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:

Friday, August 10, 2012

West Coast Mountains Mini-Road-Trip

My friend and climbing partner, Dylan Johnson, recently became a father, and thus has been very busy at home. Nonetheless, on July 26 he made the epic drive from his new home in Ventura, CA, back up to Seattle, and the next day we took off on an 11-day mini road-trip - the longest climbing trip he's been on since the birth of his daughter, Emma. We loaded up his Toyota Matrix with a variety of climbing gear to keep our options open, and headed north, with our only set plan to stay flexible and check weather forecasts often.

On I-5 about an hour north of Seattle, we decided to make our first stop in the North Cascades, at the Hozomeen Peaks. The North and South Peaks of Hozomeen are just barely inside the US, but the best access is from the Canadian side. I've wondered about Hozomeen for years, in fact ever since reading the "Battle for Hozomeen" chapter in Fred Beckey's "Challenge of the North Cascades" when I was fourteen years old. Neither Dylan nor I had ever been to Hozomeen, but we set our sights on the much-discussed and unclimbed "Zorro Face" (west face) of North Hozomeen.

On the evening of the 27th we rolled into Ross Lake Campground (which has got to be the most relaxed Canada-US border crossing that you can drive a car through) and passed out. The next morning we packed up, and made the long, but bushwack-free approach to North Hozomeen. Because other teams had been turned back trying to approach the Zorro Face directly, we planned a semi-technical descending approach from a notch on the north ridge, and bivied just a little ways below the ridge.

We woke up early on the 29th, dropped down from the north ridge notch, and down-climbed a long 3rd-class gully to reach the base of the Zorro face (note to future attempts - I am confident this is the best approach). However, as we slowly became familiar with the rock on our descending approach, and the face came fully into view, we both decided that our strategy/equipment/ability was no match for this behemoth! The face is very large (I would estimate 800 meters), much steeper than we expected (the left side is even overhanging for large areas), the rock is friable, and most importantly, there are almost no protection cracks, even for thin pitons. We bailed back up our approach gully, and climbed the normal 4th-class route up the north side of North Hozomeen.

The north face of South Hozomeen is also a very, very impressive and steep face. I think that the north face of South Hozomeen and the west face of North Hozomeen are perhaps the two most difficult walls in the lower-48. A bolt-free ascent of either will probably require very talented and very bold climbers. The significance of an ascent with bolts will all depend on how many are placed.

After our Hozomeen foray, we continued north and east to a parking-lot bivy at Rogers Pass, and on the 31st we climbed the mighty Mt. Sir Donald by the classic NW Arete. I thought this was a fantastic climb, on a majestic peak, and the quartzite rock was intriguing and enjoyable. The climbing is technically quite easy (4th class), but the route is impressively long, rising about 800 meters in one uninterrupted soaring ridge.

The day after climbing Sir Donald the weather was foul, so we drove further east and spent the afternoon climbing at the "Back of the Lake" in Lake Louise. Neither of us had ever been to the Back of the Lake before, and we both thought it was an amazing crag, with traditionally-protected climbs that feel more like overhanging sport routes.

On August 2nd, with still marginal weather, we made the approach into the Bugaboos. The following day we climbed Snowpatch Spire via "Surf's Up," Pigeon Spire via the West Ridge, and settled into a higher bivouac at the Pigeon-Howser col. On August 4th we climbed North Howser Tower via "All Along the Watchtower." I had climbed the route in 2004 with my friend Mark Westman, but it is definitely a route worthy of doing more than once! When Mark and I climbed it we took ├ętriers and jumars, and short-fixed the upper dihedral, so it was fun this time to just take a normal free climbing rack and just pull on gear here and there. Dylan managed to free-climb everything up to the crux pitch high on the route.

On the 5th we hiked out from the Bugaboos, and drove southwest to the Kootenays, and up to the Valhallas. Neither Dylan nor I had ever been in the Kootenay region, and I thought it was a pretty enchanting place. On August 6th we climbed the absolutely outstanding South Ridge of Mt. Gimli, and then made the drive home to Seattle (gawking at the limestone sport-climbing ciffs of China Bend along the way).

