Sunday, August 28, 2011

Markhor - Needle Traverse Part Deux

We tried this traverse two weeks ago with limited success. Okay fine no success. But once we'd finished picking the thorns out of our hands and figured out where we went wrong it was time to have another go. I'm going to write this one up as a true trip report.

Edit September 2014:
A better way to do it.

Edit June 2017:
Google killed Picasa Web Albums so the photos in this post are dead links. Here's a link to the album that these photos are from:

Park at the Needle Peak trailhead on the south side of the highway. There is an underpass here and it's accessible from both the east and west bound lanes. Walk east along a gravel track adjacent to a small stream for a few hundred meters. At the height of land (there were two yellow pole-like markers when we were here) turn to your right (south) and hike uphill first through thick brush and then through mature forest. After about 30 minutes you will hopefully arrive at the base of a large open slab capped by a series of overlaps on the upper right. Don't confuse the slabs like we did on our first attempt.

Walk easily on the slab angling up and left.

When the going gets tough at the top of the slab it's time to take a few calming breaths, batten down the hatches, and plunge into the undergrowth on your left (east).

Don't bother trying to gain elevation at this point, it's just too much work. Traverse for a few hundred metres until you come across some slightly less thick brush that will allow you to head straight up with less effort. We found that the little streams afforded slightly better upwards travel. It's heavy going but you should emerge into a lovely meadow and talus field a couple of hours after leaving the car and just in time for second breakfasts.

With your back to the highway you will be looking up at a large cirque. On your left (east) there is ramp of brush and small trees that leads up and out of the talus. Head towards the ramp skipping joyously from block to block in a happy unencumbered brush-free manner. From the top of the ramp follow a series of slanting brushy ledges leading up and right (south-west) until you reach the ridge. Ta-da! Three hours from the car. It's a pleasant walk from here to the top of Markhor.

There are a few options for the descent down the SE ridge of Markhor. Staying right on the ridge crest is the most aesthetically pleasing but verges on low 5th class rock climbing. Staying more to skiers left, following the path of least resistance, is quick and easy but a bit scruffy.

After descending from Markhor you arrive at an obvious saddle on the ridge line. It is possible to bail here to the north side of the ridge; it's not pretty, tremendous bushwacking, but it goes. Stay to skiers left to avoid the steeper bits. Otherwise you're not far from the the top of Needle.

Continue along the ridge. After the next high point there is a 15m descent down a sharp ridge to a gravelly notch (crux #1). Easy low 5th class down climbing. Easy yes but don't fall off. Seriously. A member of our party who hadn't done much rock climbing was a lot happier with a rope above him.

Looking back at crux #1.

Scramble carefully up out of the notch and walk across to the last bump on the ridge before the final ridge walk up Needle. This last bump is imposing and the route doesn't seem obvious at first. We scrambled up on gravel covered ledges to the base of an obvious dead tree. A sketchy move around to the left side of the tree seemed the best option. Ahead is the obvious ridge leading to the top of Needle.

Easy, obvious scrambling except for one 15m stretch about half way up (crux #2). Here you are forced onto the left (south) side of the ridge to scramble up a 15m long slanting crumbly ledge. Again, not difficult, but falling would be bad. We used the rope again for this short section to keep the stress levels down, using a tree above for a quick anchor.

The summit of needle is just ahead. Continue over the summit to find the hiking trail that leads back down to the road.

We took 8 hours car-to-car.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mount Rogers

Update June 2017:
Google killed the Picasaweb photo service and the photos in this post no longer click through to larger versions. If you're interested here's the album containing the photos:

We lead an ACC trip to Mount Rogers in mid August. We had climbed Rogers just a few weeks previously as part of the Swiss Peaks Traverse so were pretty confident that the route was in good shape and didn't hold any surprises in store for us. We were at Hermit Meadows by late afternoon and spent a relaxing evening chatting with friends old and new.

The next morning dawned clear and cold. We were away by 6am and soon the moraines were below us. Out came the ropes and the crampons for the pleasant walk across the glacier.

Once across the bergschrund we removed the ropes and began kicking steps upwards.

The sun was slowly creeping higher into the sky and by the time we reached the Rogers-Grant col by 9:30 or so we were all sweating buckets. One change from 2-weeks ago was a good amount of fresh snow; perhaps 20-30cm of wind deposited snow quickly getting moist in the morning sun. There was some significant trail breaking up the snowy ridge from the col.

There were a couple of relative beginners in the group and I think this was the most memorable part of the day for them. Certainly was for me anyway. What a setting! We were all smiles on the summit.

Leading trips for the ACC can sometimes seem a chore, but this was a fun, and dare I say, even a rewarding trip with really interesting people. If anyone from that day happens to read this...thanks!

Full photo set here on Picasa.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Markhor-Needle Traverse

I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading. A traverse of Markor-Needle at the Coquihalla Summit is what we had intended to do. What we actually did was...well, something else. The blue line is our actual GPS track from the day. The red line shows where we should have gone. It all seems so clear in retrospect...

Our day was divided into three more-or-less equal parts. The first part consisted of thrashing around in the undergrowth for many hours and climbing up a diabolical vegetated ridge. (And looking at the map a lot.)

The middle part was a scramble along a high alpine ridge.

