Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Plutonian Shores - 5.9, 185m (7 pitches)

Raven Crag on Sulfur Mountain viewed from Banff.
Plutonian Shores is in the centre of the photo and is the full height of the cliff

Happy to get to this route, has been on my and LK's radar for a couple of seasons.  Great easy day out, short approach, excellent rock quality, well bolt protected and a fun grade. Plutonian Shores is located at Raven Crag, significant place. Raven Crag is home to Canada's current hardest sport route, "Fight Club", 5.15b !

Topo and approach beta here. 
The routes is about 185 metres tall with 6 pitches of climbing, pitch 3 is just a short fourth class traverse of about 15 metres.  The grading is a bit harder than it felt, but not really sandbagged. The first two pitches felt above grade stated, but the crux pitches were properly graded, maybe a tad harder than the grade indicated? LK led pitches 1, 3, 5 and 7, leaving the interest crux pitch (pitch 6) for my enjoyment. This pitch is solid 5.9 (maybe harder, or I am a wimp), but the two cruxes are well protected. I had a tough time finding good hands on the cruxes, but once I got them, the moves were super fun! Overall the rock quality is excellent, only a few pebbles on some of the ledges. The day we did the route it was super cold and windy, maybe with an average temperate of +8?  Wind chill was nasty and it was hard to stay warm at the stations. Easy walk off the top. Highly recommend this route. 

LK leading up pitch 1 (5.5)
OSWB topping out on pitch 1, photo by LK

OSWB leading pitch 2 (5.7), photo by LK.

Traverse to station at base of pitch 4. 

LK leading the lower section of pitch 5, "A Murder of Crows".
Long (50m) and solid 5.8 for much of the pitch. 

LK leading up the last pitch (pitch 7), solid 5.7 moves.
Unstable and cold weather for our climb

Sunshine Rock - “Road Trip” 5.6, “Steeplechase” 5.7, “Watering Hole” 5.8

The route "Road Trip".  Not really 5.6

Used “Meet up” to meet up with Jessica. Jessica’s has tons of alpine and sport experience, but based on limited time and iffy weather (very cold and almost rain), we went to Sunshine Rock.  Cool crag with lots of variety.  Good choice.  I lead all three routes and Jess top roped them.  Did a 5.6, 5.7 and a 5.8. The hardest route by far was the 5.6 route.  Road Trip is quite polished, has overhanging sections, spacey bolts and very awkward moves, likely a modern 5.8 IMHO. Lower section of Steeplechase was super fun, great holds and well protected, likely really a 5.5. Watering Hole is 5.8, fun route, moves took some thinking, best lead on this visit. Cool to try this crag, despite being busy, worth it. 

Base of main climbing area

Twilight Zone - 5.6, 140m (4 pitches)

Used “Meet up” to meet up with Mike.  Great guy, super solid sport climber, new to Alberta and new to trad climbing.  He was on Twilight Zone earlier in the year and didn’t top out, so he was keen for a trad route and another crack at this Bow Valley classic.  I climbed Twilight Zone several times back in the mid 1990’s before it had any bolts, and once since the bolts went in for stations and at the crux’s; maybe in 2007 or 08 with TJ. Classic route and the crux moves are not really 5.6. Cruised up the route to the crux, I lead it first, then lowered and Mike lead it as well.  Then we rapped the route down.  Great gear before the crux, super fun route, great day out.

Looking up to crux section, Mike's lead

Another look at the crux section just before the rap down

Mike on rappel

Mt. Waddington - The Bravo Glacier Route, Alpine V (TD-), 50° ice/snow, 5.7+, 2100m gain (Attempt)

Incredible trip, incredible mountain and incredible partner.  Mount Waddington is truly a climber’s mountain. Generally only alpinists, and only a small portion of us, have even heard of this grand peak.  The highest point of the spectacular Coast Range, and the highest summit wholly with the Province of British Columbia. Heavily glaciated, remote, rugged and with an impressive elevation of 4019 metres (13,186 feet), Mt. Waddington is truly a world class peak. 

Photo by the incredible Steph Abegg.
This photo shows the top half of the route we attempted. 
Waddington was on my wish list way back in the 1990’s, but by 2000 I sort of forgot about it.  Busy career, busy being a dad and lack of time to even climb in my beloved Rockies, this elusive peak was out of my mind entirely.  Enter the superlative Scott Berry.  Since September 2016, Scott and I have done two great trips close to Calgary in the Opal Range, a first ascent of a summit (“South Schlee” – GR388157) and a new route on Mt. Elpoca (North Coulor/North Ridge, 5.8, Alpine IV). Scott is the kind of guy you have always have a blast with, be it in a bar (we both appreciate liquor), on a beach or a scary belay ledge. 

