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 campground or motels at Bluff Lake. We were set to fly at 7am, so we got about 4 hours of sleep so we had 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
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
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 working through crevasses on the way the difficult upper Bravo Glacier bergschrund
Photo by Scott Berry 
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. 

August 3 - Above Bravo Col, camp near Spearman Saddle

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’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. 

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. 

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.  

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 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

Friday, June 22, 2018

GR368155 "Opoca Peak" - FRA East Face 5.7+R, 40m, Alpine III and traverse

Between Mt. Wintour and Gap Mtn. there is a minor peak (GR368155) that creates the divide between Opal Creek and Elpoca Creek. I call this peak, “Opoca Peak”, sharing names of the creeks it divides.

Opoca from the east in Opal Creek
Photo taken Aug. 2016
I have attempted this peak several times, kicked off the South Ridge by an overhanging 5.9 step that has zero protection options and rained/snowed off the North Face twice. Back again on June 19 we had success. First tried to gain the low end of the North West Ridge on the North Face, but solid 5.7 without protection had me bailing. Up to Col (shared with Elpoca Creek Hill) then high up on the easy slope against the East aspect where we traversed North (climbers right) about 35 metre on an exposed 4 th class traverse to the bottom of a bay with a small waterfall. Laurie led a scrappy 5.7+ pitch with basically no pro. 40 metres to a piton station at the base of a scree bowl. From the station about 100 metres vertical of easy scrambling gains the north summit. 

Not the best route topo photo. Yellow line with arrows is approach, blue/green line is first line attempted that I bailed on, red line is 4 class traverse, dashed red line is 5.7+ pitch, red dots are piton belay stations and orange line is the scramble to north and south summits. Rappel on south ridge is red circle.
From this vantage point the mini Col to south summit looked easy, which was a pleasant surprise (I was imagining the low point on the North Ridge of Mt. Wintour). The final steep ridge step to the South summit block looked difficult but turned out to be 4 th class exposed scramble. Yeah the summit! Huge summit cairn but the black tube register had no bottom and no paper. Still don’t know who did the first ascent. Easy descent down the South Ridge until above the steep step than kicked Laurie and I off before. I found a single piton with an old locking biner. Banged in another piton then rapped to easy ground. Simple walk down lower south ridge, we traversed below the impressive tall wall facing highway 40 to stay out of the bear closure; pack to Elpoca day use area and then back to the truck. Beautiful day out, happy to get this summit. 

Steep dirt/scree gully above Elpoca day use area, south (right) of Opal Creek, gives
easy access to bench and ridge crest below Opoca

West of Opoca there is a minor ridge line that raises up, the crest of this minor ridge has
a great trail. This trail is the described trail approach by the Daffern hiking guide for Opal Creek
Traversing higher up to gain north end of Opoca, Mt. Wintour behind, photo by Laurie

North end of Opoca, low down, Opal Creek below
View up to north face, north end of Opoca Peak

View to north and east up Opal Creek. Left to right, Mt. Blane, "The Blade", "Mt. Barnham", Mt. Burney,
Mt. Jerram, "Cats Ears - north" and "Cats Ears - south"

Our first line of attack on the north face. I lead up about 40 metres of 5.7/5,8 rock with very little pro.
I got one piton in about 20 metres above the station, then there were no more options for pro, the terrain was
continuing to be steep, so I bailed and downclimbed. The line was in the centre of the photo

Photo by Laurie, OSWB getting ready to start the first line of attack. Mt. Wintour across the valley

Laurie's bold lead. From the col, traverse about 35 m, then up, just left of a small waterfall.
Pretty good quality and solid rock, but tight, little protection as well. 40 metres of 5.7 to 5.8. 
Laurie only got two cams for protection in on his lead. Top out on easy ground at the bottom of a scree slope
At belay station, little waterfall wet spot to my right

Pitons are the only option for protection on this peak. My station of two solid pitons below the crux pitch.

Topping out on top of crux pitch, LK's piton station is way to my left, view to right, north.
The right hand skyline bump is the right side (north side) of the major buttress that divides the north face.
The largest gully system on the north face is in front of the bump; I have tried to climb this gully before, it is super loose, glad we got rained off that attempt 

From LK's piton station above crux pitch view up snow patch and onto easy terrain
and the summit ridge (summit out of sight)

Near summit, view down east side, snow patch above our belay station is visible, LK slogging up

Final steps to north summit of Opoca Peak. "South Schlee" (l) and Elpoca Mtn. (r)
across the valley

Laurie happy to be on top of the north summit

Photo by Laurie, OSWB on the north summit of Opoca Peak

The north end of the south summit of Opoca Peak

LK checking out the line up the south summit block

From the col between the north and south summit, the final summit block is looking easier the closer we got

View back to north summit and the col

Photo by Laurie. View south to col

Final ridge climb to south summit turned out be fun and easy fourth class climbing on solid rock

Laurie on the highest south summit. The big rock cairn was in place

Black PVC pipe register, but the bottom became unglued. No paper record of previous ascents found

Old, failed black register on left. I left a new black pipe register in the summit cairn
(just wrapped in orange tape)

New paper in new summit register

Photo by Laurie, OSWB on summit of Opoca Peak

View down south ridge, still above the rappel station

Found this old piton and old locking biner in place. Was totally solid, used in our rappel anchor

Updated new rappel anchor on south ridge descent. Left in place two pitons and the orange cord.
It is visible from the easy ground on the south ridge

LK on rappel over the 5.9 step of the south ridge

The lower easy terrain of the south ridge

Hiked out high, near tree line, below the west face of Opoca Peak to stay out of the bear closure.
Lots and lots of big beautiful walls 

View to west, the slight ridge crest has a trail on the crest and is described as a hikers access to Opal Creek
Valley view trail closed because of bear activity.  PLPP should just permanently close trail (old road) to the public
since it basically is always under a bear closure. We stayed off this trail on the approach and return to the Elpoca day use area. 

Nearly back to truck, Opoca Peak enjoying the sunset colours