Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The "Wrong" Mountain

"Maybe it is a good thing we didn't make it onto Storm Mountain".

Alik and I agreed we had fortuitous misfortune when I got us lost at the Twin Lakes. Twin Lakes. Imagine, there are two of them.

I had jogged up the trail a few days earlier with Corinna.  Something had seemed a little different than I remembered but memory is not my strong suit. Last year at this time I approached Storm Mountain for an enjoyable alpine outing.  I shrugged off this year's faint impression of non-familiarity. With Alik we repeated the approach and began the traverse around the lake.  It got a little steeper than I remembered.

The next morning, looking closely from above the opening slush pitch I realized that indeed, we had contoured the wrong lake.  Upper Twin Lake leads right and to the north face of Storm Mountain, home to the infamous unrepeated Wallator route we were aiming for. A year earlier we had approached our first ascent Canoeing to Cuba from Upper Twin Lake. We found an easy route with some spectacular settings. It was about 100 meters to the start of the Wallator route; you'd think a year later I would be able to find my way back.

 Contour the wrong lake, the Lower Twin Lake, and you get to the base of an unastounding wall. So unastounding that the Dave Jones Rockies guidebook just calls it Unnamed 3021.

At this point I was profusely apologizing to Alik. I had finally spotted the south ridge of Storm Mountain a kilometer to our right, and realized we were faced at 6 pm with a very unappealing traverse.

"Honestly, I don't understand how we got here.  Last time we just traversed around the right side of the lake and it led right below the face."

"Twin Lakes though hey.  I guess there are two lakes.
Maybe we went around the wrong lake?"

"I've been to Upper Twin Lake and it's not below the north face, but on second thought that might have been Arnica Lake.", pondered Alik. "So many lakes!".

"Well, thanks for not losing it on me for getting us lost"

"Yeah, maybe I should be more goal oriented now that I work half the time", Alik ruminated after his recent adoption of a somewhat normal work schedule, a relatively uncommon thing for him.

"Well, should we just climb this namby pamby gully, or do you want to try to traverse over?"

"There's no way we are going to make it to the base of the wall in two hours."

The lassitude of being lost caught ahold, and we settled under our little tarp as there was snow in the forecast.

Seconds later, we were glad to be under cover. Monday night and winter was flashing its presence.

The next morning we had a leisurely 6 am start, as it was an easy snow gully we were aiming for.  I'd already dismissed a couple of much more intimidating route suggestions as too "namby pamby", a British expression my younger friend was unfamiliar with.

It is never a good idea to form the idea that a route is going to be a push-over.  How I didn't guess the ice strip would be slush I don't know.  Then again, I got the wrong lake so underestimating the difficulties of a pitch is a minor misjudgement in comparison. It was easy enough that I wasn't too worried about Alik coming up on a dubious slush based anchor I described as "probably good enough for top-roping." When three out of five pieces are in slush, the integrity of the two nuts placed in choss is essential.

 "I think it's good as long as you get a solid piece in before whipping."

"Oh, I have no plans on whipping."

Well, no one really ever plans that.  We also don't plan on drytooling around 5 meter steps of showering slush on downsloping feet with questionable cams and a "cammed" angle looking "reasonably solid".

Luckily Alik is an expert on camming angles.  Who else have you ever seen stack a leeper and an angle to make an anchor?

We were being drawn onward by a mysterious force. There was no astounding climbing, just plain snow gully slogging.  

"Take a photo. No, hold on, put your helmet back on, photos with people standing on ski terrain with their helmet in their hand just doesn't look hard core."

Near the top of the gully we spotted the black hole that had been sucking us upward. And, incredibly, an ice pillar.  

On closer inspection the pillar wasn't so climbable. We could have gone around but we figured we might as well climb something vertical.  The rock step was surprisingly fun with good hooks and pro. There's even photo proof that it was steep enough I had to drop knee.

"Time to go spelunking"

"I don't know, looks pretty tricky. Let's traverse and see what happens."

What happened was a trip to the ridge, an epic view of a storm blowing in over Storm Mountain, and an easy descent to the larch filled valley.

Spot the climber.

The story of the traverse back to the bivi spot is not documented due to darkness falling.  There was a debate over the presence of a cliff (Alik was right), its traversability (Alik found the way) and its potential lethality (high in my estimation).

By midnight we were squeezing tighter under the tarp as thich snow crowded us. By morning 4 inches had fallen and winter was on.

We had gone winter climbing, maybe not on the right mountain but in the mountains none the less.


  1. This is hilarious. I watched this particular strip route melt out from across the valley on Castle Mountain on Friday the 16th (it definitely had a bare rock section by 7pm), and thought "Ha, I'm right! It's too early for that bullshit!"

  2. I was looking across at Castle thinking it would have made a better option. Looking at our from the highway now I can't believe we didn't finish it to the top, great looking line!

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