Scott high on Waddington
Waddington has been on Scott’s active wish list for decades and he was keen to attempt it in 2018.  I agreed to join him on this climb back in the Fall of 2017 and we both eagerly awaited the trip. Scott is also scholar of special summits from around the world (he has climbed extensively in South America and Europe, and close to his home in the Sierra Nevada of California) and he had essentially memorized the route and general beta for Waddington.  Using the classic “The Waddington Guide” by Don Serl and Scott’s keen mind, I spent much of 2018 in eager anticipation of this trip.

The Don Serl guide book is excellent and I will quote it is this trip report.  Don writes, “Climbing times return from Rainy Knob vary from under 24 hours to more than a week. Three or four days is typical, but bad weather often intervenes, and should be planned for.” Scott’s plan was to summit on our third day, return to Rainy Knob or the Tiedemann Glacier for helicopter retrieval at the end of our fourth day. Speaking with the helicopter pilots at White Saddle Air when we arrived, they indicated that the majority of parties average 7 or 8 days return from the Rainy Knob camp with good climbing conditions. Hmm.  In the end, because of the difficult conditions we encountered, our summit attempt happened on day five of our trip. If anyone ever asks me, I would suggest at least seven days return from Rainy Knob for fit and experienced groups, more if you have the challenging conditions we experienced. 

August 1 - Flight onto Rainy Knob

July 31 I was up about 5am, on my flight to Vancouver at 7am.  Arrived in YVR just after 7am, Scott arrived about two hours later, once we got the rental, we headed to MEC in Langley to get some last minute items, like stove fuel, had a burger and finally hit the highway about 1pm. I have read estimates about the drive to White Saddle Air Services near Bluff Lake from Vancouver takes about 8 to 11 hours (800 kilometres).  For us, it was 10 hours, but that included a crazy logging road detour since highway 97 just north of Cache Creek was shut down due to a mud slide, a high energy local lead us through the maze of logging roads, otherwise we would have been stuck for 8+ hours waiting for the main highway to be cleared.  We arrived just before midnight after we arrange B and B accommodations near the air field through White Saddle; highly recommended since there are no campgrounds or motels at Bluff Lake. We were set to fly at 7am, so we got about 4 hours of sleep since we needed time to repack our gear for the flight in. 

Best approach to Mt. Waddington... a cozy copter ride.
August 1 was a mix of sun and clouds, but the pilot was keen to get moving since they were super busy supporting the local forest fire suppression efforts. After a quick debrief, we were in the air right at 7am.  Beautiful flight into the Coast Range, massive and tall spires and awesome glaciers everywhere. 

I got the front set for the flight in, yeah!
Photo by Scott Berry
View on the flight in
Photo by Scott Berry

Mt. Waddington from the flight in. You can see the whole route in this photo
Photo by Scott Berry
My view from the copter

Originally, we thought we would be dropped off on the lower Tiedemann Glacier, but the pilot was able to drop us on top of Rainy Knob, saving us considerable effort.  The copter flew away and we were left alone in this glorious wilderness.  It was only about 8am, but dark and frightening looking clouds were building, and rain appeared to imminent. Scott’s timeline had us camping on Rainy Knob for the first night, originally thinking we would have to climb the snow slope up from the Tiedemann Glacier. Since we were both tired from the long drive and lack of sleep and the weather looked iffy, we decided to pitch a camp and get some sleep. Well the weather was unstable and by noon it got hot and sunny (not great conditions for snow/ice/glacier climbing anyway), but by late afternoon, rain threatened again. After a big and tasty dinner of fresh veggies and black bean burritos, we climbed about 250 metre up the glacier to do some route finding to prepare for the big push the next day. 

View from Rainy Knob down the Tiedemann Glacier
Photo by Scott Berry

Unpacking after drop off
Photo by Scott Berry
OSWB is in the house
Photo by Scott Berry

View up hill from the knob.  Bravo Peak is the point peak on the right,
the summit of Spearman Peak is visible on skyline, just left of centre.

Unstable weather our first day, camp on top of Rainy Knob

OSWB cooking up some black bean and fresh veggie burritos at the Rainy Knob camp
Photo by Scott Berry
Steaming up some fresh peppers and green onions, yummy.

