wall and committed.

I switched my feet on a good hold and stepped up and right onto the slab. With my frontpoints set in small divots I balanced upwards, holding a small edge with my left hand for balance. I unclipped the ice tool from my right side and reached upwards for a small bit of ice pasted to the wall. Now at the edge of my comfort zone, I gently tapped the tool twice against the ice until the first two teeth sunk in. I tested the tool carefully, then took care not to make any sudden movements while I slowly searched out higher edges for my feet.

The edges I found sloped slightly downwards but my frontpoints found purchase enough to balance higher still. I carefully pulled out my left tool and placed it in thin but good ice above bringing me to a comfortable stance on a ledge. The crux now behind me, I allowed the mental RPM to decrease steadily until I was ready to continue.

The crux mixed slab, airy and slightly spicy. From the 1986 winter ascent, taken by Jim Nelson.

As I climbed excellent mixed terrain above I could really admire my wildly exposed position on this beautiful mountain. The whole buttress stretched out below me, black stone stained white with snow and ice. My tools found purchase on the well featured rock and the climbing gradually eased off pitch by pitch until I crested the final summit ridge and found myself standing in the sun. Eating a bar with the summit register in hand, I wrote, "Northeast Buttress - 2nd winter ascent. March 9 2015. Very exciting".

The crux pitch was likely delicate M6, perhaps M5+, but someone will have to do a second free winter ascent to verify. The west side of the mountain was surprisingly warm compared to the shady, iced up North face, but the ledges and gullies were still covered in snow and neve making for a quick and pleasant descent.

Descending the scree slopes on the Crossover Pass descent was nicely facilitated by the well settled snow and I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the route I had just climbed. After stumbling down the steep wooded trail below, I arrived at my bivouac site and ate a candy bar before packing up my equipment.

Walking the road back towards civilization I pondered my options. I had no ride back and considered walking the fifty kilometers to my sister's house through the night. I thought back to the ascent I had just made, it's often surreal when a long time dream, like climbing Slesse in winter, glides into the present, then into the past. I knew that my mind needed a break, I needed to relax and digest the adventures of the past months.

As I thought these things, an animal control vehicle pulled up to offer me a ride. The driver was a likable guy named Mark and we chatted, mostly about traveling, until he pulled up to a bus stop in Chilliwack and bode me farewell. A bus arrived a moment later and soon I was just a block from my sister's home. Her husband Robert saw me walking down the street through the window and came to greet me at the door. They welcomed me in happily, and at 6:30pm we all sat down to a delicious supper.

The buttress in profile, Dylan Johnson photo from the day before my solo.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Slesse Sessions - Triple Link Up

Shifting my weight back and forth delicately between small friable edges, I press my cheek against the dark stone and pry outwards on a favorably positive edge to see if the hold flexes, it does.  I dip my hand into my chalk bag and leave a white chalky hand print on the rock to remind myself not to use the edge as a foothold as I move higher. Just a week earlier, my friend Tony took an unexpected fall off this very same pitch when his footholds crumbled and this weighs strongly on my mind as I commit to a high step and begin to search for a hold with my right hand. A two finger sidepull with a convenient located thumb catch materializes and I rock over onto the high foot and hold my breath, praying the edge doesn't crumble as I make the long reach to a solid hold. The established line traversed left to a flake a few meters below but the rock seemed loose over there, in fact that was where Tony had broken his holds and fallen when we scoped the route together, so this time I chose to go straight up the face on thin and sustained climbing in hopes of more solid rock.

Tony Mclane on the East Pillar on an ascent the week earlier.

 It's not often I find myself using small thumb'derclings while free soloing in the alpine, but these help me stay in balance as I tip-toe left to better holds and a belay ledge where I rejoin the regular 'East Pillar'. The climbing on the next two pitches is supposed to be the crux of the route, but is a fair bit easier than the pitch I just climbed as the holds are larger, more positive and less brittle. To my right I can see two friends from Squamish waking up on their bivy ledge on the classic Northeast Buttress and we exchange waves as I continue upwards, the climbing now less stressful and quite fun. The 'crux' pitch of the East Pillar, a 5.10+ corner, is my favourite. Bomber stemming, positive crimps and an exposed finish moving onto the arete at the the top, classic.
Tony on the 10c corner pitch of the East Pillar, a week before my link up.

From here a ledge leads left to a large terrace where I switch back to approach shoes for the remainder of the route. The climbing is generally easy but the swirling mist and fog adds character to the steep dark wall. I imagine falling off, flying through the dense mist unable to see the inevitable end far below, but I'm not going to fall and I smile as I race up to the summit ridge and check the time. Two hours to free solo the East Pillar, not bad, the first solo ascent as well I am sure. I continue along the south ridge nearly to the summit but deek off west to join the standard descent route and pick my way back down to the col between the main and South peaks of Slesse. A quick scramble brings me to the south summit where I continue south through a scree basin to the col below the third summit. This is an eerie place, the impact zone of flight 810 looms just above, and pieces of airplane wreckage strewn about on ledges everywhere. I can see a tail section of the airplane hanging above me through the mist as I downclimb the steep couloir leading back to towards the base of the 'big' lines on Slesse.

Just one small peice of airplane wreckage I found on my descent of the SE Buttress, this shows very little. The wreckage on the third peak is extensive.

This descent, essentially reversing the 'Southeast Buttress' of the South Peak, is quick and effective in bringing me to the base of my next objective, the 'Navigator Wall'. As the Southeast Buttress and Navigator Wall share the same first two pitches, I can simply traverse a grassy ledge and scramble the moderate terrain to the base of the first crux pitch. I check the time here, 9:36 AM, about an hour and a half since I began my descent from the top of East Pillar, faster than expected.

Brette on the 10+ dihedral of Navigator Wall on a previous ascent two weeks before my link up.

I switch back into rock shoes and start up the 5.10+ overhanging corner, being careful to dodge loose blocks along the way. The climbing is steep and positive and I finally get to enjoy some athletic movement as I reach a solid jug with one hand and kick my feet off the wall with a loud 'whoooop'! The Navigator Wall has a poor reputation for unpleasant climbing on loose dirty rock, but nonetheless it remains my favourite route on Slesse. The line is badass, the climbing steep and exposed, and in contrast to the East Pillar the upper pitches are some of the best. Those upper pitches, however, are gaurded by a chossy overhanging diorite headwall, positioned 1700 ft above the cirque below. I have to move very delicately and test each hold methodically as I navigate a series of loose 5.10 roofs. The final moves of the headwall are some of the wildest of the route, exiting the security of a corner and handrailing across an overhanging wall to mantle onto the slab above. I cut my feet and campus across the rail, catching a small glimpse of the cirque far below before rolling over the lip on a bomber foot hold.

Brette topping out the loose headwall pitches of Navigator Wall, on an ascent two weeks before my link up.

A few more meters of steep terrain bring me to a comfortable sandy ledge where I consider taking my rock shoes off for a moment, but I decide not to break my rhythm and head right on improving quality stone towards the base of the excellent pitch 18. This pitch climbs a spectacular steep handcrack dihedral for about 25 meters, likened to the famed Split Pillar pitch in Squamish. As I cruise up on slammer hand jams the clouds thicken and envelop me in a dense fog that adds to the ambiance of the wall. Above the corner, one more pitch brings me to the airy summit of the spire in a dense fog and very poor visibility. A look at the clock reveals that I've spent about an hour and fifteen minutes on the route. I don't linger on the summit for long, as I want to be off the mountain in case it begins to rain. I start down the Southeast Buttress route for a second time, moving quickly and deliberately.

