Thursday, August 23, 2012

How I Blew My Wadd - Trying to Imitate Frank Jourdan

I had planned to spend most of this summer rockclimbing in Squamish, and little of it in the mountains. However, I was back in Squamish for only a few days after my road trip with Dylan before taking off to the mountains again. This past winter at the Vancouver International Film Festival I met Scott Pick, from Surrey, who has a passion for photographing mountains. He was heading into the Waddington Range with his wife, Marina, and they had a spare seat in the helicopter. OK, well, in that case... back to the mountains!

Scott, Marina and I started the drive from Surrey to Bluff Lake on the morning of August 11th. On the long drive I poured over Don Serl's excellent guidebook to the range, and considered my options. The two objectives that interested me most were to attempt a solo ascent of Mt. Waddington or a solo ascent of Serra 5. I brainstormed what might be the best ways to access either climb, and soon came to the conclusion that the best plan would be to climb one of them, and then, rather than return to the Plummer Hut to rest and resupply, simply make a high traverse to the other one along a portion of the "Waddington Traverse" (especially considering that we had only one week of time in the range). In 2004, on my only other visit to the Waddington Range, Mark Bunker and I had made the 2nd ascent of the "Waddington Traverse," so at least I know roughly what terrain I would encounter. I decided that the mighty Wadd was most important to me, so I would go there first.

The weather forecast on the 11th was quite good, and this is rare in the Coast Range, so I hoped to start as soon as possible, and during the drive I did as much planning as possible as to what equipment I should prepare myself with for a five-day odyssey. We managed to fly into the range that evening, arriving at the Plummer Hut at 7pm. I packed as quickly as I could, and passed out by 11pm.

On the morning of August 12th I took off from the Plummer Hut at 8am, descended to the lower Tiedemann Glacier, and then began to work my way up towards the Waddington-Combatant Col. Although it was a big snow year, the glaciers in the Waddingon Range continue to shrink and fracture rapidly (the differences from 2004 were readily apparent), and getting up to the Waddinton-Combatant col was much trickier and nastier than I had expected, with lots of intricate crevasse navigation and some significant icefall hazard as well. On the upper portion of the way up to the Col I started to follow footprints, which at least made my route-finding decisions easier. I reached the col in mid afternoon, and ran into the only climbers I encountered on my journey - three Spanish alpinists, Gustavo, Javier, and I forget the third climber's name. It was their tracks from the day before that I had picked up on my way to the Col (a lucky coincidence, considering that there was probably only one other party that travelled through the icefall in the preceding month). They were on a long, wilderness journey - I believe that they hiked into the range, they were going to try the NW summit of Waddington (which they achieved the next day), then descend to the Dais Glacier, walk out that way, and somewhere a canoe was waiting for them...

I spent the afternoon of the 12th resting and acclimatizing at the Waddington-Combatant Col, and studying the north side of Waddington. My prime goal was the Flavelle-Lane route, but I was also considering the Rowat-Richards route (AKA the "Kiwi Route"), the Angel Couloir and the Angel Glacier as less-intimidating options. I left my tent at 6am on the 13th, and not until after walking for 10 minutes towards the base of Waddington's north face did I make a final decision to climb the Flavelle-Lane route. The first portion of the Flavelle-Lane route climbs sustained AI3 runnels/gullies, before opening into a more broad ice couloir. Although Serl's seriousness rating of TD+ feels accurate, the description that the lower portion is 55-degrees and the upper portion less-steep is definitely not accurate! The lower portion of the route had many sections of ice to 75-degrees, and averaged at least 60 degrees. The upper portion of the route kicked back to about 55 or 60 degrees. The lower portion of the route is serac-threatened (in fact, the upper part is as well, but to a lesser degree), so even on merely 60-degree blue ice I was quite stressed, trying to move as fast as possible while still making sure every placement was solid. The original Flavelle-Lane route veered right at the top to climb a few pitches of rock and then continue to the NW summit. I really wanted to reach the main summit, so I veered left instead.

