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[TR] Mount Formidable - South Route 07/05/2020

Ian Lauder

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Trip: Mount Formidable - South Route

Trip Date: 07/05/2020

Trip Report:

YouTube video (FYI - mistyped the date in the video splash screen - its July 4-6, not June)

We had a Fri-Sun trip planned but switched to Sat-Mon due to the weather. Good call as one day either way would have been a no-go. We lucked out with the one day with sunny and calm weather for the summit day.


Overall it was about 26 miles and pushing 10,000ft gain for the whole thing car to car. About 7 hours to camp, 19 hours for the climb day and 6 hours hike out.  The climb day broke down to about 2.5 hours from camp to the col looking at Formidable. 5 hours col to summit, 8 hours summit to col (extra time due to an additional handline, softer snow coming down and rappels for 5 people), 3.5 hours col to camp.

5 of us took off from the gate 2 miles back from the Cascade Pass trailhead adding an extra 4 miles and 1000ft gain to the trip starting around 8:30am.

From Cascade Pass 99% of the rest of the trip was on snow with only an occasional bit of trail or rock islands to cross. Steep snow with bad runout in places along the way to Cache Glacier but not bad. There is a huge cornice forming across the entire width of Cache Col. That will not be pretty when it collapses. We had to hit it on the far right and traverse under the cornice to the rocks on the other side and a loose scree/rock scramble up to the top of the col.


From there its an easy snow walk to Kool-aid lake which is still under feet of snow. But the water is running at the stream there.

The traverse around to Red Ledges is also an easy snow walk the entire way.

The Red Ledges were a bit tricky. Getting onto them is straightforward traversing on steep snow but the last bit is a runout over the moat. Around the corner out of sight was another steep now patch about 20ft across covering the ledge with runout into the chasm that had to be side traversed. Then a steep snow climb out of the ledges, again with runout into the chasm. Everyone soloed it okay but its 3 no-fall steep snow sections to get through the ledges.


We setup camp just around the corner near Arts Knoll and turned in early.

3:30am wakeup and walking around 4:45. We woke up to clear blue sky and calm weather.

Made quick work of the Cascade Glacier, down Formidable/Spider col and across the basin to the final col in just over 2 hours.

The drop from there was on a steep snow finger that was easy to get down. From there a walk across and backup to the rock ledge where we found a couple different paths to scramble up the ledges to the next snowfield.

From there we went up to where the ledges scramble option starts but looking at our options figured there were too many snow patches on the ledges but it looked like snow went all the way up the chasm.

So we decided to go straight up the middle of the chasm hoping to intersect the 4th class step across the chasm. Halfway up we hit a moat starting to form but was still enough left we were able to get around it and all the way to where we could step onto the other side of the chasm. The ledges had a layer of snow and ice but was easy to get into and made it to the cairn.


From there the next trick was getting across the face which was mostly steep snow. We started going up about 40ft before starting to traverse over.


(Photo of Albert, Rodica and I by Tim)

One person was far enough out they soloed across to the rock island. The rest of us decided to run a handline so we got one anchored to rocks on both ends tying our twin 37m ropes together.  Once across the first half we had a 2nd snow slope to get the rest of the way over so we repeated with a 2nd handline between two rock islands. The snow was firm enough on the way across we sped it up having more than one go across the handline at the same time. On the return trip with softer snow things slowed down when we only sent one person at a time across the handlines.


Once over we had the last 300ft most of which was another steep snow slope which was starting to soften up.


(Photo of Sean, myself, Rodica and Albert coming up the last 250ft snowfield from the base of the traverse to just below the summit block by Tim).

We were able to all solo up and then the last 50 feet or so to the summit block was mixed snow and loose rock.


On the way down we scrambled the rocks about half way down till we found a horn that seemed like it would hold a handline and backed it up with a cam and dropped down the rope as a handline for everyone to prussic down to the start of the traverse.  Last person cleaned the gear and downclimbed with a couple pickets left in to protect the last person down.

To get across the face we repeated the 2 handlines to the cairn at the top of the chasm. With the softer snow on the way back only one at a time went a cross each handline. That and dropping a line to prussic down part of the upper snowfield from the summit block and the rappel added a few extra hours to the trip down.


Here we couldn’t find any rappel slings from other videos we’ve seen. Maybe they were still buried under the snow.  So we tied 3 cordelletes together and slung the giant block the cairn is sitting on as a backup to rappel slings put around 2 smaller boulders. We rappelled off the smaller boulders with the backup in place in case they moved. The last person down retrieved the cordelletes and just left a sling behind.  So, if anyone ever sees that sling wondering if someone rapped off the small boulders – it was backed up for the first 4 people.


That rappel put us down past the moat forming in the middle.  And had to jump across the side moat to get back onto the snow. From there a short face in downclimb and then back to the scramble down the ledges.

By the time we hit Formidable/Spider col the sun was going down and headlamps came out. One person had a headlamp bulb go out so we had to slow down on the descent of the glacier and back to camp which added the extra hour on the return to camp.

Great climb with a great group that worked well together figuring out some tricky options to protecting the climb in ways that are not normally done there that way.

Signing the summit register the last people to have signed it were almost a year ago last August.

Memorable Quotes Gathered by Sean:

"We're crazy" ~ Rodica
"Is that the Spider/Formidable col?" ~ Albert, deliriously pointing toward a snow finger nowhere near our exit col
"I have some cord that I found and don't know the history of so we should rap off it because i'm tired of thinking about it, I just want to get rid of it" ~ Tim
"Guys, we should really be protecting this. Right???" ~ Rodica
"I don't mind if we bail on this picket because it's Albert's anyway...." ~ Ian
"If I hike all night and go straight to work I probably still won't make it on time" ~ Sean
"I'd love to come up here in tennis shoes sometime" ~ Tim
"Would you consider this an intermediate climb?" ~ Albert
"These are all the cams left?" ~ Ian
"[ice axe falls down cliff]" ~ Ian
"[glove falls down cliff]" ~ Sean
[Blue Skies by Ella Fitzgerald comes on the radio when we're in a whiteout at camp] "I think the radio is taunting us" ~ Tim
"I'm already committed." ~ Sean, as everyone else decides to stop and rope up.

Gear Notes:
Twin 37m ropes, light alpine rack (cams/nuts), 5 pickets, ice axes + 2nd tool


Edited by Ian Lauder
Added memorable quotes and a couple photos.
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13 minutes ago, JasonG said:

Wow, that looks stout in those conditions.  Much easier when all that steep snow is gone, but then you have the death blocks to contend with. 

Good work getting everyone up and down safely!

Thanks, after a few months of lockdown and easy outings it felt good to get out and get this one. None of us had done the route before but we figured the snow coverage made some parts of getting there and some parts of the route easier but also made other parts that would be the easy parts the hardest parts.

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5 hours ago, Ian Lauder said:

the snow coverage made some parts of getting there and some parts of the route easier but also made other parts that would be the easy parts the hardest parts.

Very true.  The approach is greatly helped with the snow, but it certainly makes some of that easy scrambling quite tricky.

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Nice work! We were on the Ptarmigan this past weekend and hit that nice weather from White Rocks to just beyond Cub Lake. Coming across that cornice at the top of Cache Col in a whiteout was certainly a bit of a shock! How did you deal with the lower cornice (just before getting onto the cache glacier)?

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13 minutes ago, ursaeagle said:

Nice work! We were on the Ptarmigan this past weekend and hit that nice weather from White Rocks to just beyond Cub Lake. Coming across that cornice at the top of Cache Col in a whiteout was certainly a bit of a shock! How did you deal with the lower cornice (just before getting onto the cache glacier)?

Thanks. The lower cornice wasn't an issue as we went all the way to the top then dropped down next to the rock.  Shown here on our return you can see the tracks heading up close to the rocks on the left. At that point it was just a steep slope down without any cornice.


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