Michelle Kadatz, Paul Bride and I flew in a heli into East Creek (the West side of the Bugaboos) for a few days last week. Paul was psyched to shoot landscape photos while Michelle and I checked out some of the incredible rock in the Pigeon feathers. Although there are quite a few routes here described in the guidebook, the Pigeon Feathers remain a slightly more obscure corner of the Bugs, despite their amazing quality, and proximity to a great camp. Upon landing, we hiked around until we found something that was really inspiring - some unclimbed splitters on Wide Awake Tower, slightly right of the original Wide Awake route.
Wide Awake Tower. Our route starts part way up the snow gully. photo: Paul Bride
On our first climbing day under stormy skies, we made it nearly three quarters of the way up before the skies started unleashing thunder and lightning. Going down was the only option. While pulling the ropes after the first rappel, a toaster sized block popped off and landed right in the pile of rope that was stacking itself in front of us as it fell. The result was both lead and tag lines were chopped in the middle! The storm intensified and we had no choice but to hunker down in a chimney, while rain, hail, and a lot of very close thunder and lightning came down all around us. Backs against the wall and all the metal off the harnesses, we slowly got colder and wetter. Multiple rounds of this continued until finally it passed and we made it down to the glacier safely. By the time we were walking back to camp, it was nice and sunny so we lapped the first three pitches of the classic Solitary Confinement. It was great to get back on this one again as it had been 8 or 9 years since I had climbed it, and it was one Michelle wanted to do too. Our thirty-five meter rope was exactly what it took to get to the first anchor of this amazing 5.11 continuous crack that gradually expanded from tips to off-width over three pitches. With only two #4 camelots, the even wider 4th pitch wasn’t really an option, which was fine by me. Three 4's, and three 5's would be considerated adequate for it...
Michelle on Pitch 3 of Solitary Confinement.
The following day we hiked to Applebee where it was possible to get two more ropes, which took the better part of the day via the Bugaboo Glacier. On day 3 we got back to work on what we were now calling Electric Funeral, obviously a reference to a Black Sabbath song, and our experience on it the first day. Paul and I are both huge Black Sabbath fans and when we get together, Sabbath becomes our theme. Michelle didn’t know the song, but liked the name! The climbing went well, although seventh pitch took getting dead-ended on two other option before I finally figured out what to do. Not comfortable with the run-out traverse to a grassy crack, I pendulummed across the face to the seam, then went into aid / cleaning mode with a nut tool and wire brush. By the time I got to the next ledge, I was so psyched to come back to send the pitch, as well as the amazing looking splitter above that bee-lined for the summit. It was cold, windy and getting late so we decided to save it for the next day.
Playing with fire at camp. Wide awake is the rightmost tower in the background photo: Paul Bride
On Day 4 the weather was looking pretty bad, and confidence of being able to complete the project was low. However, we were back, and for the first time we brought the power drill and enough bolts to set up some stations. We were psyched to have gone through the process a couple of times without bolts, and felt like the route was worthy of setting up to attract more climber to enjoy its quality. Fortunately the weather held and even got pretty nice, although quite windy in the afternoon. On pitch 7, I led out to a small foot ledge and placed the only protection bolt as high above my head as I could, then lowered the drill back to the belay and continured sending the pitch, which was delightfully sustained and interesting to climb. It was more like face climbing with a thin crack for protection, than the typical crack climbing that’s far more common in the area. The crux came right off the belay on the pitch 8 while laybacking off amazing chicken heads to pull a small roof! Trending right, beautiful cracks and transfer moves continued, and the rope was nearly used up before finally reaching a good stance.
Michelle following the 7th pitch photo Paul Bride
JW on pich 8, gunning for the top photo Paul Bride
Sweet views from the summit and a smooth rappel had us celebrating back in camp before long. Our time was up and we had the heavy, half-day slog / half-day drive home to look forward to the next day. It had been a fun process exploring this obscure conner of the Bugs and I know I’ll be back again. The crack system immediately left - aka Wide Awake, looked amazing!
Almost at the belay at the top of pitch 5. It's the triangular ledge a body length to my right. Photo Paul Bride
Michelle bringing me accross the traverse of Pitch 4. Photo Paul Bride
Michelle on pitch 6.
Michelle leading pitch 3
Michelle following pitch 7
JW starting up pitch 8, photo Michelle Kadatz
JW passing some perched flakes and the chimney on the way to the summit. Photo Michelle Kadatz
Electric Funeral, 300m, 5.11+, FA: Michelle Kadatz and Jon Walsh, August 7th 2014
A fun route on great rock, highly recommended, and it’s easily scoped from nearby snow slopes. Pitches 7 and 8 are nothing short of spectacular! The route is straightforward to rappel, or to walk off.
Rack: 1 full set of stoppers. 10 - 12 draws. Double set of cams from purple C3 or red X4 to #3 camelot. One #4 camelot and one #5 camelot are nice for the short wide sections of pitches 2 and 3. If the plan is to rappel, the #4 and 5 came lots can be left at the top of pitch 3.
Approach: Start up a the snowgully to the right of the tower's "nose" and ascend snow for about 80 meters. Look for a distint left facing corner that leads to a righ faceing corner that make up pitches 2 nd 3. We climbed a body length of 5.7 and then a 5 meter traverse left of easy 5th class to get a good belay ledge where you can dump your packs and get organised. This is directly below the changing corners of pitches 2 and 3. We left a cairn here...
P1: 5.10-, 30 meters; climb through bulge from belay and trend left to a left facing corner. A couple of balance moves to gets you to a crack that leads back right to a left facing corner with two wide cracks in it, and a two bolt belay station.
P2: 5.10, 20 meters; Climb the obvious wide cracks above up the left facing corner to a good ledge, and a gear belay (takes camelots .5, .75, 1)
P3: 5.10, 20 meters; A few off-width moves give way to nice hand-jamming. Belay at a good ledge with a huge, easily slung horn for the belay.
P4: 5.9, 50 meters; climb a short bulge above the belay and make a rising traverse to the right, until a short down climb becomes necessary. Climb down a few meters, then back up to a good belay ledge.
P5: 5.10+, 50 meters; Great hand and finger cracks head up and slightly left. Belay at a small but comfortable ledge below an overlap. A very nice pitch.
P6: 5.10+, 15 meters. Pull through the overlap and up a short groove. Rather than continue up the dirt right facing corner, make face moves out left onto the exposed / featured / golden face and up to a two bolt belay at a small ledge.
P7: 5.11-, 30 meters; Face climb up and left past a bolt, to gain a thin crack that leads straight up towards a roof. Two bolt belay below roof at small ledge.
P8: 5.11+ 50 meters; A crux roof sequence leads to spectacular crack climbing that trends rightwards towards the summit, sometimes transferring from crack-to-crack, one of such transfers providing a second, slightly easier crux! A two bolt belay at a good stance comes after 50 meters
P9: 5.9, 20 meters; A short straightforward pitch passes a chimney, and gets you to the summit.
Rappel notes: easy down-climbing about 5-meters off the summit to a slung block is required to get back to the last belay. A 25-meter rappel straight down from there (the last bolted station) gets you to another bolted station on a ledge that wasn’t part of the route. It would be possible to climb over to this on pitch 8, although this wasn’t done on the first ascent. A 50-meter rappel from here gets you to the bolted belay between pitch 6 and 7. Then 50-meters to a slung horn you passed near the start of P5. Two single rope rappels on slung horns throughout the owed angle traverse section, get you to the top of pitch 3. Then a double rope rappel easily makes the top of P1…
The North Pillar
There are less than a handful of people I know who have expressed interest in climbing the Twins Tower. The ones that live within a day's drive were unavailable. Not wanting to miss what I suspected were nothing less than exceptional conditions on the the North Pillar, thanks to a low snow year / hot summer, I went out on a limb and asked Josh Wharton if he had time and interest to give it a go with me. I have to admit I was surprised when he said yes and immediately bought a Denver - Calgary plane ticket. The alpine stars continued to align themselves as a perfect high pressure system settled into place as he stepped off the plane. The next morning, we headed up the Icefield Parkway, and hiked over the Woolley Shoulder with light packs, expecting to have a food / fuel cache waiting for us when we got to the Lloyd McKay hut that Josh had left there in 2011. A friend had confirmed it was looking good two weeks prior, and had even donated a few items to it. Tragically, the latest entry in the hut logbook dated September the 1st said "thanks for the grub, Josh", and only slim pickings were left of it. As Josh's note in his bag had said he'd be back in 2012, we could hardly blame anybody but ourselves that most of the bars and freeze dried dinners were missing, and accepted the fact that light and fast just got lighter and faster!
The next morning we left the hut with 8 bars and 8 gels each, and a couple of recovery and electrolyte drink mixes as personal food. For shared food, we had 6 packs of instant oats and couple hundred grams of granola + a small bag of trail mix that would be our breakfasts. For dinners, we two Knorr soups packets (unfortunately onion flavoured), one pack of Threshold Provision Salmon jerky, and one 100g chocolate bar. We also had 8 packets of Starbucks "Via" instant coffee! It was about 5000 calories each, and we knew we'd be spending at least the next two nights out (it turned out to be 3.5 days)! Hiking back to the car for more supplies didn't make a lot of sense, so we just accepted the fact that we'd be getting pretty hungry, and enjoyed carrying the lighter packs.
On the second pitch Josh wasn't sure if he was psyched anymore, but accepted the fact that I didn't want to slog back out the way we came. A lot of the climbing was chossy, and a lot of the gear was marginal, but there was just enough of it was good enough to continue pushing upwards. We cursed the first ascentionists, both for not cleaning it better and for talking the route up so much! It was mind boggling to us, that the only three parties to have climbed the face previously had done so in 1974, 1985, and in the winter of 2004. All parties had been pushed to their mental and physical limits, including ourselves. It seemed like we were right on the edge of our risk tolerance levels the entire time, and perhaps even crossed the line. Staying on that edge for such an extended time was exhausting!
The headwall turned out to be impressively steep and we began to haul the packs more than climb with them. It was so steep in fact, that they often hauled cleanly without even touching the rock. Fortunately the rock quality improved. 1985 5.10d - which many of the pitches were rated, seemed sandbagged to say the least. Continuous crack systems, often connected by gymnastic face moves, led through vertical to overhanging terrain for 13 pitches, to a wild climax at the top. With only about 15 meters left before hitting lower angled summit ridge, a few meters of straightforward aid climbing up a knifeblade seam had to done above a ledge, to gain a series of big, run-out jugs that traversed the lip of a big overhang! It was the only aid on the entire route for us, and it would probably go free at 5.12-, however dangerous fall potential put risking the free ascent out of our reach (despite being both quite comfortable at that grade). It was no place to be taking chances as retreat would be practically impossible at that point, especially with the state our ropes were in.
The rest of the route was fairly straight forward, but worked out, despite making a couple minor route-finding decision. One was thinking we'd save time and energy taking a short cut across the north face of Twins Tower right below the summit, in order to avoid some cornices, and the second was opting for the standard descent off of Mt. Cromwell to reach the valley, rather than hike across the Columbia Icefileds.
Climbing the Twin's Tower was in hindsight, a great and satisfying experience for both of us, despite not always being fun in the moment. It would be hard to recommend it to anyone, although if you're really psyched for a huge physical and mental adventure, it could be as good a place as any!
Our conditions were absolutely perfect. I don't think we saw a single cloud for the three days on the face, and maybe only a couple small ones on the fifth day. Visibility was unlimited - On the summit we could see from Mt. Robson to the Bugaboos. Temperatures were perfect too, with reported freezing levels over 3500m the entire time, and there was virtually no natural rockfall, except in a couple of expected places like gullies below ice ledges. Even there it was quite small, and mostly on the lower part of the route. The rock was generally very dry.
