Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Heading to "that big country above the US"

Eleven of the fifty classic climbs are in Canada. This year we are ambitiously gunning to climb seven on the list. The first being, Slesse Mountain via its NE Buttress. This buttress sweeps unbroken from its summit at 8,002 feet, dramatically to the Pocket Glacier 2,000 feet below.

This mountain is amazing! Our first view of the mountain made me think, "holy crap, we are going to go up all that! That's steep!" The trail gained elevation quickly and we were soon in snow at about 4,500'.

Crossing the Pocket Glacier was our first hurdle. In the past it has killed several climbers when huge chunks of ice broke loose and slid down the ball bearing gravel that covers the solid granite rock it sits on. We weaved our way quickly across its snow slopes to where the rock shoots steeply out of ice, the start of the NE Ridge. At the edge of the glacier there is a rock bench that you have walk across to access the ridge. Due to the snowy conditions the entrance to the bench was completely blocked. This forced us to rope up and climb wet sandy steep rock. The bigger problem was that there were two ice blocks the size of train cars, sitting on the bench directly above us, just waiting for gravity to overcome their melting bases, fall, and crush anything in its path.

I call this "high octane climbing". Thoughts raced through my head while I pulled the moves under those death blocks on sandy, wet, sloping rock: move fast, pray, feet hold on that dime sized edge, move faster, come on Mark, get up there faster. I got up past the blocks, built a quick anchor and belayed Janelle above the danger....ahhhh, relief. Now onto the fun part.

The rock on the ridge itself is great, we scrambled through several hundred feet of easy terrain, then roped up again for the harder parts. We decided to take the 5.10 variation, which was awesome climbing. Very intimidating to look up at that terrain, knowing you had to climb while wearing a big backpack. The small holds revealed themselves at just the right time and we were able to pull through it with no falls.

The large bivy ledge was covered almost completely with snow. We found a small dry patch of relatively flat rock and got out the sleeping bag (only one...to save weight). The sunset was beautiful, what a great day.

The following morning we slept in til 8:00 when nature's call turned into natures scream. There were still about 5 pitches of climbing to get to the knife edge summit ridge. At the summit register, we were the first people to sign in since Sept '09. I guess most people wait for the Pocket Glacier to slide?

The descent was no fun at all. We dropped from the 8000' to 971' in less than 4 hours. On the horrifically steep trail we dropped 550' every ten minutes! Our knees were sore by the end of that adventure. So the next day we stopped at one of the many "you pick" fields in the area and filled our bellies with 10lbs of blueberries!

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