Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mount Jerram - West Ridge/Face, 5.6, Alpine II

August 5 had an absolutely great day on the obscure, but grand, Mount Jerram. Mt. Jerram is located in the Opal Range, between Elpoca Mountain and Mount Burney.  This summit is the ninth highest in the Opal Range and one of the more significant mountains in this part of Kananaskis.  There were only two recorded ascents prior to our successful summit on August 5, 2016.  First ascent by Don Morrison and Jim Tarrant via West Ridge, then West Face to summit ridge and top in June of 1957.  Second ascent by Rick Collier and Jim Holmes on July 19, 1998, with a variation on the upper face to gain the summit ridge more to the north.  Andrew Nugara and I followed the Collier/Holmes variation to reach the summit.  Both previous parties did bivy in upper King Creek, but Andrew and I day tripped the climb with a long day, about 16 hours car to car.

Parked at Opal Creek turnoff, approach road to Valleyview Trail, along Highway 40, about 5 km south of the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park turnoff/King Creek parking lot.  A really great trail winds up northern edge of Opal Creek and leads one to the scree slope north of Opal Falls (White Man Falls). The trail starts just slightly upstream of the recently upgraded bridge (2016?) that crosses Opal Creek on the left side (north side) of creek. The lower section heads north, away from the creek on the top of the short bank, definitely worthwhile locating this trail.  After a short distance in the forest, the trail returns to the sharp northern edge of the creek valley and traverses to the open scree slopes, head north to a steep scree slope that heads east, uphill.  Ascending this steep scree slope is essential to accessing upper Opal Creek since the gap between Mt. Wintour and “Opoca Peak” (GR368155) is narrow and cliffy with Opal Falls creating a dangerous barrier.

Once above this steep scree, a huge trail leads one into the upper Opal Creek valley, where the trail disappears quickly, but mostly light bushwhacking allows easy access anywhere in this beautiful subalpine valley.  Hike to the obvious West Ridge of Mt. Jerram, basically above the Mt. Wintour/Mt. Jerram col, the Opal Creek/King Creek divide. The bottom of the West Ridge is vertical, so we accessed the middle section of the ridge via scree slopes from the basin between the West Ridge and the South-West Ridge. Moderate scrambling up the West Ridge ends a short flat section where ridge ends on the steep West Face. This is the first pitch of fifth class climbing, a nice 30 metre pitch of 5.4 on mostly solid rock, but little protection.

View to West Face of Mt. Jerram. Scramble in orange line, pitches of 5 class in red. Pitches labeled P.  
(Photo taken last fall, 2015)

Nearing start of scramble on middle section of West Ridge.

Typical terrain on mid section of West Ridge.

A few steeper sections on West Ridge.

Andrew having too much fun!

View to Mt. Burney from West Ridge; been there done that, also with Andrew.

Once above this section, a scree slope heads up, then angles left, staying on scree, head up to a faint ridge line above, then from this ridge line, still on scree, head up to the base of a dark gully. Two gullies start near the same spot, take the right hand gully (southern) which is taller and wider at the base.  The back of the gully was wet on our ascent.

View to 5.4 pitch.

Above 5.4 pitch, follow scree up, then left on scree.

OSWB leading 5.5 gully pitch.

Although technically easier, 5.5 versus 5.6, I would say this gully pitch is the crux, the moves are only 5.5, but you must stem crazy wide and totally commit to some very awkward moves to surmount the first overhang, not too technical, but demanding climbing; at least for me. Thankfully there is great protection from cam or wires along the lower section, right hand side, in the great hand crack, then less protection above the overhang, but the climbing is easier, 5.3 to 5.4 ish.

View to Andrew on second, finishing gully pitch.

OSWB above halfway up to the ridge on super loose 5.6; no pro.

About 30 metres in the gully leads to a scree gully that leads the top of a notch in the summit ridge. Belayed off a solid rock horn, brought up Andrew and set up for my last rock lead.  Rick Collier’s trip report indicated they went up to the notch, then took the ridge line (tower) out of the narrow notch to the summit. There was a small low angled slab face, then a steep face that lead directly to the ridge, I took this line instead of heading up scree to the notch; seemed more direct.  Definitely 5.6 climbing and extremely loose rock, but the worst rock quality section was where I gained the ridge, very exposed and the rock just peeled off the mountain. Once on the ridge the climbing became a loose moderate scramble to the summit cairn, about 30 metres from gaining the ridge.

Summit smiles.

On descent, OSWB taking a few last summit photos.

Summit view to Andrew at our first rappel station.

About 8 hours after leaving the car Andrew and I reached the seldomly visited summit of Mount Jerram. The sky was a bit threatening with some dark cloud bottoms, but the advantage point and view from the summit was so spectacular we had to linger and take a lot of photos.  Filled out the register and slowly began our descent.  We used a piton placed by Rick Collier in 1998 as part of our first rappel station (backed up by a sling on a large boulder). Rapped to the top of the 5.5 gully pitch, rapped off the rock belay horn to the base on the gully; two rappels to the scree, good rappel anchors (cord with locking biner) left in place.  Rick and Jim were descending with a thunderstorm pending and to save time they avoided rappelling the lowest 5.4 pitch section by descending ribs and scree gullies along the big broad lower west face. We thought this could save time and tried this descent.  Not recommended.  I would recommend rapping the 5.4 section and descending the west ridge. The descent down the big face was painful with us getting cliffed out on top of many big drops that then required climbing up to attempt the next scree gully.  Big waste of time, but we eventually got down.

OSWB frigging around with the rope on the traverse rappel from the first rap station.

Andrew finishing rap of gully pitch.

View back up to gully pitch.

Upward view to left trending scree ramp that leads to 5.5 gully pitch, on descent.

Most of the way down the lower west face.

Back on scree fields, finally. 

Once back at the lowest scree field, just a simple plod back to the car. Nearing the cliffs near Opal Falls, we had a very tough time staying on the thin game trail by headlamp and wasted at least one hour traversing up and down trying to find the safe exit to the lower valley scree slopes; exhausting time.  Once back in the lower valley we were quite happy to plod to the car, about 16 hours car to car.  Great day out with a good friend and I will enjoy these memories for years!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Perry Creek - sport n trad crag | 5.7 - 5.9

Day three of our trip saw us rained out. Day four, the forecast seemed promising for a solid 20 - 24 hours ish of dry weather so planned for an alpine day.  Well the forecast was wrong, again. We were up early and at the trail head early but wet weather and low cloud drove us back to the low valley. After some fresh coffee we regrouped and took advantage of my new rock guide for the East Kootenays and we headed to Perry Creek crag. Not the alpine experience we wanted, but an awesome crag!

Crag from the road.

Our parking area (a little further than needed)

Looking up Right Hand Slab, bolted 5.9

Base of "Split the Trees" burly 5.9, bolted.

Fun 5.7 trad route.

We each lead about 12 routes, mostly bolted 5.9 routes, but I lead a real cool trad 5.7 route.  Perry Creek has a lot of routes from 5.6 to about 5.13, definitely worth a visit.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Mt. Sabine - South Face. "Funny Bunny" 5.9, 90m. "Limestone Cowboy" 5.7, 250m

Originally Laurie and I had planned a whole bunch of long rock alpine routes, including a first ascent route, but the 5 to 6 days we had arranged had the wettest weather yet in all of 2016.  Since we had work and family obligations, the dates were set and we tried to make the best of it.  First day of real climbing found us on the South Face of Mt. Sabine which is in the Rockies, but on the western edge of the Rockies in the Columbia Valley, directly above the town of Canal Flats, B.C. (50.1754, -115.7917).

South Face of Mt. Sabine

Mitch Thornton, who passed away recently (2014), developed many routes on this face and provided great route beta on his page. Hopefully this great website is maintained, RIP Mitch, thanks for the beta.

Easy access to the parking area, via the Kootenay Forest Service Road (same FSR used for approaching the ice climbing venue of Gibralter Wall). The parking area is 2.5 km from the four stop in Canal Flats, simply head west along the Kootenay FSR, up the hill, then park in a large clearing. The South Face of Mt. Sabine is easily reached with a variety of old roads and trails to the steep scree slope below the face, about one hour to the base of the sport route Funny Bunny. On this face is also an old school Pat Morrow and Bernhard Ehmann multi-pitch trad route put in 1977.  This old route and the approach sport set by Mitch Thornton and Katrin Olivaw had been on my radar for a few years.  We used the sport set multi-pitch route, “Funny Bunny” - 5.9, bolted, as the approach for Morrow/Ehmann route “Limestone Cowboy” - 5.7, trad.  Funny Bunny is recommended; a three pitch bolted route overall about 100 metres.  Mitch has a good topo with a short description for the pitches.

Funny Bunny marked in blue, Limestone Cowboy marked in red.

We split pitch1 into two pitches and combined last two pitches into one longer pitch. Our route line in red, described route in blue.

Sort of by accident, we did the described first pitch in two pitches and the last two described pitches in one long pitch.  Mitch’s description is better, I had a ton of route drag on the top of pitch three. I would suggest the ratings are a bit off, I would say pitch 1 is 5.9 and the rest of the route around 5.7 to 5.8, with short easier sections.  Laurie lead pitch 1 and I lead pitch 2 and 3. Most pitches are well protected by bolts, with the described first pitch being the longest with about 10 bolts. Overall good rock and a recommended route.

LK leading P1 of Funny Bunny. 

LK setting belay at first bolts, about 20m above base of route.

Looking up our P2 on Funny Bunny.

Looking down to our second belay station.

LK nearing top of Funny Bunny.

More LK.

I was most interested in the 1977 Morrow/Ehmann trad route.  After climbing Funny Bunny, there is a short scree traverse to the reach the single bolt station at the bottom of the broad corner start, this leads to the long obvious ramp section of the route. The long ramp is a bit tricky to see from the road, but it provides the most consistent path up the big South Face on Mt. Sabine, great route selection by Pat and Bernhard!

Short traverse to Limestone Cowboy from top of Funny Bunny.

LK on ledge between routes.

Looking up pitch 1 of Limestone Cowboy.

The route climbs about 250 metres, first on a left leaning ramp, intersected by a low angled corner. This corner is mostly good for gear and laybacks or hands where it is steep. The ramp has a few short steep sections in the lower part, then after about 50 metres gets a bit steeper, then lower angle again. The long ramp ends at a roof that is fairly big and it must be traversed to continue climbing; head left across a very exposed face, protected by a bolt, then an old piton. Once across the face, an easy gully leads to the top of the face.

The ramp has been used by local climbers to provide access up the face to create additional trad and sport routes.  Even with this traffic, the majority of Limestone Cowboy is very dirty with small pebbles and dirt and it has a lot of loose rock.  Overall I would not recommend Limestone Cowboy since it is mostly easy with short sessions of good corner climbing (5.7+), but most of the route is terribly loose. 

In order to save time, we used the bolted stations along Limestone Cowboy in the lower section where these newer routes are developed. This resulted in short pitches, but the climbing was pretty quick and the stations were in good spots that reduced rope drag and were usually in sheltered locations. If all the bolted stations are used, and one trad anchor used (our eventual station for the top of pitch 4), Limestone Cowboy would be 8 pitches.

LK leading pitch 1 on Limestone Cowboy.

First pitch had a tough 5.7 corner with poor feet to get you into the groove of the route, good trad protection; Laurie’s lead about 25 metres. I lead the second pitch, dirty, scappy 5.7 corner, about 30 metres to the bolted station. Laurie lead pitch 3, more consistent 5.7 corner, good gear and cleaner, overall a good pitch, about 30 metres.

Old piton on pitch 2 of Limestone Cowboy.

Looking down our pitch 2 of LC.

Looking up pitch 3 of Limestone Cowboy.

I lead up pitch 4 and past a bolted station since it was very close to the previous station.  Headed up for a bit of a rope stretcher and had to downclimb to get a better position for the station, about 60 metres to my first belay location.  Eventually we decided I would lead pitch 5, which leads across the crux of the route, a steep, very exposed face section. This required a lower trad built anchor station since my position wasn’t in a great location.  When I headed out for the crux we got hit by a big and very soaking thunderstorm. I retreated to the anchor which was sheltered from the rain by the large overhanging roof.  After about 2 hours of waiting, we decided the route was way too wet and the rain really didn’t stop and the temperature was too cold for the route to dry out.

LK leading up pitch 3 of Limestone Cowboy.

Long and complicated descent but we finished our last rap without the need for the headlamps, but hiked out was in the dark and rain.  Despite the poor quality of the route, we may be back one day; I left a quick draw on the top, I don’t like leaving gear behind ;-)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hoka Hey! - 5.8+, 410m (9 pitches)

Long, sustained and challenging rock route, at least for Laurie and I. We enjoyed the variety and interesting climbing on this recent route on the South West Face of Mt. Cory.  This new route is adjacent to the famous climb Cory Crack and has a relatively short approach (about one hour) through pleasant forest and meadows. Long route, 9 pitches, most at 50 or 55 metres in length, with a lot variety of climbing.  Great views north to Castle and the Lake Louise peaks.  First ascent by the “Banff Climbers Club” in 2014.  Hoka Hey means “let’s go” in the Lakȟóta Sioux language. It was often combined with the phrase “it’s a good day to die” as part of a war cry shouted while riding into battle; we both felt like we had been to battle after swapping leads on this route.  In my view, a competent 5.8 to 5.9 lead climber will find this route a serious challenge.

The description does say regarding the third pitch, “Some climbers will feel this pitch deserves the 5.9 grade but if you are familiar with limestone stemming corners it is 5.8, albeit every single move is that hard.” This pitch is rated at 5.8+, IMHO is at least 5.9, but I am less familiar with limestone stemming corners.  Be prepared for a full 55 metres of nonstop and sustained 5.9 hard moves all the way up.

View up pitch 3.
Laurie's shot on second up P3.
The next pitch, fourth pitch, is rated 5.8 and it is very solid 5.8. Pitches 7 and 8, are both rated at 5.8, again, IMHO, there are several very difficult moves in each pitch, and should be rated higher than 5.8, likely 5.9. The eighth pitch is lightly bolted and described as “mixed” using both bolts and trad placements. The bolts are in the perfect locations, with cams providing easy and ample protection in between the bolts. Overall this route packs a big punch, but if you are interested in some old school sustained climbing at the 5.8 to 5.9 level, but nicely protected by bolts; I would recommend this route.

LK leading up P4.

Looking up pitch 7 and 8.

LK about to launch onto P7.

KB sending us home on P9.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

"East Peak of Wendell Mountain" - Scramble

Headed out to enjoy more of the summer like weather in early spring on May 6. This was an extra special trip since I had the chance to reunite with an old high school buddy. Richard J. and I were great friends in high school and a few years afterwards. We had some incredible times together, usually involving a lot of beer, lots of friends and many, many laughs. As we started our post-secondary careers we lost touch and somehow drifted apart.  I hadn’t spoken with Richard in over 25 years when he connected with me last fall.  Turns out that Richard is also an avid backpacker and scrambler, funny we didn’t find each other sooner in the Rockies.
Even with the warm and dry winter, Richard and I didn’t have the opportunity to get out for a scramble until early May.  After reviewing our lists of summits, and of course we didn’t want to repeat summits, we decided on our objective. Neither of us had been to CMC valley behind Yamnuska (Mount John Laurie). Andrew Nugara’s book describes two scrambles (Wendell Mountain and East Peak of Wendell) in the CMC valley. The description for East Peak of Wendell sounded like there was great rock scenery and options for ascent, so we chose this objective. I needed to be home for family obligations before dinner time, so left town early and were leaving the parking lot at first light.  The drive out had a fair amount of fog along the highway, which cleared when we parked, but nearing tree line on the Yam shoulder, we were treated to interesting views of fog formations in the Bow Valley.

The day warmed up quickly and soon we were descending into the picturesque CMC valley.  Andrew’s description of the “scenic route” along the south flanks of East Peak of Wendell sounded like a good choice, and it was. The rock scenery is impressive; looming canyon walls, tall vertical cliffs and interesting boulder/pillar debris make this lower traverse super enjoyable.  These cliffs (Frodo Buttress, The Runes, Runewall and Bilbo Buttress) provide many rock routes, worth a visit in the future (see Bow Valley Rock by Chris Perry for beta on rock routes).

"Wendell Mtn" left and "East Peak of Wendell Mtn" on right

Great rock scenery

Cool canyon

Cool rocks

Once completing the lower traverse, you arrive at the base of the broad South Ridge of the East Peak. Most of this next section is a mindless loose scree slog, but the descent was soft underfoot and fast. Section of slabs, and a couple of interesting slab/corner sections, provide relief from the scree grind, and then the final south summit ridge is reached. This provides a firm rock ridge the opportunity to get some fun exposure on the way to the summit.  The summit cairn did not contain a register, just a hollow black tube.
Fun slab section

Summit ridge

Summit cairn

Lakeview boys (trouble in the 1980's)

Richard and I shared our first summit with warm sun and great front range views.  Quick descent, with an awesome fast scree run. We found a good trail to the old road in the valley bottom and had less luck with a light bushwhack up to the Yam shoulder crest. Down a more direct trail on the east end and we were back to car nice and early.  Great trip and fantastic weather with an old friend.

Fast descent