Sunday 1 September 2019

Peuterey Integrale of Choss

Some would say that on the really testy outings taking good photos, or even taking a camera at all, is going to hold you back from the climbing.  That's not the reason that I didn't take a camera on our recent 5 day outing on what I preconceived to be the Peuterey Integrale of the Canadian Rockies.  It's more a combination of my respect for the Twins Tower, and the price of a new unit to replace mine which spent three months under the snow a few years ago.

So this post is short on good photos.

And it's short on a good story, which might come later.  After 5 days on the go, then two days of guiding in Jasper, I don't have the mental energy to tell the story at the moment, so if anyone is interested in the details just get in touch.

Alik Berg is the best unheralded alpinist in Canada, but is suffering from sore elbows, and texted me looking to get out on something "easy". He was quite distraught when on our first day on the complete north ridge of the North Twin I talked him into walking around the first steep towers on the ridge.  I had to guide Edith Cavell in 5 days time and I figured we would waste time climbing towers that obviously led only to rappels back onto the ridge. And I had told Alik not to bring the rock shoes (light is right, right?).  I am old and don't like climbing hard, and wanted to get on to the bigger towers down the way.  So, for the purists in the crowd the complete ascent of the complete north ridge of North Twin awaits, as marked in red on the photo.

A day of quite arduous approaching led us to the base of the ridge with the impression of a wispy, airy traverse to come.  All side-hilling on the same side of the foot.

Alik was desperately looking everywhere for a solution to the rock quality at the first bivi.  This was to become a theme of the five days.

We skipped the first steep towers by traversing to the west on easy scree walking slopes.  I don't care about climbing for climbing's sake, and would rather just get the process underway efficiently, which I was attempting to do while scraping my blue foamy against the first actual climbing on the 4 kilometer ridge.

These two, two-pitch towers remained unclimbed, so Alik is going to go back with a stronger partner.

By the end of the second day we were hiding from the wind and the rainy looking clouds, ready to go and look for any trace left by Waterman on his first ascent of the Son of Twin.

If the Son of Twin were anywhere other than in the Canadian Rockies and next to its much more famous neighbor it would be a major objective in its own right. The face that is, the ridge is a very moderate undertaking. We didn't find any evidence of the first ascent.  Alik likes to take the direct line. I figure Waterman might have taken the easier gully just on the west side of the ridge, which looks like an excellent winter outing with a two day approach.

At the top Alik generously demonstrated his complete insensitivity to exposure by walking out onto a stool-sized pedestal in order to get a better view of perhaps the biggest unclimbed rock face in the range.

And then he continued the impressive demonstration of fearlessness by leading the raps into the abyss of the Son of Twin-Twins Tower col.

At this point I was honestly attempting to think of a passable reason to give for bailing. I just wasn't that eager to take my second trip up the Abrons Route.

80$ "smartphone" shot of the sunset.

It truly is not that friendly a place to hang out, though now there is a nice bivi wall for the next party at the col.  It is, after all, the Standhart col of the Rockies, as Alik pointed out when we were camped next to the Cerro Torre of our range.

The Abrons  more or less goes wherever you take it, and Alik being adventurous we figured we would check out some new ground. By a hundred meters from the shoulder we were wishing we had taken the same line Brandon and i did a decade ago.  With melting snow we couldn't climb the thin ice lines we had seen a few days earlier, and we couldn't slab climb, so we were forced onto whatever featured rock rib we could find.

No trees in this shot to show how obviously it is tilted to make me look more rad.

It always works out cause it is practically scrambling, as long as you don't slip, cause there is really no good pro.

By 2 pm on Thursday I was figuring we would have a short walk out on Friday, perfect for my day of guiding Cavell on Saturday.  We were at the familiar shoulder where Brandon and I had begun our easy traverse above the infamous north face. So I told Alik, "just head straight across on the obvious ledge system", but when I swung around the arete and onto the north side I was terrified to be greated by a large snow covered face. Hidden under the wet summer's snow coating was grey ice for our two ice screws, while most of the rock protection was obscured.

On my last trip, to Waddington, I noted that unprotected snow climbing is my least favourite kind.  Simul-climbing snow covered grey ice with two pieces per 60 meter rope-length is in the running too.