Finally, for the third part, worried about the time, we decided to bail off the ridge into no man's land and thrash back down to the valley floor through some of the nastiest, steepest, thickest greenery I've ever encountered. Alder from hell, devils club, brambles, creeks, cliffs, you name it.

At one point Brenda missed a step and turned turtle in a giant patch of devils club. We figured she was done for and just left her there. She was okay though and eventually found her way home a few days later.

Edit (6 September 2011): We went back a couple of weeks later.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Swiss Peaks Traverse

Update June 2017:
Google killed the Picasaweb photo service and the photos in this post no longer click through to larger versions. If you're interested here's the album containing the photos:

Returning mid-week from our eastern holiday we made a quick turn-around to meet Ross and Brian in Rogers Pass. There was an early birthday celebration for me on Friday night. Over a few celebratory beers Ross filled us in on his recent adventures in Ecuador, and Brian regaled us with tales of his new (alas temporary) life as a climbing bum. After a long and leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning, and the steep hike up to Hermit Meadows, we were soon relaxing in the sun and contemplating our goal for the next day, a traverse of Mount Rogers and the Swiss Peaks.

Just after sunrise we were ambling across the glacier with crampons crunch-crunching in the hard snow. It was a glorious blue sky day and by the time we reached the steep headwall the snow had softened just enough to kick easy steps up to the Rogers-Grant Col.

From the col we followed some old tracks up a snowy rib.

And soon stood on our first summit of the day four hours after leaving the tents. Just about guidebook time! Unprecedented :)

Back to the col for a snack, we briefly skirted around to the north side and then up to a snowy notch on the ridge. Here we removed the crampons, stepped from snow onto rock, and began the rock climbing portion of the day.

Up and down we went. The summits of Grant, Fleming, and Swiss all passed by in a blend of sunshine, rock, and magnificent exposure on all sides.

We had the rope out at this one small corniced section between Fleming and Swiss where you can see our tracks.

We also used the rope for a quick rap at a rubbly-snowy-icy section just below the top of Swiss Peak as we descended towards the gendarmes on Truda. It was here after the rappel that we had our only "yeesh" moment of the day. It wasn't entirely clear where we should be heading; staying on the crest of the ridge would mean tackling the most difficult rock climbing we'd seen all day, but dropping down a steep gully on the south side didn't seem like much fun either. Time was slipping by and of course the only clouds of the day chose this moment to obscure the sun and make the whole scene seem more serious that it needed to be. Eventually Ross lead the way down the gully.

We descended a short distance and then picked our way around on snowy ledges until able to work back to the ridge and eventually to the Swiss-Truda col. Not too bad in the end. I suspect these ledges would be snow free most years.

We had a half-hearted debate about whether to continue up Truda for our fifth summit of the day, but I don't think any of us really wanted to try it. Happy enough to save Truda for another day we faced in and started the long process of kicking steps down the Swiss-Truda couloir back to the glacier.

A stellar day in the mountains.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bon Echo

During a family visit to southern Ontario we managed to squeeze in a side trip to Bon Echo Provincial Park for some climbing. I did some of my first climbing here in the early 90's and have returned time and again to scare myself senseless at this remarkable crag for almost two decades.

Update March 1 2018:
The photos in this post were hosted on Google's Picasaweb but Google killed that service. Thanks Google. Here is the full album on Google Photos which hopefully Google won't kill any time soon.

The cliffs rise over 100 meters directly from Mazinaw Lake. Most of the climbs are only accessible by boat. The Toronto Section of the ACC maintains a boat and property here with a small hut and magnificent waterfront sauna.

There's something intangible about Bon Echo that makes the climbing here especially spooky. Everyone feels it. The routes are long and wandering and loose in places; gear is often really sketchy; the water below adds a certain surreal quality; and the grades are "old school" to put it mildly. Yet combined with the swimming between climbs and good friends and hot lakeside saunas in the evening it all adds up to make one of the most enjoyable and memorable climbing experiences I can imagine.

Front of the Pinnacle


Boris's Route

We miss this place! Can't wait to go back again. Anyone want to plan some kind of get together for 2012?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Abbot-Afton Traverse

A few weeks ago Brenda organized an ACC outing to Mounts Abbott and Afton. There was plenty of interest in the trip and it was a group of eleven that started from the Illecillewaet campground. Included in the group was our good friend Brian from Montreal who is applying himself diligently towards being a climbing bum this summer.

There was still lots of snow on the trail beginning near Marion Lake but Abbott ridge itself was perfectly dry.

Abbott Ridge

Mount Abbott must have one of the best effort to reward ratios of any hike in the area. The view in every direction is spectacular on a warm sunny day.

Nick with Afton in the background

At the top of Abbott the group split up with some of us heading to Afton and the rest retracing their steps. Afton is a fine little scramble and was a good choice for the wide range of experience levels in the group.

Climbing up from the Abbott-Afton col

Brett on the top of Afton

To complete the traverse we descended by the north ridge and then cut across the bowl to rejoin the Abbott ridge, taking time to refill water bottles and skip stones on the way.

The evening was spent at the campground drinking cold beer and Macallan. There was some idle talk about trying something more ambitious the next morning but in the end thoughts of a sleep in and a lazy breakfast won the day. I'm never going to get into shape this summer...