At 10:15am, four hours after crossing the bergschrund of the Flavelle-Lane, I joined "The Stroll" (a route which connects the Main Summit and NW Summit), and took a little rest in a bergschrund there, relieved to be above the seracs, tired from trying to move so quickly, and a bit concerned that it had started to snow. Soon afterwards I traversed to below the summit tower and started up the standard chimney route. Unfortunately, by now the snowfall had changed to rain, and the wind was picking up as well. By the time I reached "The Notch" between the main summit and The Tooth, it was extremely windy and raining harder. The climbing from The Notch up to the summit was by no means easy for free-soloing, and the weather was getting worse by the minute. Nonetheless, sometimes I am stubborn, and I kept inching my way along. I finally reached the summit at 2pm, very wet, and in strong winds a couple degrees above freezing. The summit chimneys, and the "Wadd Hose" below the notch, had turned into waterfalls by the time I was rappelling them, and when I reached the glacier again, all my clothing and both my boots were 100% saturated with water. My descent, past the NW Summit and down the Angel Glacier, felt fairly epic because of the atrocious weather, more tricky crevasse navigation, and the fact that if I had stopped for long I would have surely gotten hypothermic. I finally reached my tent at 7pm, 13 hours after departing, and crawled in for a rough, stormy night. Because my clothing was completely soaked (and thus, despite stripping off almost all my clothing, soon my sleeping bag was too), I was too cold to sleep all night, and simply re-warmed a nalgene of hot water once every 40 minutes or so.

I believe the Flavelle-Lane route had been soloed once before, in 2004, by German super-badass Frank Jourdan, during his second Canadian blitzkrieg (the first was in 1994), but I don't know if he continued to the main summit or the northwest summit.

At 7am on the 14th the sun finally hit my tent and I was finally warm enough to fall asleep, and passed out until 11am. When I finally got up I spent a long time trying to dry out my gear, and thus didn't leave camp until 2pm. In windy and partly-cloudy conditions, I ambled up the west slopes and northwest ridge of Mt. Combatant to the northwest summit, then descended to the notch between the two summits, and up to the main summit. I down-climbed and rappelled off Abalokov anchors to Chaos Col (Combatant-Tiedemann Col), and settled in for my third night in a bergschrund at the base of Combatant. On the morning of the 15th the forecasted good weather had returned, and I climbed Mt. Tiedemann via the West Face. The descent down the east ridge of Tiedemann was long and tedious, as I had remembered from 2004, with one section of unbelievably loose rock. I didn't start up the West Ridge of Mt. Asperity until well in the afternoon, but it went well. I am generally more comfortable soloing on ice than on rock, particularly with a heavy pack, so I veered from the West Ridge proper onto the upper northwest face. The descent down the northeast face of Asperity was mostly on Abalokov anchors, with some down-climbing, and I was soon settled into my fourth bivouac at the Asperity-Serra 5 Col.

On the 16th I started up Serra 5, and climbed to the base of the first steep rock pitches before hesitating. I had essentially "blown my Wadd," psychologically speaking, during my epic day on Waddington. Finding the motivation to climb Combatant, Tiedemann and Asperity had been easy, because I absolutely did not want to reverse the icefall below the Waddington-Combatant Col, and thus traversing these peaks was my best escape route. Now, at the Asperity-Serra 5 Col I had my first reasonable descent option to the lower Tiedemann Glacier, and the temptation to return to safety was greater than my desire to throw myself at Serra 5. I had unfortunately carried a pair of rock shoes, a chalkbag, and extra hardware all this way just to try Serra 5, but I suppose that is training weight! My decision to bail from Serra 5 can be explained by a quote of Frank Jourdan's, from the excellent report of his 2004 blitzkrieg:

"The stress of being alone in a lot of scary situations had blown my mind, and I decided to not go: I was not motivated or calm enough any more. I started the car, anxious to get back to life, to my friends, to share my beloved red wine..."

After bailing on Serra 5 I returned to my camp at the Asperity-Serra 5 col and relaxed until late afternoon. At 4:30pm I decided the southeast face of Asperity had been in the shade long enough to make rockfall unlikely, and I started down Carl's Couloir. The descent down Carl's Couloir was much easier and much less steep than I had expected - in fact it would make a great ski run, and not even qualify as "extreme skiing." I made 3 rappels, all over bergshrunds, and reached the lower Tiedemann Glacier a bit before nightfall. I trudged up to the Plummer Hut by headlamp, and at 11pm finished an excellent 5-day solo odyssey. Although some of the solos I have done were significantly harder technically, I think this was one of my best solo climbs because of its remote, committing nature, and also because of the psychological stamina required on a five-day solo, as opposed to just a single-push solo.

On the 16th Scott and I toured around the Upper Tellot Glacier a bit, and then in the evening we flew out to Bluff Lake and started the long drive home. Thanks Scott and Marina for letting me join in on a great trip!

Mark Bunker and myself on the summit of Serra 1 in 2004, displaying the 11 summits we had collected during the second ascent of the "Waddington Traverse." One of the culminating climbs of a fantastic climbing partnership. Photo by Mark Bunker:

Marina, Scott and myself on the night of the 11th, psyched to have arrived in the Waddington Range. Photo by Scott Pick:

Starting my journey on the morning of the 12th, with the Munday Peaks behind. Photo by Scott Pick:

The state of the upper Tiedemann Glacier leading up to Waddington-Combatant Col, taken from the flight into the Plummer Hut. This photo doesn't show how broken up it really was!

Looking down the Tiedemann Glacier from half-way up to the Waddington-Combatant Col, with Bravo Peak on the right:

The last few crevasses to deal with, almost up to the Waddington-Combatant Col:

The Spaniards at Waddington-Combatant Col, mid-way through a big adventure:

Home, sweet home at the Waddington-Combatant Col:

Looking up at the southwest side of Combatant from the Waddington-Combatant Col:

Looking up the start of the Flavelle-Lane route on the north face of Waddington:

Looking up low on the Flavelle-Lane:

Looking down from low on the Flavelle-Lane:

Part-way up the Flavelle-Lane, where the angle starts to kick back to 60-degrees, and the worst serac hazard is nearly done:

Self-portrait about half-way up the Flavelle-Lane:

Looking down from high on the Flavelle-Lane, with the Waddington-Combatant Col below. The original finish veered right onto the rocky buttress:

High on the Flavelle-Lane, with the lower Tiedemann Glacier below:

Looking over towards Combatant from high on the Flavelle-Lane, with the storm clouds building:

Looking down the Tiedemann from near the top of the Flavelle-Lane:

View of the summit tower from where I joined "the Stroll:"

Self-portrait during my rest in a bergschrund:

Looking up the "Wadd Hose" while traversing to the start of the summit chimneys:

Looking up the start of the normal route up the summit tower:

A short gully leading up to "the Notch:"

A short bit of steep ice in the summit chimneys, with someone's old stuck rappel rope on the side:

More ice in the summit chimneys, and a little slot that I could just barely squeeze through:

Looking up a harder bit in the upper summit chimneys:

Self-portrait at the last hard bit in the summit chimneys:

Nearing the top now:

The summit of Waddington, in nasty weather:

Trying to dry-out my gear, about midday on the 14th:

Looking back at the north face of Waddington, from a little ways up the west slopes of Combatant:

Nearing the top of the northwest summit of Combatant:

Looking onward at the main summit of Combatant (on the right) and the west face of Tiedemann (on the left):

Looking back at Waddington from the northwest summit of Combatant:

Summit #2 on the northwest summit of Combatant, with the main summit behind:

The ridge leading up to the main summit of Combatant, which is really nice class 3-4 climbing on mixed terrain, with excellent rock:

Summit #3 on the main summit of Combatant:

Looking at at the next morning's objective, the west face of Tiedemann, from my bivy at Chaos Col:

Self-portrait half-way up the west face of Tiedemann:

A nice ice gully and excellent granite, near the top of the west face of Tiedemann:

Summit #4 on top of Mt. Tiedemann, with Waddington behind:

Looking east when almost finished with the descent of Tiedemann. The next objective, Mt. Asperity, is the highest peak in the photo:

The only bit of self-belaying I did - A quick back-loop on the northwest side of Asperity, because the ice sheet I was traversing was detached from the rock. Mt. Tiedemann behind:

Summit #5 on top of Mt. Asperity:

Ice-cliff rappelling down the northeast face of Asperity:

Bivy at the Asperity-Serra 5 col:

A delicious dinner upon return to the Plummer Hut. Photo by Scott Pick: