Saturday August 1st, 2015 Mt. Willingdon 3373 metres
Ever since Deanna and I had headed into the Devon Lakes area at the foot of Willingdon in 2012, I had thought of attempting Willingdon in a day, solo. Can't say why, why not? What I had forgotten is what a spectacular area it is. I was attempting to go light and not slow and didn't bring crampons, ice axe or harness. Really the only "technical" gear I brought was a short rope in case I needed a handline down the crux.
I left the car in darkness at 3:45 am and easily found the start of the trail just north of the creek. The moon was bright, so bright it was a bit eerie as it was behind me and it felt like someone was coming up on me with a headlight. Unfortunately, with the position of the moon and the tree cover I still needed a headlamp.
My notes from the last time in were, take the path left just before the third bridge to Quartzite Col. As I approached the third bridge I did think for a minute that things may have changed since the 2013 flood, however it looked good so I jumped in. The "trail" started off well however soon I was bush whacking and gaining more elevation than necessary. Given the hour, and my grogginess, it took longer than it should have for a light to go on. Finally I took a moment, sat on a log and figured out where I was, realizing that I was one drainage to early. Fine way to start off a long day! I found a better way down in the dark (the only thing worse than bush whacking is bush whacking in the dark!). Easily reaquanted myself with the Mosquito Creek trail and wasted 1:15 hr. At least the sky was starting to get lighter!
At 6 am just before the 4th bridge, I took a more obvious left (there was a cairn there I saw on the way down) and headed up the correct drainage. Without the detour it was 1 hour to the turn off. The trail is initially a fairly easy to follow one, and the dew wasn't heavy so I wasn't getting wet. After following the left bank of the creek for an hour, there was an obvious old creek bed heading up the far side. It looked good and ultimately went, with some interesting rock formations at the top.
Basically once in the meadow I headed up and west and in short order Quartzite Col came into view. Recalling my previous notes I came at it low and went almost straight up rather than traversing high. Much easier scrambling on mostly solid quartzite blocks, with the most amazing spider webs everywhere. I even went around a couple of the bigger ones where there was some action going on.
Made the col at 8:40 am, pretty much 5 hours in although it would have been 1:15 less without the recon, and an elevation gain of 750 metres. (tough to say I was doing recon given it was dark!). The great part about making the col is that the route finding challenges are behind you, you can see the route and the peak itself - all pretty straight forward, and spectacular!
The steepest part of the whole day is going up and down the backside of Quartzite Col, and eventually you lose 360 metres of the hard won elevation gained. The start of it is somewhat tricky although thankfully no snow, just went SE on the ridge and followed some scree ledges that traversed right to easier terrain. Once down and clear of the rocky debris it was a case of nice soft footing and working to keep the feet dry.
Making my way towards the opening of the valley, I was surprised to see two people coming towards me. Unusual to see people, but it was the August long weekend. They had climbed Willingdon two days before and reported that it was good and dry. I didn't see any wildlife, however given the humpy terrain I was sure to make lots of noise.
After coming out of the smaller dip that makes way for the Siffleur River, I basically picked up the second obvious horse trail in just under an hour from the col and followed it up and around the left side of the valley heading to Devon Lakes. Fortunately, it looked like the horse trails hadn't been used for their original purpose in awhile. 10:30 am found me at the biv site by the creek draining into Devon Lake and I had something to eat, donned the lid and moved the rope on top in case it was needed. There was a party camped however they were out and about.
This was the first trip with a new toy, the InReach Explorer. Kind of cool although evidently I still have to figure out how to use it for navigation. I sent out an email showing where I was and giving the all good a few times along the way.
The early part of the climb consists of scrambling up and on to an obvious ridge with the BART (big ass rock thing) at the end, pretty straight forward with one steep scree bit getting up to the more solid rock ridge. The rock ridge itself was likely the most fun of the day, going up and over pretty solid rock features, a lot of it quartzite.
Once up to the BART at 1 pm, it really became more of a scree slog although it was rarely too bad. After skirting a few rock features to climbers right the rock step appeared. There was a small first step that I climbed right on the ridge and then there was an obvious 8 mil white coredelette hanging 10 metres to the left. It was only 2 metres of climbing, down sloping and loose as advertised with a bit of exposure. Having said that it was straight forward and went quickly. Once above I checked out the anchor and it was pretty bomber, a pin and 2 nuts with newer webbing.
From the top of the step it is just a few minutes from the top and I made it at 2:15 pm, well early of the turnaround time I had in my head of 3 . I was happy that my recon in the dark didn't keep me from summiting. It was a great day, sunny with a bit of a breeze however no jacket necessary. The team camped below had summited at 10 am however carried on for a traverse of Crown, explaining why I hadn't run into them. It was an interesting feeling having the whole mountain to myself.
After a short stay on top, I reversed direction and made quick work down. As mentioned, I had a short rope for the crux but just (gently!) used the cordelette in place and made it down to the BART in 1/2 an hour, roughly 375 metres of descent. I had a small bit of excitement down climbing some of the blocky quartzite when a microwave sized hand hold broke off. No harm, no foul however it was a good reminder to leave a little extra margin travelling solo.
The remainder of the descent went pretty quickly and at 4 pm, I stopped to soak my feet in the creek draining into Devon Lake, do quick wash up and grab some food. A 20 minute break felt good, the longest of the day. I even had the luxury of a change of socks which felt very good. Funny enough as I climbed out of the drainage I met someone who had just arrived for the night planning on a two day attempt of Willingdon.
The old horse path between Devon Lake and the Siffluer was probably the only part of the day I could zone out, so zone out I did, nothing like a mental holiday. Soon enough came to the valley and the trail heads North, I had a good bead on Quartzite col and made my way back. It is pretty obvious bear country and I made a bit of noise although got a little excited when I saw movement just over a hump. It turned out to be 4 German's on their way to Willingdon, the Siffluer is becoming a crowded place on August long weekends!
Soon I saw at the bottom of the slog up Quartzite col, to the right near the remaining snow was a small cairn and a bit of a trail through the scree that made things easier for a bit. I made the error of carrying on to the high point of the visible scree slope rather than cutting right on the lower angled terrain. Then compounded it by not wanting to loose elevation. The net result was I climbed some of the nastiest, steepest scree I've come across to gain the col a bit to the South. Not recommended, however I was happy to be on top of Quartzite col at 7:30 pm. With the sun getting lower on the horizon the view was incredible!
Having said that I really was interested in finding my way through the route finding before the sun went down so didn't dally. Essentially, I was able to follow my footsteps and made it back to the Mosquito Creek trail at 9:30 pm with what felt like a brisk pace. I managed to make it back to the car without a headlamp (just) at 10:30 pm for an 18 1/2 hour day.
A fantastic day in a beautiful area, it ended up being 43 km and 2630 metres of elevation gain. I can't believe how fast the day went by, a whole lot faster than the recovery!