But we did summit Twins Tower just as it got dark, walked to the east side of Stuttfield by 2 am, and hit the mud flats of the Stuttfield cirque by 3 pm the next day, and then the weather on Saturday was too topsy-turvy to climb Cavell, so I went and climbed Roche de Perdrix and at Hidden Valley with Keith from Reno in what was best described as a cold sauna.

Now a few days later I am planning my retirement to sport-climbing in Penticton. And Alik is still the most bad-ass alpinist in the range, even with wonky elbows. 

Friday 9 August 2019

Waddington West Ridge and Traverse

To start at the end, with dramatic license.

“Glenn Woodsworth wants to meet you”.

“Oh, delighted. I would be delighted”.

“His accomplishments make what we've done look like child's play.”

So when we landed I left Simon to chat with this icon of old school Coast Range climbing. The disheveled PhD chic dirty-white-cotton clad bonhomme at the landing pad, a legend? Only judging from the tone of respect in Simon's voice, cause Simon is nothing if not a Coast Range legend.

How had I never heard of Glenn? How was my history knowledge so incomplete? Our traverse of the complete north-south Waddington ridgeline child's play? What had he done that measured so large in comparison? Refreshed from a wash, and letting my elders and betters chat about their shared passion and experiences, I surreptitiously fired up my moreish pocket computer and consulted the search engine behemoth, for I just barely fit into that generation that believes if it isn't on the internet it hasn't happened, unlike history, which has, happened.

Oh, U-Wall. And Pipeline. His identity popped out at me from the www.

Simon had mentioned a note on an airdrop he had come across in his wide wanderings. “If we aren't back in two weeks we have headed north from this point”; to paraphrase. It was the closest thing to communication and rescue that Dick Culbert and Glenn had on one of their trips. “1964 saw Dick Culbert and Glenn Woodsworth dedicate five weeks to the Range that summer, knocking off a dozen first ascents (including Serra Five), and barely setting foot where anyone had been before.” (The Waddington Guide, Don Serl, p. 59.

Five days or five weeks. Times have changed. I couldn't even be bothered to ask the man himself or join the conversation, relying on digital media to form my impressions.  I rushed over just in time to meet the man.

“You live in Golden? Then you know Bruce Fairley?”

“Barely. I'm not in town much.”

“Come on Glenn, we've gotta go.”

So it was I barely met a living legend. Chances delayed are chances missed.

But I did spend five days with another legend of the Coast Range.

Simon says he doesn't like to fail. Which is fine because he doesn't, at least not in the 8 trips he has done in the Coast Range, during which he has climbed a major new route on every trip. We "cheat" though, cause we fly in to the start of our routes (Culbert and Woodsworth flew in in 1964 too...), and tap the InReach when we want a pickup at the end of our five day journey.  And we cheat with a little insurance, cached bags of food and fuel at the start (Fury Gap) and the end (Rainy Knob) of the trip.  Still, Simon thought we didn't have much stuff for a Waddington traverse. 

Simon's plan (he is the man with the plan) was to traverse Waddington via some new ground, from north to south. Another brilliant plan hatched like our last new route from a John Scurlock photo.

Simon has an eye for a line.

Red- Dias Glacier/ Angel Glacier route

We thought about bringing snowshoes, but on touching down on Rainy Knob to drop our end cache there was no blowing snow. We figured the week long storm we had delayed our trip for hadn't materialized in the mountains.  Or maybe it had just been blown by the "river aloft" onto the north-east slopes.

Ohhh, this isn't going to take four hours.  Not going to repeat Colin's effort...

We weren't going to beat Colin's time, we weren't going to walk about for a month, but it did seem we had our work cut out for us.

By 3 pm Simon suggested we stop for the day.  "I am not in the habit of stopping at 3 pm when there is good weather in the mountains." "We aren't going to climb the ramp tomorrow, so why not let it clean off another day, and this is a perfect campspot."  The voice of experience.

But the Wadd still seemed a long way off.

The spot was wonderfully flat, a perfect spot to camp. Important, as Simon doesn't believe in bringing unnecessary weight.  The rad Rab two person tent is evidence, and if not pitched perfectly flat can seem a little "close".

On the second day we did much the same as on the first, climbing over peaks named artfully by the Mundays; Fireworks, Herald, Men-At-Arms, Bodyguard, Councillor. I was just silently glad we hadn't undertaken Simon's grand plan of the much longer link-up with the distant Mount Bell, above the appropriately named Remote Glacier.

Bell is in the central distant background in the photo above.  When I mentioned to my well informed buddy Paul McSorley that we were flying in to the Remote Glacier he thought I was obscuring our goal.  In fact, the usually uber-casual Paul had a tinge of worry in his voice when I mentioned that I was going to Wadd at all with Simon, for it is like bringing in the pinch hitter when you are playing away.  The Bell/ Remote Glacier/Wadd linkup was thwarted by an unusually rainy June and July, but that is the type of line Simon sees in his mind.

By the second day we were camped at 2 o'clock, ready for an alpine start for the upper section of our ridge.  Positioned across from the Skywalk buttress on Mount Combatant, I was beginning to feel like we were getting level with the big walls across the way.

I proposed afterward that we call the ridge "Tower Ridge" after the classic line on the Ben (Simon being the guidebook author). See why?

The next morning we were greeted by one of the magical moments that make such outings so memorable.

The tower ridge above, "the spine-like upper continuation of the ridge" (Serl, p.239), was going to provide us with a break from breaking trail. It's always fun going where nobody has been before. The climbing up the snow ramp on the south side of the ridge made a welcome break from the glacier walking.

There was no denying that three days of gaining elevation was starting to have an effect.

Before things heated up in the incredible continued high pressure, Simon was cresting the ridge as I passed onto the seemingly untrodden Epaulette Glacier.

Unprotected snow climbing is my least favourite kind. As we traversed through the top-out of Eamonn Walsh's Uber-Groove, we encountered just that.  Surfing the very top of the snow ridge for a rope length, Simon belayed off a snow bollard using a somewhat old-school belay technique, telling me, "If you fall, fall to the left". As I was pirouetting on the cornice in an effort to au-cheval, I had to somewhat briskly ask which left.  With no snow stakes present, we opted for a very powdery traverse of a 50 degree face.  "It reminds me of the Cowboy Traverse on the Cassin.  We just agreed that we would go as far as seemed reasonable before an avalanche would really cause you problems." With 4 screws total the math wasn't in our favor.

Simon isn't nearly as off-put by risk as I am after two years of guides' training.  I was drilling v-threads on the traverse to keep the distances reasonable.  Simon, when he took over, clearly embraced the age-old British strategy (as I believe Leo Houlding once put it) of running it out.

Then something I have never experienced alpine climbing happened. I have never down-dynoed alpine climbing before.  When I seconded the traverse, Simon called up, "You have to jump into the bergshrund." And so that was how we joined the upper Angel Glacier. I hear that dynoing is all the rage in comp climbing, so logically it is the future as climbing moves into the Olympics.  So, is down dynoing maybe the future of alpinism and Simon is just way ahead of the curve?

"Now you jump into the bergshrund"

The rest of the tale is more conventional.  We summitted the North-West summit and the false summit, we camped out on another amazing flat spot at 3800m as our friends Paul and Tony hooted at us from the col, and the next day we climbed the highly enjoyable summit tower on Scottish style ice and solid cracks.

Little tent below.

I generally try not to look down on people, especially my friends, but I have to say it was a trip looking down on the inlets, the interior plateau, and our friends who were crack climbing across the way on Combatant that day, in one of the great alpine granite meccas of the world.

I couldn't possibly think of looking down on Tony though, cause at that moment I could look out and see the far off valley to the east that is home to Mike King and Whitesaddle Air, who had flown us in.  It is also home to the Fosters ranch, from which Tony and Jason set out under their own steam to walk in, cross Fury Gap, make a strong attempt on a new route on Waddington, and then traverse far down the glaciers to the inlets I could see stretching off to the west, and the Pacific. Not to mention Paul's new route on the south side of Waddington. Respect to the pioneers come and gone, and to the youth who have the energy and the time and vision to undertake these great adventures.

And respect to Simon Richardson, the man with the plan and the Scottish climbing technique to boot. The Scottish belay technique I'm still not convinced about, but neither is he convinced about my claim that if we had tripped on the way down the upper Bravo Glacier we would have been visiting our friends sooner that expected.

Thus it is with adventure.  Our friends become our friends by spending time together and trusting each other, and respecting our differences but sharing common goals.  The genuine experience of common thrill-seeking courses through us. Something we recognize in each other, and keeps us striving on.

So, if you are interested in our adventure or conditions or going in there, why not get in touch.  Or better yet, get in touch with Simon, cause he is the man with the plan.  And we could chat, like I should have with Glenn, and we might become friends.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Mount Phillips North Spur with Simon Richardson

John Scurlock photo

We sat at Dana Ruddy's dinner table, noting how rare it was to have three people together who had climbed the Emperor Ridge on separate occasions. For I had been telling Simon's story inaccurately when I introduced him, saying that he hadn't summitted Robson due to a storm on a prior visit to the Rockies.  Of course he had, as befits a Scot with a thousand first ascents to his name.

Could we have made it to the beautiful flowered bench above the Berg Lake trail without Dana's local beta? His great grandfather, Jack Hargreaves, did the second ascent of Robson. To say that Dana is THE dark horse of Canadian Rockies climbing of the last decades is to wildly understate his knowledge of the range.  If Jesse Milner, nicest Robson Valley local and former park warden, hadn't passed on his tips for the day long approach walk would we have felt so fresh as we traipsed through the wildflowers a mere four hours from the parking lot?  Apart from that, learning the lore of the area and appreciating the sharing spirit of the Jasper locals is half the fun.

The other key to the adventure was obviously Simon, past president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, whose track record of long, adventurous outings in the mountains is incredibly impressive.  How do you find a huge unclimbed line on Mont Blanc in 2018? 

How do you find a new line like this on Mont Blanc in 2018??
 How many times can you have "good luck with the weather" in the coast rabge of BC before you have to admit that something else is going on?  When Simon showed up at Calgary airport with a photo from John Scurlock I didn't have a clue where Mount Phillips was (it is the mountain just north of Whitehorn).  But Dana and Jesse certainly did, and they said they had both longingly looked at the north face.  Which was just fine with Simon because as he put it, "I have always wanted to climb a North face in the Rockies, and to do a first ascent in the Rockies." So off we set with four days of food during the first good weather window of the summer of 2019.

Over the shoulder, a trade route, in certain circles.

We whistled at imaginary grizzlies as we approached the Phillips glacier, and camped just to the west of the Hargreaves Glacier at 2400 m.  Waking at a very Richardsonesque 12:30 (I negotiated the extra half hour) we took two and a half hours to approach the north spur, which unfortunately was quickly revealed to face the rising sun.  

Simulclimbing the lower easy ground was key to get up high before the snow turned completely isothermic.  Our weather window was about to mark the end of the spring cycle, and I was certainly glad to regain the spur at half height, even if it did take me the better part of an hour to create an anchor.

Smiles in the sun now that we are back on the spur and off the snow slopes.

Classic north face climbing in the sun.

Slithery slush avalanches would entrain more snow on the face whenever a rock was dropped, and large wet snow avalanches would appear on the glacial bench below.  Gullies that promised easy climbing would be perfect in colder spring temperatures, but with bare hands on rock once back on the spur I couldn't complain.

Simon is wise enough in the mountains to tilt things in his favour.  "How often am I going to be back here really, so why rush?"  So we had light bivi gear and could have made this gravelly shoulder a hundred meters below the summit our camp spot if we had run into slower climbing.

All smiles on the sunny shoulder.

All that was left was a cat-walk ridge to the top, with stupendous views over the wonderful wilderness to the north. Now that I have seen the views I am curious to look at a map to determine what we were faced with. Suffice it to say that the Swift Current glacier and beyond are impressively wild terrain.

By strange coincidence (?). the first ascent of Phillips was made by Norman Collie, one of the great pioneering climbers of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, so now Phillips has two FAs by stalwarts of the SMC.

Really wild mountains here.

Peak wildflower season on the way in, and peak wildflower season on the way out.

Sometimes it is worth going for a walk to see what is around the next corner.  After roughly 10 trips up the Berg Lake trail I finally ventured off the beaten track, and found some pretty amazing vistas.

Thanks to Dana for the history lesson and context, to Jesse for his unselfishness in sharing his beta, and to Simon for the idea, the psych, and the much needed organizational skills.