Sunday, October 4, 2015

Back in Patagonia - An Amazing Six Day Weather Window

I arrived in a quiet El Chalten on the 11th of September, for the final week of winter and first couple weeks of spring.  A quick look at the forecast in the El Calafate airport showed a possible window coming in about a week’s time, so I had no time to spare. After two months spent in the urban-esque mountains of Europe and another in the growing outdoor recreation metropolis of Squamish, I was seeking solitude and adventure. Thus, I threw together a mental plan to solo Aguja Standhardt, the smallest of the three Torres in winter, but in reality felt that I would be lucky if I managed to climb anything in the area, having only been in summer and expecting very difficult conditions.

Travel was horrendous this time around,with airport delays, long layovers and my own personal errors such as going to the wrong airport ect ect.  By the time I reached El Chalten, three days after departing, I just wanted to be in the mountains. Although I arrived late at my hostel, I stayed up until midnight preparing a load of equipment to shuttle into the Torre Valley, and at 7:30 the following morning I was off.

Not knowing how much snow to expect, having both arrived and then departed in darkness, I wore my boots right out the door of my hostel. After an hour and a half on the trail, with no snow yet in sight I realized my error. Although the temperature were cold in the shade, and there was some snow on the ground I was surprised that conditions on the trail to Laguna Torre were not more 'wintery'. Then again I had not known quite what to expect, but my boots felt rather unnecessary for the first several kilometers of the approach..

The classic view of the Torres from the lake.

The descent to the Torre Glacier was in much worse shape than I had ever seen it. A section had collapsed, taking with it the old fixed rope usually used to navigate the steep descent. As I downclimbed fourth class rubble where the rope used to be, the winds grabbed at the skis strapped to my backpack and threatened to throw me off balance. After reaching the glacier, the winds abated somewhat, allowing me to cross easily and make good time to the base of the Torres. But once I reached Niponino, the popular base camp used by climber, clouds closed in and the scenery took on a whole different character. A cold wind whipped the fresh snow into drifts all over the glacier, and my hands quickly froze as I piled my equipment into the 100L drybag I had carried in with me to leave behind as a cache.

After burying my cache beneath a pile of stones I was quick in exiting the valley, the wind now in my back. A arrived back at my hostel just before darkness set in, sore from having walked a long ways in my boots.
After two days of rest I made my second carry into the valley. After two trips to the area, I had decided that making several carries is a more advantageous strategy over making only one trip with a crippling load. Fitness gains can be made this way, rather than inflicting damage on the body by carrying all the equipment at once.
This time, there was fresh snow covering the trail before reaching the Laguna. I carried my boots in my pack, and before navigating the descent to glacier I made the change to heavier footwear. Once on the glacier, my skis would have proved handy had I not left them stashed three kilometers further at Niponino. Fresh snow made the typically straightforward glacier more hazardous, and in some areas I had to probe for crevasses while breaking trail.
I deposited my second load of equipment at Niponino and made quick time skiing back down the glacier, stashing my skis where the glacier meet the moraine before walking back to town. On the walk back to town however, a pain in my left leg slowly began to grow, eventually making simply walking a painful affair. Never having had this issue in the past, I tried to remain positive that the situation would sort itself out and I would not spend the remainder of my trip hobbling around El Chalten on crutches.
The following morning some research led me to deduce that I had an inflamed IT band, likely from walking long distances so suddenly, through snow with heavy boots. I spent the next several days stretching, massaging, and took some  anti-inflammatories hoping that I would still be able to make use of a promising window in the forecast.
The window appeared to be best from the 20th of September onwards, with an unusually large high pressure system settling over the area for nearly a week. The 20th would be the last day of winter, and thus my hopes of making ‘winter ascents’ were unlikely to be realized. In Patagonia it is important to strategize in the most logical manner for a successful climb, and to not go too early simply based on how high the stoke is. For me this can be a crux. I decided that a couple extra days of rest would be good for my leg as well, and readjusted my mental itinerary to suit the dates of the weather window.

On Sunday, the 20th of September I set of from Chalten with a light pack and hopes the my knee would not become inflamed again. I felt for any twinges of pain but none came, so I picked up my skis and made my way across the glacier under blue skies. There was no wind as I leisurely set up my camp at Niponino, temperatures in the sun were rather accommodating as I lay about camp sharpening my tools, melting snow for water and organizing my equipment for the following day.
My plan for the next day was to ski and climb to El Boquete, a pass at the head of the Torre Valley, separating the Fitz group from the Piergiorgio and Torre groups. From El Boquete I would be able to see conditions on Cerro Chalten’s ‘Supercanaleta’, another line that I was interested in climbing during the long weather window.

Camp in the Torre Valley, Cerro Chalten and Desmochada catching the evening light.

I left camp early in the morning, knowing that if conditions looked good in the Supercanaleta I would want to climb the first 1000 meters and spend the night at the start of the technical difficulties. I skied up the glacier to the base of the icefall guarding ‘El Boquete’, where I swapped skis for crampons and began climbing. Much of the climbing was simply 45 degree snow, but at the top there was one pitch of 90 degree ice to navigate in order to reach the pass.It looked too steep to climb with my pack on, I built a V-thread and hung my pack from a fifi hook, so that I could retrieve it after soloing the pitch. I climbed well to the left of my pack, so as not to dislodge it with the ice that fell as I swung my tools. The quality of the ice was awful, some of the worst I have climbed and enormous chunks splintered from the serac as I climbed. I had to take great care not to be knocked off by the enormous dinner plates that continually fell as I climbed, but after twenty meters of steep terrain I reached easy ground and hauled up my pack.

On the walk up to 'El Boquete' Torre Group in the background.

At the pass I coiled my rope and inspected conditions in the Supercanaleta. The couloir looked rather thin, with discontinuous sections even below the start of the mixed terrain. Cerro Pollone however, had a large flow of neve pouring down its South Face and looked highly appealing. A few months had passed since I had really spent time in the mountains, and soloing a dry Supercanaleta did not look like the best way to start things off. The South Face of Pollone looked like a smaller objective, and it also looked to be in excellent condition.  I elected to spend the remainder of the day skiing around the pass and to climb Pollone the following morning. The afternoon was spent in a leisurely manner, skiing laps down the long undulating slope to the base of the Supercanaleta and skinning back up. I am not an expert skier, especially in climbing boots, so this was a perfect and enjoyable place for me to practice making turns in a spectacular setting. Despite the mellow angle of the hill, I still wiped out in ways that surely would have made good entertainment had others been around to watch.

 skiing with Cerro Chalten in the background.

 I spent the night under the stars without a tent in a comfortable windstopper sleeping bag and it was quite a treat.  Stars were out in full force, and although a gust of cold wind would come every now and then in the night, it never penetrated the fabric of my sleeping bag and I felt well rested when I awoke in the early hours of the morning to approach the south face of Pollone.

I crossed the schrund under the cover of darkness; I had to make a long exposed traverse above the lip of the schrund in order to reach the aesthetic smear of ice that I hoped to climb. I could sense that I had not been on exposed steep snow in some time, and whenever a patch of ice made itself present on the wall above I found comfort in the secure placement of my tools.
I soon reached the long smear of white ice that stretched the whole vertical length of the face, and was delighted to find that the neve was of excellent quality. One swing stick hero Styrofoam at an angle of about 70 degrees for hundreds of meters!
As I swung and kicked and ascended the feature with a steady rhythm the sun began to rise over the sharp fangs of the Chalten Massif illuminating the sky in red. I stopped several times to take in the beauty of my surroundings, and to appreciate my luck with such weather and perfect conditions. High up on the face the ice thinned and I had to make a series of mixed traverses to reach a parallel ice smear; the perfect quality of the ice, even when only two or three centimeters thick allowed my easy passage and soon I was at a shelf bisecting the face into two parts.
Above, a one meter wide strip of ice led for another few pitches to the summit ridge. The climbing was easy, never harder than AI3, but of excellent quaity., As I climbed higher the face became plastered in rime, obscuring everything, and the ice became harder to follow until I reached the summit ridge.  Unfortunately, my attempts to traverse to the east summit of the mountain were thwarted by the heavily rimed up stoned. I tried several different options, but each time found my tools and frontpoints bouncing off the rock beneath; unable to make a belay I returned to a small saddle in the crest which I straddled as I made my first rappel anchor. A few rappels, some downclimbing, and a few more rappels down a narrow ice choked gully brought me back to my skis at the base of the route.

Straddling the summit ridge of Pollone. The south face is the shady bit on the right.

After picking up my equipment at El Boquete I made a few rappels back to Torre Glacier and skied my way back to my tent in Niponino. A glance at my watch after reaching camp revealed that it was only 4pm, and I scorned myself for not doing another route, or attempting Piergiorgio with so much time left in the day. However I still opted to rest for the remainder of the day, and the following day to leave myself prepared to go big in two days’ time.
Taking a rest day in the Torre Valley under perfect weather, and with excellent conditions, was for me likely the mental crux of my whole venture! I desperately wished to grab my tools and solo one of the many frozen waterfalls pouring from the couloirs beneath the Chalten Massif but I continued to tell myself that I would need that energy on the following day.
During my Pollone ventures, it has appeared from the glacier that ‘Tomahawk’, the route that I wished to take on Standhardt was unformed. The other option was to climb only ‘Exocet’, a shorter route that, although still aesthetic, involves more approaching and less climbing.

How the rest day generally started, sharpening tools and organizing gear.

I walked out onto the Torre glacier to get a view of ‘Los Tiempos Perdidos’ on the south side of Cerro Torre as one of my alternate plans had been to climb ‘Los Tiempos’ and continue with a North to South traverse of the Adelas. The route looked to be in good shape, and I went to bed thinking I would start early and climb ‘Los Tiempos’ instead of Standhardt. However the objective hazard associated with the route left me feeling slightly uneasy.

What the rest day generally regressed to. A few hours later.

At 3:30 AM an avalanche in the vicinity of ‘Los Tiempos’ woke me from my dreams and I promptly changed my mind and decided to go for ‘Exocet’ instead, preferring to enjoy the day rather than await my possible impending fate at the hands of an avalanche.  I repacked my bag, adding a few cams and extra slings to the rack and at 4:30 AM began the approach towards the base of Aguja Standhardt.
Crossing glaciers without a rope, rightly known to be a harzardous activity, is the one aspect of alpine soloing that I fear the most and enjoy the least. Luckily the snow conditions were iron hard and my crampons barely left scratches in the surface. After ascending a few hundred meters by the light of my headlamp I found myself in an icefall that I did not remember from my two previous times on this glacier. I tried several different options, but found my way barred by gaping crevasses or towering seracs each time. Eventually I sat down in a relatively safe zone and waited for the first early morning light to orient myself. I ate some food, drank some water and admired the stars for about an hour until the light was sufficient to see where I needed to be.

I retraced my steps back down the glacier for about 200 meters and then took the correct route leading to Standhardt, crossing one crevasse on my knees before reaching the base of the wall. From this vantage I could suddenly see a faint strip of ice in the crux pitch of Tomahawk, and although it was hard to make out, it looked as though it may be continuous.
‘I might as well try to do what I came here for’, I thought to myself, and traversed over to the start of the first pitch; listed as M5 C1 on the topo I had in my pocket. Although more technically difficult, the steep climbing on ‘Tomahawk’ looked much more appealing to me than walking up a crevassed glacier without a belay, even in good snow conditions.
Never having climb any of the terrain on which I was about to embark I had few expectations. I carried a few cams, pins and wires as well as two ice screws so that I could build belays if necessary. I placed a shoulder length sling around a horn of rock and hung my pack from it using a fifi hook, I girth hitched another sling to the bag and clipped it to the first sling in order to retrieve everything when I pulled up the bag.

The East Faces of the Torre Group from the valley floor, taken on my way to El Boquete.

As I started up vertical but blocky mixed terrain, I removed my gloves for a better sense of contact with the rock and my tools. I entered a short offwidth section, heel toe camming to the best of my ability with crampons on and using my right tool to stick a narrow ice vein in the back of the feature. After mantling over the top of the block, a series of awkward shimmy’s across snowed up flakes brought me to a large wide corner feature. After some more offwidth climbing, facilitated by good holds on the outside edge of the crack, I was able to make a 180 degree spin and exit onto the left hand wall via a series of gritty ice filled cracks, using both my hands and dry tooling techniques. As I swung my tool into the more continuous ice at the top of the pitch I was both pleased and surprised to have not needed to belay or aid climb at all. I placed a pin and a small TCU and used the temporary anchor to haul up my pack on the microtraction before continuing.

On the crux pitch of Tomahawk.

An easy pitch led to the base of ‘Tomahawk’s main feature, 60+ meters of vertical ice in a narrow and highly aesthetic chimney. I did not want to leave a sling at the base of the pitch as I did not expect to be descending the same way, and thus chose to solo the pitch with my pack on, dragging my rope behind me. The ice was somewhat sun baked, and I had to work for solid tool placements, but the availability of the side walls prevented the climbing from ever becoming too strenuous. I used a combination of chimney and stemming techniques to ascend the pitch. At times I found myself palming the left hand wall and walking my feet up the ice on the opposite side of the chimney, using only my right tool in the ice. Drop knees and stemming between holds on the chimney’s side walls also came in handy; a technical and highly enjoyable pitch!

Chilling in the chimney on the crux pitch of Tomahawk.

I topped out this pitch and found myself staring up the more moderate snow ramps and ice steps leading to the junction with Exocet. The east face was now in the full sun and, as per usual, chunks of snow and ice were raining from the walls and running down the gullies. The face had been receiving full sun for the previous four day, and I did not expect anything too huge to come down so I continued climbing, sticking to either sides of the runnels that much of the debris were channeled into.

There were a few steps of grade 3 and grade 4 ice in the ramps, and soon I was on the main ramp that bisects the face diagonally beneath the upper headwall. Here the snow was soft and heavy, warmed by the sun, and kicking steps was heavy work due to the snow balling in my crampons making me feet rather heavy.

Looking back down to the Torre Valley. My pack hanging at a rappel anchor.

After a short while I finally reached the base of the Exocet chimney proper where I had a snack and prepared myself for the steep climbing above. As I started into the chimney I found the ice to be of generally good quality, as the sun being further to the north than in summer, did not reach the back and affect the ice.

Looking up the radical chimney pitches on Exocet

For the next several pitches, I hung my pack from in situ anchors, or from slings girth hitched through v-threads that I had made. I would solo until near the end of my 80 meter rope, then place another screw and tag up my pack. I found the climbing steep and sustained, but not overly difficult and I never felt the need to stop and belay. I slithered my back along the left hand wall, using the chimney position much of the time to progress without taxing my arms.

Climbing the ice chimney on Exocet

 After four 80 meter pitches found myself at the top of the chimney staring up at a mixed slab guarding the summit ridge. I expected to need a belay at some point, as from the base the slab looked quite thin, but as I started upwards I was able to find adequate edges to stand on and free soloed the pitch finding it much more straightforward than it had appeared from below.

Looking down the mixed slab pitch above the ice chimneys.

I topped out onto the summit slopes and was rewarded with an incredible view out over the icecap, a view that melts my mind each and every time I see it! A light wind sweeping over the ridge and some clouds in the sky prompted me to move quickly in case the weather was about to change, and I scampered over to the base of the beautiful rime mushroom that forms the summit. Here I saw that a small tunnel through the rime would provide passage onto the summit, but the tunnel was so narrow that my shoulders barely fit inside. I found myself unable to swing my tools or kick with my boots, so I resorted to some kind of ‘rodent’ technique. Similar to a squeeze chimney in rock, but distinctively more ‘rat like’ with plenty of snow and rime falling in my face to complete the cartoon like image.

Looking up the summit mushroom to the exit tunnel.

After three or four difficult meters I arrived onto the summit of Aguja Standhardt, somewhat surprised to be there after having started the climb hours before with zero expectation of what I may encounter. I checked the time, 4:30PM, exactly 12 hours after leaving Niponino. I ate some food, enjoyed the views and let the moment sink in for a short while before digging down to solid ice and building my first v-thread to rappel from.

On the summit of Aguja Standhardt. Hielo Continental in the background.

Rappelling back through the tunnel was a strange sensation, I had to make my body straight as a pencil to slide back through.. I quickly kicked steps back across the summit slopes, rappelled the mixed slab and threaded my rope directly through V-threads in the chimney below, retrieving my slings along the way and leaving nothing behind aside from holes in the ice.
The descent for Exocet is relatively straightforward, but as I had only a single 80m rope as opposed to the usual double 60m ropes, I did have to stop and make my own anchors at times.

Rappeling Aguja Standhardt.

The only frightening moment of the whole climb came during the descent. After a 40m rappel, I reached the ends of my ropes only a meter above an in-situ anchor consisting of an old bolt stud lashed with a wire, and a fixed nut. I used my crampon to snag the master point and lift it up towards my waist so that I could clip in with my daisy chain. I then slithered off one end of my rope, keeping the other end securely in my hand and tried to softly ease my weight onto the anchor. As my weight came onto the anchor the fixed nut suddenly began to remove itself from the crack, leaving me scratching at features in the rock in order to un-weight the anchor before half of popped out! With my weight off the anchor, I replaced the nut in the crack and hammered it home with the pick of my ice too. Again happy with my rappel anchor, I continued downwards towards the glacier.

I reached the glacier just before dark, around 8pm, and could see that I had one major crevasse to navigate before rejoining the track I had left in the morning. Above the crevasse I was able to dig with my tool and find substantial ice to make an anchor and belay my crossing. Below the crevasse I picked up my track and made good time back down the glacier, arriving at Niponino around 10pm where I melted snow for water and at some well-deserved snacks!
Despite being tired from my long day, I had a hard time falling asleep. I replayed the days’ events again and again in my mind, and marvelled at my luck with weather, conditions and timing. The route was undoubtedly one of the highest quality ice outings I had ever climbed, and it had been such a cool experience to climb it onsight-free solo with the entire Torre Valley to myself.

Before breaking camp and hiking back to El Chalten. The south face of Cerro Pollone in the far background.

The next morning I lay in my tent until the first sun rays illuminated the ground outside my tent, and then I dried out my equipment and re cached it in the rocks before beginning the long walk back to town.

I was exhausted while retracing my steps back towards El Chalten, but deeply content with the adventure that had passed. It had been all that I was looking for and more; with all the elements of a special and soulful venture in the mountains. Back in town, I could not wipe the smile from my face as I continued to marvel at my luck. It is often unbelievable when a idea conceived in my mind becomes a reality and a memory. Cheers to the mountains of Patagonia.

The Piergiorgio group from Aguja Standhardt. Domo Blanco, Piergiorgio and Cerro Pollone.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Slesse - Northeast Buttress Free solo in Winter

I know it has been months since I posted here, and while it seems that I am okay at climbing, I am terrible at consistently writing about my adventures. I know that my last post was about the same mountain, as if the only thing I climb is Slesse Mountain, but I promise that a story about my Patagonia trip is in the works. Writing about 'The Corkscrew' on Cerro Torre has proven to be a bit of a task, so I'm posting this first, to get some content up on this page. I've written a couples accounts of this particular climb already, but this is my favorite so far, so here it is:

I had always wanted to climb a big route on Slesse in the winter, and after learning to 'really' mixed climb in the Canadian Rockies during the Fall season following the triple, it became even more of a priority. I spent most of my winter in Patagonia, managing to complete some great climbs in the Torres, including a solo ascent of the beautiful Cerro Torre.

As I made the journey back north to Canada a bit of sleuthing had me convinced that Slesse must be in the 'condition of the century' for winter climbing. I tried to find a partner to attempt Navigator Wall, but with only one or two days of stable weather remaining it was too short of notice. Listening to an interview with Stevie Haston on the airplane, I heard him describe his free solo ascent of The Walker Spur in winter which got me psyched, so I began to formulate a new plan.

I had now climbed the Northeast Buttress of Slesse too many times in summer, but in winter I hoped that the climb would regain much of the mystique and formidable aura it had possessed in my younger years. The line had only seen one winter ascent, in 1986 by Jim Nelson and Kit Lewis, and that ascent had required aid on the crux pitches. The unknowns lying behind the difficulty of free soloing the route in winter only added to the feeling of a true adventure in the works, but it did seem a lofty goal, so I brought along an 80 meter 6mm Esprit cord and some pins and wires to bail with 'just in case'.

The Buttress head on from the air, taken the day of my solo ascent.

My sister, who lives in Chilliwack dropped me off at the start of Nesakwatch Creek FSR and I briskly walked to the Memorial Plaque beneath the mountain where I spent the night. I awoke at 4am the following morning, and after spending nearly an hour huddled in my sleeping bag I mustered the psyche to get moving.

At 5am, I left the memorial and approached directly through the basin beneath the mountain. The snow conditions were generally quite good, and a short WI2 step soon brought me to the slightly threatened slopes beneath the toe of the Buttress. I veered left here, joining the standard summer approach through the pocket glacier cirque. The upper section of the cirque still held a surprising number of deep crevasses, likely caused by avalanche debris from the East Face forming deep craters on impact.

I crossed over several bergschrunds on the right hand side of the cirque then climbed directly up to the bypass ramps leading to the Buttress crest. This section, normally a third class ledge walk in summer, was a surprisingly steep and exposed traverse on snow. As I neared the crest the angle and exposure kicked back and I quickly made my way upwards on good snow to the first 5.8 rock pitch.

This pitch was surprisingly easy in the conditions I found it in, the air was just warm enough that I could climb barehanded, as long as I stopped every two minutes to re warm my numb fingers. The pitch only required a few minutes of careful climbing and soon I was back on steep snow and neve, now accustomed to the exposure.

On the traverse into the Beckey Ramps I climbed slightly too high and had to make a very exposed down climb to reach the correct ramp on the north face. The ramps were coated with perfect ice and neve, making for fun, fast and easy climbing with a spectacular view down into the 'Heart of Darkness'. "This is rad", I said out loud.

The ramps led me back onto the crest of the Buttress and the second 5.8 rock pitch, which looked to be slightly more mixed than the pitch lower down. I removed my gloves again, and was able to climb about half the pitch with my hands before transitioning to proper mixed climbing. Finding a thin crack for my right tool, I danced over leftwards with my feet on small patches of ice until I could reach a thin veneer in which to place my left tool. The pitch felt around M5 in difficulty, and above the climbing slowly eased off until I reached to huge bivy ledge at mid height.

At the bivy ledge I took a break to eat some snacks and assess conditions on the upper headwall. The steepest pitch appeared to be fairly free of ice, but above, where the angle relented slightly, the rock was decorated by a patchwork of thin white ice. It looked interesting to say the least.

The snowslope leading to the headwall was relatively boring and does not need much description, nor does the WI3 runnel I took to bypass the first 5.8 pitch on the headwall. The 'rotten pillar' pitch was straightforward enough and soon I was on the crux, stemming in crampons around detached flakes in a corner. On top of one of these flakes I paused to remove my crampons and warm my hands before embarking on a slightly insecure bit of climbing on downwards sloping holds.

I traversed back right to a small roof which I passed on juggy finger locks, and now at the apex of the small overhang I was able to peer upwards to the iced up slabs I had observed from below. It was clear I was going to need my crampons again.

I placed a large nut and clipped myself to it for security, then gingerly stepped into my crampons one foot at a time. I mentally rehearsed my next sequence as it appeared from my airy stance, then removed the nut securing me to the wall and committed.

I switched my feet on a good hold and stepped up and right onto the slab. With my frontpoints set in small divots I balanced upwards, holding a small edge with my left hand for balance. I unclipped the ice tool from my right side and reached upwards for a small bit of ice pasted to the wall. Now at the edge of my comfort zone, I gently tapped the tool twice against the ice until the first two teeth sunk in. I tested the tool carefully, then took care not to make any sudden movements while I slowly searched out higher edges for my feet.

The edges I found sloped slightly downwards but my frontpoints found purchase enough to balance higher still. I carefully pulled out my left tool and placed it in thin but good ice above bringing me to a comfortable stance on a ledge. The crux now behind me, I allowed the mental RPM to decrease steadily until I was ready to continue.

The crux mixed slab, airy and slightly spicy. From the 1986 winter ascent, taken by Jim Nelson.

As I climbed excellent mixed terrain above I could really admire my wildly exposed position on this beautiful mountain. The whole buttress stretched out below me, black stone stained white with snow and ice. My tools found purchase on the well featured rock and the climbing gradually eased off pitch by pitch until I crested the final summit ridge and found myself standing in the sun. Eating a bar with the summit register in hand, I wrote, "Northeast Buttress - 2nd winter ascent. March 9 2015. Very exciting".

The crux pitch was likely delicate M6, perhaps M5+, but someone will have to do a second free winter ascent to verify. The west side of the mountain was surprisingly warm compared to the shady, iced up North face, but the ledges and gullies were still covered in snow and neve making for a quick and pleasant descent.

Descending the scree slopes on the Crossover Pass descent was nicely facilitated by the well settled snow and I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the route I had just climbed. After stumbling down the steep wooded trail below, I arrived at my bivouac site and ate a candy bar before packing up my equipment.

Walking the road back towards civilization I pondered my options. I had no ride back and considered walking the fifty kilometers to my sister's house through the night. I thought back to the ascent I had just made, it's often surreal when a long time dream, like climbing Slesse in winter, glides into the present, then into the past. I knew that my mind needed a break, I needed to relax and digest the adventures of the past months.

As I thought these things, an animal control vehicle pulled up to offer me a ride. The driver was a likable guy named Mark and we chatted, mostly about traveling, until he pulled up to a bus stop in Chilliwack and bode me farewell. A bus arrived a moment later and soon I was just a block from my sister's home. Her husband Robert saw me walking down the street through the window and came to greet me at the door. They welcomed me in happily, and at 6:30pm we all sat down to a delicious supper.

The buttress in profile, Dylan Johnson photo from the day before my solo.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Slesse Sessions - Triple Link Up

Shifting my weight back and forth delicately between small friable edges, I press my cheek against the dark stone and pry outwards on a favorably positive edge to see if the hold flexes, it does.  I dip my hand into my chalk bag and leave a white chalky hand print on the rock to remind myself not to use the edge as a foothold as I move higher. Just a week earlier, my friend Tony took an unexpected fall off this very same pitch when his footholds crumbled and this weighs strongly on my mind as I commit to a high step and begin to search for a hold with my right hand. A two finger sidepull with a convenient located thumb catch materializes and I rock over onto the high foot and hold my breath, praying the edge doesn't crumble as I make the long reach to a solid hold. The established line traversed left to a flake a few meters below but the rock seemed loose over there, in fact that was where Tony had broken his holds and fallen when we scoped the route together, so this time I chose to go straight up the face on thin and sustained climbing in hopes of more solid rock.

Tony Mclane on the East Pillar on an ascent the week earlier.

 It's not often I find myself using small thumb'derclings while free soloing in the alpine, but these help me stay in balance as I tip-toe left to better holds and a belay ledge where I rejoin the regular 'East Pillar'. The climbing on the next two pitches is supposed to be the crux of the route, but is a fair bit easier than the pitch I just climbed as the holds are larger, more positive and less brittle. To my right I can see two friends from Squamish waking up on their bivy ledge on the classic Northeast Buttress and we exchange waves as I continue upwards, the climbing now less stressful and quite fun. The 'crux' pitch of the East Pillar, a 5.10+ corner, is my favourite. Bomber stemming, positive crimps and an exposed finish moving onto the arete at the the top, classic.
Tony on the 10c corner pitch of the East Pillar, a week before my link up.

From here a ledge leads left to a large terrace where I switch back to approach shoes for the remainder of the route. The climbing is generally easy but the swirling mist and fog adds character to the steep dark wall. I imagine falling off, flying through the dense mist unable to see the inevitable end far below, but I'm not going to fall and I smile as I race up to the summit ridge and check the time. Two hours to free solo the East Pillar, not bad, the first solo ascent as well I am sure. I continue along the south ridge nearly to the summit but deek off west to join the standard descent route and pick my way back down to the col between the main and South peaks of Slesse. A quick scramble brings me to the south summit where I continue south through a scree basin to the col below the third summit. This is an eerie place, the impact zone of flight 810 looms just above, and pieces of airplane wreckage strewn about on ledges everywhere. I can see a tail section of the airplane hanging above me through the mist as I downclimb the steep couloir leading back to towards the base of the 'big' lines on Slesse.

Just one small peice of airplane wreckage I found on my descent of the SE Buttress, this shows very little. The wreckage on the third peak is extensive.

This descent, essentially reversing the 'Southeast Buttress' of the South Peak, is quick and effective in bringing me to the base of my next objective, the 'Navigator Wall'. As the Southeast Buttress and Navigator Wall share the same first two pitches, I can simply traverse a grassy ledge and scramble the moderate terrain to the base of the first crux pitch. I check the time here, 9:36 AM, about an hour and a half since I began my descent from the top of East Pillar, faster than expected.

Brette on the 10+ dihedral of Navigator Wall on a previous ascent two weeks before my link up.

I switch back into rock shoes and start up the 5.10+ overhanging corner, being careful to dodge loose blocks along the way. The climbing is steep and positive and I finally get to enjoy some athletic movement as I reach a solid jug with one hand and kick my feet off the wall with a loud 'whoooop'! The Navigator Wall has a poor reputation for unpleasant climbing on loose dirty rock, but nonetheless it remains my favourite route on Slesse. The line is badass, the climbing steep and exposed, and in contrast to the East Pillar the upper pitches are some of the best. Those upper pitches, however, are gaurded by a chossy overhanging diorite headwall, positioned 1700 ft above the cirque below. I have to move very delicately and test each hold methodically as I navigate a series of loose 5.10 roofs. The final moves of the headwall are some of the wildest of the route, exiting the security of a corner and handrailing across an overhanging wall to mantle onto the slab above. I cut my feet and campus across the rail, catching a small glimpse of the cirque far below before rolling over the lip on a bomber foot hold.

Brette topping out the loose headwall pitches of Navigator Wall, on an ascent two weeks before my link up.

A few more meters of steep terrain bring me to a comfortable sandy ledge where I consider taking my rock shoes off for a moment, but I decide not to break my rhythm and head right on improving quality stone towards the base of the excellent pitch 18. This pitch climbs a spectacular steep handcrack dihedral for about 25 meters, likened to the famed Split Pillar pitch in Squamish. As I cruise up on slammer hand jams the clouds thicken and envelop me in a dense fog that adds to the ambiance of the wall. Above the corner, one more pitch brings me to the airy summit of the spire in a dense fog and very poor visibility. A look at the clock reveals that I've spent about an hour and fifteen minutes on the route. I don't linger on the summit for long, as I want to be off the mountain in case it begins to rain. I start down the Southeast Buttress route for a second time, moving quickly and deliberately.

Brette on Navigator Wall on our ascent two weeks before my link up.

On long solo days I often find myself repeating some mantra like thoughts in my mind at some point during the climb and today was no different. However my thoughts during my second descent were particularly amusing and worthy of sharing. I was feeling 'on' and moving smoothly, executing slick cross through moves with my feet as if I were dancing my way downwards through the clouds. I thought to myself, 'I feel like a cat, I feel like a ninja! I feel like a ninja cat! An ALPINE ninjacat, hell yeah' Repeat.... Probably some mental byproduct of a latent OCD or something, but certainly better than thinking to yourself that you feel shitty. I was stoked.

Brette approaching Navigator Wall on our ascent two weeks before the link up.

I made it back to the slabs above the propeller cairn before noon, and seriously contemplated taking the easy way out and hiking the trail back to the memorial plaque where I had planned to meet my girlfriend Brette in the evening. We had driven up from Squamish the day before and bivied at the plaque so that we could both get early starts for our different objectives. While I tried my triple linkup she would go for a solo ascent of the North Rib, a route she had never climbed before, and has almost certainly never seen a solo ascent by a woman.

I told myself that the clouds were becoming too threatening, that I had already climbed the Northeast Buttress too many times, and that my knees were feeling a bit sore. But it was only noon, and I knew that if I bailed now I would be upset with myself in the future, as I had no desire to solo the East Pillar again in order to do the triple. This was my chance, the route is moderate enough that I could solo it in the rain anyways, so I started jogging towards the base of the Northeast Buttress.

The pocket glacier cirque was in good condition, much less dodgy than when Brette and I crossed it three weeks earlier, when we team free soloed the route together. I jogged up through the spectacular glacial cirque to the start of the ramps that lead to the buttress and stopped to strip down to nothing but light shorts and plug in my headphones. With Parov Stelar's 'Catgroove' blasting in my ears I took off as quickly as I could, running up the third class ramps that give way to moderate 5th class climbing on the buttress itself. I took the Beckey ramps to avoid the 5.10a crux mid route, just so that I could keep scrambling in approach shoes, moving as quickly as possible. As I passed the bivy ledge mid route, I checked the time, 30 minutes, and continued up the 4th class ledges above, breathing heavily at this point.


As I reached the first pitch of the summit tower I came across two climbers on their second day on the route. I pulled out my headphones and stopped to chat and give some beta for the descent. They told me that Brette had cruised by on the North Rib earlier in the day which was great to hear, then I continued up the steeper summit tower. One pitch below the summit I ran into my friend Bram and Ashley from Squamish, also on their second day en route and stopped to chat with each of them before finding myself on the summit one hour and ten minutes after starting the route.

I think that the Northeast Buttress speed record should be a 'thing' in the cascades, I'll submit 1hr 10mins as my current time :) Although I stopped three times to chat and probably could have broken an hour if I decided to be antisocial. I recorded my link up in the summit register then down climbed off the tower and started down the Crossover Pass descent.

Brette had been seen cruising the Rib, but had not recorded her ascent in the Summit Register so I deduced that she likely gave the summit tower a miss and descended from the notch where the Rib ends and joins the standard descent route. This made sense as she was soloing the route onsight, and must have reached the notch in the peak of the poor visibility, making the decision to begin her descent quite logical at that point. Regardless, I yelled her name a few times as I descended the long ridge to Crossover Pass just to reassure myself that she had not gotten off route in the clouds somewhere. I can be a bit of a worry-wart for someone who likes to do dangerous things myself!

I made it to the alpine meadows below the North face of the mountain around 4:00 PM, and suddenly realized that if I boogied I had a chance at making the round trip from the Memorial Plaque in 12 hours. I am a total time geek in the mountains and got psyched on this challenge, so I plugged my headphones back in and started running down the flagged trail at top speed. A few songs later I was maxing out my cardio as I ran the short uphill where then crossover pass trail re-joins the main trail 100 meters below the Plaque. I sprinted back to the memorial where Brette was waiting and reading a book, and checked the time. It was 4:24, exactly 12 hours and four minutes to make the round trip from our bivy.

I was stoked, and Brette was equally stoked! She had managed to navigate the broken North Glacier alone in just her tennies, no tools or crampons, and onsight free soloed the North Rib to the notch below the summit tower. She reported that she climbed about a pitch on the tower itself but backed off in high winds and poor visibility as I had deduced earlier, and had descended uneventfully to the Memorial where she had been reading her book since. She didn't go to the summit, but still soloed 20 pitches to the notch completing the rib itself. Proud.

Navigator Wall in red, East Pillar in green, Northeast Buttress in yellow. Southeast Buttress descent in blue.

