Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brewer Buttress on Castle Mountain

A rest day was sorely needed after Victoria but we had booked the Castle Mountain Hut for the following night and now faced the rather daunting prospect of a steep 4 hour hike with overnight packs on the very next day.

So we had a lazy morning, basked in the sun on Ross's deck, and watched the insanely cute Canmore rabbits hop about the yard. But soon, far too soon, we reluctantly packed up our stuff and made the short drive north to Castle Mountain to begin the evening hike. Some day we'll take a real vacation :)

Hiking up to the Hut


Brewer Buttress is a 380m 5.6 rock climb that begins on the large ledge that girdles the mountain. There's a tiny ACC hut here where we would spend the night.



I had been to the hut once before in the mid-nineties and actually climbed Brewer Buttress, but I have few memories of the trip, other than we got caught in a thunderstorm somewhere around pitch 9 and it turned into an epic. And of course I remembered the shitter. Quality! Perched just back from a drop of several hundred meters, it's semi-composting, open to the elements, and offers an unparalleled view up and down the Bow Valley.

Brian relaxing with a cuppa (not on the shitter)


And I had forgotten about the pack rats; the little buggers were everywhere. And fearless. Especially when Ramen is on the menu.

Dinner is served


Up early the next day and climbing by 7:00. Being a party of three our biggest concern was time; Brian and I swung leads in 3 pitch blocks to minimize changeovers, but the biggest time saver was a Petzl Reverso/ATC Guide belay device that allowed the leader to belay two seconds at once. In the end we averaged something like 40 minutes a pitch so we did all right.

It was great to be up high climbing real rock with Brian again. And what an excellent climb this is.







The rock is solid (at least by Rockies standards); the route finding is easy especially with the fixed anchors; and the positions get more spectacular the higher you go. The last 3 pitches are just spectacular. We took the variation ending on the last pitch and I recommend it.

Brian on the variation final pitch


Topping out


What a relief to get the rock shoes off after 8 hours. I haven't done much rock climbing this year and my fingers were red and swollen after 12 pitches of prickly limestone.

To descend Castle you need to walk back north over the summit and scramble down an ugly gully with a few short rappels. It's a bit of a nasty place and I wouldn't want to be in there below another party sending rocks down. With the fixed anchors I wonder if rapping the route might actually be the better option these days? Here's a picture of the descent gully just in case you're reading this blog for beta.



And a link to Brian's excellent photos.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mount Victoria - North Summit

After our successful trip up Uto, Brian, Andrew and I (Brenda) went east to Canmore to join Ross on a trip to the North summit of Mt. Victoria. Victoria is the large glaciated peak immediately behind Lake Louise, so it features prominently in many postcards. The guidebook said it was appropriate for novice mountaineers. Perfect!

Our day began with consulting the tourist maps, at 5am, to ensure that we were headed to the right tea-house. Yes, the route starts at a tea-house, and yes, we were off-route immediately, headed for the wrong tea-house. Good thing Andrew was thinking straight.

Brian and Ross consult the Tourist Information. Which mountain are we going to?


Past the tea-house, up the trail, and around the lower slopes brought us to the glacier by breakfast time. On with the rope, up the glacier, and up the loose rock bands to the snow below the summit ridge.



So far, so good... we had climbed to 10,000'. Now for that last thousand feet. You would think that an 11k peak would only be 10% more difficult than a 10k peak, but somehow that last thousand feet seems to punch above its weight; I speak from my vast experience of now two eleven-thousanders.

The snow was sloppy and steep; it hadn't frozen well overnight. We hummed for a while trying to figure out which way to go. Finally Andrew found the best way up, skirting under the looming cornice that had an unmistakably bemused expression, and up to the ridge.

The cornice chuckles at us. Fortunately, it did no worse than chuckle.


When we got to the ridge, I realized with some disappointment that supper was still a long way away. The ridge was a bit icy, and after that there was a long-ish but surprisingly enjoyable section of rock to the summit.



Looking back at the long path to the summit.




The trip down was a little hair-raising for this novice mountaineer, over ice, soggy snow and loose rock bands. Andrew lent me a hand here and there, I managed to keep my sanity past the telling 12-hour mark, and soon we were past the difficult bits and on the way home.

Ross, with Lake Louise far below.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Uto Peak Traverse

Accompanied by our good friend Brian from Montreal (and Trinidad) this was the first stop on a week long climbing trip. Rather than subjecting Brian to the vagaries of  figuring out an unfamiliar route we opted for an oldie but a goodie in the form of Uto.



I don't know how we do it but in one way or another we always manage to climb Uto differently each time. This was my third time up the SW ridge and I was still scratching my head and asking things like "Do you remember this part?" or "How did we get around this bit?".  We seem to find a slightly different way up on each occasion.





Maybe that's why it always takes much longer to get up than we think it should.  At 8 hours from car to summit we didn't set any speed records.  But the weather was fantastic so we didn't care.

I must admit that we had a good laugh at some poor fellas entry in the summit register.


To Kiersten,
So you told me to go without you today as you needed some time apart from me.  I left you in camp.  I was pretty damn sad.
Poor Scott from Seattle!
Fortunately the movement over the rock let me think more clearly and I'm happy now....I'm happy because I'm sitting on top of this mountain and I may be alone but at least I know you're still down in camp...I care deeply about you ->next
He actually writes "next" at the end of the page.
...in fact I may love you but I can't say that yet. 
Okay enough!  It went on for a couple of pages.  Sorry Scott. Let's just say that subsequent entries in the register weren't exactly sympathetic to poor Scott's plight.  Check the photos for more on this gripping drama.

We rapped off the summit and made our way down the NW ridge to complete the traverse.  Two bird sitings today; an unidentified LBJ (little brown job) twittering away on the ridge:



And a ptarmigan with chicks:



On our way through the bivy site we were informed that someone had been charged by a grizzly on the hiking trail earlier in the day.  With this in mind we sang "Ride the Bear" and other bad songs all through the long hike back down through the valley.  Beer, dinner, bed, and off to Canmore the next morning to find Ross.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sifton SE Ridge

Motivation to climb a snow-capped mountain is hard to come by when contemplating the refracted sunlight and rose-blooms through a tall gin & tonic under the shade of a walnut tree.

The solution for this weekend was to set a small goal that would still leave us with such a Sunday afternoon. Mount Sifton on Saturday would be a non-threatening day out, and get us in shape for the summer that is already underway for the more highly motivated. So on Friday night we took the van up to Rogers Pass, and met Nick at the Hermit Meadows trailhead at 7am.

Nick put our low motivation into cold perspective. "In the battle of the blogs, Greg Hill has one million vertical feet and you two got lost on the way to Eva Lake." We can always trust Nick for pithy observation.

So up the steeply winding Hermit Meadows trail we climbed, past the meadows to the foot of the indistinct and rubble-strewn south-ish ridge-cum-buttress route. Not 50-Classic-Climbs material, but within our reach. Our routefinding skills being a bit rusty, we ended up on the side of the ridge amid loose rocks and dirt. We quickly tired of that, so we gained the crest of the ridge and followed it to the base of the south-ish face.

Nick takes a break on a more-solid rock


The rock to the upper snowfield was surprisingly pleasant and solid, with the odd interesting bit that had me going back and forth wondering what to do. We three picked our way up to a large flat lunch-rock at the beginning of the short final pitch of snow to the summit. I thought I was too tired, and would just rest in the sun while Andrew and Nick ran to the summit and back down. Andrew, however, encouraged, cajoled and finally dropped a rope for me, and I joined them at the top.

Andrew on the upper snowfield. Follow me! the view is better up here!


I follow


The view was better


The trip down was uneventful, and descending from Hermit Meadows without an overnight pack was markedly less punishing than previous trips.

Our Route


On Sunday, we fell further behind in the battle of the blogs as we treated our sore muscles with G&T in the shade of the walnut tree.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Eva Lake

We wanted to go up to Hermit Meadows over the long weekend to have a look at the Swiss Peaks or something. In the end the so-so forecast, time, and frankly our motivation, lead us to change our destination en route and we decided instead to hike into Eva Lake in Revelstoke Park.

We got the expected reaction from the nice folks at the park gate, at 4 o'clock, as it started to rain:

"You want to go where? But no one's been in there this year. It's still full winter conditions. I'll need to call my supervisor! You'll never find the trail!! You'll die!!!".

Okay no one actually said we'd die, I just threw that one in for Bruno's benefit, but they were pretty alarmed. We filled in endless forms, payed additional fees for the privilege of overnighting in a national park, and repeatedly assured them that we knew what we were getting into.

Then we then promptly lost the trail.



Okay there are absolutely no trail markings to Eva Lake. None. To be honest if we hadn't been there before I don't think we would have found the way. I mean it's not that serious of a place to get a bit lost but we didn't want to get completely turned around.

There were occasional sections where the snow had melted enough for us to see a hint of the gravel trail, but more often than not we would just aim in roughly the right direction and then trudge for several hundred meters on the snow. We would then pull out the altimeter, guess whether or not we were too high or too low, and then make a bee line straight up (or down) across the contour hoping to find a bit of the trail.

We got there in the end. Originally we had envisioned pitching the tent near the lake. Of course when we got there the lake was still frozen and the ground was still covered in a meter or more of snow. What to do. Dig? Or stay in the old log shelter?



No contest!



And we felt even better for our choice as the rain hammered down on the roof throughout the night. We woke to a misty damp morning that made us think of our little hut as one of Scottish bothies written about so romantically in "Mountain Days and Bothy Nights".



We followed our tracks on the return journey and arrived back at the car by early afternoon.