Dinner time

Chilling at camp
Photo by Scott Berry
More chilling, I am a chill guy :-)
Photo by Scott Berry
View to the Tiedemann Glacier

After dinner recon climb, returning to Rainy Knob
Photo by Scott Berry

August 2 - Bravo Glacier, camp in the Cauldron

“From Rainy Knob, the route ascends the Bravo Glacier icefall… crevasse problems often lead to very circuitous travel, and snow conditions may deteriorate remarkably as the heat of the day comes on, further contributing to slow progress… reach the upper basin (the Cauldron) of the icefall (2700m] just beneath the Headwall… traverse left in the Cauldron to cross the schrund (2800m), often with great difficulty, and climb 100m or so of 50° snow on the Headwall… camping in the icefall below the Cauldron resulted in the deaths of four very experienced climbers in 1960 when a serac collapsed, and is to be avoided: leave Rainy Knob early.”  The Waddington Guide. Don Serl

Well we left Rainy Knob early, just before the sun was up, we made fast and steady progress on almost frozen snow with basically no boot penetration, even with the heavy packs (about 70 pounds each).  We swapped leads up the broken glacier with a mix of steep ice/snow climbing and short sessions of flat terrain.  Scott found us a couple of great snow bridges and we were able to stay mostly right up the icefall and made great time to the Cauldron, a glaciated cirque below the steep headwall that leads to Bravo Col.

OSWB leading the first steepest part of the lower
section of the Bravo Glacier
Photo by Scott Berry

Making progress up the Bravo Glacier
Photo by Scott Berry
Bravo Glacier
Photo by Scott Berry
Lots of big holes and iffy bridges climbing up the
Bravo Glacier
Photo by Scott Berry
Scott route finding up the Bravo Glacier
Making great progress up the glacier
The bergshrund breaking the steep headwall was massive, with a tall (30m) near vertical ice wall above. We tried three different sections to try and gain the top of the ice wall, but the most difficult climbing was exiting the near vertical ice to the snow covered lower angled section on the top of shrund.  By time we were attempting this exit crux move, the upper snow pack had become super soft and provided no purchase for axe picks or crampons, just bottomless sugar snow. By mid afternoon we gave up since snow above shrund was just too sketchy. Despite the guidebook warning we decided to camp in the Cauldron so that the snow could freeze, or near freeze, overnight. 

Sorting gear for our first foray towards the massive shrund

August 3 - Above Bravo Col, camp near Spearman Saddle

OSWB working through crevasses on the way the difficult upper Bravo Glacier bergschrund
Photo by Scott Berry 

Up before 3am, after surviving the night without any serac fall, I managed to lead the upper ice wall and get up the still sugar snow slope.  After I setup a midpoint snow anchor, I bought up Scott, where he was able to get in a rock station left and above me.  Big problem was I led the crux without the 70 pound pack.  Now I had to pull up the pack, holy shit, what a gong show, eventually after a ton of effort and time, I got my pack above the shrund.  

OSWB cruxing on the upper Bravo Glacier bergschrund
Photo by Scott Berry

Finally, after a couple of steep and loose fourth class pitches of rock, we gained the top of the headwall.  As we ascended the steep glacier towards Bravo Col, the clouds dropped, it began to snow and visibility was limited and occasionally zero.  Despite the dropping temperate, the snow was getting softer and we had a very slow pace as trail breaking was knee to thigh deep snow. A few dangerous and interesting crevasse crossing got us up to Bravo Col in near whiteout conditions. 

Scott having fun in the snow above the shrund

Yeah, got my pack above the shrund
Lets get moving
Photo by Scott Berry
OSWB leading steep fourth class rock above the shrund
Photo by Scott Berry

Steep snow plod to the Bravo Col
Photo by Scott Berry

OSWB breaking trail towards Bravo Col
Photo by Scott Berry

Scott’s original plan had August 3 was our summit attempt, but with the slow pace in the soft snow, we were way off this time line.  Above Bravo Col, the pace continued to be very slow due to deep post holing, a few more scary snow bridges and on and off whiteout conditions.  As we continued towards Spearman Saddle, we decided to pitch camp below the saddle proper since the winds were whipping, we dug into a side slope to make a nice flat tent pad. Full on conditions with high winds and snow, we were tired and not feeling the love at this point.  Since the weather was so bleak, and the visibility so bad, we slept in the next day. The update plan was to set a high camp the next day and attempt the final summit tower on August 5. 

View back to Bravo Peak once above the col.

Scott digging for a ten pad near Spearman Saddle
August 4 - Camp below Tooth/Summit tower

Slept in to about 8am, a solid 11 to 12 hours of sleep since we were both asleep about 8pm.  Well we paid for the extra sleep with extra tough conditions.  Despite being at about 3150 metres, the cloud cover and fresh snow made the snow plod another post holing grind to the saddle. As well, above Spearman Saddle, there were many scary crevasse crossings.

View from camp towards the summit tower
Making our way up to the saddle, Scott enjoying the views
View back towards camp as we climbed to Spearman Saddle
Photo by Scott Berry
View to Bravo Col from Spearman Saddle
Photo by Scott Berry
Spearman Peak
Beautiful mountain and awesome summit snow ridge,
a totally worthy objective of its own
Another view to Spearman
"Are we there yet?" OSWB feeling the heat as we climb above
Spearman Saddle
Photo by Scott Berry
As you travel above the saddle, the route steepens, with several steep snow/ice sections below the ridgeline, eventually you need to traverse right (north) as the rock ridge becomes vertical.  There was nasty section where exposed glacier ice runs up a series of rock gullies, below the ice/rock gully section, we encountered a long, hard glacier ice traverse that was actively receiving rockfall from the melting ice (of course the sun came out in full force as we were about to traverse this section).  Also, to add to interest, this nasty, dangerous traverse was above a massive, bottomless crevasse.  With the active rockfall, we didn’t want to place ice screws since we had to move fast, man, it was a scary traverse, eventually the traverse ended on snow, away from the rock wall, in between two massive, bottomless crevasses.  From here is was a long, steep, snow/ice face climb, above a massive, bottomless crevasse.  Much of this steep slope had recently avalanched, so we were mostly climbing on glacier ice. Long plod towards a ridge line that would eventually lead to easier terrain at about 3650m.  

View back to Bravo Col above the Spearman Saddle

We arrive at our intended bivy site, about 3650m
Photo by Scott Berry
Just before this ridge line, two or three thin, scary snow bridges, then the ridge was hard glacier ice, and very exposed down either side.  Was very happy to get off this exposed ice ridge and onto flat terrain near 3650m.  We decided to pitch camp here, in between a few massive crevasses.  Fun, exciting and challenging day of complex glacier climbing to reach this camp site. We arrived with lots of day light left, good thing, the wind was whipping so we had time to dig out and build a tall wind wall. We were happy with our camp close to the summit tower and we were very hopefully for a summit the next day. 

August 5 - Summit attempt

Some parties carry to an upper camp at the final large crevasse [-3700m] just short of the Tooth to shorten the day on the Summit Tower. Cross the schrund [-3800m] below the eastern wall of the Tooth. Follow ledges up and right four to six ropelengths to the Notch [est.3860m) between the Tooth and the Summit Tower. A pitch and a bit on blocky but somewhat shattered rock leads to the base of the Chimney. This is usually climbed in two or three pitches; two major chockstones provide entertainment. The difficulty of the 270m-high Summit Tower varies immensely, depending on how heavily the rock is rimed. In occasional superb conditions the Summit Tower can be climbed quickly. On the other hand, failures are not uncommon and forced bivouacs in the Notch on descent are fairly regular occurrences, even for competent parties in mid-summer. Few parties will make the return trip from the schrund in under 6 hours, but most should take no more than 10 or 12 hours in decent conditions.”  The Waddington Guide. Don Serl

View from high camp to summit tower.
The Tooth on the left, main summit of Mt. Waddington on the right.

Getting ready to roll

Being in a good position and waking to mostly clear skies, we were banking on 12 to 14 hours from our high camp to summit and return. We left camp a bit before 7am, assuming a return before sunset with the pleasure of a successful summit; well we were back before 6pm… The walk to the base of the rock tower was straightforward enough, but still was about one hour from camp to choosing a line to attempt clearing the shrund, then we had to gear up. Part of the decision making included where to ascend the rock wall above the shrund.  We identified what we are sure is the standard rock line, but man, it sure looked chossy, loose and bad.  We chose a rock line more left, was steeper, but solid granite.  So, again, clearing the shrund was a huge pain and took a lot of time. Scott was keen to lead up and did a fine job considering the poor ice and snow conditions.  Once above the snow Scott built a solid rock anchor I followed, but along the snow section, my crampon popped off, wasting more time to retrieve.  

Approaching the rock tower summit
The Tooth left, summit of Mt. Waddington on the right
Getting closer to the summit tower
Scott battling up the shrund 
From this anchor, we choose a line that turned out be about 5.8 and 35 metres, Scott did a fine lead up this section, built an anchor and brought me up.  From this station, I lead a full rope stretcher of 60+ metres of a raising traverse, little protection with a fair amount of gorgeous granite slab, with few sections about 5.5. Trouble was from my station upward and climber’s right (towards the notch) the rock was overhanging and more than 5.11+. We could see the standard route below us, so we rapped down, about 25 metres, to reach this ramp. Scott led, another 60 metre pitch, first along an easy ramp, then over an exposed wide hump (5.5) into a big gully system below the notch.  My turn and another rope stretcher of 60+ metres (sections of 5.4) put me just below the notch. When I was bringing up Scott, we did hear some rock fall above us, but we could not determine the source or fall line, but it was above the notch and fell away from us. Scott did a short steep section to gain the notch proper and brought me up.  

Decision time; somehow it was 3pm when I reached Scott in the sun at the notch. 8+ hours from camp and with about 5 to 6 hours of day light left. We had 5 difficult pitches (looked to be solid 5.8 with ice patches) and 2 easy pitches to reach the summit from the notch. Scott, rightfully so, was concerned we would summit at sunset and have an epic descent; all the terrain on the summit tower is super exposed and super committing.  Well we were weighing options and considering the time left, when some rock fall occurred in the chimney. Didn’t quite see the rock fall path, but it didn’t sound good.  This was the final straw, we decided to pull the plug.  (Thinking back… I think we would have been lucky to summit before sunset, and with the long complicated descent, I think we would have been 20+ hours camp to camp, leaving us in no shape to descend, and we needed to at Vancouver airport in about 2.5 days from when we retreated)   

Our high camp is visible below,view from the notch

View up the Tooth from the notch
stunning rock tower

The final crux, the chimney on the summit tower of Mt. Waddington
4 to 5 pitches, up to 5.8.  As mostly dry, but there were many icy sections 
OSWB at the notch, time to turn tail
Photo by Scott Berry
About to rap from the notch

One last view up the final chimney

Time to rap out of here
Scott part way down the first rap
A variety of old anchors are in place at the notch, including
some old snow picket anchors
Time to head home, started our descent at 4pm.  Used one of the many anchors in place at the notch, full 60 metre long low angle rap down the gully below the notch. Found another station in place, rappel more straight down, lots of old and newer rappel stations in place.  Used a couple of old pitons, plus a new piton for our final rappel back to the glacier. This rappel was mostly down an overhanging rock wall.  Roped up and head back to camp, back to camp before 6pm. Was actually low stress and less than 2 hours from the notch back to camp. To bed early and up before 3am for the long descent back to Rainy Knob.

Last rappel station on the summit tower
Combatant Mtn. from high camp
Mt. Tiedemann from high camp
OSWB chillin at high camp
Photo by Scott Berry

August 6 – Descent back to Rainy Knob

Up before 3am, packed up camp and started the long descent back to Rainy Knob, lots of glacier climbing with solid frozen snow for much of the descent.  Highlight of the descent, the friggin shrund below Bravo Col, just above the Cauldron and the lower Bravo Glacier. We climbed as low as possible on the rock above the shrund.  Found an ancient 3 pin anchor, updated the cord, the pins were still bomber. Was hoping the rappel would get us below the huge shrund, but no.  We landed in a horizontal parallel crevasse just above the huge shrund. Using Scott’s magic snow/ice skills, we built an anchor with a horizontal picket, backed up with an ice screw. Our platform was very small and very exposed, totally the most stressful part of the trip. Rappel back to the Cauldron, then back down the Bravo Glacier to Rainy Knob.  We called via radio to White Saddle Air, it was about 5:30pm and we were hopefully that we could get helicoptered out that night, but all the copters were busy with fire fighting efforts, so we spent another night on the beautiful Mt. Waddington.

View back to Waddington summit tower from below
Spearman Saddle

View to summit tower

Zoomed in view of summit tower. The notch is visible between
the Tooth the main summit tower, long way from the notch to top
Scott at Bravo Col
Below Bravo Col

Scary and small snow platform above the huge shrund

View back to rappel line at shrund
Scott descending Bravo Glacier below shrund, on the way
to Rainy Knob

August 7 - Flight out, long drive to YVR 

Up at 5am, packed up camp and waited for pick up.  The copter landed about 8:30am, then we flew back to the airfield near Bluff Lake. Nice casual conversation with the ground crew, payment for the flight and then a repacking of gear for long drive. Stopped in Williams Lake for lunch, then a long, long drive to Vancouver for our early morning flights on August 8. Scott and I were keen for a shower and a pint, but this cost us a lot of sleep, we got about 2.5 hours of sleep before we got up to head to the airport.  Tough wake up.  Great trip. Probably not going back for Mt. Waddington, but the Coast Range is magnificent, would love to climb some of its gorgeous granite the warm sun!  Maybe a flight to the Plummer Hut would be grand.  

Back at White Saddle Air 

We're alive!