Brette on Navigator Wall on our ascent two weeks before my link up.

On long solo days I often find myself repeating some mantra like thoughts in my mind at some point during the climb and today was no different. However my thoughts during my second descent were particularly amusing and worthy of sharing. I was feeling 'on' and moving smoothly, executing slick cross through moves with my feet as if I were dancing my way downwards through the clouds. I thought to myself, 'I feel like a cat, I feel like a ninja! I feel like a ninja cat! An ALPINE ninjacat, hell yeah' Repeat.... Probably some mental byproduct of a latent OCD or something, but certainly better than thinking to yourself that you feel shitty. I was stoked.

Brette approaching Navigator Wall on our ascent two weeks before the link up.

I made it back to the slabs above the propeller cairn before noon, and seriously contemplated taking the easy way out and hiking the trail back to the memorial plaque where I had planned to meet my girlfriend Brette in the evening. We had driven up from Squamish the day before and bivied at the plaque so that we could both get early starts for our different objectives. While I tried my triple linkup she would go for a solo ascent of the North Rib, a route she had never climbed before, and has almost certainly never seen a solo ascent by a woman.

I told myself that the clouds were becoming too threatening, that I had already climbed the Northeast Buttress too many times, and that my knees were feeling a bit sore. But it was only noon, and I knew that if I bailed now I would be upset with myself in the future, as I had no desire to solo the East Pillar again in order to do the triple. This was my chance, the route is moderate enough that I could solo it in the rain anyways, so I started jogging towards the base of the Northeast Buttress.

The pocket glacier cirque was in good condition, much less dodgy than when Brette and I crossed it three weeks earlier, when we team free soloed the route together. I jogged up through the spectacular glacial cirque to the start of the ramps that lead to the buttress and stopped to strip down to nothing but light shorts and plug in my headphones. With Parov Stelar's 'Catgroove' blasting in my ears I took off as quickly as I could, running up the third class ramps that give way to moderate 5th class climbing on the buttress itself. I took the Beckey ramps to avoid the 5.10a crux mid route, just so that I could keep scrambling in approach shoes, moving as quickly as possible. As I passed the bivy ledge mid route, I checked the time, 30 minutes, and continued up the 4th class ledges above, breathing heavily at this point.


As I reached the first pitch of the summit tower I came across two climbers on their second day on the route. I pulled out my headphones and stopped to chat and give some beta for the descent. They told me that Brette had cruised by on the North Rib earlier in the day which was great to hear, then I continued up the steeper summit tower. One pitch below the summit I ran into my friend Bram and Ashley from Squamish, also on their second day en route and stopped to chat with each of them before finding myself on the summit one hour and ten minutes after starting the route.

I think that the Northeast Buttress speed record should be a 'thing' in the cascades, I'll submit 1hr 10mins as my current time :) Although I stopped three times to chat and probably could have broken an hour if I decided to be antisocial. I recorded my link up in the summit register then down climbed off the tower and started down the Crossover Pass descent.

Brette had been seen cruising the Rib, but had not recorded her ascent in the Summit Register so I deduced that she likely gave the summit tower a miss and descended from the notch where the Rib ends and joins the standard descent route. This made sense as she was soloing the route onsight, and must have reached the notch in the peak of the poor visibility, making the decision to begin her descent quite logical at that point. Regardless, I yelled her name a few times as I descended the long ridge to Crossover Pass just to reassure myself that she had not gotten off route in the clouds somewhere. I can be a bit of a worry-wart for someone who likes to do dangerous things myself!

I made it to the alpine meadows below the North face of the mountain around 4:00 PM, and suddenly realized that if I boogied I had a chance at making the round trip from the Memorial Plaque in 12 hours. I am a total time geek in the mountains and got psyched on this challenge, so I plugged my headphones back in and started running down the flagged trail at top speed. A few songs later I was maxing out my cardio as I ran the short uphill where then crossover pass trail re-joins the main trail 100 meters below the Plaque. I sprinted back to the memorial where Brette was waiting and reading a book, and checked the time. It was 4:24, exactly 12 hours and four minutes to make the round trip from our bivy.

I was stoked, and Brette was equally stoked! She had managed to navigate the broken North Glacier alone in just her tennies, no tools or crampons, and onsight free soloed the North Rib to the notch below the summit tower. She reported that she climbed about a pitch on the tower itself but backed off in high winds and poor visibility as I had deduced earlier, and had descended uneventfully to the Memorial where she had been reading her book since. She didn't go to the summit, but still soloed 20 pitches to the notch completing the rib itself. Proud.

Navigator Wall in red, East Pillar in green, Northeast Buttress in yellow. Southeast Buttress descent in blue.

The hike out went quickly and we were at my Mom's house in Agassiz by about 6pm, in time for dinner. The next day was my sisters wedding and a great party indeed! I'm still feeling last night's tequila a tiny bit while I write this in fact.

I am done with Slesse for the season now. The only hard route I have left to do on the mountain is the unrepeated East Face... next year maybe. The Buttress in winter is on the tick list of course as well, but might not happen for a while as I plan to be away in Patagonia for the next winter, which is not a bad trade at all :)

I can't recommend free soloing the East Pillar or Navigator Wall routes, they are too loose and sketchy to make for great scrambles. But they are a tonne of fun to climb with ropes and deserve more attention than they get. Really, the NEB speed challenge should get some folks psyched, try to beat an hour! I think one could get it down to 40 minutes or so, which would be sick. As standards keep improving, maybe a solo speed climb in winter, Ueli Steck style, will be in order :) But until then....


All photos taken during previous climbs of the East Pillar and Navigator Wall with Tony Mclane and Brette Harrington respectively.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Waddington Range Adventures

So once again I find myself sitting here attempting to write a blog post musing to myself about how it has been nearly a year since I last updated this darned thing. The problem is that I find it excruciatingly difficult to write a blog I would consider worth your time as a reader to sit through without a half decent story to grab your attention. I could have written several posts about various events in these past few months but unfortunately those stories would read something like this:

"So I went to Yosemite and soloed Half Dome, it was sick. I didn't take any pictures, it was sick, the end".

Or like, "I went to Indian Creek to learn to climb desert splitters. At first it was really hard but eventually I figured it out, it was sick, the end".

Unable to justify such posts my blog has sit dormant, however I just returned from two weeks in B.C's epic Waddington Range and a couple of readable stories materialized along the way so here is my attempt to share these tales with you... It was sick, the end.

Just kidding...

Last minute trips often have a tendency to be some of the most enjoyable, for me at least. Perhaps it just suits my spontaneous and ADHD like personality, just taking off on a whim with little to no detailed planning involved. Such was the case when my friends Andrew and Hannah asked if my girlfriend Brette and I would like to share a helicopter shuttle in and out of the Waddington Range of B.C's Coast Mountains. It was an irresistibly appealing idea, a romantic couples retreat deep into the land of alpine gnar, how could I say no?

