First Ascent

Check Your Head

Tags: Posted on December 01, 2012

A photo of me taken by Joshua Lavigne on nearing the top of the second pitch. (Yes, we goofed around with camera gear, did some filming and photo work.  The beauty of climbing as a team of three!)

Check Your Head  M6+R, WI 5+ 180m;  FA:Jason Kruk, Joshua Lavigne, Jon Walsh  November 25th, 2012

This mixed adventure is well worth the long approach.  Skis are recommended.  You can see the upper half of the route from highway 93, and it lies at the right end of of the first main wall at the Storm Creek Headwall.  The rock is excellent and belays are mostly bolted, and at good stances.  For the most part, the drytooling is very positive in good cracks, and protects well with natural gear.   The best place to park is at the Stanley Headwall parking, approximately .8 km south of the Storm Creek Headwall fire break approach slope, which has a "no stopping avalanche zone" sign on the highway right below it.  The route itself lies in a big avalanche path, so stable snow conditions are needed to climb it.

Ski up the fire break, take the road to the left at the top of it to the creek.  Follow the creek up the drainage to headwall.  Ascend the fan to the base of the route, 2.5 - 3 hours.    

Approach pitch: solo 30 meters of very thin WI2 (no pro), to an ice belay in a cave.

Pitch 1:  M6, 32 meters  - Start up a couple short ice flows and gain a left facing corner with good gear.  A couple delicate slab moves gain a short right facing corner.  Follow it for a couple body lengths to a left facing corner that leads to a snow ledge and a two bolt belay. 

Pitch 2: M6+ R, 35 meters  - Take the groove straight up from the left edge of the ledge.  Move leftwards past  two pitons (only fixed pro on route).  The second is a very good lost arrow.  Once it's clipped, traverse left on small edges and continue trending up and left until another crack can be reached.   Follow it straight up and eventually becomes a shallow right facing corner,  that ends at a snow ledge, a two bolt belay, and the lower angle halfway "ledge".  The second half of the traverse is a little bit run-out, but not the hardest part of the pitch.  

Pitch 3: M5 25 meters  -  Head up from the belay, and then take a hard left where it's easiest.  A two bolt anchor is found just before the ice.

Pitch 4: WI 5+ 40 meters  -  The left side of the ice was thicker and offered the most protectable line.  Small rock gear was useful to protect the initial moves onto the thin curtain at the bottom.  We belayed at a protected stance from ice screws on the right hand side, before the final steep pillar.

Pitch 5: WI 4+ 25 meters  -  Straight forward high quality ice climbing to an ice anchor at the top. 

Rappel notes:  It's a 57-meter rappel from the top of the ice to the highest bolted anchor.   Then a 45-50-meter rappel straight down to a 2-nut station at a hanging stance (drill battery died).   Then a 20 meter free hanging rappel to the ground.

Rack: 2 60-meter ropes; 1 set of nuts, 1 set of micro cams, 2 sets of cams from .3 camelot to #3 camelot.  8-10 ice screws.  Pitons optional (we placed 2 and left them fixed).

Two different angles of the climb, showing the belays and rappel stations



New Routing on Mt. Asgard

Tags: Posted on August 21, 2012

Auyuittuq 2012 - ascents of Mt. Loki and Mt. Asgard 


Mt. Asgard's previously unclimbed 1200-meter north face was our main objective for the trip, with our line of ascent in red


On the morning of July 17th, Joshua Lavigne, Ines Papert and I, got off the plane in Pangnirtung, Baffin Island.  Three hours later we were cruising past the icebergs on the Fiord, propelled by the twin outboard motors on the back of our outfitters fishing boat.  We soon said our goodbyes, arranged a pick up date, and began the trek up the Weasel Valley into Auyuittuq National Park.


After three days of rugged approaching, frigid creek crossings, and tantalizing vistas of the valley’s huge granite walls, we arrived at base camp on the Turner Glacier, directly below the North Face of Mt. Asgard.  Another big day was spent returning to the valley bottom to retrieve a cache of supplies and equipment that had been placed in the winter by snowmobile, which was followed a much needed rest day.  More rest would have been nice, but a second sleep-in would have to do. Great weather had us setting out up the nearby south buttress of Mt. Loki, the second most beautiful peak in our vicinity.  A continuous crack system from glacier to summit enticed us, and we climbed it in thirteen 60-meter pitches.  Old rappel stations were encountered the whole way.  We suspect we repeated the only route described in the guidebook, put up by Kiwi climbers some 20 years earlier.  It was likely the second ascent, first free ascent, and was very similar in quality and length to the Bugaboos ultra classic Becky Chouinard.  If this route had been in the Bugs, it would see daily line-ups! 


After another rest day we committed to our main objective, the 1200-meter unclimbed north face of Mt. Asgard’s south tower, with three days of food, fuel, and good weather forecasted.  We started right at the toe of the NW prow and were soon making good progress, leading in blocks of three to five pitches.  One seconder would usually follow on ascenders, while other would climb the pitch, except on easier or traversing pitches where both climbers would climb.  After 12 pitches, we ditched our bags on a big ledge and began exploring options.  Two and half traverse pitches were climbed towards the west face, where we were hoping to find access to a spectacular system of corners and face cracks, but to no avail.  After reversing the traverse and deciding to bivi on the nice ledge sheltered by an overhanging corner, two pitches of difficult wide cracks were climbed, and 75-meters of rope were fixed to speed things up the next day.


With two sleeping bags zipped together and three people inside, it was one of the warmest bivis on a ledge any of us had ever experienced! The next day, we ascended our lines and continued to the top, eventually wrapping around to the west face.  Here we found by far the best climbing of the trip.  Although the stone quality had been excellent the whole way, it seemed to get better the higher we got.  150-meters from the top, dark clouds swept over from the south, and it soon began to lightly rain or snow.  At 11 p.m., we all stood on the summit, shrouded by thick fog that limited the visibility to a mere 30-meters. 


Despite the poor visibility but with previous knowledge of the descent from a few years back, we decided to begin the rappels down the normal descent route of the smaller south side of the mountain, hoping to escape the exposure of the summit before the conditions worsened. The wind was gusting hard as the storm intensified, and it was the darkest park of the arctic night, yet we hadn’t anticipated the crux to be on the relatively easy / straightforward decent.


The technical rappelling, interspersed with loose slippery down climbing went by slowly but surely.  We were making good progress, but already cold and wet before it started raining and eventually snowing in the early hours of the following day.  With only 300 meters of 4th class slab scrambling to go to reach the glacier we had no option but to huddle under the 8x10 foot tarp we carried until conditions improved.  Finally, after about six long hours of shivering, the sun came out and warmed us just enough to continue safely to the glacier, where we were able to eat, drink, and recharge for the hike back around the mountain to base camp.


All 29-pitches of our route were free climbed, on-sight, except for a five-meter section of icy squeeze chimney with verglassed walls.  Had it been dry, it would have been a straightforward bit of 5.10.  It was the only aid on the route save for one wet move on the final pitch.  Technically, the hardest climbing had been 5.11+, which was certainly easier than we had expected, and the route would be a good candidate for one-day, all-free attempt, for a two-person team.


After some rest we moved back down to the Weasel Valley, intent on spending our last week on some other peaks we had eyed up on the way in.  However, the sad news of my father losing his 8-year battle to MSA, a rare form of Parkinson’s disease, reached us by satellite phone and put a quick end to any climbing thoughts.  The new task for me was to make it to his funeral in just three days.  A three-day hike had to be made in one huge day, and then flights needed to be changed.  So with heavy packs, and heavier hearts, a difficult and rainy trek began back to civilization began.  Joshua and Ines had no issues with accompanying me on this for which I was grateful.  We considered ourselves lucky to have had the weather and conditions at the start of the trip, and all felt satisfied with what we had just accomplished.  With the cold, low-pressure weather system that had just settled in and that was also forecasted for the week ahead, it was perhaps just as well to be leaving, this special and spectacular land.  


 Trip summary: 


-First Ascent of the North Face of Mt. Asgard’s south tower - 5.11+ A1, 1200m (Lavigne, Papert, Walsh) July 24th-26th, 2012, 60 hours round trip from base camp


-First Free Ascent of the south buttress of Mt. Loki – 5.10+, 650m (Lavigne, Papert, Walsh) July 22, 2012


Without the generous help from the following sponsors, this trip would not have been possible and we’d like to deeply thank:

Arcteryx, Mountain Equipment Coop, The Inspire Award, Black Diamond, Scarpa, Lowa, Vega, Julbo, Gore-Tex, Stoked Roasted

Also, a big thank you to the staff at Auyittuq Park in Pangnirtung, for being so helpful and considerate surrounding the difficult circumstances we faced at the end, and to our outfitter Peter Kilabuk for the boat services.


Perfect boating conditions on the Pangnirtung Fiord


Hiking near the entrance to the Weasel Valley


Mt. Thor on the left and Mt. Odin on the rightprovide stunning views along the trail


One of the many frigid creek crossings 


Summit lake at sunrise.  This was the view from our second campsite


Ines poses in front of Mt. Asgard on the Turner Glacier with a cariboo skull and antlers 


Coffee time at base camp!


Me, jumping one of the many streams on the Turner Glacier


Ines navigating crevasses on the way to Mt. Loki

Ines leading on the South Buttress of Mt. Loki


Perfect rock on Loki


The view across to Mt. Asgard's 1200 meter high north face


Summit group shot



Mt. Loki from Mt. Asgard with our camp and line of ascent


Asgard in all it's glory


The last rays of sun at base camp


Gearing up below Asgard.  Our route would more or less follow the sun shadow line to the right hand summit


Josh leading the first block


The bivi site, halfway up the wall


Josh leading on the second day


Me following


Ines following


Josh and Ines at the belay.  Ines is putting her shoes on for pitch 26


The storm is closing in; a couple more pitches left.


One pitch below the top, anticipating high winds and stormiy conditions on the summit, we took advantage of a sheltered belay to eat and get organised for the descent ahead 



Ines downclimbing the final slabs after the shiver bivi




Josh showing off his backcountry crepe making skills


Hiking back down the Turner under crippling loads 


Ines fording the creek below the Cariboo Glacier.  Fortunately this was about 20-30 cms lower than on the way in. 


Josh hiking in damp and misty conditions on the trail out


Man Yoga

Tags: Posted on November 15, 2011

Dec.5 Update: To see Joshua Lavigne's nicely shot and edited 10 minute Man Yoga video, click here 

Simms on pitch 1 - photo: Joshua Lavigne

Jon Simms and I just finsihed a new route on Stanley Headwall named "Man Yoga", that spanned three seasons.  I put a total of nine days in on it and Simms put in seven.  This past weekend, we spun two laps on it, friday 11/11/11, and sunday for some photos.  We managed the redpoint both days and can finally call the 250 meter line done!  We were supposed to go up there the weekend before but while I was at the Banff film festival, Simms bailed on me via text message.  Jason Kruk was at the festival and chomping at the bit for a good climbing adventure, so we teamed up, and finished the line to the top of the cliff, but came up short of the redpoint.  We did get some pretty good photos of it on Jason's camera, and they can be seen here, along with Jason's account of the day.

Man Yoga (n):  may involve scratching around, getting pumped mentally and physically above natural protection on sometimes questionable rock, while searching for passage up steep virgin terrain, often a mix of rock, ice.  Man yoga involves commitment, digging deep, and on-sighting in back-country situations.  It could also involve scrubbing dirt off boulders or cliffs in full conditions, and / or ducking Roman Candle shots fired by your belayer, arms locked off with poor feet, beyond protection, while engaged in the crux sequence.  Etc., etc..   The term was coined by Jonny Simms several years ago while we were putting up the route Drama Queen - also on the Stanley Headwall, and has since been stuck in our vocabulary, and frequently used when making climbing plans or generally talking about climbing.  It has also been applied to steep skiing situations such as billy-goating down steep, scary snow faces, or just long full value runs in no fall zones, that require skill, tenacity, and a calm confident head to shred.   i.e.: "Let's go do some Man Yoga…"  Man Yoga is not limited to men - women can do it too, although it's far less common to see a women engaging in advanced man yoga, although fortunately, their numbers are indeed growing. 

The story of the route Man Yoga:  
Man Yoga became the name we used to refer to our latest project, and obviously it stuck.  In January 2009, Chris Brazeau asked me if I wanted to join him on a Stanley Headwall adventure to try and gain the obvious steep ice, whose access was blocked by a massive roof, about two hundred meters right of the Suffer Machine.  Naturally I was psyched, and despite the snow covered rock, we nearly finished the second pitch on our first try, via a natural line that skirted the monstrous roof on its left.  The self drive bolt, two thirds of the way up the second pitch marks our high point, and was the only bolt placed that day, after two long leads.  Amazingly (or not), there were no traces of any other parties visiting this crack system up this beautifully immaculate limestone wall, despite the fact the every person who has ever walked back to Nemesis or Suffer Machine has gawked at the ice above the stunning overhang.  Although we planned on returning soon, shoulder injuries from skiing prevented it from happening anytime too quickly.

Between October and December 2010, Jonny Simms was back on the scene after a couple years on the coast, and was in need of a proper man yoga session.  Brazeau's recovering shoulder wasn't up to it, so Simms and I returned five times over two months to the Headwall project.  We finished the second pitch, bolted the belays and added a total of 16 protection bolts to the second and fourth pitches.  It was way more bolts than we hoped to add (the original dream was for a completely natural line),  but the result is a safe and fun route, and it's probably at least as long and demanding as anything else on the Stanley Headwall in terms of overall effort.  We hope the bolts and excellent natural protection will encourage others to repeat it, and we highly recommend it.   We're definitely psyched with how it turned out, and building the route was so much fun.  The rock quality is astounding, the route follows a devious natural line, the climbing is sustained and always interesting, there's lots of variety, and the two pitches of ice at the top are superb.  It might be better in early winter when the thin ice is fresh and well bonded, and the rock is less snow covered, but it should be good right through until spring.  However, more snow will give it more of alpine feel - perfect training for more serious routes in the range.  Actually, it's steep enough that battling the snow isn't too bad as not that much seems to stick to it.  This November (as well as last season's ice), was far thinner than that of the winter of 2009 / 2010, so I would expect some of the bolts on the fourth pitch may be covered in ice on fatter seasons.  This will undoubtably make the crux slightly easier... 

The beta:

M8, approximately 250 meters of climbing in 5 pitches + an approach pitch.  FA: Jon Simms and Jon Walsh.  Special appearances, inspiration, and help from Chris Brazeau, Troy Jungen, Tony Richardson, and Jason Kruk

The route is located about 200 meters right of Suffer Machine.  It's a devious line that skirts the left side of the huge arch and then trends back right to reach the ice flow above it.  There is more rock than ice, on this route, and the rock is of excellent quality throughout.  The route is probably best in early season, but is climbable all season from November to April.  In times of good stability, it's much quicker to leave the trail in the valley, just as it starts ascending the south side, by crossing the creek, cutting through the trees, and ascending the fan directly to the base.

P0 - (the approach) pitch 0 cause we've never actually roped for it, although it is about 5.4.  Climb up two short chimneys with snow ledges between, until below the great roof (about 25 meters).  Make a couple of moves up and left around a corner, then traverse across about 30 - 40 meters of 40-degree snow, or third class in early season.  A bolted anchor can be found near the left side of this big ledge, on then left side of small cave that probably fills in with as the snowpack deepens.  Heads up on the big ledge, it holds a lot of snow and could avalanche.   5.4   70+ meters
(rappel 40 meters from bolts to ground)

P1 - Juggy dry-tooling, and hand-jamming on immaculate rock with bomber gear.  Climb easy terrain above the anchor with sparse protection at first, then trend right towards a shallow right facing corner at the left edge of the huge arching roof.  Climb this with excellent protection in finger sized cracks.  Sometimes the slab on the right gets iced up and sometimes its dry.  Pull a small overhang into a slot, and work your way up the crack that widens from hands to offwidth.  Pull through the roof and follow a 50-degree ramp for about 8 meters to the 2 bolt anchor.  M7  45meters

JW on pitch 2;  photo: Joshua Lavigne

P2 - The delicate face pitch.  Pay close attention to your rope drag - it's crucial to use lots of extendable draws.   Move out left from the belay and then back right towards a bolt, then up a seam past a fixed pecker.  Continue up a left facing corner until below a roof (about 15 meters).  Place a red camelot with a double length runner in the obvious splitter, and traverse right below the roof with good protection.  After about 10 meters of traversing, a series of five bolts and some delicate face climbing up parallel seams leads to the next 2 bolt anchor.  Gear to 2.5".   M7  35 meters
(rappel 60 meters direct to the big snow ledge, then traverse 10 meters back to the anchor at the top of pitch 0)

P3 -  Follow the cracks / groove straight up from the anchor, until it's possible to step right onto a good ledge and a 2 bolt anchor.  (gear to 4 inches)  M5 25 meters

P4 -  The crux pitch - careful of the rope drag - use your extendable draws wisely!  Climb up and right past a knifeblade to a bolt.  Traverse right along the ledge past another piton.  Continue up and right past 2 bolts until you can step around the corner and cross an icy slab.  Keep following the bolts up and right as they traverse below the big roof the ice drips from.  A right facing corner offers steep powerful moves with great pick torquing through the roof, and a pumpy move back left to a stance at the lip.  This will be a bit easier on fatter ice years.   Continue up mixed ground for another 8 meters, past a bolt and a knifeblade, looking for a small ledge on the left with a two bolt anchor.  This pitch is all fixed (11 bolts, 4 pitons,) although small rock gear might be useful for some people, as will ice screws on fatter years.  M8  32 meters

JW pulling the overhang on pitch 4;  photo: Joshua Lavigne

P5 - Proper ice climbing at last, and a fine finish - It starts with some thin, lower angled ice up a right facing corner, with good rock gear for protection, followed by a short but steep pillar to a stance in a small cave.  Straightforward WI 5 from here leads to the cave the ice flows from, and bolted anchor.  A single rack up to #1 camelot and ice screws needed.  WI 5  50 meters

Simms climbing ice with good rock protection on Pitch 5;  photo:Joshua Lavigne

Two rappel options exist.  Obviously rappelling the route is one, although the fourth pitch needs to be back-clipped to make it to the third anchor.  pull the ropes here, then another short rappel down the third pitch.  60 meter ropes land you on the big snow ledge of pitch 0, but 10 meters of walking is required to get to the bolted station.    Alternatively, from the top of the 4th pitch, make a 60 meter rappel straight down to a bolted station at a small stance, just above the lip of the big arch.  This station is about 3-4 meters left of the plumb line of the rappel.  This might be a bit of an intense rappel line if you're doing it for the first time in the dark.     Then make another wild rappel over the big arch, 55 meters to the snow ledge of pitch 0, 10 to 15 meters of walking to the bolted station.  One more 40 meter rappel to the ground.

Ropes:  Two 60m ropes.  Using doubles would be advantageous for reducing the rope drag, which there is a lot of on the second and fourth pitches, unless the leader does an excellent job placing extendable slings in the right places.  We used a single and a tag, but knowing the pitches helped, and we used at least 10 extendable slings.  The advantage is of course the ability to haul, and both climbers climb with less stuff on their backs and harnesses.  If you're hauling the pack, Hauling on the first pitch is best done, by pulling the haul line all the way up, and then throwing it back down in a more direct path to the belay.  It still may get caught and is best tied off as short as possible, so the seconder can help jerk it around some overhangs.

Cams: the following sizes are in BD Camelots, which is what we used
Singles:  #0 C3  (green);  #2 C4 (gold); #3 (blue) #4 C4(grey)
Doubles: #1 C3 (reds); #.3 C4 (blue); #.4 C4 (grey); #.5 C4(purple); #.75 C4(green); #1 C4(red)
1 half set of nuts
Pitons are optional but the route is set up for climbing without hammers, and there are several fixed in key places.
Draws:  16 draws -- 10 extendable and 6 quick draws, one or two extra double length runners

Screws:  7 - 10 including stubbies.  I guess the number depends on your comfort level leading steep ice after a relatively full day of climbing.  The ice gradually gets fatter the higher you get.