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CrackMeister

[TR] Mt. Slesse - Northeast Buttress 7/10/2009

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Trip: Mt. Slesse - Northeast Buttress

 

Date: 7/10/2009

 

Trip Report:

After a years worth of talking about climbing Slesse’s Northeast buttress, it was finally going to happen. The plan was to pick up two friends who would climb as a pair (both red heads, we affectionately called team ‘ginger balls’) at the ferry and then meet with Dave (my partner) in Chilliwack. Some classic Friday afternoon highway traffic slowed our progress but before too long we were wolfing down some pizza looking out at the mountain. While stopped, Dave astutely noticed a small black truck with a few people sporting they’re dreads, body hair and a bunch of climbing gear. All of a sudden concerned that a hideous El Cap.esque parade of fellow climbers could taint our early season ascent, I wandered over to hopefully discover they were from out of town and headed to Squamish… Not only did I discover that they were headed for the Northeast buttress and they had the same wooded knoll bivy plan, but they were NICE! Dam, I was bound and determined to hate them too… I should point out that 3 of the 4 of us are river kayakers, turned climbers in the past few years. So we are trying hard to play the part of ‘climbers’. While a kayaker would be stoked to meet another crew on a river, we’ve learned that climbers get pissed off and threatened by another crew on their climb. Hence the attempt to get our hate on.

 

The trip initially felt somewhat tainted by Officer Farva (seen Supertroopers?), a police officer who pulled us over on the Chilliwack River road. Apparently, we fill the profile of “Rave going partiers who will stab each other and leave our body parts strewn around the valley for others to pick us up”. So Officer Farva poured our case of Lucky (beer) and complimented himself for “saving these guys from consuming that crap”. Thanks chief.

 

The dropping of the shuttle car went well. There were no road finding problems and we were “lucky” enough to find a hidden key for the locked gate at the entrance to the road. Leaving a car as far as we could, we set off for the Northeast side of Slesse, noting the other party had deposited their truck on the outside of the lower gate. Haha, they were not “lucky” enough to find the hidden key!

 

We got up to the approach right as the other party was headed up to the wooded knoll. With some polite conversation we agreed to see them up there. At 9pm after an hour of food/gear prep we were on out way. Our party was walking into virgin territory so walking by the Slesse Memorial sight at sun down was a moving and humbling sight. The glacial circ and the sweeping buttress itself filled us with excitement and a little nervousness too.

 

The night was warm and clear up on the wooded knoll. With a bed made of ropes, backpacks, one thermorest, and spruce bows we were sleeping by 11pm. The alarm went off at 3:30 am, and after some food and some water we headed off through intermittent snow patches to try and find the small trail across to the bypass glacier. In the darkness we missed the trail somewhere and ended up at the propeller cairn. After a quick assessment of the Slesse glacier, we decided that it was not totally safe, but safe enough that we were willing to gamble at 4am. I took the lead and stated running across hard snow and a couple slabs for a little notch in the East Pillar. Approximately 5-10 minutes later I was standing safely below the notch, very sweaty and panting like a dog in heat. Dave, bringing up the rear, had just begun the sprint across so I waited. Shortly after we were all standing on the other side of the notch, one glacier crossing down, one to go...

 

The bypass glacier, which was our main safety concern on the trip, had mostly slid away. The portion that remained was about 20 meters from front to back and 80 meters left to right. The problem was that a portion was sitting entirely on the 3rd class ledge making that route too dangerous for our liking. Having heard thunderous ice fall through the night we quickly made a plan B. It appeared that near the edge of the lower circ there were some low 5th grade corners that would make it possible to gain the Direct start without traversing back down. We felt safe enough to roll the dice again and set off for the second 5 minute long death dash. I am not one to really dwell on the possibility of a disaster, but in this case I found myself making endless evasive maneuver plans, and despite burning legs in the middle refused to slow down. The traverse was a little trickier than the previous one with some steeper slabs near the end, but we all made it safely across. As a team we vowed to finish the climb no matter what just so we did not have to cross that again. By 6am the sun had hit the bypass glacier and chunks started peel off below us… sketchy!

 

Some fun low 5th soloing found us on the direct start about 2 pitches from up the bottom. We continued to solo with only one 20 meter wet/mossy section requiring a rope. We were having a lot of fun climbing the less traveled route but we were excited to get above to where the real climbing started. Above the 3rd class bypass ledge we saw the party behind us making the death sprint for a similar spot lower on the toe. They obviously made the same safety assessment we did and wanted nothing to do with the bypass ledge route.

 

From here we simul-climbed for a while up amazing 5.7 splitters and dihedrals, eventually reaching the crux 5.10 pitch. As I had lead for all of the solo route finding and simul-climbing pitches, Dave jumped at the chance to lead the intimidating looking broken roofs. A steady pace and a short time later, he was hooping and hollering at the top. The climbing felt very juggy through that section and with weird but solid pro.

 

A couple more lead swaps and we were stretching out on the main bivy ledge at 9am. The exposure looking over the east side of the buttress is pretty amazing and above the head wall looks far to steep to be the 5.7ish grade claimed by Alpine Select. We were especially pumped to find a big pile of snow to fill the water bottles. While sitting on the ledge, Dave and I decided that this was definitely the highest cliff we’d ever dangled our feet off of. Shortly after, the intrepid team ginger popped onto the bivy sight. The party of five behind us was up the improvised corners and on the buttress proper, but not going very fast. We hoped that the large packs we had seen include bivy gear…

 

Anxious to get moving we put the shoes back on and started scrambling the 3rd, 4th, and low 5th terrain above. A substantial amount of snow remained in this area and there were a couple tense moments on slippery moss, but we all arrived at a good-sized ledge where we dawned the ropes again to pitch out the final head wall. The climbing was a bit nebulous on well feature rock. At this point Dave and I had chosen a groove next to the crest of the ridge which proved a harder than it looked. Team Ginger Balls decided to try about 5 meters to the right without any better luck. Just a weird pitch I guess.

 

The final “crux” rated at 5.9 was met with more shouts of joy from my excited partner. The thin tall flakes and many stemming possibilities made it a great pitch. Not knowing exactly how far until the top we kept the lead swapping going at a brisk pace. The final 5.7 pitches are so exposed that when you grab the crest and peak down you inadvertently let out a giggle. Not a normal one, but the one were you feel like you’re getting away with something that you shouldn’t.

 

I crested over a short steep corner to a bench that was clearly the last before the summit. As I had not placed any gear yet, I selected the 3 meter tall free standing pillar in the center of the ledge and plugged a cam up high on it. One last set of bounding moves and I was on the summit!! As all the rock is decaying I sat myself behind a boulder, braced my feet and called for Dave to follow. When I thought he had just about reached the only cam on the pitch, I was rewarding with a round of laughter, bringing a smile to my face. Team Ginger Balls was hot on our heals so we did not have much time to prepare, luckily just enough though. Bob, being the final person to the crest, was greeted by nude Dave and I bent over in a pose affectionately called “the goat.” This involves all the bits being placed between you legs as you are bent over in the moon position. The view from behind is a sight that will make most people cringe! Bob’s facial expression was incredible as the expression of elation and relief was met by discussed. Man, there is nothing like a great burn on your buddy at the top of a massive climb.

 

Peering back over the climb we noticed that the party of five behind us was only as high as the bypass route connection and appeared to be stopped. We hoped that nobody had been hurt, but as we were currently in no position to help we resolved to worry about getting our party off.

 

Now at 4pm we thought the climb had been a blazing success. A little relaxing and some summit photos, including a blue bird view of the surrounding mountains and Baker was a rich reward for our effort. Being that we all knew that we were only half way done the climb, we headed off down the west face decent. The rappels and down climbing went without incident except a 5 minute rope snag.

 

The hiking train down is an amazingly steep but well worn and in the upper sections, easy to follow. We descended to an alpine meadow that is the beginning of a massively steep drop down to the Slesse Creek valley floor. Near the top of this we lost the trail and began to search for it. I searched right and the others searched down and left, neither having any success. The book description about this portion of the trail is brief but describes the trail as following the crest of the ridge down steeply. I strongly voted that we bite the bullet and hike back up to where we last had the trail, half an hour to an hours walk. Everyone was getting pretty tired by this point and I was swayed to continue down, bushwhacking and searching for the trail.

 

At approximately 9pm it was getting dark in the thick trees and no sign of the trail was to be found. Our water supply and energy levels indicated that it was time to be down with this silliness and back at the car. We had some further trouble with steep scree slopes and scary cliffed out sections, but continued to make progress down. As it finally got dark I was unnaturally excited by grabbing a devil’s club with my bare hand. This meant two things, I needed to dig out my headlamp, and we were getting close to the valley floor.

 

Our spirits were lifted for a short time before being dampened again by a pesky 2nd growth forest. The combination of tiny bushy trees being less that shoulder width apart and the forced use of a head lamp, gave the effect of being in a blizzard with high beams on. We were brought almost to hands and knees, but desperate for water we pushed on. Ahead I saw some open light, which previously meant a cliff, so I warned everyone, and proceeded to the edge to look. I found myself at the top of a 10-15 meter steep sand/dirt bank. As I was about to say everyone should head left and around it, the tree I was standing on broke and I skidded, slid all the way to the bottom. Sweat from head to toe and then the unplanned roll in the dirt made me look like some sort of primitive monster, but despite my current state, I was overjoyed to be standing on an old logging road! My shouts were met with equal shouts from everyone else.

 

Time was a bit lost to us but we eventually found a creek and drank deeply. Secure in the fact that is we could safely bivy with water to drink. We continued on with lots of discussion and betting of beer as to where we were and if we would come out at the car. By 11pm we stumbled around the corner to the best site I have ever seen, the car! Also present were two mountain bikes, indicating the presence of another party on the mountain.

 

We drank some gatoraid that was stored in the creek and took off to go retrieve the other vehicle. Arriving at the locked gate I hopped out to go open it only to discover the hidden key was missing. F#ck, s!#t, mother f#cker. After a search of the rocks and the other vehicles in the pull out, we admitted defeat, set up a tent and I don’t even remember laying down before falling asleep. Five minutes later (I was told the next morning) a thunder and lightning storm hit the week long forecast of blue skies. I’m glad we were not still on the wall!

 

The next morning we woke to find the truck from the party of five missing. That was a great relief because they had successfully reversed off the climb and were able to get out in the night while we were sleeping.

 

Hitching a ride to the upper car with some people headed to Rexford Dave was able to get the top car back relatively early. I had sore/blistered feet and stayed in the car sleeping... Team Ginger Balls had hitch hiked the other way to make some phone calls and by 1pm the stranded car was on the correct side of the gate. As we were preparing to head back to the city the two with bikes arrive at their vehicle. They were attempting to climb the west face, but during the night the storm had rolled in. We learned that they were bivied just off the top of our alpine meadow and heard us crashing off route through the trees. They tried to signal us with whistle blasts but we missed their hails. Oh well, at least they got some good karma out of the deal.

 

The climb was amazing and definitely my biggest one day undertaking yet. The minor epic at the end was a good lesson. What you are not prepared for can really mess you up. But it all worked out well in the end. I figure it’s like getting Clamydia. If you are going to get an STD at least that one is treatable…

 

 

Gear Notes:

1 set of nuts

1 blue TCU

1 yellow TCU

0.4-3 camalots (double .5, .75, 1)

 

I would leave the #3 and one of the double camalots next time because there is a huge varied of placements everywhere

 

Approach Notes:

1.5 hours to wooded knoll at a quick pace.

 

Bypass glacier is sketchville.

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Edited by CrackMeister

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Nice Work! It's a beautiful route an a stunning peak.

How did the approach glacier for the North Rib look? Any Pic? Was the rib dry?

 

Did you notice if the East Pillar was dry either?

 

Marc

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I would leave the pics out, it's bad enough that team ginger balls had to see that

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