Just like that we were off driving north to the tiny community of Tatla Lake high on the beautiful chilcoltin plateau between Williams Lake and Bella Coola and after the obligatory burger stop at Graham's Inn we were whisked away by the legendary helicopter pilot Mike King and deposited at Sunny Knob, our new home for the next two weeks. Located on a knoll just above the sprawling Tiedemann glacier with alpine walls rising 1,600 vertical meters to the steep rocky summits above, sunny knob seemed an ideal base camp from which to launch our alpine exploits.

One thing I am particularly bad at in the alpine is taking it easy, and so I immediately set my alarm for 5am the next morning so that Brette and I could have a go on the 1500m south ridge of Serra 2, located directly above our camp at a Sunny Knob. We brought with us a single set of cams to #1, a selection of stoppers and a half rope and left camp around 6am after munching some oatmeal and peanut butter. After a short amount of hiking we found ourselves scrambling the first section of low 5th class ridge on excellent rock. This brought us to a snow patch above which the rock steepened and for a moment we thought we may even need to break out the rope. However as the rock steepened the holds got bigger and we scrambled and scrambled ever upwards.

Hundreds of meters of wonderful scrambling was followed by a few gendarmes and hundreds more meters of wonderful scrambling. The climbing was never harder than 5.7 or so and soon we were at the notch behind 'Phantom Tower' staring up at the final pillar of the South Ridge. Here the standard route deeks right on 45 degree snow ramps to reach 5.9 territory that gains the summit ridge. We were feeling good though and all the climbing had been easier than it had appeared to that point so we decided to tackle the upper pillar head on. We pulled out the rope and I racked up and started up an immaculate finger crack, although a handcrack dihedral to the left did appear easier.

Above the finger crack was an athletic 5.12 mantle that I could not free with my backpack on, so I executed a bouldery 'pendulum to toe hook' around a sloping arête to the right and slithered my way around the corner onto a runout slab like an oversized salamander. Above the slab a two tired roof barred the way to an incredible overhanging hand crack above and I could see a bail anchor at the top of the easy looking dihedral below me and to the left. A couple steep moves on wet jugs in the roof allowed me to fire in a piece and make a couple A1 moves to reach the splitter above. The moves in the roof would certainly go free at 5.12, but again.... the backpack.

As we had only brought cams to one inch I would have no protection for the slightly overhanging butt crack feature I was about to climb, but I could get hand jams in the back and deemed it easy enough to run out to what appeared to be a belay ledge at the top about 25 feet above. I fired my way up the four star splitter and was blown away by the quality of the climbing, but right as I neared the end the crack it began to narrow to ring locks and I had already placed my .75# cam in the roof below. Hanging from a ring lock and beginning to feel the pump clock ticking I began to question my decision to attempt this line with only a single set of cams, but some tenacity and a few grunts allowed me to find a decent placement for my largest nut. Slightly relieved but pumped I took on the rope to shake out my forearms and relax for a moment, and after one more classic 'Chris Sharma power scream' I lurched my way onto the belay ledge feeling psyched. This pitch was undoubtedly the crux of the route clocking in at solid 5.11 A1 and we nicknamed it "the incredible butt crack".

Above this several easier but extremely high quality pitches, with one more finger crack of 5.11 led to what we thought would be the summit of Serra 2, but lo and behold it was not. We had reached the final summit ridge above the snow slopes of the south east face, which would be our chosen descent route. Although the true summit lay at most a 15 minute scramble beyond I shuddered at the thought of navigating the badly broken Stiletto Icefall in the dark and decided suggested to Brette that we begin our descent immediately. A rappel brought us to the steep snow slope which was followed by seemingly endless down climbing accompanied by a case or two of lovely screaming barfies, hooray!

As we neared more moderate terrain I sent Brette down first to navigate the initial schrund and shortly thereafter took over the lead to navigate the complex icefall that followed. If one can forget about the fear inducing possibilities of falling in crevasses or being crushed by toppling seracs, icefalls so can actually be rather fun, simply working one's way through an enormous puzzling maze of ice.

One rappel over a tortured schrund, countless leaps over deep crevasses and a quick scurry beneath some intimidating seracs brought us back to a point low on the south ridge below all of the 5th class climbing. A half hour later we were back at our camp on Sunny Knob just before dark, a fantastic first day in the range!

The fact that there was a bail anchor on our first pitch on the upper pillar, located immediately before the climbing became difficult, leads me to believe that this was probably a new route. However if you have climbed this line already or know someone who has, please let me know. If this is indeed a new route we decided to call it 'Straight No Chaser' TD+, 5.11 A1, 1500m. It would go all free at 5.12 something but I recommend not leading the crux with a backpack on in order to send. Oh and bring a double set of cams, or at least a #2 and #3 as fiddling around with large nuts is never ideal when facing a giant ledge fall.

So on day two our team decided to move camp to the Upper Tellot Glacier to session down on some righteous looking rock stone and around 1pm we shouldered our packs and did the ol' slog. We arrived at the hut a few hours later and had time left to scramble up and down the ultra fun west ridge of Claw Peak, complete with a group hug on the summit!

The next morning Brette and I left at 5:30am with our sights set on free climbing the SW pillar of Stiletto Peak. We cramponed our way across the Upper Tellot in excellent morning conditions and crossed a vertical schrund before arriving at the Stiletto/Serra 1 col. We could hear the wind ripping through the col from the south and as we began down climbing 50 degree bullet ice down towards the base of the pillar we began to feel quite chilly indeed. Our plan to open bivy on the route was started to seem rather unpleasant and the frequent rockfall pouring down the couloir to our left was not helping things feel any more inviting. We decided to bail.

As a consolation prize we figured we could still bag the spectacular looking 'Stiletto Needle' and from our location halfway between the col and the SW pillar a few pitches of scrambling followed by some excellent 5.10 hand cracks allowed us to join the west face route. We took the direct 5.11 variation on the final pitch and took turns taking photos on the tiny summit of the wild spire which reminded me of a desert tower high in the alpine!

We made a handful of rappells back to the col but the steep slope below had deteriorated badly in the sun and was now a horrendous pile of knee deep slush over ice. I decided to give Brette all the gear and the pack and lowered her down to a safe point below the schrund on our 80m rope, I then tossed the rope down, took both tools and began soloing down the slope as carefully as I could. I safely made it to a point just above the schrund, traversing right to purposefully orient myself above a point with the safest run out zone, where the schrund was filled over and more of a series of two small ice cliffs rather than a true crevasse. As I traversed further right in hopes of gaining bare ice and the security of good sticks I kicked a step and heard a distinct hollowness beneath my feet, I froze. I was just out of reach of the good ice and all I needed to do was kick a step for my left foot and I would be able to reach over and place a solid tool. I gingerly tapped my left foot into the snow and 'WHOOOOOOOSH' everything gave way underfoot and I slid over the edge of the ice cliffs with a loud yell.

I thank luck and my background in aerial gymnastics for what happened next. As I hit the slope between the ice cliffs I quickly planted my feet and sprung outwards, throwing a well timed flip over the second ice cliff. I lifted my feet up to avoid my crampon points catching and slid on my butt facing outwards as I made contact with the steep slope below the second cliff. As I felt myself begin to slow down I popped back onto my feet and ran to the side to avoid being covered by the sluff that inevitably followed. I had fallen a total of about 50 feet over two small ice cliffs and a schrund and was completely unscathed. I yelled to an alarmed Brette who had watched the entire event to let her know that I was fine, and after a few good laughs we merrily strolled back to the Plummer hut feeling tired but happy.

That night was quite windy, and we thought of our friends Andrew and Hannah who were bivouacked at the exposed dragons back camp high on the glacier below Stiletto Peak. In the morning, as we lay in our tent avoiding the wind we heard them return to the hut, having decided not to climb that morning due to the wind and cold. We all hiked back down to the warmer and less windy Sunny Knob and drank whiskey, smoked a funny cigarette and lay in the sun watching the clouds drift about in the sky above.

The next day was inevitably destined to be a rest day, however Brette and I set out with delusions of climbing the enormous south east ridge of Asperity Mountain. We made it about a pitch off the ground, one pitch of 65 that is, before realizing that we did indeed need rest, badly. We spent the rest of the day laying about in base camp scheming and came up with some fine plans for the next day. Brette, Hannah and Andrew would attempt a traverse of the entire south ridge of a Stiletto, climbing the Gnats Tooth, Dentiform and various other sub peaks in the process, and I would attempt a solo ascent of Serra 5.

We all awoke at the lovely hour of 3am and while the others made oatmeal and prepared their equipment I guzzled a liter of V8 and took off by headlamp towards the base of Asperity Mountain. Things didn't go so well initially as I navigated the moraine in the dark. I went too low and when I realized my mistake and tried to clamber up a short steep section of loose blocks I pulled a large rock down trapping my leg beneath it. I struggled to remove the rock from on top of my leg and when I pulled up my pant leg I could see my shin was bleeding badly, but my scrape was not overly threatening. With the huge amount of climbing that lay ahead I almost considered bailing but decided to carry on.

I reached a sheltered ledge at the base of Asperity's south east ridge and could see fresh rockfall on my planned route that had not been there the day before,  a great sign. I put on my crampons and pulled out my tools and started up the icy, rockfall strewn glacial slope that led towards the base of 'Carl's Couloir', my planned approach to the Serra 5/Asperity col. As the glacial ice eased off in angle and the rockfall hazard from the ridge to the left decreased I found myself in a wild maze of partially obscured crevasses, always a wonderful place to be alone in the dark. I tried to stick to the bare ice to avoid dangerously thin snow bridges and eventually found myself on the tamer slopes below 'Carl's Couloir'. There was plenty of rockfall debris below the couloir and I feared that as the day came on and temperatures warmed that the line would become a death trap due to increased rockfall hazard.

I decided to attempt to climb the steep rock buttress to the right of the couloir to avoid this danger and found myself swapping boots and crampons for rock shoes and a chalk bag. I began climbing in a loose chimney like fault then moved left onto pleasant slant ramps. I followed continuous ramps up and right for what would have been several rope lengths generally avoiding the steeper rock to my left. As I gained height the angle began to increase and the climbing gradually became more difficult and sustained. The weight of my boots, tools, crampons, my light rack and rope on my back became more and more of a hindrance as climbing became steeper and more technical. As I deeked out a large roof to its left via a series of near vertical thin dihedrals I repeatedly considered making an anchor and self belaying from clove hitches, or at least taking off my backpack and tagging it up behind me as I free soloed. But whenever I considered these options I would take a look around the arête and find a series of crimps and smears that would lead me away from, and then back                             into the dihedral I was climbing at a moderate enough grade to free solo with my pack on.

After several hundred meters of climbing to about 5.10- on excellent stone I topped out onto a small summit overlooking 'Carl's Couloir' and followed a ramp down and right towards the Serra Cirque to reach the base of a snow arête about 100m below 'Carl's Camp'. I switched back to boots and crampons and climbed up past Carl's Camp and traversed right into the back of the wild Cirque with Serra 5 towering high above. I climbed up the the gaping schrund near it's left hand edge and found a way to tunnel beneath a hanging arch of ice and then climb vertical ice on the upper wall of the schrund emerging onto rock well left of the dangerous couloir leading to the Serra 5/Asperity col.

As I sat on a relatively sheltered ledge to stop and refuel I accidentally dropped my sunglasses back down into the schrund, a major bummer, but I continued on climbing several pitches of 4th and 5th class rock of varying quality staying left of the snow couloir as it was repeatedly pummeled by stonefall. As I reached a height nearly level with the col I moved back right, now above the source of the rockfall, and kicked steps to reach the col shortly thereafter.

At the col I ditched my backpack with my food and water and everything I would not need for the technical climbing above on the north west face of Serra 5. A knife edged snow arête gave way to superb stone and a series of icy ramps and chimneys. I would frequently find myself stemming on rock in my mountain boots while swinging my tools into water ice in the back of the corner, dry tooling on secure flakes or dancing up icy slabs balancing on my tip toes on perfect waves of granite. Near the top I had to balance on a small ledge, hanging onto a flake with one hand while delicately securing my crampons to my boots with the other so that I could transition onto a grade 3 ice smear that led to a secure chimney flake and easy ground.

I reached the summit shortly thereafter and spent a moment enjoying the views and reading the legendary summit register entries although I had no pen to make an entry of my own unfortunately. I started down and luckily had only made my first rappel when I realized I had dropped my ice screw while mantling the summit block. A brief return to the summit to retrieve the dropped screw and four rappels, mainly from V-threads brought me back to easier ground and the col where I sat down and had a few snacks.

The couloir below was still cooking in the sun and I would have to spend some time waiting around before it would become reasonably safe to descend, so I decided that I may as well climb Asperity as well rather than sit around doing nothing. The steepest section of the East face route of Asperity was still baking in the sun as well so I decided to climb a more direct and shady route beginning directly beneath an imposing 200ft tall serac. After climbing 50 degree ice beneath the left end of the large serac I traversed left into a superb 75 degree ice chimney that climbed extremely well via a combination of stemming, hand jamming, mega jugs and grade 3 water ice. I topped out the chimney after about 60 meters of excellent climbing and then followed snows slopes with occasional sections of alpine ice to eventually join the easy summit ridge.

The view of Waddington from the summit of Asperity was tremendous, but I knew that I had a long hazardous descent ahead of my so my stay was short lived. I reversed my ascent route with much down climbing and two rappels from threads to get down the ice chimney and by the time I reached my backpack at the col it was 4pm and the couloir was in the shade. The snow conditions were still not ideal in the couloir and the sound of rocks wizzing by was still a frighteningly regular occurrence so I hugged the edge of the couloir and eventually transferred back onto the rock to its (climber's) left and down climbed that instead. One rappel from a pin brought me over the schrund and after traversing back to where I had crossed it during my ascent I quickly located my dropped sunglasses, score!

Much traversing on steep alpine ice brought me back to Carl's Camp where I did my best to take a break and relax before dropping in to the long threatened couloir below. I tried to listen to calming happy music and eat a bar but just found myself pacing back and forth contemplating all the hazards that awaited me below. Luckily only two large rocks came down the couloir as I descended, neither coming too close to me. Eventually, after what felt like eons of kicking steps, I pounded a #3 knife blade to the hilt and rapped over the gaping schrund and onto the glacier below.

Navigating the maze of crevasses below was more challenging on the descent due to the structure of the glacier steepening beneath me making it difficult to see far ahead. But soon I was down climbing the steep lower section of the glacier, the occasional rock wizzing by to my left and I found myself back on my sheltered ledge below Asperity's south east ridge where I removed my harness, packed up my tools and pons and was essentially home free.

I put a pair of headphones in my ears and blasted 'Renegades of Funk', by Rage Against the Machine into my ears as I sprinted back to Sunny Knob feeling absolutely elated. I arrived at base camp at 9pm about 18 hours after setting out, but the others weren't back yet from their mission. Feeling a bit jittery I downed about 6 shots of whiskey and made dinner before crawling into my tent listening to heavy drum and bass in my headphones.

I bolted awake at 5am thinking the others were returning to camp and I was suddenly ashamed of the mess of dirty dishes next to the half downed bottle of whiskey I had left outside my tent. I stumbled outside and promptly fell down and rolled a short distance down the heather slope below. Not my most elegant moment, although not my worst either by any means. I realized that I was still the only one in base camp, and that I was out of mind and in a total daze and crawled back into my tent for a few more hours of sleep.

The others returned early in the afternoon after sending the south ridge of the Stiletto group as far as climbing both summits of Dentiform and then had crashed at the Plummer Hut before returning to base camp. We congratulated each other on our sends and spent the next few days generally taking it easy around camp.

We had plans to go back to Serra 5 as a group and climb the phenomenal looking 'Thunderbird' ridge but shortly after leaving camp Brette, who had not been feeling well for the last couple days, realized that she was getting sick and needed to rest. I had already climbed Serra 5 and decided to accompany her back to Sunny Knob where we spent the next two days resting in hopes that Brette would begin to feel better. To be honest I was happy to rest psychologically after my solo link up as well, and to let my psyche for big days rebuild itself for another mission.

On the morning of August 6th we awoke to my alarm at 3am and headed back up the long south ridge of Serra 2, this time to attempt the 'Grand Cappuccino' tower which we had seen during our initial ascent of Straight No Chaser. We made good time to the notch behind Phantom tower, where one is greeted with an intimidating view of the Grand Cappuccino, but the ice couloir we had hoped to start our route in was completely melted out.

We decided to attempt the intimidating wall left of the couloir and after crossing a steep ice field we were putting on rock shoes and chalk bags beneath a beautiful vertical finger crack dihedral reminiscent of a pitch one would find in Indian Creek. I fired up the four star corner finding good gear and rests before it thinned to a desperate purple TCU tips layback before the belay ledge. I sent the pitch on sight at 5.12-and Brette followed cleanly before leading off right and then climbing a fantastic off width flake followed by steep jugs to a belay in an alcove. I navigated loose blocks above her belay and then climbed an incredible thumb stacking flare before stepping right to belay from a black alien and an RP on a steep slab. The next pitch traversed right across the slab in a wild position before climbing steep cracks and a poorly protected layback followed by two pitches of moderate terrain leading to a steep head wall.

The next pitch was reminiscent of something one would climb on a Yosemite classic like 'Astroman', a steep rattly fingers splitter followed by four point stemming up an overhanging flare capped by wild back and foot chimneying over nothing but empty space!  We were now very close to the summit of the Grand Cappuccino and Brette was leading when I began to get peppered at my belay by hundreds of flakes exfoliating from the off width above. The sun had left the face leaving the air frigid and we were both shaking from the cold. The crack above Brette only continued to get wider and we had no cams to protect it and the rock was deteriorating badly, leaving Brette thrashing about knocking rocks on me at the belay. As badly as we wanted to
send the tower, it was time to go down.

We made several rappels leaving nuts and a couple cams before reversing the ice field and down scrambling much of Serra 2's south ridge arriving back at camp just before dark. Although we didn't send we still had one of the best days of hard alpine rock climbing of our lives! And we would both like to go back with the proper gear to send the final off width that completes our line, although if you feel inclined to get there first have at 'er!

As night fell we could see Andrew and Hannah's headlamps coming down over the schrund of Carl's Couloir and in the morning then told us that after three days away from base camp they had successfully made the first free ascent of 'Thunderbird'! They narrowly avoided being taken out by a large rockfall on their descent, confirming the seriousness of hanging out in the Serra Cirque.

We spent a final day resting and packing up camp and the next morning were picked up by the chopper after spending 13 days in the range. This adventure was something really special, visiting a truly spectacular place with such wonderful people. We lucked out with the weather and essentially had 13 days of straight sun' with the odd windy day in the mix. All the routes that we climbed were of superb quality and my solo day on Serra 5 and Asperity was one of the wildest solos I've done yet.

I'd really like to thank Brette, Andrew and Hannah for providing the companionships that made this trip what it was!

So there it is, another blog post. Hope it didn't bore you to tears although it did turn out to be a bit long. But make sure to read it twice for good measure because knowing me it might be a while before the next one.

It was sick, the end.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Grand Wall and General Summer Shenanigans.

Well, it's safe to say that this summer in Squamish has been absolutely fantastic. My Slesse adventure in July inspired a lasting psyche that has perpetuated to this very moment as I sit here on my laptop sipping a cider and writing this blog. If I were to go into precise detail and attempt to recapture the magic of each and every adventure I have embarked upon between then and now I would find myself typing for ages and ages and spinning a tale that fills multiple pages. However, I have to work tomorrow and my coworker Chris would likely prefer that I be coherent in the morning, so I will tell one short story, post some photos, and try to be in bed by 11:15 at the latest.

I have selected one story in particular to share for a couple reasons. First and foremost I have selected this story because it is short and I tend to be somewhat lazy when it comes to blogging. The other reason I have opted to share my personal account of this particular tale is because it seems as if rumor of this ascent has leaked into a 'climbing forum' or two and I would like to clear up any ambiguity regarding my climb and simply tell the story for exactly what it is.

Anyhow, yesterday I awoke in my humble stairwell, prepared a delightful bowl of cereal and began packing to work on a project on the North Walls of the Chief. As I tried to select the equipment that I would bring along I became fed up with the dilemma of 'what to bring and what not to bring' and decided that I would just bring nearly nothing at all and go solo some classics. Sometimes it's best to settle on simplicity.

I thought the historic 'Grand Wall' would be a good place to begin my day and soon enough I found myself standing at the base of 'Apron Strings' with my rock shoes, a harness, two daisy chains, two quickdraws  and a single length sling. I climbed up two meters and then suddenly thought to myself, 'I may as well time this' and reversed to the ground to check my watch/phone. It was 10:32, I waited for it to change to 10:33 but it was taking too long so I shoved the phone back into my pocket and began climbing instead.

I flew up Apron Strings feeling greeeeeat and realized as I climbed the lovely 'Merci Me' that I was making considerable upwards progress in a relatively short time frame. I decided to continue climbing at a fast but comfortable pace, and check in on my time when I reached Bellygood Ledge, 10 pitches into the route.

I passed a party at the start of the traverse to the Split Pillar, and as I hand railed along the right trending flake I noted that the stone was peppered with 'silverfish' aka 'rock lobsters' that were leaping from their nests in the crack onto my hands and arms and crawling up my bare arms onto my torso. While I would normally find this unpleasant, free soloing is no place to get 'grossed out' by insects so I simply carried on.

I swam up the perfect hand-jams of the split pillar, pulled the technical crux of the Sword and laybacked the thin finger locks to the beginning of the long bolt ladder. I used my daisy chains on the bolt ladder as well on Perry's Layback, then cruised along the Flats and up the excellent juggy 'Sail Flake' soon finding myself running along bellygood ledge to the start of the Roman Chimneys.

 I checked the time, I had 18 minutes to solo the chimneys in order to match the current speed record (59 minutes held by Alex Honnold and Mason Earle) This is where I actually committed to an attempt to break the record. I had never soloed the Chimneys before, so I climbed cautiously, particularly through the initial 5.11a slab crux. As I power laybacked a slightly damp 11a offwidth I thought to myself, 'even if I don't break the record I won't be trying this again', but soon enough I was racing through the gritty face climbing that avoids an 11+ roof crack and up the final 5.10 corner to the top. I checked the time as soon as I reached the ledge that marks the end of the Roman Chimneys, it was 11:30 bang on. I had taken somewhere between 57 and 58 minutes, juuuuust shaving a minute or two off the previous record!

It was quite spontaneous, I certainly didn't go to bed the night before thinking about breaking any records. In fact the thought didn't enter my mind until I was three or so pitches up the climb and moving steadily along. I never felt as if I was 'rushing' or throwing caution to the wind. I climbed as quickly as I was comfortable with, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience!

Great, woohoo. I got the record. Stoked. Okay whatever, at least its held by a Squamish local again and not some visiting yanks he he he.  I decided to celebrate afterwards by free soloing 'Borderline' into High Plains Drifter, making for a total of about 30 pitches of climbing up to 5.11c. Good times!

Now I will quit typing and post some photos from my Summer so far, complete with captions so you all know what you are looking at.

                                                       University Wall Pitch 1

                                                        The super sick nasty Shadow pitch!

                                                       Mt Garibaldi Glacier Type Stuff

                                           Not sure what I'm doing here but its amusing.

                                                                     Polaris Pitch 9

                                                                  High Plains Drifter!

                                                         Trying to Flash the Shadow, I fell.

And golly gee goodness its 12:30 AM! Time for bed. Over and out.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Slesse - A Solo Link-Up

Okay, so I haven't updated this page since Febuary. I apologize for that, but on the positive side the reason I have not been updating is because I have been extremely busy climbing, adventuring, training, sleeping and all the things that keep me permanently distracted from sitting in front of my laptop for any sustained amount of time. The exception is Facebook, you don't have to think to sit around on Facebook. Facebook is my most addictive rest day activity... anyways.

I have some serious updating to do, I should probably talk about my trip to the Valley in the Spring, but I'll do that later. I want to talk about a link up I did on a beautiful local peak by the name of Slesse Mountain.

Slesse is a very famous Canadian Mountain because in 1956 Trans-Canada Airlines flight 810 became disoriented in dense clouds and slammed into the eastern flank of the mountain, no one survived. It is also famous in the climbing world because its classic Northeast Buttress, first climbed by Fred Beckey, Steve Marts and Eric Bjornstad was included in Steck and Roper's 'Fifty Classic Climbs of North America'.

I first climbed the Buttress on my third attempt when I was 15 years old. My first two attempts were epic and frightening, and when I finally completed the route it was the biggest and most serious thing I had ever climbed, I was elated. A year later I was looking at the Crossover Pass descent route and noted that it would be very easy to traverse from the slopes near the end of the descent to the start of the North Rib, a route similar to but more sustained and difficult than the Buttress. I wondered 'what if'' a party was strong and fast enough to climb the Buttress, descend 'via crossover pass, and then climb the Rib in the same day. It seemed a bit ludicrous seeing as the Buttress alone took my partners and I two days to climb and I had been utterly exhausted by the end of it.

Fast forward 4 years. Now 20 years old and much more experienced as a rock climber I was beginning to really miss the alpine, the easily accessible rock around Squamish is a treat to climb, but I was missing that 'out there' feeling of adventure that goes hand in hand with committing routes in the mountains. Every year I would think about the 'Slesse Double Link' as I referred to it, but never truly considered attempting it. But then two weeks ago my friend Tony McLane and I left Squamish at 5am and drove the 3 hours to Slesse and climbed the North Rib together.

We brought one half rope and a few pieces of gear but ended up scrambling the entire route together unroped. We down climbed the summit tower instead of rappelling and navigated the Crossover Pass descent easily and were back at the car within 12 hours of leaving it. I was blown away by how much more capable I felt in the mountains compared to when I was a teenager. The three years of steady rock climbing in Squamish had made an enormous impact on my confidence and speed in the alpine. I felt ready to try the link up.

To prepare myself for my climb, and to ensure myself that I had the fitness required to do my link up safely, without exhaustion leading to poor decision making, I went for a training run. After getting off work early I jogged from my home to the 'Apron' of the Squamish Chief and proceeded to free solo 'Rock On', down climb Calculus Crack, jog to the base of Angels Crest, solo that as well, then run behind the Chief to Shannon Falls and solo Skywalker. After a swim in the beautiful pool below the upper tier of Shannon Falls I jogged back to the parking lot below the Apron and checked the time. It had been 5 hours since I left my home, I was pretty sure the Slesse mission would not be a problem. I was stoked!

I wanted to do the link up as soon as possible, while the approach to the Rib was still in good condition and before the pocket glacier approach to the Buttress deteriorated completely. But I had to work all week. I packed my bag Thursday night, and due to my lack of Vehicular Trasport Means I walked directly from work to a Greyhound Bus station and cruised to Vancouver. I always feel bad-ass taking my climbing pack on the Bus with my fancy technical ice tool strapped to the outside... the bright yellow helmet, not so much.

I hitchhiked my way into the Fraser Valley, and was pleased to get picked up despite the visible ice tool on my pack. Luckily I don't look like a serial killer, although most serial killers don't look like serial killers either according to my Mother who works in a Correctional Facility.

Now comes the embarrassing part of the story. Once I was in the Fraser Valley, my dear Mother drove out and picked me up and gave me a ride to the start of the gravel road leading to the trailhead. Sorry Mom, I'll get a car soon. I gave her a vague description of what I was going to attempt, not giving too many details that I could fill her in on once I was back down in one piece. I started hiking the road towards the trailhead at 11:30 PM.

This was the part of the adventure I was the most nervous about. Hiking alone in bear infested woods. I sang 'Hakuna Matata' on repeat to calm myself and to warn any wild beasts of my approach. If I could survive this approach the climbing would be of little concern.

I made it to the Memorial Plaque without being eaten and tried to sleep for a while. It was cold and I was still afraid of being eaten. I slept like a 5 year old child on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to come down the chimney. At the very first sign of light I packed what I would bring for the link up into a bullet pack and started up towards to propeller cairn. I was psyched and moving fast, I stopped briefly at the cairn to eat a bar and sip some hydrogen monoxide, and then boogied my way across the slabs beneath the east glacier to avoid being crushed by falling blocks of ice. I quickly made it to the 'notch' used to access the pocket glacier and assessed conditions. It looked good! So I climbed down to the glacier and made a spectacular maneuver in which I demonstrated extreme inner thigh flexibility as I did the splits across a deep moat in order to gain access to the seasonal ice patch.

The first two thirds of the glacier consisted of straightforward walking, with the spectacular East Face brooding above, the sun just beginning to light the summit snowpatch. As I approached the upper third of the glacier I got my first view of the horrendous icefall guarding the approach ramps to the Buttress. At first glance I thought my mission was over, and I would have to go home. But I spotted an intricate, albeit extremely hazardous line that would bring me to the next tier of the glacier. Go time! I tried to move as quickly and precisely as possible, stemming wide above deep crevasses, navigating steep terrain beneath leaning towers of ice and climbing some short steep seracs only to find myself staring at an even larger and more intimidating schrund blocking access to the uppermost tier of the glacier. It looked completely impassable, a gap of at least 60ft, near vertical on both sides and spanning the length of the glacier. I could see that there had been some serac activity at the far left end however and traversed the entire glacier to have a look. I found that a serac had collapsed and was now spanning the gap, acting as a bridge, completely unsupported from below. I nervously climbed to the lip of the schrund and swung my tool into the death bridge, climbed onto it, and traversed the gap with nothing but air and the empty blackness of the schrund beneath my feet. I was off the bridge and more wide stemming through some small overhangs brought me onto the final section of glacier. I was pondering how I would navigate the large snow finger at the start of the access ramp when suddenly there was a loud rumbling and the right hand side of the finger collapsed into the icefall. There were several loud explosion-like sounds and the glacier began rumbling beneath my feet. I sprinted faster than I knew I was capable of and quickly squirmed through a tunnel between the 'finger' and the rock below like a panicking marmot. I arrived safe and sound at the start of the ramp panting for air. I knew the crux was over and I could now relax and enjoy the beautiful rock climbing ahead of me.

I climbed the easy ramps and past a gendarme to the start of the technical climbing on the route. I quickly changed to rock shoes and continued climbing the steep buttress. The climbing went by very quickly and I found myself sipping more H2O at the halfway ledge and switched back to approach shoes for the several pitches of 4th class leading to the summit tower. After changing shoes once again, I began cruising up the steep and exposed final pitches. Some low clouds had blown in and were now sweeping up the east face and billowing up around me, the sun was shining directly through the clouds, giving everything around me the appearance of being painted in bright gold. I could see my shadow in the golden clouds as I climbed the crux pitches. This was epic, a very special time to myself indeed. I soon found myself on the summit, I had no watch but I suspect the Buttress took me about 2 hours. Compared to when I was 15, it had felt incredibly easy. Being able to relax fully during the climb and just appreciate the movement and position made it much more enjoyable as well.

The down climb off the tower went smoothly and I followed the same route along the Crossover ridge that Tony and I had taken a week earlier. I shared part of my descent with a beautiful mountain goat, a wild animal that I am fairly certain will not try to devour me. As I navigated the long alpine ridge my thoughts were filled with what lay ahead. Did I have to energy to climb a longer and more difficult route safely? How would I feel descending for the second time? I should have been more focused on where I was at, I climbed a couple sections somewhat sloppily and even slipped once on a snowpatch. "Be careful Marc, pay attention", I thought to myself after self arresting. Soon enough I was glissading down moderate snow slopes and began to trend back towards to start of the North Rib. I stopped to fill my water bottle and have a snack. I slurped back a revolting 'power gel' and drank an 'Emergen-C' electrolyte beverage. The combination of citric acid and whatever goes into those gels nauseated me so badly I had to sit on a boulder doubled over for several minutes until the feeling passed. Then I jogged to the toe of the North Glacier and made a quick and easy crossing, jumping the moat to a small ledge at the start of the climbing.

I scrambled the first couple pitches to get away from any objective hazard from the ice towers around me, and then changed into rock shoes and began climbing the long aesthetic arete. The climbing on the Rib is much more sustained and generally less secure than that of the Buttress. While the climbing is quite moderate it involves friction dependent moves and somewhat involved routefinding. It would feel as if I had been climbing for a long while, then I would look up to see that the summit still looked infinitely far away, and the glacier below discouragingly close. I had to stop twice to take my shoes off and let my feet breathe. The position on the rib is just spectacular, being there alone is something to really cherish. I put my shoes back on and eventually found myself at the Notch between the main summit of Slesse and the smaller 'Fraser Tower'to the north. This would be an easy place to bail, as this notch is part of the regular descent route. But with only 6 pitches of 5.8 climbing between me and summit, lots of daylight left, and some energy to spare, the choice was clear. However my feet were very sore after 50 or so pitches in rock shoes so I soloed to the summit in my Tennies to spare my feet some pain.

                    A photo from Colin Haley's Blog, showing the North Rib, Summit looming above.

I relaxed on the summit for a good 15 minutes, to recover before making the long descent for a 2nd time. I recorded my link up in the summit register, ate some delicious trail mix and then started down. I was concerned that I may be fatigued and climb poorly so I payed extra attention the entire time. In fact I payed so much attention that I didn't slip once, make a single mis-step or error and found myself home free on moderate snow slopes in what felt like no time at all. I was so focused that my recollection of this descent feels 'etched' into my memory. The only other time I have experienced this kind of 'etched memory' was when I soloed 'The Milk Road' in Squamish, it is an interesting phenomenon, such focus leading to a unique memory imprint.

As I ran down the mellow slopes I realized I was essentially home free, with only straightforward hiking left to get home. I shouted, and hooted and hollered and screamed something along the lines of, 'I LOVE ALPINE CLIMBING'. I was psyched, really psyched. I looked up at the mountain and imagined the North Rib stacked on top of the Northeast Buttress, it seemed unfathomably huge, approximately 6,000ft of steep alpine rock. The feelings of success and elation filled me with energy and I ran the trail back to the memorial to pick up my gear before hiking back to the road, and stumbling back to the 'Riverside' campground where I had been dropped off the day before. Every so often I glanced back at the summit tower of Slesse, knowing I had stood there twice that day. I made it back to Chilliwack Lake Rd around 9pm, it was still fully light out, but I passed out on the forest floor and woke up cold at first light. I made myself a small fire to keep warm and hung out and stretched my sore muscles until mid day. Tired of waiting for my ride, I began walking the road towards Chilliwack. After about an hour of walking my Mom pulled up in her car and gave me a big hug, happy to see me alive and well and I filled her in on the details of my climb as we drove back to her home in Agassiz and had a wonderful family barbeque. Like a true man, I drank some sweet cherry cider coolers, and passed out.

I haven't written a report like this is years, but this adventure was something special. The realization of a goal I made 4 years ago, that once seemed absolutely impossible. The amusing part is, it didn't feel particularly hard or outrageous. Aside from a moment or two in the pocket glacier, it never felt 'extreme'. I think this is how these kind of missions should feel, relaxed, comfortable and in control. I realize now how much I really missed the mountains and how happy I am to be back, I am looking forward to getting a few more missions in this season... who knows, I may even write about them...

I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience :)


       The Northeast Buttress in Green, my descent to the start of the Rib in Blue, and the Rib in Red.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

An Awesome Week.

So the past 8 days were pretty sweet, I ended up spending a few days ice climbing around Lillooet and then this past weekend in Revelstoke trying my best to learn how to ski. I had only expected to make a day trip to Lillooet but after swinging my tools for an afternoon I booked a room and ended up staying five. All five days were awesome, conditions were quite good and I manage to climb several great routes I had never been on before. The three days skiing were also really fun, by the third day I was feeling substantially more comfortable but there were embarrassing moments. Perhaps having disproportionately long limbs would help explain why I found strapping even longer boards to my feet and then moving downhill at high speeds so awkward at times. The worst situation I found myself in all week was slowly sliding down the hill on my face, skis pointing uphill behind me, while children skied past effortlessly. I’m sure the people riding the lift directly above me while all this took place were enjoying themselves at that moment… not me.

Anyways, last Saturday woke up at 4am to drive to Marble Canyon, near Cache Creek, with my buddy Matt and his friend Steven who was going to be climbing ice for his first time. Matt also took me ice climbing for my first time when I was 15 and I was psyched, so it was cool to see him continuing to introduce others to the sport. Steven was psyched too, and killed it, climbing very intuitively despite it being his first day on ice tools. It was good to spend a whole afternoon climbing around on fat ice getting a feel for my new tools, a pair of DMM apex’s. Afterwards we crashed at a motel in Lillooet but Matt and Steven had to head home in the morning. I decided to book the room for another couple nights and had my friends drop me off on the Duffey Lake road near a route called ‘Sychronicity’.

I had never climbed ‘Synchronicity’ before knew it is considered one of the classics on the Duffey. It had appeared to be in nice shape on the drive up the previous day so I thought it could make for a good solo adventure. I walked in following some tracks and in an hour found myself at the ice and preparing to climb. I brought a rope to rappel, some cord to build threads, a couple screws and began cruising up the first easy pitches. The ice was good and the climbing went quickly and I shortly found myself below the final tier of the route. The ice on the left hand side looked good and was quite vertical so I decided to climb there rather than on the ramps to the right. As expected the climbing was great and the placements very secure, the position was also great with the valley floor a long ways down. At the very top of the route I climbed a delicate hollow tube which was more engaging then any of the more sustained ground below, but I found myself at the top of the route and rappelled back into the amphitheater below. ‘Synchronicity’ had not taken long and I had most of the day left, so I decided to climb another great looking route to the left called ‘Synchrotron’. The climbing was really fun, and being in a great head space after climbing one route already allowed me to move very fast. On the way down I noticed that the back of a beautiful pillar on the alternate ‘Mother’ finish looked to be in reasonable conditions so I soloed that as well. The climbing and position were phenomenal on the back of the steep pillar and at the top I found a narrow hole in the ice and squeezed through back onto the front to finish! After rapping back to the very bottom and hiking down to the creek I notice a frozen ice bridge spanning the river which allowed for a quick hike up to the road on the other side. Overall this was one of the sweetest ice climbing days I have had, soloing long moderate routes in a great setting! But I just realized how long that all took to type….. I seriously need to work on being concise so I don’t end up sitting on my computer ALL day.

                                      Steep ground on Synchronicity's upper tier.

                              The back of the 'Mother' pillar looking nice and fun!

                                   Soloing in behind the 'Mother' pillar.

                                          Super psyched on a rad solo day!

So the next two days I met up with my friends Francis and Lee and we climbed some nice lines in the Bridge River Canyon. The first day we climbed a route called Silk Degrees that doesn't form often. The first pitch was not touching down so we climbed moderate loose rock to the right and traversed back onto the ice for the 2nd pitch. After finishing Silk Degrees we continued up a gulley and climbed ‘Silk Worm’ right to the top of the canyon wall. It started snowing and got dark as we tried to find the descent and spent some time in a narrow gulley searching for anchors while getting bombed by spindrift. It was a quick reminder of what ice climbing is all about, adventure! After much down climbing and some raps we were back at the creek crossing and the car.
The next day we drove back into the Bridge river and plugged up the hillside to a small basin housing two rarely formed columns. The right hand line called ‘A Four Dressed up as Six’ looked to be in a good shape so we climbed that. It was beautiful! Not a long pitch, but steep and technical climbing with decent gear. Above that, we continued up the hillside then traversed back into the gulley below a classic route called ‘Capricorn’.  The crux pitch was long and much steeper than in appeared from below, with some funky ice on the vertical sections, totally awesome! We rapped the ice and managed to walk through the woods back to the car without having to rappel. Another amazing day that went perfectly smoothly!

                                      Leading 'A Four Dressed up as Six'

                                               Lee approaching 'Capricorn'

Lee and Francis had to get back to work in the city, but on Wednesday Chris Geisler drove to Lillooet and picked me up at the Motel, after a breakfast stop in town we cruised back up the Duffey to try an unclimbed route left of Synchronicity. I had noticed this hanging dagger feature earlier in the season and thought that it may be possible to drytool the rock to the right to reach the ice. We really had no idea what to expect, so Chris packed the hand drill and a few short bolts just in case. We crossed the ice bridge I had found on my solo mission a few days earlier and soon found ourselves at the base of the route. We ran up 3 moderate pitches of ice and mixed steps then began planning our attack to get to the hanging dagger.
I began drytooling up some very loose features on a slab, not hard climbing but insecure with absolute shit protection for the first 20m or so. I made my way to a steeper alcove with some better pro, and after a bit of thrutching around I found a sideways nut I could lean out on and bust out the hand drill. I had never hand drilled a bolt before, and it was ardous… especially using the hammer on the back of my ice tool. Chris laughed while I spent the better part of 45 minutes pecking away with the drill. Eventually I got the bolt in and fired the crux traverse to the ice, good hooking on slightly overhanging rock with an insecure crux move right at the point where a fall could become bad again! Once on the ice I ran up to a belay ledge then Chris led straight through to the top of the ice! It was so rad to put up this new route on our first try and for it all to go relatively smoothly. I will never forget my first hand drilled bolt either. We called our route ‘Duplicity’ (WI4, M6 R) as it two main pitches contrast each other a lot. The first being runout mixed climbing with some very loose rock, and the second being beautiful moderate ice climbing.

                                         Leading the crux pitch of 'Duplicity'

                                   Chris leading the last pitch of 'Duplicity'

Here's a video Chris took while I was hand drilling...

The next day I was off to Revelstoke with my friend Brette to attempt skiing for the first time. Brette is a bad-ass skier and I felt bad while she waited patiently for me as I fell on my face, lost skis, crashed into trees and whatnot. But after the three days I felt I improved quite a bit, not great by any means, but I could get down the hill without falling so I was psyched…. I could really see how skiing is an incredibly valuable skill to have dialed for bigger mountain adventures. I think I am going to stick with it and try to improve my skills so I can get into ski mountaineering in the future! Just imagine skiing into a sick route, soloing it, and then shredding a gnarly chute on the way out or something along those lines. The only thing missing is a base jump off the summit!
Anyways, I’m done talking now, definitely don’t want to type anymore. But it looks like Squamish is going to have some bomb weather for rock climbing next week, so the adventures don’t have to stop anytime soon! Psyched.

          Poser Marc still smiling, blissfully unaware of the face plant soon to come.