Our mini road-trip did not include much hard, serious climbing, but except for Hozomeen, all of the climbing we did was absolutely world-class. It is amazing how many awesome nooks of climbing are tucked away in little-known parts of BC and Washington. Confirmation yet again that I wouldn't live anywhere else in North America!

The Hozomeen Peaks from the approach on the Hozomeen Ridge Trail. South Hozomeen is on the left, with its north face facing the camera, and North Hozomeen is on the right, with the top of its west face (aka Zorro Face) visible on the right skyline. Photo by Dylan:

Colin getting excited at the border crossing on the approach to Hozomeen. Photo by Dylan:

The morning that we approached the Zorro Face, all of the North Cascades were filled by a sea of low clouds. Hozomeen offers awesome views of the Mox Peaks and the Pickets. Here are the north sides of the Southern Pickets. The shadow in the foreground is the shadow of South Hozomeen. Photo by Dylan:

Looking up at the scary Zorro Face, from the base. Photo by Dylan:

Heading up the standard route on the north side of North Hozomeen:

Colin scrambling up 4th-class rock on North Hozomeen. Photo by Dylan:

Dylan nearing the top of North Hozomeen, with a view towards the west. In the center of the horizon, just a bit to the right of Mt. Baker, is the impressive east face of SE Mox Peak, climbed in 2005 by Mike Layton and Erik Wolfe:

Dylan on top of North Hozomeen, looking at the north face of South Hozomeen:

On the approach to Sir Donald, we waited out a thunderstorm under a boulder:

Colin getting stoked at the base of the NW Arete of Sir Donald. Photo by Dylan:

Colin climbing on the NW Arete of Sir Donald. Photo by Dylan:

Colin higher up on the NW Arete of Sir Donald. Fortunately the rain held off until we were descending. Photo by Dylan:

On the summit of the mighty Mt. Sir Donald!

The impressive north face of Mt. MacDonald, just above the Roger's Pass highway. For years of driving past, I had dismissed it as choss, but after experiencing the excellent quartzite on nearby Sir Donald, this face is one that I would really like to return to:

In the Bugaboos, Colin posing like a douchebag on "Surf's Up." Photo by Dylan:

Harnessing the power on the summit of Snowpatch Spire. Photo by Dylan:

Dylan climbing the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, with the Howser Towers behind:

Colin on the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire. Photo by Dylan:

Getting really stoked now! Photo by Dylan:

On the summit of Pigeon Spire. Photo by Dylan:

An excellent pitch low on "All Along the Watchtower." Having done the route 8 years earlier did not seem to help me much on the route-finding, and I had to correct a few errors on this lower portion of the route:

About a third of the way up North Howser. My lead block was to the base of the fantastic upper dihedral. Photo by Dylan:

Dylan following a super-fun hand-crack pitch on the lower half of Watchtower:

Dylan following on the lower portion of Watchtower:

Dylan coming up a pitch about half-way up Watchtower:

Starting up the last pitch of my lead-block, to the base of the upper dihedral. Photo by Dylan:

Dylan styling the upper dihedral:

Colin following in the upper dihedral. Photo by Dylan:

Dylan still free-climbing:

Dylan free-climbing one more pitch in the awesome dihedral:

Colin following in the upper dihedral. Photo by Dylan:

Dylan finally resorting to aid on the crux pitch, which was a bit wet as usual:

Colin belaying the crux pitch. Photo by Dylan:

Dylan leading in last light, near the top of the dihedral:

Colin belaying near the top of the dihedral. Photo by Dylan:

Feeling quite dehydrated on the summit of North Howser:

Dylan below the fantastic South Ridge (right skyline) of Mt. Gimli. It had some of the most solid, well-featured alpine rock I have ever climbed on, and I will be back to Mt. Gimli for sure!

Dylan starting up the South Ridge of Gimli:

On the summit of Mt. Gimli. Photo by Dylan:

Mt. Gimli from back at the trailhead. The west face (left side) looks like it holds a bunch of excellent routes. Photo by Dylan: