Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eisenhower Tower

Edit June 2017
Google killed Picasa so the photos in this post don't click through to larger versions. Here's the full album if you're interested:

Our original plan was to climb the east ridge of Edith Cavell with Brian. That idea got put on hold when a large chunk of the north glacier fell off wreaking havoc and closing access to the mountain for the rest of the season. (The first time I climbed Cavell I think we bivied right behind the outhouses in this photo.) So instead we set our sights on Castle Mountain to climb Eisenhower Tower, the three of us having climbed Brewer Buttress together in 2010.

Castle Mountain: Brewer in green, Eisenhower in red

After hiking up the Rockbound Lake Trail and skirting around ledges we arrived at the broad plateau which girdles the entire mountain. From here the first order of business is to get onto the Dragon's Back, a short crenellated ridge that juts out from the foot of the tower itself. We took a line just to climbers left of the prow and after a few easy 5th class moves we were scrambling along the top of this feature. It's quite spectacular in a few places.

Brian on the Dragons Back

Between the Dragons Back and the Tower is a deep notch with a short but tricky 5.6++ crack. We got the rope out here for the first time. After some grunting and groaning were up the other side just in time for second breakfasts and a good look at the route above where there are two main options.

Eisenhower Tower

I had climbed the left side before so this time we headed to climbers right. We didn't have any route description for this side and just kinda winged it. Unsure whether to keep the rope on or not we left it on and took turns running out it's full 60m length, slinging a few blocks along the way, and then bringing up both seconds at the same time. I think we did about 5 or 6 pitches.

Brian on the route

It felt much less travelled than I remembered the other side being. We came across one fixed anchor after the first pitch and nothing but the odd sling after that. I think there was more continuous climbing on this side but none of it was really exceptional. Nevertheless it's still a fine route to the top of a Rockies landmark.

Le Sommet

We had a good view at both the route we had just come up and also of the route we would be descending (in green) where there is a series of established rap anchors.


A couple of notes on the descent for anyone interested. The first anchor can be found by scrambling down below the crest of the plateau as in this picture where Brian (the lowest figure) is standing at the anchor.

First rap anchor

A bit of scrambling and another rap brings you to rap #3 (?) which is placed behind a fin of rock with an awkward start. If you rap to the end of the ropes here (we had a 60m) you end up in a tenuous spot to pull the ropes with some tricky downclimbing below. Instead, there is an intermediate 2 bolt anchor several meters to climbers right that looks like a much better option.

After some scrambling you end up at a "funnel" where all of the scree collects from the amphitheatre above. We made our way to the bottom of the scree and then followed an exposed but easy ledge to skiers left which placed us right at the top of P1.

Finally, rather than retracing our steps across the Dragons Back, we rapped down the east side of the notch which separates the Dragons Back from the tower. A 60m rope isn't quite long enough to reach the ground with one rappel. There is an intermediate anchor about 2/3 of the way down that is easy to miss.

In the end we somehow turned this into a 12 hour day which was a good 4 or 5 hours longer than we had anticipated.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Mount Huber

After another 4:30AM start we reached Wiwaxy Gap in the half-light and began making our way across the Huber Ledges.

Huber Ledges in Winter

Plenty of cairns, even a few bolts on a steep pitch, but we didn't bother with the rope. The general guideline here was up and left, rinse, repeat, until we hit the lower glacier.

Brian on the Huber Ledges

We put the rope on to cross the lower glacier to a rock band, scrambled over the rock band, and then put the crampons back on for the upper glacier. It was a cold morning and our crampons hardly scratched the surface of the snow that still lay in the shadow of Mount Victoria. Across the glacier we went and into the sun at the Huber-Victoria col.

Huber-Victoria Col

From the col the guide books ("Suspected" and "11,000ers") describe two routes to the summit, one far left and one far right, but the beaten track basically split the difference right up the middle so this was the obvious way to go.

Huber route seen from Victoria

Once above the 'schrund we dispensed with the rope and made our way up the steep snow slope to the ridge.

Ross on the Ridge

On the ridge proper the softening snow gave way to hard ice with the change in aspect. Another 50 metres or so of careful steps and we met up with a guided group on the summit by 9:30AM.

On top

We lounged around in the sun and took in magnificent views all around before retracing our steps back down the ridge, belaying this time to keep the fun factor high on the icy ridge.

Brian at the anchor

Back across the two glaciers, across the rock band, and down through the Huber Ledges with a rappel at the one steep pitch.

Huber Ledges

It all seems so uneventful as I write this up! But once again a wonderful day in the mountains on one of the classic 11,000 foot peaks of the Rockies.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Mount Victoria

After climbing Odaray we set out the next afternoon for the Abbott Pass Hut with the intention of climbing the south summit of Mount Victoria the next day. All of us had climbed to the North Summit a couple of years ago, and Ross and I had previously climbed the SW Face to the South Summit, but none of use had ever climbed the classic SE Ridge from Abbot Pass.

The hike up from Lake O'Hara is notorious for the awful and ever-shifting scree. It was pretty foul but thankfully some long ribbons of old snow helped make progress a little less painful.

The hut is perched on a windy and desolate col at a location which in many ways witnessed the very birth of Canadian mountaineering over 100 years ago. You can almost feel the history here.

Away by 4:30 the next morning to pick our way up the initial part of the route in the eerie pools of light cast by our headlamps. We made a few blunders in the dark but found our way from cairn to cairn without too much trouble. The sun came up to cast a warm red glow over everything and help with the route finding.

The crampons were on for one small section but mainly we just scrambled our way over bare rock until reaching the well-known feature called The Sickle. This is a narrow snow covered dip in the ridge that required some careful downclimbing on the hard snow. It was a spectacular setting.

After The Sickle the route switched back and forth between snowy arete and easy scrambling over bare rock with a couple of short technical parts thrown into the mix.

It was wonderful stuff. On top by 9:00AM for the obligatory U2 album cover photo.

The weather crapped out on the way down. We got drenched a couple of times from horizontal rain but thankfully managed to reach the hut before the worst of it hit. We sat around eating hot soup as the rain lashed at the windows. It cleared just early enough for us to bolt back down to Lake O'Hara in time for dinner.

We had enjoyed an absolute classic mountaineering route in great conditions.

Pics on Google Photos:

Monday, August 06, 2012

Grassi Ridge

Update August 2017:
Google killed Picasa Web Albums so the photos in this post don't click through to larger versions. Here's the album if you're interested:

Ross and I once climbed Grassi Ridge about 10 years ago. I was a far better rock climber back then but apparently had much less common sense. That day I think we set a record for the most dumb stories ever to come from a single climb. Many are still told to this day among our small circle of friends.

There was the great "ease yourself gently onto that dodgy piton" story. You can guess how that one goes. There was the "diabolical double rope predicament", wherein the second, who was tied into two ropes with each one somehow going in the opposite direction, was completely unable to move up or down as the unwitting belayer pulled tighter and tighter from 50 meters above. And of course there was the unforgettable "Andrew gets off route and has an epic meltdown as it begins to snow" story. That one chaffs to this day since this particular lapse in judgement on my part caused us to miss the best climbing on the whole route.

Grassi Ridge in December 2011

So, back on Grassi Ridge again, seeking a redemption of some sort. Brenda and I formed one rope team and Ross and Brian the other. On our first time here we only had Dougherty's "Suspected Alpine Climbs" which by modern standards would probably be considered a little thin on detail. This time we were armed with multiple topos from various Internet sources, some of which I gleefully noted had skull and crossbones or big "Off Route!" warnings at meltdown central.

We got to the base of the climb just before a guided party arrived. I suppose the guide should remain nameless since I'm about to bad mouth him. I'll just refer to him as a well known ice climber with the initials S.I. No one will ever figure that out.

Expecting S.I.'s group to be much faster than us we urged them to go ahead. Unfortunately this exposed the leader of the party that followed (ie: me) to an annoying stream of route and gear suggestions shouted down by S.I. from the next pitch above.

"The station is 5 metres above you!!".

"You're almost there! It's to the left!!"

"Easy climbing duuuuuude!!".

This in turn confused his clients because they thought, not unreasonably, that he was yelling instructions to them. So they started shouting. It turned into a bizarre early morning shout-fest in the mountains!

Thankfully it came to an end after a few pitches as they slowly moved out of earshot leaving us to enjoy the rest of the climb in relative peace. And what a great climb this is.

A big change from 10 years ago is the proliferation of bolts on the route; there are bolts at the crux moves and at every belay station whereas I don't think there were any bolts when we did it the first time. In fact there are even intermediate belay stations probably placed there by guides in order to more easily watch their clients. I'm no arch traditionalist but I think a something is lost when this happens.

An oddly negative post about what was actually a very positive day. We even got a new a story to add to our ever growing list of tall tales.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Mount Odaray SE Ridge

I helped organize a mountaineering camp for the ACC at Lake O'Hara this summer. Great weather, great people, and overall a great trip. On our first day I climbed Mount Odaray with Ross and Brian.

Most of this route is a fine general mountaineering sort of climb. We crossed the glacier without much trouble and made our way to a rocky step that bars access to the ridge. We used the rope here for a short 5.4 section where there was some fixed gear left by the guides who operate out of O'Hara Lodge (thanks Larry).

Once onto the broad ridge we made our way up some tedious scree and scrambled over the occasional rocky outcrop.

Eventually we reached a false summit to gaze across a cleft to a dark and ominous steep wall that blocked the way to the top. It looked horrible. Thankfully we'd been warned about this part in advance and had been told that it looked worse that it was. Glad for this advice we eased our way down into the notch and peered upwards at the other side. It was a steep gully that seemed to be made up of 4 inch children's blocks piled one on top of another and all angled slightly downwards with terrific exposure on either side. Let's just say that it provided us with a slow and very mindful 20 meters of climbing.

A jog back to the ridge and then to the summit where we spent a good hour taking in the magnificent views. Look at these tourists.

A fine day in the mountains as they say.