Monday, 22 January 2018

Fairy Meadows Alpine Rock 2017

Sunday August 6th - Sunday 13th, 2017 Fairy Meadows

Synopsis: 4 1/2 stars out of 5. A beautiful area, we didn't get up high however had a blast exploring some adventurous rock.

This was an ACC Calgary Section camp run by George and Clare, with camp located on a moraine about 20 minutes from the Bill Putnam hut towards Friendship Col at roughly 2200 metres. I hadn't been in the area since a GMC in 2000 so was stoked to get back to the area.

Sunday consisted of all of the usual helicopter hurrying up and waiting.  We did have time to get a bit organized around camp and scrambled up the knob to have a look at Granite Glacier and collect snow for the cooler.

Monday climbed the 5.6 routes on Gog and Magog.  Gail and I left camp at 7:45, arrived at Gog and Magog just after 9.  Gog was one was of the best pitches of climbing we experienced all week, having said that go to the top and don't stop at a 3 pin anchor on the shoulder.  Magog is worth doing for the free hanging rappel, lot's of loose rock midway as you corkscrew around the mountain and we did it in two pitches to reduce rope drag. Just after noon we were off Magog and headed to the North Ridge of Pythias, which sounded like an interesting objective following the left hand ridge below.

We crossed the glacier and arrived at the base of the 3 obvious steps at 12:30 pm and 2540 metres. The two of us scrambled up and ducked left at the first step.  After some futzing around roped up (60 metre rope and used it 30 metres doubled) and in one short pitch made the ridge on top of the first pitch. 

The second step took 3 or 4 very moderate pitches, some of it a bit mossy with signs of travel. Dodged right to top out and along another fine ridge, I still wonder if there was a more aesthetic line but it went. 

2 short pitches and were on top of the 3rd step. Some of the best rock on the route was on the scramble to the ridgeline of Pythias where we went back to boots and scrambled a short bit to the summit.  We made the summit just after 5 pm at 2760 metres and were back to camp through friendship col at 7. It did prove to be an interesting objective with the usual route finding challenges, loose rock and yes, some steep moss and grass.

On Tuesday, Gail and I attempted the Black Rib on Quadrant. After an hour and a half approach, we started in the middle of the rib just left of a large gully in black terrain. It seemed to make sense to start, however after 2 1/2 pitches we realized that we were off route and after a bit of a whipper on my part (actually more like a slitherer) we bailed. Pain is a great instructor.

Given the day was only half over, we elected to go around and do the ridge on Quadrant, as much for some fun as to scope the rappel line. Solid rock, great fun if a bit short after a longish approach. 

We put the rope on for the crack at the top, otherwise scrambled. A bit of fiddle farty lining up the raps. On top at 1:30 pm and back to the col at 2:10. Back to camp to lick our wounds (me mostly) at 4:30.

My favourite objective of the trip, Gibralter, was our plan for Wednesday. We left camp at 7:30 am and made it to the base of the route at 10:30 after negotiating Gothic Glacier. Some large cracks in the glacier earlier on, then basically bee lined for the mountain. We choose to attempt it using the near side crack and arrived to a small bergschrund that was easily crossed and a bit of a moat. 

I scored the first lead and it was a bit of a doozy. Started grotty with loose blocks followed by a gully that was close to the edge of my modest skills, fortunately with good gear. The pitched ended with a squeeze chimney and a belay ledge with an old station to the left complete with moss grown over webbing.

The next pitch was a short one and took us up to a BBQ ledge, where we hung out and had lunch. The next section looked like it would go, however the route deeks right and escapes through a hole in the rock back to the North side. Great fun with a few exposed moves on the North Side. 

We then built an anchor and the following pitch was one of the most fun pitches I've lead. Solid rock with great positions, including an eau cheval and definitely funky moves onto a flake with a lot of air beneath. I used a rap station just after to belay and Gail who the final 5.5 off width to the summit. 

We summitted at 2:45 pm roughly 2900 metres. We then rapped down the route down the face with a more direct line, it helped to have some beta from the guys that climbed it the day before. Having said that I did have to prussik back up to the 3rd anchor which was hidden in an alcove climbers right. We were back on the glacier at 4:30 pm and at camp just before 7. 

On Thursday Gail and I decided to give the Black Rib on Quadrant another try, primarily because it was unfinished business and the other routes either sounded too difficult or too scrappy.  Left camp at 8 am and hit the base of the route at 9:20 am. It turned out to be faster to approach on a beat in trail fair right and work our way to the base along the base of Quadrant.

Gail had the correct route pretty much sussed. It actually starts just left of the large gully on white granite.  Gail took the first lead and bypassed the initial gendarme on the right. I then eased my way left to the right hand side of an obvious gully. Pitch 3 Gail attempted to bypass the gully to the left which didn't go. I then pounded straight up it on some grass, some loose rock and some good rock. The pitch ended in a horizontal squeeze chimney but working my way through it  ended in a beautiful belay station laying on some grass with a view so no complaints. 

Just up from there we came up to a feature that joined the main wall. I manage to miss the cave that lead to the 5.7 money pitch and we jumped on the crack just to the right. If definitely was the money pitch and Gail made short work of it.

I then took the 5th pitch which carried along for a bit and the emptied into a bowl which lead through easier ground to the ridge of Quandrant. We hit the ridge at 3:15 pm and 2646 metres. 

We grabbed something to eat and changed into boots (how I wish I brought approach shoes). We then scrambled up fairly interesting 5.1 terrain to the main summit of Quadrant, which we arrived an hour later.

Great views, we carried along the ridge on pretty straight forward terrain and made it to the South Peak of Quadrant at 4:40 pm and then used the three raps to make it to the Col and back to camp at 8 pm. It felt good to have completed the route.

We ended the day with a swim in the lake below Quadrant. The unusually warm weather made for great swimming and not the usual quick in and out.

On Friday we were both pretty bagged and tired of dragging around a rope.  We basically did the Quadrant col to Friendship col traverse which was a nice scramble and took us back to the top of Pythias.  Taking our time it was a 7 hour day and we made it back with lots of time for the week end party.

All in, it was a week well spent. It would be good to get to the bigger peaks but lots of adventure with the rock shoes on.

Friday, 21 July 2017

The West Ridge of Mt Tupper 2017

Sunday June 2nd, 2017 West Ridge Mt Tupper 2804 metres

Synopsis: 4 1/2 stars out of 5. A little bit of everything; steep hike up to Hermit Meadows, snow up to the ridge and rock that improves quickly to being very, very good. Something for everyone and a little crowded because of it.

Tupper had been on my list of Rogers Pass classics for awhile and with the long weekend, a good weather window and two good friends who had been up it before why not? We originally were thinking of the Lone Pine approach from the highway however when I checked it out on the drive on Friday there were definitely gaps in the snow and unseasonably hot temperatures had us choose the regular route up through Hermit Meadows.

Up at 4:30 in Revelstoke, a bit of an Alpine Start although already light out. Out the door quickly with mugs of caffeinated beverages had us leaving the Hermit Meadows parking area at 6 am. There were a few cars about and another party about to head up the South Rib which is an interesting sounding route.

The forecast for the day was clear and hot and it started off without a cloud in the sky. The almost 800 metres ascent to Hermit Meadows took Andrew, Brenda and I about 2 hours and once near the camping sites we ran into snow. It was with some relief that we found it to be firm enough to hold us (read me, the Clydesdale of the team).

Water bottles were filled just past the camp ground and we could see the snow slopes right up to the ridge. There were at least one other party ahead of us judging by the tracks in the snow and we followed them over a couple of humps and across a rapidly growing creek. I don't know what I was thinking but I didn't bring a pair of sunglasses. Brenda did have an extra pair, lesson learned - always climb with people better prepared!

Once up a bit, the approach was spectacular as we made our by past Rogers, the Swiss Peaks Traverse and Truda visible in the photo above. We felt pretty lucky that the snow was just right for kicking steps in at 9 am but wondering how it would hold up for the descent in the heat of the day. The easiest and quickest approach took a pretty direct line near the top of the ridge and as we crested it Tupper itself came into view, looking spectacular!

10 am saw out team on the rock ridge, ditching poles and mountaineering axes. My watch measured roughly 2500 metres, up roughly 1200 metres and with 300 metres to the top. Interesting metres mind you.

We off course celebrated by the taking of second breakfast . 

As you can see, the ridge starts off a bit rubly however fairly quickly improves to solid blocks with great exposure. 

As you can imagine there are a few ups and downs along the way and the summit block didn't appear to be getting any closer for a bit.

Shortly before noon, we came over a bit of a rise to find the party ahead of us pitching out an exposed traverse including a bit of an au cheval type move. Given there was a bolted anchor, that Andrew and Brenda remembered pitching this bit out and christ there was a lot of exposure we elected to wait our turn and pitch it out as well.

Andrew offered to take the pointy end, although shortly into it mentioned that it was slightly downward trending so he actually had the safest belay of the bunch. Crafty bastard! At this point we could see that in addition to the party just ahead of us there was another party on the 5.6 pitch partway up the summit block and another party above. You can actually see a climber in brown pants (wonder if they started out that colour!) above and to the left of Andrew in the photo above.

