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!