Hardest route in the Rockies??? maybe…
The itinerary we followed went like this:
Monday, Sept. 9th: Leave car at 1 pm, arrive at the Alberta hut at 6
Sept. 10: Leave hut at 5 a.m., approach N. Twin. By 10:30 we are finally belaying on the first pitch. Arrive at bivi site on "ice ledge", just below headwall at about 9 as it's getting dark.
Sept. 11: Climb 12 pitches of headwall and bivi one pitch below the top of it.
Sept. 12: Climb last pitch of headwall, and the summit ridge above it. Traverse a few meters below the double corniced summit ridge of the Twin's tower, and traverse the summit ridge of the North Twin (3731m). Stand on the summit around 4ish. Cross the Columbia Icefield toward to the Crommell / Stutfield col, and bivi slightly below it as it got dark.
Sept.13: Rappel and down-climb cliffs / hike out to the road which takes 6 hours. Arrive at car at 3:30.
Summary: Second ascent of the Twins Tower via the North Pillar - Josh Wharton, Jon Walsh Sept 10-12, 2013 (F.A.: Barry Blanchard / David Cheesmond 1985, 5.10d A2, 1500+meters from bergshrund to summit). 2013 grade: 5.11b r/x, A1 (about 4 meters of aid climbing) on the last pitch of the headwall. I suppose the r/x grade is irrelevant, as what else would you expect getting on an alpine limestone face of this size?
Sunrise on the Twins Tower and the line of our ascent. photo Josh Wharton
JW on the headwall. photo Josh Wharton
JW getting into mixed climbing onthe upper ridge. photo Josh Wharton
On the summit of the North Twin. photo Josh Wharton
Some of my B-roll:
Josh on pitch 2
Packing after the first bivi
Looking up at the headwall
Josh's 1st block, pitch 4 of the headwall
the end of Pitch 10 on the Headwall
The morning after the second bivi. Coffee time! Yes we"slept" here!
Morning light on Mt. Alberta
Finally above the headwall! Only a few of hours of lower angled terrain to the top
It's been a busy summer as always and I'm getting behind on updating this blog. About six weeks ago, the video Spirits of Asgard was released, and has been very well received. It's been posted to Outside Television, as well as received a Vimeo Staff pick, so it's recieved a lot of views, which is pretty cool! A huge congratulations to Joshua Lavigne for producing it. Check his website for more photos of the trip as well as the July / August 2013 issue of Gripped which features some pics and a 2500 word story I wrote about it. Josh's words and images are also shared in the 2013 Canadian Alpine Journal. Although the video covers the "darker" aspects of our trip, such as a couple of close calls we had, it was very a fun and successful trip. Some photos and stories have been shared here on a blog post from last August, but I thought I'd take a few a minutes to share a few more images as I link the the video here, as an attempt to share a greater visual tour of the amazing landscape Baffin has to offer.
The north side of Mt. Asgard and the reason for going here.
Ines and Josh enjoying perfect weather and spectacular views on the 60km approach.
One of the many stream crossings
Sunrise at Summit Lake
We were always hungry!
A cariboo skull and atlers on the Turner Glacier, and the first views of the 1200m high North Face of Mt. Asgard
Getting up the Turner Gl. required a lot of stream hopping, which sometimes required following them for a long ways before finding the easiest spot to jump.
Base camp on the turner. Asgard peaking through the clouds.
Our kitchen and living room for about a week
Ines getting started up the incredible south Buttress of Mt. Loki
Smiles on the summit of Loki
Getting high on Asgard. Mt. Loki is the highest rock peak accross the glacier and our base camp is on the strip of rock, directly below its summit. Photo by Joshua Lavigne
Josh and Ines folllow yet another pitch of perfect splitters
Josh getting western, a couple ofpitches below the summit
Ines at base camp below Asgard.