Andrew and Brenda were pretty certain that we could scramble up to the start of the single 5.6 pitch above without the rope and the team just across were kind enough to let us by as they chose to pitch it out. There was enough rubble on the steps we needed to be a little careful not to rain rocks on them and by working our way back and forth soon found ourselves at the bottom of the 5.6 pitch just as the second of the party above us slid off the first holds and of the crack and rejoined us on the ledge.

After roping up, Andrew handed over the alpine rack; all 4 nuts, 2 cams and 5 draws. Good of him to keep it to a minimum, you wouldn't want to haul any extra weight! As expected, it worked out perfectly although I did use a stuck cam the previous party left behind. As we agreed, I was the only one to bring rock shoes for the lead. Andrew and Brenda seconded it in their trusty Trango's in fine form (if you ignore the grunts and knees). Good, old school 5.6 however with 2 shiny bolts up top!

Once above this obstacle, the top looks pretty close however don't be fooled. The first team were descending with sore feet as they left their rock shoes on. It's further than it looks and the photo above is a false summit. Once cleared the true summit block comes into view.

Although it looks a little stiff, as is often the case in Rogers Pass the holds were perfectly spaced and incut enough that we were comfortable soloing it and found ourselves on the summit at 1:30 pm, 7 1/2 hours from the parking lot.

Interestingly I counted 5 other parties on the mountain, everyone doing things their own way. 2 parties used a rope throughout most of the upper mountain and did a fair amount of pitched climbing. We took a middle ground and pitched out two bits, the au cheval traverse and the 5.6 crack, and while we were on the summit a solo soloist arrived.

The weather was holding, although as you can see some cloud cover did develop and the wind made it's presence known from time to time so after a bite to eat, filling in the register and the obligatory summit photo we got out of dodge.

Just down from the summit itself was a bolted rappel anchor that we used to rappel off the summit block and after a short down climb we rapped off the anchor at the top of the 5.6 crack. Below the gear up ledge roughly 7 metres to climbers left was another bolted rap anchor that we used. We down climbed a bit to it but I believe that you would make it there with a 60 metre rope and save some time.

Once at the bottom of that rap it was a pretty quick down climb to the exposed au cheval like feature. We chose to rope up and I led it however not certain I would in retrospect. On the return it is slightly uphill and less awkward.

At this juncture, we stopped and grabbed second lunch. We were lucky in our timing with the others on the mountain and had made good time. From this point in it is mostly scrambling and reversing our up track.

Lower down, we did use one more rap anchor to avoid some tricky down climbing. It was a bit sketchy as there is a single bolt and a red sling around a block. If you use it pay attention as the block did move and spooked the hell out of us.

Other than that it was a pretty uneventful descent. We did watch a helicopter land just our side of the Swiss Peaks and met up with the guided party lower down. We felt a little releaved to hear that it was a medical emergency although I'm not certain why, it sounded like everything worked out. We were lucky that with a bit of cloud cover the snow on descent was perfect for plunge stepping and a bit of glissading.

7:30 pm found us back at the car after a 13 1/2 hour, 1680 metre day. A day well spent and highly recommended!

Monday, 5 September 2016

The East Ridge of Mt Edith Cavell 2016

Fri, Sat Aug 19th-20th, 2016 East Ridge Mt Edith Cavell 3363 metres

Synopsis: 4 stars out of 5. Where it's good it's very good, and it's a long way up to get to the good stuff.

Andrew and I had climbed the East Ridge before, like 14 years before, and Brenda hadn't and wanted to. A great excuse to revisit the climb as we were both keen to see if it lived up to our rather idyllic memory. The one memory that we wanted to avoid repeating was the long slog down the west ridge. We therefore planned on bivying at the base of the East Ridge, committed to coming back the same way we went up.

I met up with Andrew and Brenda in Lake Louise and headed North, complete with 3 mac and cheeses from Laggan's to be reheated for supper before heading up. We were nice and early so it was a pretty relaxed drive and hike up to the biv site below the East Ridge. 

The hike up in the late afternoon sun was fantastic, the area was lousy with marmot's and pica's (shh, don't tell the bears). I missed the last of the trail up to the col and we ended up bashing up the scree to the ridge to the left and higher than the col itself. Kind of funny when you consider it was daylight and it usually gets down in the dark! It ended up taking a little over 2 1/2 hours given our lively detour. We also didn't take the optimal route out of the parking lot, ideally take the paved trail until the Cavell Meadows sign and go left. There is a sign further up showing the way for the climbers, this must be becoming a popular route. The hike up to the biv site did involve a climb of 633 metres and I was happy to deduct that from the summit day. 

