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[TR] Cirque of Unclimbables, Bugaboos, Valhallas, etc - Lotus Flower Tower, NE Ridge Bugaboo Spire, etc 8/18/2013

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Trip: Cirque of Unclimbables, Bugaboos, Valhallas, etc - Lotus Flower Tower, NE Ridge Bugaboo Spire, etc


Date: 8/18/2013


Trip Report:


We had a great three-week adventure in Canada this summer starting off with 9 days in the Cirque of the Unclimbables. That place is SO beautiful and I can’t wait to go back. We left Seattle on August 19th and drove for 2.5 days up to Finlayson Lake. From there we met up with Warren LaFayve who operates Kluane Airways and he flew us to his lodge, Inconnu Lodge. Warren is the man and anyone who wants to take a trip to the Cirque must use him! Not only is he an awesome person but also the lodge you stay at is super nice. Trust me, you will enjoy a hot shower after spending days and weeks in Fairy meadows (in the rain☺). That night we celebrated with some Swiss who had just summited the Lotus and finished packing our bags to fly in to Glacier Lake the next day. We took off the next morning into the mist and had a beautiful hour-long flight over the Northwest Territories.


Coming in for landing on Glacier Lake



After landing at the lake we stashed some gear at the cabin and headed up the new trail, which steeply climbs up the forest and avoids the nasty talus on the left. We made it up to camp after 3.5 hours with heavy packs and made camp under a huge house-sized boulder. Psyched on our surroundings, we explored Fairy Meadows the next day and ducked under boulders when the rain came.


Our first view of Fairy Meadows






That first day up in the Cirque turned out to be the best weather we had for 7 days. After enduring 3 nights in Fairy Meadows hunkered down, we decided to head back to Glacier Lake with some Canadian friends we met in hopes of better weather at lower elevation and to re-up our supplies. We spent our first night in the musty cabin (aka hanta virus central) but the next two nights we slept in a shelter that we built on the lakeshore.


Staying dry



It was nice to sleep out in the fresh air but we were kept awake by the glue-addicted porcupine that loved chewing the plywood against the cabin door. The lake was a nice escape from the clouds that enveloped the cirque above and we were able to have fire, fish for grayling, and explore with a canoe.


Chad catching some dinner



Fire turned out to be critical after Tad and I went exploring up a creek and tipped the canoe. An alpine shower was in order but needless to say it was unexpected! After our clothes dried out over the next day, our Canadian friends used their sat phone to get a weather update and found out that we had a possible three day window coming up. The next morning, they headed out on the canoe to begin their next adventure of boating the Nahanni River and we headed back to Fairy Meadows to rack up and get ready to climb the following day.


Racking up!



Morning light on Mt. Proboscis



Morning dawned and we made our way to the base of the Lotus Flower Tower. It loomed over us dark and ominous but our spirits were high and we were psyched to be in the sun. Tad and I didn’t end up starting until around 11:30 am since our friend Logan and Emily went first. The first few pitches were super wet and dirty so Tad used a mixture of aid and jugging up fixed ropes that were left there by the Swiss and I followed free to get warmed up for the rest of the climb. After not climbing for almost a month and a half due to some work in Nantucket, I was feeling it! We made it through the first few hard pitches and began climbing in the 5.7/8 chimneys mid afternoon. Thinking the pitches were going to be mellow, we were not too worried about timing. However, the chimneys turned out to be much harder than expected with them being wet/icy and carrying packs. Regardless, we made it to the bivy eventually climbing into the dark of the night, arriving around 1am. The night was calm and we enjoying the stars overhead with the northern lights visible on the horizon. It was super sick! We made dinner, drank whisky, and finally went to sleep around 3am. The next morning we awoke to sunshine and got our first look at the headwall above. The headwall is absolutely amazing. Perfect granite dotted with black knobs and the ‘railroad tracks’ extending all the way to the summit. Psyched but a bit sore, we start and climb in true bliss.


Tad starting up the first pitch off the bivy



Looking up before traversing into the cracks



Tad traversing into the 'railroad tracks'



Looking down the headwall



The climbing is pretty sustained at 5.9 until you reach the roof and is more like a sport climb protected with gear than a crack climb. The pitches on the headwall are about 50 meters and all the belays are hanging. The higher we climbed, the worse the weather became. The sun disappeared, dark clouds enveloped the surrounding peaks, and the wind chilled us to the bone. The temperature fell about 15 degrees within an hour and pressure was dropping rapidly. We called out above and we all agreed that it was best to start the 12 or so rappels before it started snowing and got dark. A forgotten headlamp and a gear loop breaking sending 8 cams flying into the air were other reasons for our decision to bail. It was really tough call and we might have been able to make it to the top but you just never know. Success doesn’t happen without failure. Needless to say I learned a lot and now have an excuse to go back!


We made it back to camp that night and packed up/hiked out to Glacier Lake the next day. We were prepared to stay the night but after getting ahold of Warren via sat phone, he said he would pick us up that evening. We were SO PSYCHED for a shower and a yummy meal. Off to the next adventure….


We had a day and a half weather window in the Bugaboos so off we drove. We resupplied in Golden and hiked in 2 days after leaving Finlayson Lake. Wanting to make it easy, we opted to stay at the Kain hut so we didn’t have to bring sleeping pads or a stove. We arrived at the hut around 10:30 PM and packed our bags for NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire the next morning. Our alarm rang at 4:30 but not realizing there was a time change it turned out to be 5:30. Oops! We made quick time up the Crescent Glacier and weaved our way up the 4th class scrambling to get to the ridge.


Morning light on Snowpatch Spire



There were a few other parties climbing the route so we took a few 5.10 variations to keep things interesting. Most of the traditional route is 5.7/5.8 on great rock.


High on the ridge



The climb itself only took a few hours and we quickly found ourselves on the summit in an unexpected storm of rain/hail. After about 20 minutes of traversing the top of the ridgeline in the rain, the clouds passed and we enjoyed a beautiful rainbow over the valley below.





We met some new friends on the south summit and we all gang-banged the rappels and Bugaboo/Snowpatch col descent. The descent in my opinion takes longer than the climbing itself so plan accordingly.


The next day we had a short window to climb McTech Arete before the rain came in. That climb is so splitter! Beautiful steep cracks and corners on perfect rock. Unfortunately, the storm hit us mid-fourth pitch and sent us rappelling to seek cover. Our weather window had left us so we hiked down that night, drove out to Radium, and hit up the hot springs the next day.


Our plan was to pretty much follow the sun so we headed to the Valhallas to climb Gimli and hopefully another peak. The Valhallas are an incredibly beautiful range with lots of unexplored rock and a few classic lines. The hike up is short and steep and we arrived at the bivy an hour and fifteen minutes after starting. The weather had not yet passed so we hunkered down for the night in the wind and rain. We awoke the next morning surrounded by mist and decided to adventure to a new area. We skirted the base of Gimli, scoping out the face and possible objectives for the next day, and headed over to Neisilheim, which has a great view of the surrounding peaks to the North. Tad and I climbed the East Ridge of Neisilheim, which has maybe a pitch or two of 5.7 climbing and the rest scrambling on the ridge. We decided to wear our approach shoes and did the route in an hour and half.


Starting up the first pitch




We descended the NW Ridge, which is 4th class and really fun in its own right. The views of Aasgard and beyond were spectacular.


Descending the NW Ridge



We made it back to camp in the early afternoon, relaxed, ate some dinner, and had an early night to bed. The next morning with blue skies overhead, we did the classic South Ridge of Mt. Gimli.


Morning light



This route is truly spectacular with every pitch being memorable and on GREAT rock. Tad and I had done the climb 2 years ago so and I took my first ever whipper on the pitch 1. It was great to come back and crush the route in about 4 hours or so. Pitch 1 and 6 are considered 5.10 but the sixth pitch crux is very short and consists of pulling a roof. The descent is really exposed and takes you down a series of ledges. At first glance it looks improbable but is well marked and comes together. Just don't fall:) After descending, we packed up our camp and headed off to our next objective, Mt. Sir Donald.


We drove to get permits that next day and hiked up that evening. The hike is pretty steep and about 4 miles or so. We made it to camp in 1.5 hours, set up our tents, and watched the sunset over the Rockies. The alarm rang at 5 the next morning and a quick breakfast we were off to the col and the start of the NE Ridge. It took us about an hour to get up there and we began simul-climbing at 7:30. The route is mostly 4th class with the occasional 5th class move. We simul-climbed in 5 long blocks, covering ~2,500 feet of climbing in 3 hours.


Sir Donald shadow



Looking down the ridge



The descent was more involved than the ascent since we opted to do a few short rappels on the ridge instead of steeper down climbing. In retrospect, strong parties would be better off down climbing the whole ridge until you can begin rappelling down the face. We made it down to camp after 8 hours, filled some water and started the long drive back to Washington.


Overall it was a great trip. We got some great climbing in considering our short weather windows, and put a lot of miles on the rental car (thanks budget for not charging mileage!).



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way back ... in the 80,s, and early 90,s when we were custom building gear (mostly for Europeans), I saw a lot of 'slides' from the Cirque, and plenty from the Lotus Flower. The look in their eyes, and all the energy of being there remained written all over them, weeks later. It must be most rock climbers dream, to do that climb, just because of the pictures. Still remember the national geographic magazine story, and all the pics. Its one of the ones I wished i 'had climbed'. Then to drive over to the Bugaboos ... Major KUDOS! thanks for the wishing memory's ...

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Wow Tad and Whitney; you two rock hard! Thanks for writing this up Wiz...

Please take me back with you...

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