The East face of Snowpatch, the gift that keeps on giving
Over the last decade or so, the 500-meter high East face of Snowpatch Spire has been transforming into one of the finest alpine rock faces in North America. What used to be a face known primarily as an aid climbing venue, is now covered in free-climbing lines, although mostly difficult ones, usually reqiuring at least a couple pitches of 5.12. But perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that almost every pitch is good! I don't think there's another mountain in western Canada that can boast that! Like a big crag offering pure rock climbing in the alpine, it offers an easy approach from the nearby campground, belays on most routes are mostly bolted, there are no "approach" pitches, and there's no tedious summit ridge. The climbing is almost entirely traditionally protected, although most routes have a few protection bolts where cracks need to be conected by face moves, and face holds are plentiful. It has been one of my favorite zones for over ten years now.
Last season, Michelle Kadatz and I investigated the sector in the Bugaboo guidebook where the great flake fell off the lower middle section of Snowpatch Spire, taking the first three pitches of several routes including Les Bruines Es Pentinen, Deus Ex Machina, and the original Sunshine Wall with it. The obvious scoop at the bottom went ok, but the next 80 meters required extreme care to remove the left over debris from the major rockfall. Once it was gone, it didn't take much to buff it into a nice free climb and a fairly moderate one by East face of Bugaboo standards. After five pitches, we had established Minotaur Direct, which seemed like a better start than the original version that climbed the lower pitches of Labyrinth and traversed over. We returned this year, adding stations and continuing up the amazing middle section of Minotaur, a route I put up several years ago with Colin Moorhead. We gave this a good clean up too as this section of the wall is becoming a popular option amongst both Bugaboo regulars and visiting climbers. People seem psyched to have good pitches within a close proxitimity to Applebee and often set out to climb only half the face.
Alik Berg and I teamed up in mid July to venture out left from Minotaur into the obvious corner system that splits the big roof in the middle of the face where the Deus Ex Machina goes. We were blown away by the quality of the climbing and the softest pitch gradewise out of all the routes to go through this continuous roof system that runs the width of the face. Above it we ventured into new terrain but a couple of mossy cracks slowed progress about ten pitches up. We cleaned them out and rappeled. Two weeks later we were back with plans to finish the line. On the first day we climbed the first four pitches and fixed our two ropes. This allowed a bit of head start for a bigger day the next day. It was nice to sleep in the evening after hiking up, and fun to have Taran Ortlieb join us for this. The next day, we ascended the two lines, then made the continuous free ascent to the summit, adding four more pitches above our previous high point and sending every pitch first try! A very satisfying day, on a fun route with a lot of varied climmbing.
The East face of Snowpatch Spire with the line of ascent.
Taran Ortlieb joined us as we fixed two ropes on the first four pitches. Here he is crossing the moat between edge of the glacier and the face. Exactly four weeks earlier, it was easy to step across the gap and be standing on the ledge his left hand is at. As the summer goes on, and the snow melts back from the rock, the first pitch can get 5-10 meters longer and a grade or two harder!
Taran a few meters higher on the first pitch, now enjowing perfect hand jams on perfect granite.
Alik leading off on the second pitch of 5.10 tips.
Having Taran join us to climb the first four pitches and fix our ropes, allowed me to lead the fourth pitch, and then take photos of Alik leading it. It's got four 5.11 sections to it over 45 meters and is delightful to climb!
Another from the fourth pitch - Some face moves protected by a bolt connect two corner systems.
Alik hiking last crux of the fourth pitch with a combination of chimneying, steming, and edge pulling.
Alik climbing the splitter flake at the start of the 6th pitch.
JW in the first of four cruxy sections on the 7th pitch - the roof pitch of Deus Ex Machina, previously A3. It's the only one that we think shared any terrain with any of the old aid routes.
Alik nearing the top of the 55-meter 9th pitch.
Alik starting up the 10th pitch.
Some fine heel work high on Snowpach, with magical jugs in the all the right places; Alik getting starting on pitch 12.
Alik on pitch 12
Another from pitch 12
On the North Summit of Snowpatch with the summit ornament, and views of the Howsers.
Welcome to the Machine
5.11+, 13 pitches
First ascent: Pitches 1-5 - Michelle Kadatz and Jon Walsh; Pitches 6-13: Alik Berg and Jon Walsh
August 2nd, 2015
p1 - 30 meters 5.10-; step across the moat which gets harder as the season goes on. Climb double cracks / flake for about 10 meters until you’re able trend right, and easily up the big scoop. Make a gear anchor before it steepens where you can find some good foot ledges.
p2 - 30 meters 5.10+; continue up the scoop via a thin corner crack, to a belay bolted belay a good stance.
p3 - 30 meters 5.10+; climb the corner above and pull through a small overhang to a stance. Step left and head up a shallow left facing corner, until an easy ramp leads back right. Follow this, hand traversing flakes until a bolted station below a long left facing corner.
p4 - 45 meters 5.11+; A thin tips corner gains a section of cool stemming. When you get to a bolt clip it and face climb left to the arete. Don’t move it up to the bolted station up and right or you’ll have to down-climb 3 meters to continue sending! from the stance on the arete, move up and right back into the left facing corner, and follow past one more tips crux to the bolted station on a good ledge.
p5 - 50 meters 5.10 ; After a couple body lengths of fist crack, pull a small overhang. A #5 camelot is useful here for the crux move. Rather than continue up the obvious corner, look up and you’ll see a bolt. Climb up to it, and move left into the next corner system which is much better. It leads to a fourth class ledge, which needs to traversed up and left. A bolt below a groove is the start of Minotaur. Continue past it for five more meters to a two bolt station bellow a nice looking flake.
p6 - 35 meters 5.10; Climb the flake up, then hand traverse it left. It turns into a walkable ledge. At it’s end, move up and left though small overlaps, then face climb left, and then back right to a bolted station.
p7 - 45 meters 5.11+; This is the roof pitch of Deus Ex Machina. Move left off the belay, and then climb up a small right facing corner on face holds. Move left into the main left corner and follow it though a series of small roofs to a bolted anchor.
p8 - 60 meters 5.10; Climb the right hand crack for five meters to a ledge, Move left into a corner which is wide but easy. Follow this to a good ledge. Continue up another short right facing corner with couple of tricky moves and make a gear belay another good ledge, with some very nice looking corners up to the left. This pitch might be better to split into two as rope drag is a factor. Either way, a gear station needs to be made.
p9 - 55 meters 5.11; An amazing pitch! Start by climbing double cracks, with a mix of gear and bolts for protection (3 protection bolts total). At a small stance there’s a fixed wire and a bolt for an optional belay, however the FA team linked the next 30 meters of sustained 5.10 to a great ledge and bolted belay.
p10 - 40m meters 5.11-; climb the nice finger crack up and right. After a section of fist crack, two bolts on your left traverse to a ledge system, and a two bolt anchor at the far left of it.
p11 - 50 meters 5.10-; A clean corner above goes from hands to fists to off-width. After it gets too wide for a # 5 camelot, two body lengths of easy lay-backing passes it and gets you to easier terrain with small gear options. Continue up the groove above to a two bolt station below some black overhangs.
p.12 - 25 meters 5.11+; The last two pitches were nearly linked on the first ascent with 68m rope, but this is not recommended. Start by climbing through some overhangs with some great and unlikely moves. Belay at a good ledge.
p.13 - 45 meters 5.11 ; Follow the crack up and left, until a big ledge is reached. This pitch is a bit dirty but will clean up with a more ascents.
A scramble for a couple of ropelengths up and left gets you to the North Summit. You will pass the top station of Sendero Norte on the way which is probably the cleanest descent option. Of course if you don't know it, it might be more difficult.
The other decent option is as follows:
At the big ledge at the top of the last pitch, a sling around a pinch between boulders was used for the first rappel, to get back to the top of pitch 11. From here, rappel to a nut station about 10 meters climbers right of the station at the top of pitch ten. Careful of the rope eating crack below. Best to just rappel to the top of pitch 9 from here to keep the rope out of the crack. Then rappel to the obvious bivy ledge, on skiers left. On the far side of this ledge, rappel down Minataur on bolted stations. The first one is 55m. The second one is 30 m and it’s best to clip a bolt on the way down as a directional. Another 55m steep rappel gets you back to the big ledge at the top of pitch 5. Continue down the pitches you’ve already climbed. From the top of pitch 4, it's about a 65 meter rappel to the top of pitch 2, so if you have 60 meter ropes, it's best to place a directional or two to get into the optional station on pitch 4, and then rap to the top of pitch 2 from there. One more 50-55 rappel puts you on the glacier.
2 x 60m ropes
Double set of cams from tips to #3 camelot.
Triple set from tight fingers to loose fingers (#.3, #.4, #.5 camelots)
1 #4 camelot, 1 #5 camelot
One set of nuts
12-15 quick draws (half of them should be extendable)