Brenda found water 10 minutes down the other side of the col and we made good use of the biv sites complete with stone windbreaks. There were two up higher however no water there so we stayed at the first one. It was a beautiful night, not cold but plenty of stars. Just before the alarm went off at 3:45 am the wind shifted to the south and picked up which woke me up, the forecast was for it to be mostly clear with the wind picking up to 30 km/hr and that was pretty accurate.

One party of two passed by as we were getting geared up, they had no gear or rope and planned to solo and descent via the west ridge. Given we watch their headlamps disappear above and didn't see them again I assume that is exactly what they did. We got on the road at 5 am, after dealing with a pesky pack-rat who actually attempted to drag my biv sac off! I wanted to kill it however the pacifists prevailed. 

Brenda lead the initial push by headlamp, it definitely isn't early July anymore! There is a pretty beat in path up the obviously gully eventually involving scrambling up some fairly solid rocky bits. Cairns festooned the upper part of the trail and I was surprised to pull up on top of the initial pitch to find a couple more biv sites. We made it this far at 7:30 am at roughly 2900 metres and it starting to brighten up about half way up.

There was some discussion about going left to keep from having to climb the next hump, it worked quite well as there was several well worn trails in the scree. Not a huge savings but worth looking for. The ridge then bobbles along for a bit and we had second breakfast while eyeing up the upper ridge. Our plan was to solo up however we had a two 30 metre ropes and alpine rack ready to go should someone call uncle.

There were a couple of steps on the upper section that reflected my memories of originally climbing the route, the first shorter than the second. Fairly steep with some exposure, great quartzite with incut holds. It goes at old school 5.3 so if it felt more difficult we just looked around a bit. 

Once on top of the last serious bit the angle backs off considerably, as does the rock quality, and I was surprised how long this section was up to the summit. We did cross 4 or 5 small snow patches, some were a little icy on the margins however we didn't make use of the crampons we hauled up. Having said that I wouldn't want to be up there without them if they were needed.

Some interesting moves to be made here and there but mostly careful scrambling. The first snowy summit looks to be the highest however we went to the next two and found the summit cairn and register just to be sure. We managed to summit at 10:30 am, a 5 1/2 hour trip up. 

In the end we soloed it all, however I could see someone calling for a rope given the exposure. The summit was windy and cold, we took photos, filled out the summit register (thanks Andrew) and started our way down. Right behind us were two parties of two making good time.

Coming down the east ridge involves a lot of down climbing, even if you use the two rap stations set up. Funny, it took my a bit to get into the rhythm however after about 20 minutes I loosened up and started to have fun. The upper part is pretty straight forward with a little awkwardness (on my part) getting onto the snow sections where we couldn't avoid them. We ran into 2 more parties of 2 making their way up the route. It does take a bit of finesse to work around each other on the upper sections without knocking rock however it was a good day and everyone played nice.

One party passed us on the descent and the second caught up just as we had set up the first rappel on the upper steep section. There was a obvious well used anchor with pins, a quick link and fresh tat. We had 2 30 metre ropes so were able to rig up a full 30 metre rap which worked out well, a 35 metre rappel would have worked out a bit better and there is an intermediate rap station to climbers right if needed. We let the other party rap and descend through although we all had something to eat at the bottom of the rappel, in the sun and out of the wind. 

By the time we got down to the lower rap station the same guys had rigged a rope and gave us a free rappel. They had a 70 metre rope and there wasn't much of it left on the ground, it's not completely necessary but made quick work of some tricky down climbing. 

The three of us made it down to the top of the first long section of climbing above the col right about 2 pm. Obviously there was still a lot of down climbing to do and this was the part we either did in the dark or had very little recollection of. A little futzing found our way down looking for cairns and foot prints skiers left of the big gully. It did try and suck us into the gully every now and then but we avoided it by down climbing on more solid rock. By this point is was starting to feel like a long day and a degree of concentration was still required given the exposure and not fantastic rock quality in spots.

We eventually made it back to the biv site 11 1/2 hours at 4:30 pm. By my watch it was 1150 metres up and down from the biv site to the summit. Fun route, not quite the quality of rock that I had remember but some darn good rock, exposure and fun moves up high. Andrew and Brenda have done a lot of climbing in Rogers Pass and they rated it better than many of the routes there which says something. I would still down climb the East Ridge rather than do the West Ridge slog any day. Interestingly enough, of the 6 parties on the route this day 1/2 chose each way down.

It was great to be back at the biv site with lots of daylight left and no imminent storms moving in. We took our time, packed up, drank tea and soup and eventually departed at 5:30 pm. We stopped for snacks along the way and a bit of a wash up in a creek getting back to the car a little after 7. 

Best of all we made it back to Canmore for pizza and beer. Yeah!