Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mt. Sloan

Mt. Sloan, NE Ridge
Last weekend Mike and I headed out towards Gold Bridge, BC, about 60km North-West of Pemberton, to try our hand at climbing the NE Ridge of Mt. Sloan. We had spent the week previous doing some research on the route and discovered that Gold River is home to a Grizzly Bear enhancement program. That little fact, couple with the knowledge that Mike and I have never climbed a mountain on our own before led us to spend the next few days trying to pin down a third team member. Unfortunately everyone was busy or uninterested, so we armed ourselves with bear spray, bear bangers and a few items to facilitate a noisy hike thru the woods and we were on our way.

The adventure for this trip starts even before you leave the car. The drive to the trail head for Sloan involves a 50km trip down the Hurley Forest Service Road plus another 5 km up the Ault Creek FSR. The Hurley is a gravel road, and is not half bad, but still slow going. The Ault Creek FSR however is full of waterbars and lined with car-attacking Alders making for a 4x4 adventure to our final campsite at the end of the road.

We spent the evening camped out in the cutblock as close to the NE ridge as we could get, cooked some dinner, listened some tunes and turned in for an early bedtime in the back of the truck after watching the sun set over the surrounding peaks.

The 5am wake-up call came way too soon; the last thing I wanted to do was climb out of warm, cozy sleeping bag and head out into the dark, but if were to have enough daylight to get  off  of the FSRs before dark we had to get moving. So after a quick  breakfast of bagels and tea we were bushwhacking our way up the side-slopes of the NE Ridge.

It took us about an hour or so to gain the 500m of elevation to reach the ridge crest. From here the route continues easily along the ridge, gently climbing through thru a sub-alpine forest. It took us about an hour of ridge walking (easy hiking) to reach the first step of 3rd/4th class rock. From this point on the real climbing began.  Once you reach the first rock step you can see the double towers ahead, your first "goal" along the ridge.  The climb up to the double towers is a mix of 3rd and 4th class scrambling, with maybe one or two moves of 5th class mixed in.  Most of the difficult looking areas have  a by-pass if you look around hard enough.

Once you summit the double towers there's an exciting piece of exposed climbing to get down into the next gully and back onto the ridge.  The difficulties are short lived though, so we scrambled through without much trouble and without pulling out the rope.  Once back on  the ridge there is some more fairly straight forward 3rd and 4th class scrambling to get to the top of a second tower. Most of the climbing here was fun and not too exposed. There were once again a few steps here and there that may have nudged into the low-5th category. There was also an exciting portion where we traversed out onto the north face slightly and had to shimmy between some snow, ice and the rock face to gain a weakness in the rock to advance up the tower. It definitely involved a bit of planning of moves to avoid the ice!

Once we gained the second tower we finally had a view of the summit tower with the Cairn perched on top (Mike, Steve and John: Insert dirty jokes here......).  We also finally got a look at the section of the ridge that the trip reports we had read describe as having "airy exposure" and difficult down climbing. We managed to scramble down below this portion of the ridge and traverse some ledges before regaining the granite slabs on the summit tower. The summit tower had some excellent climbing on it. The rock was solid and featured and was probably the most technical section of the day, but also the most fun. just before we reached the final pitch to the summit we encountered a steep snow slope that had still not melted out.  We were aware from previous trip reports that the snow may still be there, so we were prepared with ice axes.This was the one section of the route that we pulled out the ropes for. We decided that without crampons it would be too easy to slip and go for a ride, so we built a quick anchor and belayed each other across the snow patch. Once across the snow we followed some 4th class blocks and with two 5th class moves at the very end, we topped out.

The views from the summit were spectacular with snow covered peaks all around us. It was nice and warm on the summit so we took a half-hour break, had some lunch and enjoyed the views before heading back down. We followed the 3rd class South Gullies to descend the route; we had heard that they were significantly easier and faster than down-climbing the ridge.  The gully descent was straight forward, an easy hike down some loose rock as expected in a gully. The end of the gully had a small cliff-band that required about 5m of down climbing to reach the easier ground below. Once we exited the gully we hiked on moraines, scree slopes and lake-side trails until we were within 700m of the cut block.  From here we got the joy of bushwhacking for the next hour to reach the cut-block and our car. The hike out was beautiful near Ault lake, but a bit of a hassle past that with the heinous bugs and bushwhacking. Luckily the climb was awesome and made the hike out worth the effort.

Lets keep our fingers crossed for the summer weather to continue so we can get out on some more adventures this year!

Click here for photo album

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kananaskis Climbing Camp

Better late than never I suppose.... Here's a summary of a climbing camp I went on the first week of August.

A few weeks ago Mike and I, along with our buddy Steve, headed out to Kananaskis Country with the ACC Prince George section for a week of hiking, climbing and Scrambling.  We stayed at the Porcupine Group Campground, which was  nicely situated right on a river bank and surrounded by endless objectives a short drive away. We also had the fun of sharing our campsite with a young grizzly who wandered through camp and shared our facilities but apart from making everyone a bit nervous, he was not at all a menace.

We started our trip with a group hike up Opal Ridge to Opal Peak. It was a fairly casual hike with the intention of getting to know each other. The trip up to the ridge was steep in some sections, but was on an obvious trail through alpine meadows and ledge systems and presented little difficulty. Upon gaining the ridge we took a lunch break and split into two groups, one continuing on to the summit and completing a traverse of the ridge exiting via Grizzly Creek and the other heading back the way we came. The walk along the ridge to the summit was beautiful and tons of fun, until we hit the meadows.

The views from the meadows surrounded by peaks, mountain sheep and lakes were amazing, the bushwhacking the ensued was not so pleasant. What we thought would be a pleasant stroll down some ridges, meadows and rolling trails back the car turned out to be an few hours of bushwhacking in and out of a gully to try to pick up the trail we were looking for.  We had a guidebook that clearly showed the descent route, so why couldn't we find it?!? after some struggling through the forest and hiking down some rubbly scree slopes, we finally got back to the car. Later that night we learned the trail we had been looking for had been decommissioned a few years back in favor of the Grizzly Bear habitat in that are. That explains it!!! Luckily the ridge was beautiful, making the journey worthwhile.

The next day Mike, Steve and I headed up the Wasootch River Valley to climb Wasootch tower, a pillar of rock set back at the end of the river valley and visible from the road and nearby Wasootch Slabs cragging area. The route is Grade II, 5.5 alpine rock with lots of loose choss to be aware of.  The hike in starts out pretty laid back, but quickly starts to gain elevation once you turn off into a second drainage.  part way up that drainage we scrambled up an embankment and started hiking/bushwacking up the lower, forested portion of the ridge. We quickly ate away at the elevation and broke out of the trees onto some slabby ledges where we scrambled up to the first vertical bit of climbing. Unfortunate, we had headed too far to the left and were at the wrong ridge as the topo clearly stated! So we backed down a bit, traversed an easy ledge system and once again scrambled to another vertical section.  This time we found a bolt and a piton that signified the start of our route.

The route than continued with a spicy little traverse and roof right of the get go followed bu a series of slabs, ramps, blocks and gullies and a lot of 3rd and 4th class scrambling sections.  Mike led the whole route and we pitched out the entire thing, but it would be possible to scramble without a rope in some areas depending on your comfort level. After the last pitch we scrambled across an exposed ridge that led us to a big meadow and a summit plateau and Cairne. We filled out the registry and had a well-deserved lunch break on the comfy summit, surround by peaks and great views of Barrier lake below. After lunch we did 2 rappels to reach a col and headed down an easy hiking trail back to the car.

On our 3rd day at camp we decided on a rest day, so we slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. After breakfast we climbed a few routes at Wasootch slabs before heading into Canmore for a swim and dinner at the pub. That evening we hung out at camp and put a group together to tackle our next days objective, Mt Indefitigable.

Mt Indefatigable  sits on the shores of Kananaskis lakes and has a beautifully striking line up the right side of it that just beacons to be climbed.  ever since I saw a photo of it in our guide book a couple years ago I have wanted to climb it. The route we did is called "Joy" and is 12 pitches long ranging from 5.4 to 5.8 along its length. It is a slab climb along side a long, sweeping corner which eats gear.

The slab is extremely featured, sometimes with crack systems, allowing for mostly fun and easy climbing. Mike, Steve and I along with Anita spent a magnificent 12 hour day working our way up the route in two parties of 2. We topped out at about 3pm pm and after a short scramble across a nicely exposed ridge and a few ledges we hiked down through endless alpine meadows back to the parking lot. It was an extraordinary day of beautiful views, good climbing and great camaraderie.

The following day, Wednesday, I decided that after a 12 hour adventure on Joy that I deserved a relaxed day out exploring.  The boys wanted to climb so they headed off up Mt Baldy with a small group and I took the car and went exploring.  I had a great day on my own! I treated myself to a fancy brunch at the Delta Hotel in Kananaskis village and then spent the remainder of my day hiking and taking photographs of the surrounding area.  I got some great close-ups of a deer that walked right up to me as well as spending some time watching the water bombers working away at controlling their prescribed burns in the area.

On our final day of camp we decided to keep things simple and headed back to Wasootch Slabs for a day of cragging.  We all had a great day of climbing and leading numerous routes in the area along with enjoying the sun and each others company. We ended the day with some excitment however. Mike, not wanting to be forgotten, decided to take the biggest whipper that any of us had ever seen.  He was at the very top of a 5.7 sport route and traversing on easy ground, about 20ft above his last bolt, when the hold he grabbed broke. It sent him for a 50ft fall once you factored in rope stretch and, me, his belayer, being lifted a good 6-8 ft off the ground. The rope caught him about 10ft from the deck.  It was a scary moment, but luckily, apart from a bruised ego and some scratches, everyone was ok. And with that, we decided our trip was done. We said our goodbyes and began our journey home.

It was a great trip. The ACC Prince George Section was a blast to hang out with. I would highly recommend the ACC summer camps to anyone who is looking to get outdoors and try their hand at some adventures.

Click Here for Full Photo Album