The hike out went quickly and we were at my Mom's house in Agassiz by about 6pm, in time for dinner. The next day was my sisters wedding and a great party indeed! I'm still feeling last night's tequila a tiny bit while I write this in fact.

I am done with Slesse for the season now. The only hard route I have left to do on the mountain is the unrepeated East Face... next year maybe. The Buttress in winter is on the tick list of course as well, but might not happen for a while as I plan to be away in Patagonia for the next winter, which is not a bad trade at all :)

I can't recommend free soloing the East Pillar or Navigator Wall routes, they are too loose and sketchy to make for great scrambles. But they are a tonne of fun to climb with ropes and deserve more attention than they get. Really, the NEB speed challenge should get some folks psyched, try to beat an hour! I think one could get it down to 40 minutes or so, which would be sick. As standards keep improving, maybe a solo speed climb in winter, Ueli Steck style, will be in order :) But until then....


All photos taken during previous climbs of the East Pillar and Navigator Wall with Tony Mclane and Brette Harrington respectively.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Waddington Range Adventures

So once again I find myself sitting here attempting to write a blog post musing to myself about how it has been nearly a year since I last updated this darned thing. The problem is that I find it excruciatingly difficult to write a blog I would consider worth your time as a reader to sit through without a half decent story to grab your attention. I could have written several posts about various events in these past few months but unfortunately those stories would read something like this:

"So I went to Yosemite and soloed Half Dome, it was sick. I didn't take any pictures, it was sick, the end".

Or like, "I went to Indian Creek to learn to climb desert splitters. At first it was really hard but eventually I figured it out, it was sick, the end".

Unable to justify such posts my blog has sit dormant, however I just returned from two weeks in B.C's epic Waddington Range and a couple of readable stories materialized along the way so here is my attempt to share these tales with you... It was sick, the end.

Just kidding...

Last minute trips often have a tendency to be some of the most enjoyable, for me at least. Perhaps it just suits my spontaneous and ADHD like personality, just taking off on a whim with little to no detailed planning involved. Such was the case when my friends Andrew and Hannah asked if my girlfriend Brette and I would like to share a helicopter shuttle in and out of the Waddington Range of B.C's Coast Mountains. It was an irresistibly appealing idea, a romantic couples retreat deep into the land of alpine gnar, how could I say no?

Just like that we were off driving north to the tiny community of Tatla Lake high on the beautiful chilcoltin plateau between Williams Lake and Bella Coola and after the obligatory burger stop at Graham's Inn we were whisked away by the legendary helicopter pilot Mike King and deposited at Sunny Knob, our new home for the next two weeks. Located on a knoll just above the sprawling Tiedemann glacier with alpine walls rising 1,600 vertical meters to the steep rocky summits above, sunny knob seemed an ideal base camp from which to launch our alpine exploits.

One thing I am particularly bad at in the alpine is taking it easy, and so I immediately set my alarm for 5am the next morning so that Brette and I could have a go on the 1500m south ridge of Serra 2, located directly above our camp at a Sunny Knob. We brought with us a single set of cams to #1, a selection of stoppers and a half rope and left camp around 6am after munching some oatmeal and peanut butter. After a short amount of hiking we found ourselves scrambling the first section of low 5th class ridge on excellent rock. This brought us to a snow patch above which the rock steepened and for a moment we thought we may even need to break out the rope. However as the rock steepened the holds got bigger and we scrambled and scrambled ever upwards.

Hundreds of meters of wonderful scrambling was followed by a few gendarmes and hundreds more meters of wonderful scrambling. The climbing was never harder than 5.7 or so and soon we were at the notch behind 'Phantom Tower' staring up at the final pillar of the South Ridge. Here the standard route deeks right on 45 degree snow ramps to reach 5.9 territory that gains the summit ridge. We were feeling good though and all the climbing had been easier than it had appeared to that point so we decided to tackle the upper pillar head on. We pulled out the rope and I racked up and started up an immaculate finger crack, although a handcrack dihedral to the left did appear easier.

Above the finger crack was an athletic 5.12 mantle that I could not free with my backpack on, so I executed a bouldery 'pendulum to toe hook' around a sloping arête to the right and slithered my way around the corner onto a runout slab like an oversized salamander. Above the slab a two tired roof barred the way to an incredible overhanging hand crack above and I could see a bail anchor at the top of the easy looking dihedral below me and to the left. A couple steep moves on wet jugs in the roof allowed me to fire in a piece and make a couple A1 moves to reach the splitter above. The moves in the roof would certainly go free at 5.12, but again.... the backpack.

As we had only brought cams to one inch I would have no protection for the slightly overhanging butt crack feature I was about to climb, but I could get hand jams in the back and deemed it easy enough to run out to what appeared to be a belay ledge at the top about 25 feet above. I fired my way up the four star splitter and was blown away by the quality of the climbing, but right as I neared the end the crack it began to narrow to ring locks and I had already placed my .75# cam in the roof below. Hanging from a ring lock and beginning to feel the pump clock ticking I began to question my decision to attempt this line with only a single set of cams, but some tenacity and a few grunts allowed me to find a decent placement for my largest nut. Slightly relieved but pumped I took on the rope to shake out my forearms and relax for a moment, and after one more classic 'Chris Sharma power scream' I lurched my way onto the belay ledge feeling psyched. This pitch was undoubtedly the crux of the route clocking in at solid 5.11 A1 and we nicknamed it "the incredible butt crack".

Above this several easier but extremely high quality pitches, with one more finger crack of 5.11 led to what we thought would be the summit of Serra 2, but lo and behold it was not. We had reached the final summit ridge above the snow slopes of the south east face, which would be our chosen descent route. Although the true summit lay at most a 15 minute scramble beyond I shuddered at the thought of navigating the badly broken Stiletto Icefall in the dark and decided suggested to Brette that we begin our descent immediately. A rappel brought us to the steep snow slope which was followed by seemingly endless down climbing accompanied by a case or two of lovely screaming barfies, hooray!

As we neared more moderate terrain I sent Brette down first to navigate the initial schrund and shortly thereafter took over the lead to navigate the complex icefall that followed. If one can forget about the fear inducing possibilities of falling in crevasses or being crushed by toppling seracs, icefalls so can actually be rather fun, simply working one's way through an enormous puzzling maze of ice.

One rappel over a tortured schrund, countless leaps over deep crevasses and a quick scurry beneath some intimidating seracs brought us back to a point low on the south ridge below all of the 5th class climbing. A half hour later we were back at our camp on Sunny Knob just before dark, a fantastic first day in the range!

The fact that there was a bail anchor on our first pitch on the upper pillar, located immediately before the climbing became difficult, leads me to believe that this was probably a new route. However if you have climbed this line already or know someone who has, please let me know. If this is indeed a new route we decided to call it 'Straight No Chaser' TD+, 5.11 A1, 1500m. It would go all free at 5.12 something but I recommend not leading the crux with a backpack on in order to send. Oh and bring a double set of cams, or at least a #2 and #3 as fiddling around with large nuts is never ideal when facing a giant ledge fall.

So on day two our team decided to move camp to the Upper Tellot Glacier to session down on some righteous looking rock stone and around 1pm we shouldered our packs and did the ol' slog. We arrived at the hut a few hours later and had time left to scramble up and down the ultra fun west ridge of Claw Peak, complete with a group hug on the summit!

The next morning Brette and I left at 5:30am with our sights set on free climbing the SW pillar of Stiletto Peak. We cramponed our way across the Upper Tellot in excellent morning conditions and crossed a vertical schrund before arriving at the Stiletto/Serra 1 col. We could hear the wind ripping through the col from the south and as we began down climbing 50 degree bullet ice down towards the base of the pillar we began to feel quite chilly indeed. Our plan to open bivy on the route was started to seem rather unpleasant and the frequent rockfall pouring down the couloir to our left was not helping things feel any more inviting. We decided to bail.

As a consolation prize we figured we could still bag the spectacular looking 'Stiletto Needle' and from our location halfway between the col and the SW pillar a few pitches of scrambling followed by some excellent 5.10 hand cracks allowed us to join the west face route. We took the direct 5.11 variation on the final pitch and took turns taking photos on the tiny summit of the wild spire which reminded me of a desert tower high in the alpine!

We made a handful of rappells back to the col but the steep slope below had deteriorated badly in the sun and was now a horrendous pile of knee deep slush over ice. I decided to give Brette all the gear and the pack and lowered her down to a safe point below the schrund on our 80m rope, I then tossed the rope down, took both tools and began soloing down the slope as carefully as I could. I safely made it to a point just above the schrund, traversing right to purposefully orient myself above a point with the safest run out zone, where the schrund was filled over and more of a series of two small ice cliffs rather than a true crevasse. As I traversed further right in hopes of gaining bare ice and the security of good sticks I kicked a step and heard a distinct hollowness beneath my feet, I froze. I was just out of reach of the good ice and all I needed to do was kick a step for my left foot and I would be able to reach over and place a solid tool. I gingerly tapped my left foot into the snow and 'WHOOOOOOOSH' everything gave way underfoot and I slid over the edge of the ice cliffs with a loud yell.

I thank luck and my background in aerial gymnastics for what happened next. As I hit the slope between the ice cliffs I quickly planted my feet and sprung outwards, throwing a well timed flip over the second ice cliff. I lifted my feet up to avoid my crampon points catching and slid on my butt facing outwards as I made contact with the steep slope below the second cliff. As I felt myself begin to slow down I popped back onto my feet and ran to the side to avoid being covered by the sluff that inevitably followed. I had fallen a total of about 50 feet over two small ice cliffs and a schrund and was completely unscathed. I yelled to an alarmed Brette who had watched the entire event to let her know that I was fine, and after a few good laughs we merrily strolled back to the Plummer hut feeling tired but happy.

That night was quite windy, and we thought of our friends Andrew and Hannah who were bivouacked at the exposed dragons back camp high on the glacier below Stiletto Peak. In the morning, as we lay in our tent avoiding the wind we heard them return to the hut, having decided not to climb that morning due to the wind and cold. We all hiked back down to the warmer and less windy Sunny Knob and drank whiskey, smoked a funny cigarette and lay in the sun watching the clouds drift about in the sky above.

The next day was inevitably destined to be a rest day, however Brette and I set out with delusions of climbing the enormous south east ridge of Asperity Mountain. We made it about a pitch off the ground, one pitch of 65 that is, before realizing that we did indeed need rest, badly. We spent the rest of the day laying about in base camp scheming and came up with some fine plans for the next day. Brette, Hannah and Andrew would attempt a traverse of the entire south ridge of a Stiletto, climbing the Gnats Tooth, Dentiform and various other sub peaks in the process, and I would attempt a solo ascent of Serra 5.

We all awoke at the lovely hour of 3am and while the others made oatmeal and prepared their equipment I guzzled a liter of V8 and took off by headlamp towards the base of Asperity Mountain. Things didn't go so well initially as I navigated the moraine in the dark. I went too low and when I realized my mistake and tried to clamber up a short steep section of loose blocks I pulled a large rock down trapping my leg beneath it. I struggled to remove the rock from on top of my leg and when I pulled up my pant leg I could see my shin was bleeding badly, but my scrape was not overly threatening. With the huge amount of climbing that lay ahead I almost considered bailing but decided to carry on.

I reached a sheltered ledge at the base of Asperity's south east ridge and could see fresh rockfall on my planned route that had not been there the day before,  a great sign. I put on my crampons and pulled out my tools and started up the icy, rockfall strewn glacial slope that led towards the base of 'Carl's Couloir', my planned approach to the Serra 5/Asperity col. As the glacial ice eased off in angle and the rockfall hazard from the ridge to the left decreased I found myself in a wild maze of partially obscured crevasses, always a wonderful place to be alone in the dark. I tried to stick to the bare ice to avoid dangerously thin snow bridges and eventually found myself on the tamer slopes below 'Carl's Couloir'. There was plenty of rockfall debris below the couloir and I feared that as the day came on and temperatures warmed that the line would become a death trap due to increased rockfall hazard.

I decided to attempt to climb the steep rock buttress to the right of the couloir to avoid this danger and found myself swapping boots and crampons for rock shoes and a chalk bag. I began climbing in a loose chimney like fault then moved left onto pleasant slant ramps. I followed continuous ramps up and right for what would have been several rope lengths generally avoiding the steeper rock to my left. As I gained height the angle began to increase and the climbing gradually became more difficult and sustained. The weight of my boots, tools, crampons, my light rack and rope on my back became more and more of a hindrance as climbing became steeper and more technical. As I deeked out a large roof to its left via a series of near vertical thin dihedrals I repeatedly considered making an anchor and self belaying from clove hitches, or at least taking off my backpack and tagging it up behind me as I free soloed. But whenever I considered these options I would take a look around the arête and find a series of crimps and smears that would lead me away from, and then back                             into the dihedral I was climbing at a moderate enough grade to free solo with my pack on.

After several hundred meters of climbing to about 5.10- on excellent stone I topped out onto a small summit overlooking 'Carl's Couloir' and followed a ramp down and right towards the Serra Cirque to reach the base of a snow arête about 100m below 'Carl's Camp'. I switched back to boots and crampons and climbed up past Carl's Camp and traversed right into the back of the wild Cirque with Serra 5 towering high above. I climbed up the the gaping schrund near it's left hand edge and found a way to tunnel beneath a hanging arch of ice and then climb vertical ice on the upper wall of the schrund emerging onto rock well left of the dangerous couloir leading to the Serra 5/Asperity col.

As I sat on a relatively sheltered ledge to stop and refuel I accidentally dropped my sunglasses back down into the schrund, a major bummer, but I continued on climbing several pitches of 4th and 5th class rock of varying quality staying left of the snow couloir as it was repeatedly pummeled by stonefall. As I reached a height nearly level with the col I moved back right, now above the source of the rockfall, and kicked steps to reach the col shortly thereafter.

At the col I ditched my backpack with my food and water and everything I would not need for the technical climbing above on the north west face of Serra 5. A knife edged snow arête gave way to superb stone and a series of icy ramps and chimneys. I would frequently find myself stemming on rock in my mountain boots while swinging my tools into water ice in the back of the corner, dry tooling on secure flakes or dancing up icy slabs balancing on my tip toes on perfect waves of granite. Near the top I had to balance on a small ledge, hanging onto a flake with one hand while delicately securing my crampons to my boots with the other so that I could transition onto a grade 3 ice smear that led to a secure chimney flake and easy ground.

I reached the summit shortly thereafter and spent a moment enjoying the views and reading the legendary summit register entries although I had no pen to make an entry of my own unfortunately. I started down and luckily had only made my first rappel when I realized I had dropped my ice screw while mantling the summit block. A brief return to the summit to retrieve the dropped screw and four rappels, mainly from V-threads brought me back to easier ground and the col where I sat down and had a few snacks.

The couloir below was still cooking in the sun and I would have to spend some time waiting around before it would become reasonably safe to descend, so I decided that I may as well climb Asperity as well rather than sit around doing nothing. The steepest section of the East face route of Asperity was still baking in the sun as well so I decided to climb a more direct and shady route beginning directly beneath an imposing 200ft tall serac. After climbing 50 degree ice beneath the left end of the large serac I traversed left into a superb 75 degree ice chimney that climbed extremely well via a combination of stemming, hand jamming, mega jugs and grade 3 water ice. I topped out the chimney after about 60 meters of excellent climbing and then followed snows slopes with occasional sections of alpine ice to eventually join the easy summit ridge.

The view of Waddington from the summit of Asperity was tremendous, but I knew that I had a long hazardous descent ahead of my so my stay was short lived. I reversed my ascent route with much down climbing and two rappels from threads to get down the ice chimney and by the time I reached my backpack at the col it was 4pm and the couloir was in the shade. The snow conditions were still not ideal in the couloir and the sound of rocks wizzing by was still a frighteningly regular occurrence so I hugged the edge of the couloir and eventually transferred back onto the rock to its (climber's) left and down climbed that instead. One rappel from a pin brought me over the schrund and after traversing back to where I had crossed it during my ascent I quickly located my dropped sunglasses, score!

Much traversing on steep alpine ice brought me back to Carl's Camp where I did my best to take a break and relax before dropping in to the long threatened couloir below. I tried to listen to calming happy music and eat a bar but just found myself pacing back and forth contemplating all the hazards that awaited me below. Luckily only two large rocks came down the couloir as I descended, neither coming too close to me. Eventually, after what felt like eons of kicking steps, I pounded a #3 knife blade to the hilt and rapped over the gaping schrund and onto the glacier below.

Navigating the maze of crevasses below was more challenging on the descent due to the structure of the glacier steepening beneath me making it difficult to see far ahead. But soon I was down climbing the steep lower section of the glacier, the occasional rock wizzing by to my left and I found myself back on my sheltered ledge below Asperity's south east ridge where I removed my harness, packed up my tools and pons and was essentially home free.

I put a pair of headphones in my ears and blasted 'Renegades of Funk', by Rage Against the Machine into my ears as I sprinted back to Sunny Knob feeling absolutely elated. I arrived at base camp at 9pm about 18 hours after setting out, but the others weren't back yet from their mission. Feeling a bit jittery I downed about 6 shots of whiskey and made dinner before crawling into my tent listening to heavy drum and bass in my headphones.

I bolted awake at 5am thinking the others were returning to camp and I was suddenly ashamed of the mess of dirty dishes next to the half downed bottle of whiskey I had left outside my tent. I stumbled outside and promptly fell down and rolled a short distance down the heather slope below. Not my most elegant moment, although not my worst either by any means. I realized that I was still the only one in base camp, and that I was out of mind and in a total daze and crawled back into my tent for a few more hours of sleep.

The others returned early in the afternoon after sending the south ridge of the Stiletto group as far as climbing both summits of Dentiform and then had crashed at the Plummer Hut before returning to base camp. We congratulated each other on our sends and spent the next few days generally taking it easy around camp.

We had plans to go back to Serra 5 as a group and climb the phenomenal looking 'Thunderbird' ridge but shortly after leaving camp Brette, who had not been feeling well for the last couple days, realized that she was getting sick and needed to rest. I had already climbed Serra 5 and decided to accompany her back to Sunny Knob where we spent the next two days resting in hopes that Brette would begin to feel better. To be honest I was happy to rest psychologically after my solo link up as well, and to let my psyche for big days rebuild itself for another mission.

On the morning of August 6th we awoke to my alarm at 3am and headed back up the long south ridge of Serra 2, this time to attempt the 'Grand Cappuccino' tower which we had seen during our initial ascent of Straight No Chaser. We made good time to the notch behind Phantom tower, where one is greeted with an intimidating view of the Grand Cappuccino, but the ice couloir we had hoped to start our route in was completely melted out.

We decided to attempt the intimidating wall left of the couloir and after crossing a steep ice field we were putting on rock shoes and chalk bags beneath a beautiful vertical finger crack dihedral reminiscent of a pitch one would find in Indian Creek. I fired up the four star corner finding good gear and rests before it thinned to a desperate purple TCU tips layback before the belay ledge. I sent the pitch on sight at 5.12-and Brette followed cleanly before leading off right and then climbing a fantastic off width flake followed by steep jugs to a belay in an alcove. I navigated loose blocks above her belay and then climbed an incredible thumb stacking flare before stepping right to belay from a black alien and an RP on a steep slab. The next pitch traversed right across the slab in a wild position before climbing steep cracks and a poorly protected layback followed by two pitches of moderate terrain leading to a steep head wall.

The next pitch was reminiscent of something one would climb on a Yosemite classic like 'Astroman', a steep rattly fingers splitter followed by four point stemming up an overhanging flare capped by wild back and foot chimneying over nothing but empty space!  We were now very close to the summit of the Grand Cappuccino and Brette was leading when I began to get peppered at my belay by hundreds of flakes exfoliating from the off width above. The sun had left the face leaving the air frigid and we were both shaking from the cold. The crack above Brette only continued to get wider and we had no cams to protect it and the rock was deteriorating badly, leaving Brette thrashing about knocking rocks on me at the belay. As badly as we wanted to
send the tower, it was time to go down.

We made several rappels leaving nuts and a couple cams before reversing the ice field and down scrambling much of Serra 2's south ridge arriving back at camp just before dark. Although we didn't send we still had one of the best days of hard alpine rock climbing of our lives! And we would both like to go back with the proper gear to send the final off width that completes our line, although if you feel inclined to get there first have at 'er!

As night fell we could see Andrew and Hannah's headlamps coming down over the schrund of Carl's Couloir and in the morning then told us that after three days away from base camp they had successfully made the first free ascent of 'Thunderbird'! They narrowly avoided being taken out by a large rockfall on their descent, confirming the seriousness of hanging out in the Serra Cirque.

We spent a final day resting and packing up camp and the next morning were picked up by the chopper after spending 13 days in the range. This adventure was something really special, visiting a truly spectacular place with such wonderful people. We lucked out with the weather and essentially had 13 days of straight sun' with the odd windy day in the mix. All the routes that we climbed were of superb quality and my solo day on Serra 5 and Asperity was one of the wildest solos I've done yet.

I'd really like to thank Brette, Andrew and Hannah for providing the companionships that made this trip what it was!

So there it is, another blog post. Hope it didn't bore you to tears although it did turn out to be a bit long. But make sure to read it twice for good measure because knowing me it might be a while before the next one.

It was sick, the end.