Monday, July 17, 2017

GR 339269 "Mt. Potts" - Scramble | South gully, South East Ridge

Mt. Potts is a hidden gem, hiding behind Opal Ridge, with only a glimpse available up the narrow walls of lower Grizzly Creek from Highway 40. Major summit, approximately 3000m and about the 5 or 6 th highest in the Opal Range. Back in 2014, Raff and I attempted the South East Ridge from the col between Potts/Evan-Thomas, but it was late October and a lot of snow along the summit ridge proved to slow for the short fall days and we bailed. 

I could find three routes described, a lot of routes for such an obscure mountain. The standard route appears to the South East ridge route, with access from a variety lines from the cirque between Potts and Evan-Thomas; this is the line of the first ascent in 1954. I believe most parties that ascend the SE ridge access the ridgeline close to the low point along the col, providing for a fun lengthy journey up the ridge. Rick Collier solo’ed the West Ridge in 2008, vaguely suggest at 5.7/8+ ish terrain; likely this route is unrepeated.  A more direct line up a low angled gully to the SE ridge, closer to the summit, exists on the South Face. This south gully route is now published in Alan Kane’s third edition of “Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies”, so likely this peak will become busier and more known. 

View to Mt. Potts from Grizzly Creek trail

Nearing cirque between Potts and Evan-Thomas

View to north end of Opal Ridge. Gentleman I met on approach is in the photo.

I solo scrambled the south gully to the SE ridge on Friday, July 14 with prefect weather and conditions.  Fantastic solo day in the hills. Almost too hot, but really, a perfect summer day. With a late start, left the trail head about noon, the hike up the steep creek side trail gains elevation quickly.  Soon after leaving the car I spied another solo hiker heading up the trail.  I caught up to this gentleman and discovered he was traversing the northern section of Opal Ridge, descending to the trail at Fortress Junction. We had a fun conservation and said goodbye as I headed towards the cirque between Potts and Evan-Thomas and he up to the saddle between Potts/Opal Ridge. Made quick time up the scree and just below the low angled rock band at the end of cirque, I stopped for my first break and spied the route described by Alan Kane (also the route taken by the Nugara’s), 2 hours to this rest spot. The route is a golden highway (okay light brown) that quickly ascends moderate terrain (and turns out mostly solid) to just below the summit.  What a cool little direct route!
From lunch spot, view to Opal Ridge

From lunch spot, view to south gully route, most right and widest brown gully

Approaching gully route

Upper section of south gully route marked.
No getting lost in on this route, just keep heading up the gully

Getting closer to base of gully

Over the scrappy slabby rockband, across one snow patch in the drainage gully, then an easy hike to the base of the golden highway. The lowest section was beautiful hard water worn rock without scree, a pleasure to ascend, then above a steep step and chokestone, the gully got less steep, but did have rock litter over the solid base, but overall, a pleasant ascent.  Well the gully is, of course foreshortened, and the slog continued.  Overall a very enjoyable moderate scramble, not sure if this gully would rank as difficult, but not a simple hike either.  The exit to the summit ridge, just above another short steep step with a chokestone, is steep, very loose scree, but short.

View up gully.

Constant gully, but least the views get better

View to final summit ridge, out of the gully, yeah!

Summit ridge

Nearing summit block

The final ridge section is exposed, but the rock quality wasn’t too bad.  I think this final ridge section is more moderate than difficult, but not a cake walk for sure.  5 hours from the car, I reached the large summit cairn of Mount Potts.  The name is unofficial, but is well used by local scramblers/climbers. Very cool old school summit register, a thick copper pipe.  It still contains the original 1954 register! I spent nearly an hour on the summit, enjoying the beautiful weather and views. 
Summit view to Mt. Evan-Thomas and the minor Grizzly Peak to right

OSWB on summit

Cool old copper tubing register

Original summit entry, FA team thought they were on Mt. Evan-Thomas; not so.

Summit view to double summit of Mt. Denny

Summit view to Mt. Evan-Thomas

Summit view to northern end of Opal Ridge

Cool steep, outlier tower off of West Ridge, Grizzly Peak behind

View from ridge down south gully route

Last view to gully route

Turned out I was only 3 hours back to the car.  Nice quick descent.  Car to car I was 9 hours and had a great time on this scramble. Considering how close to Calgary, and how close to the road, this peak is, I am sure it will become popular as a nice trip day from town.

Evening light on north side of Grizzly Peak from Grizzly Creek

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

GR333466 “Ivana Hump” | Ivana Humpalot - 5.7, 135m

Greg Cornell is a long time local area climber. Greg, similar to me, likes to climb in obscure areas and set new first ascents. Greg has self published a few volumes of “Kananaskis Obscure” in 2004 and 2005. These guides are available at Kananaskis Obscure 

About 10 years, I really to wanted try two of the routes described in these guides, “ivana humpalot” - 5.7, 135m and “ivana humpaless” - 5.6, 260m, but never found time to get there. Well, after our trip up Elpoca Mountain, and originally hoping to try the second ascent of the West Ridge of “Mt. Potts” (5.7 ish), the weather forecast changed on us and promised rain in the afternoon. So we changed plans, the idea of ascending “Ivana humpalot” came into my mind.  I figured with an early start, we could ascend the route and walk off in the rain, or, hopefully, before the rain.

I should have been warned by this portion of the description for ivana humpaless; “the new Ivana Humpaless route was done after the FA party got lost looking for Ivana Humpalot from Issue #1”. In my view the description for the approach it not really accurate and the topo map for the route is hard to read and it is difficult to find the route described, definitely a more adventurous route.

Parking described is bang on.  The hike to the tower was interesting; cool old bridge falling apart on the old road bed, the tower no longer has power and is an old relic.  The hike to exit to the base of the route is more like 1.5 hours, I know we were tried from Elpoca, but that not slow. 
Old rotting bridge on old road bed.

Old communications tower.

View up the creek to the face below hump.
You can see the rock is good quality from here.

Snow in creek bed on the approach.

Quote from the guide; “Ivana Humpalot ascends an unnamed SE face directly above the sport climbing venue named Kilowatt Crag, south of Wasootch Creek.  Park on the east side of the #40 on a short dirt track leading to an old open pit where the road takes a sharp bend.  Hike up the drainage for 45 minutes following an overgrown creekbed.  About 200m beyond where a second watercourse joins the main one, hike up into the gully that now splits the two large grey humps of the peak. Surmount a short slab wall, then hike to the base. The route take the arĂȘte of the left hump on solid stone throughout.
Guidebook descriptions.

Guide and topo for Ivana Humpalot

“Surmount a short slab”.  Okay our line was 30m of 5.6/5.7, excellent climbing, great rock and good pro, but not simple.  I don’t think an easy walk or scramble lines exists. The topo and route beta was confusing to us.  The brown runnel was very obvious, and the single bolt, but above, the “up the crack to the flats” and “go up steep runnels to an open book”, made no sense. We didn’t go the correct way, and trying to find the steep runnels, ended up in the “canyon”, thinking it was “the flats” since it had very clear steep runnels.  Our first pitch turned out to be about 65 metres, to a so-so belay. 
View to route, the brown runnel is the obvious line in slab on lower right.

Closer to base.

Red line is Scott's lead up pitch 1.
I am guessing, but I think the routes goes left sooner, before the canyon.
Yellow line is my guess at route.

Scott enjoying some fun climbing, overall the lower part of this pitch was fun, but runout.
Wider view of pitch.
We tried climbing above, but clearly we off route and decided to bail since rain was coming. We decided to summit the little bump, or hump, via easy gullies to take the ridgeline walk off line, summit about 2050 metres at GR333466 (“Ivana Hump”), the rain held a bit, so we also slogged up to the high point above the Ivana Hump. As we descended, we had rain on and off.
Heh, we made it to the ridge.
Scott on cairn on "Ivana Hump". Other high point we slogged to behind.

This is an interesting and cool little face where these two routes are located.  It has excellent rock quality, and many cool corner and features.  Huge potential for new routes, both single or multi pitch.  Not sure I am heading back soon, but a very interesting climbing area that is close to town and about an hour to approach.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Elpoca Mountain - North Couloir/North Ridge, 5.8, Alpine IV

Nearly 15 years ago, in August 2003, I set a new alpine rock route (5.5) to the west summit tower of Mount Tombstone; a thunderstorm chased us off before we could summit the main tower.  Later that summer, Karen and I spent a full day wandering around the beautiful alpine meadows of the Piper Pass area, including some bouldering on some of the big beauties that are dotted around the meadows. Since the summer of 2003 I have wanted to climb the great northern couloir of Elpoca Mountain.  Over the intervening years, I glazed longing many times on this great feature.  Started the approach with John in June 2015, but a raging snow storm turned us back just beyond Elbow Lake.

My dear friend from San Francisco, Scott Berry, is super stoked to climb Opal Range summits, and after our ascents of South Schlee and Little Tombstone in September 2016, Scott was keen to try the couloir on Elpoca.  I had never heard of an ascent of this route, and was hoping to set a first ascent.  Scott and I were successful on our climb of the couloir and North Ridge (just west below the ridge line) to the summit of Elpoca Mountain on June 26, 2017.  Turns out we missed the first ascent by one year, oh well, we had an absolutely spectacular alpine day on our trip.
North Face and North Couloir of Elpoca Mtn. from near Piper Pass.
Great Northern Couloir obvious line on right.
Photo taken Sept. 2016.
Sunday June 25, we did a casual approach and arrived at our bivy site within 2.5 hours from the busy Elbow Lake parking lot.  Perfectly situated underneath the scree slopes below the great northern couloir in the Piper Creek drainage.  Set up camp, did a hike up to the base of couloir and across scree slopes to gain a better view.  Pumped for the early start.Thinking back to the ascent now, I have broken up the ascent and descent into three sections each.  Ascent sections, The Great Northern Couloir, Scrappy Traverse and the Rock Pitches (rock steps to gain standard south ridge route, then 5.5 ish terrain to summit).  Descent sections, south ridge descent, big snow slope (Golden Gully) and scree to trees.
View to North Face and Great Northern Couloir from camp.
Base of couloir snakes right, then left out of sight.

Kevin (OSWB) scoping route.
Photo by Scott Berry.

Zoom to lowest section of couloir.

Middle section visible from above camp. We stayed climber's right of the "island" and the "fin" on our ascent.
Left side of fin lacked snow on top of fin.

View again to couloir.

Tent at bottom of this scree slope.
Perfect spot. 2.5 hour walk from Elbow Lake, so a day tripping should be doable.

View south from kitchen near camp.

The Great Northern Couloir
Relatively straightforward snow plod to summit ridge, but not to be taken lightly.  About 350 metres of gain, slope steepest at about 50 degrees, but lots of potential for rock fall.  Would recommend ascending all the snow in the dark.  We started on the snow about 2am and ran out of snow, very close to North Ridge, about 4:30am.  We solo’ed the snow slope, didn’t use a rope or any snow pro. We did use two technical axes and wore crampons for the ascent.  Exit to our chosen low point on the ridge required some moderate mixed snow/ice/rock climbing to hit the saddle, did set a solid picket anchor to belay this pitch.  About 50 metres to gain ridge. Our original plan was to gain the proper North Ridge as soon as possible, but the couloir exit had near vertical walls above and any rock exit to gain the ridge proper would be difficult, I would guess at the lowest 5.9 or even 5.10, with no easy protection.  May have been easier exits part way up our mixed pitch, but no obvious line, so we gunned for the low point on the ridge.
Scott pumped to run up this thing!
(also worrying about rockfall)
At the narrow section at beginning of couloir.

Almost out of snow, very near the start of mixed exit pitch.

View down from near mixed pitch, sun starting to give us some light.

Just above mixed pitch, easy terrain to gain low spot on North Ridge.

Sunrise views north to Mt. Jerram (l) and Cats Ears (r, double summit).

More cool morning light.

Scrappy traverse including, manky ledge below summit block
We were both happy to be on the ridge and out of the serious rock fall hazard zone before the sun was fully up.  We had a quick breakfast break and picked an easy looking line that would keep us about 70 metres below the highest ridge line we could see. The majority of this next section was moderate terrain with a mix of scrambling loose rock, small snow slopes and a raising ascent line that would drop a bit into a gully system, then up over a rib to gain another gully edge, then repeat a few times. This travel was quick and we were unroped. Didn’t know it at the time, but we reach a traverse ledge below an overhanging wall, this ledge was directly below the summit block. This traverse ledge also had a very exposed overhanging/vertical drop beneath it.  We did belay across this ledge since it was so loose and any fall would be very unforgiving.  At the end of this ledge traverse was a short, but steep, rock step, our crux.
View to gain skyline North Ridge.  Looked loose and tough.
We bailed to easy ground below ridgeline, on the west side.

Just leaving our low ridge point, starting traverse south.
Photo by Scott Berry.

Start of traverse, typical terrain for first half of traverse, up and over a few ribs.
Unroped and straightforward terrain.

Scott enjoying the views to the west.

View up to ridgeline above.

"Mt. Roberta" to west.
Photo by Scott Berry

Outlier tower and Gap Mtn.
Photo by Scott Berry

Nearing end of the traverse, start of manky ledge below summit block.
Photo by Scott Berry

Scott crossing manky ledge. He is likely directly below the summit at this point.
Our crux, the 5.8 ish step, is at the end of this ledge.
Our exit was just left of the small nub on the skyline.

The Rock Pitches
As is often the case, the rock step didn’t look that bad, but it was solid 5.8, or maybe even 5.9, on downsloping ledges with very little protection available.  Glad Scott was keen on this pitch.  He did a fantastic lead and placed all our skinny pitons (knifeblades and bugaboos), I think about 10 pins and a few wires. About 40 metres from belay to belay. The top of the step put us very near the final section of the south summit ridge route.  Above this station was another pitch of solid 5.7 climbing to gain an in place anchor station. 
View across mank ledge to crux pitch.

Base of crux pitch. Didn't take enough pics. Solid 5.8/5.9 downsloping ledges to belay.
Basically up the middle to the notch left of the nub.
Scott's fine lead.

Photo by Scott Berry

Kevin on second of crux pitch.
Photo by Scott Berry.

Kevin heading up 5.7 pitch.
Photo by Scott Berry.

Summit pointy bit upper right.
Our manky traverse was just below the big overhand.

From this station it was about 60 metres to the summit.  We pitched using existing stations in place and one sling station where I left my pack.  Scott did the final push up to the summit, about 5.5 downclimb on ridge (crux of south ridge route?) and about 5.4 up the short steep summit block.The summit yeah, yeah.  Apparently we have the second ascent of the Great Northern Couloir.  I guess I shouldn’t have waited 15 years ;-)

Kevin at an intermediate station.
Ditched my pack here.Summit over my shoulder.
Photo by Scott Berry.

Nearing downclimb crux of south ridge, near summit block.
Photo by Scott Berry
Cruxing. Wind was whipping the shit out of the rope.
Photo by Scott Berry

Scott B. rocking the summit of Elpoca Mtn.

Final steps to summit for KB.
The absolutely gorgeous Elpoca Tower below.
Photo by Scott Berry

Boys on top.
Photo by Scott Berry

Summit register entries.

Our summit entry.

Tombstone summits from summit.
Elpoca Tower.

Rappelling off of the single summit bolt.
Photo by Scott Berry.

South Ridge Descent
Overall not too bad, but the thunderstorm and not having ascending it made the final exit more problematic.  We rapped off the single summit bolt. Scott ran to the fixed station, belayed me, then we returned to first fixed station we found, rap, then more downclimbing, another rap, then a bit of confusion, wasted some time finding another an easy downclimb, couldn’t but eventually found another rap station.  Trying to figure when the top of the snow slope, aka the Golden Gully was a bit confusing, then we got hammered by a thunderstorm complete with hail, good times.  Eventually found the top of the Golden Gully after slogging up hill to a little smooth saddle.
Old man Barton at rap station.
Photo by Scott Berry

View back to summit ridge.

Kevin down climbing near last rap.
Photo by Scott Berry

Last tricky rap.
Photo by Scott Berry

Post thunderstorm.
The end is in sight. The top of the "Golden Gully" is visible, just left of the biggest snow patch.
Photo by Scott Berry

Approaching the exit slope, just left of the big snow patch.
Photo by Scott Berry

Big snow slope (Golden Gully)
This is access up the East Face to the South Ridge, famously named the “Golden Gully” by Orvel Miskiw. Highly recommend that if you ascend Elpoca, and this slope, do it when this slope is covered in snow.  Other reports of ascending and descending this rock/scree slope sounds miserable.  I prefer kicking steps in snow.  This slope is also long with a lot of vertical gain/loss, we had snow from the ridge, all the way to Elpoca Tower, about 300 metres. Simple snow descent. We had another thunderstorm hit us on our descent of this snow slope, very cool echoing surrounded by the big walls.
View down big snow slope (golden gully).

OSWB near slope of big snow slope.
Photo by Scott Berry

The luscious Elpoca Tower
and the left trending snow slope (golden gully) heading to the ridgeline.
Photo take on our exit hike.
Regards my friends. Long life.

Scree to trees
From Elpoca Tower back to tree line above the Elbow River was a simple hike, but, after the long day, this section seemed to take forever.  Beautiful sunny conditions as we hiked across the meadows north of the Elbow River to find the trail back in Piper Creek and back to camp.  All in, we were about 20 hours camp to camp. Super happy to have finally climbed this cool looking line.  Great times with an impeccable climber. Scott and I had a blast.
A very approximate line of our ascent.
Photo from highway 40, near Elpoca Creek.