Monday, September 05, 2011

Matriarch-Macabre-Grimface Traverse

Update November 2017:
The photos in this post were hosted on Google's Picasa Web Albums. Google shuttered the service and these photos no longer click through to larger versions. Sorry about that. Here's a link to the album on Google Photos if you are interested:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein

For the third year in succession we were hiking up Wall Creek in Cathedral Park on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend. Our previous two trips had ended in cold, wet, ignominious defeat. Our cunning plan this time: there couldn't be an unforecasted blizzard on the same day for three years in a row. Actually that was our plan last year too...."Couldn't possibly happen twice in a row."

Anyway, late in the day, with the heavy packs beginning to weigh us down, we sure hoped for third time lucky. It was a nice hike with the late after afternoon sun angling sharply through the trees and the many wild flowers standing out brightly against the forest floor.

This time it took us 4 1/2 hours to arrive at the bivy site, a stunning location at the head of the valley.

As in previous years we were visited by some curious deer at dusk. They circled round our campsite closer and closer until within just a few metres of the tent. After we'd gone to bed we could still hear them padding around out there. Their steps sounded oddly human. It was bit spooky to be drifting off to sleep only to be jolted awake at the sound of footsteps just a few feet from our heads.

We got away early the next morning (no snow...yay!) and continued for a short while along the hiking trail before heading more or less straight up towards the gully and notch where the climbing begins. The scree is pretty crappy in the gully. Staying along the edges near solid rock offers the path of least resistance. This rather unimpressive photo gives a rough idea of where the notch is located.

It took us 1.5 hours to get to the notch where the climbing begins. From here "the route features perfect rock, high exposure, incredible views, and a variety of techniques including several rappels" to quote the good book and that pretty much sums it up. The first pitch is probably the best of the entire day; easy 5th class with a piece of gear or two above a tremendous drop down the other side of the ridge.

From then on we switched between scrambling, walking, short pitches of real rock climbing, a 5.8 variation, the odd piece of gear, rappelling into notches, climbing back out of notches...

The challenge was to be efficient with the rope without knowing what was coming up next. Ultimately the best solution was for each of us to take up coils with several meters between us. Then the rope was out of the way for most of the scrambling and we could drop the coils for short pitches or rapping when needed. The best part of the day was definitely the aid ladder which we'd read about. We were unsure if it still existed. Simply awesome.

Matriarch and Macabre passed by (not without snacks of course) and we were looking at Grimface shortly after midday.

Scraping our way under and over the big chockstones provided endless amusement as we scrambled up through the chimneys of the SE notch route. This first photo of Brenda shows most of the route in the background.

After what I'll call the "lower" chimneys we arrived at a gravelly notch just below the summit dome of Grimface. The rough directions we'd gathered online mentioned another chimney leading to the summit. We'd had enough by then, so instead we went to the right and followed an easy crack and corner system for 20 metres or so before cutting back left. We were on top at 2:00, 7 hours after leaving the tent, a bit longer than expected.

We didn't have a really good idea about the descent and made the mistake of relying on some directions we found online rather than following our own instincts. We followed a line of cairns that lead us towards the wrong gully. We sussed it out eventually. For anyone looking for descent info...just continue north along the ridge, bit of walking, bit of down climbing, until you come to the obvious (and I mean really obvious) wide scree gully about 30 minutes (?) from the top of Grimface. From the top of the correct scree gully you can see that it continues all the way down to the valley floor; you can practically see your tent. If you are looking down a gully that doesn't obviously descend unbroken to the valley floor, it's the wrong one.

Drive to km 38 on the Ashnola River Road and begin hiking at a large wooden bridge. After approximately 1.5 hours keep right at a fork in the trail. ~800m elevation gain ~12km, 4.5 to 5 hours of hiking.

We debated long and hard about what rope or ropes to use. In the end a single 50 metre 9mm was enough. The longest rap was pretty close to 25m. There was only one real pitch of climbing which was the first pitch of the day (plus the 10m 5.8 variation, the alternative being an easy chimney). The rest of the time we were short roping or carrying coils and slinging blocks for short belays. We had considered using two 30m ropes (keeping one in the pack and only breaking it out for the long raps). In retrospect I think this would have been a pain the butt. We had a light alpine rack but never placed more than 2 pieces of gear on any pitch. We used a medium 1.5-2" cam (on the 5.8 bit), a medium hex, and a #6 or #7 nut. We wore comfy rock shoes. Crossover climbing/approach shoes would have been a good alternative.

7:00am depart tent, 8:30 col, 10:08 Matriarch, 11:22 Macabre, 2:10 Grimface, 3:53 Tent

Other trip reports online here and here.

More photos over here on Picasa on Google Photos: