Saturday, December 2, 2017

the nostalgia project - Snitch (1981)

The route

Snitch lives at Symonds Yat, a limestone cliff in the Wye Valley, about 30 km upstream from Wintours Leap. Located on one of this far-from-world-class cliff's less impressive sectors, Snitch is so unremarkable that even a search on the voluminous UKClimbing website brings up no photos or forum discussion. Just a terse database entry suggesting an overall grade of "Hard Very Severe" or HVS and a relatively low technical grade of 4c. In the opaque world of Brit grading this suggests a route whose main characteristic is pump rather than difficulty. Or boldness rather than difficulty (you are supposed to make this important distinction from examining the route visually or finding other clues within the guidebook description). Maybe YDS 5.8? I am grateful to my friend Toby Archer (destined for a starring role in the 2002 and 2003 episodes - if I get that far) for tracking down these photos of his ascent of Snitch in 2010.



all photos © Toby Archer



The context

1981 was my final school year. I was sixteen years old and had become quite competitive about rock climbing, at least within my extremely limited peer group; essentially the handful of boys (there were no girls) at my school who climbed. At the time, the magic grade for us was VS or "Very Severe". No-one at the school had ever led one. Having bumbled up a few "Severes" I fancied my chances.

It seems quaint now that such a low grade could be a goal. One explanation is that we were all based in the south-east of England, an area generally devoid of rock, so none of us knew other climbers who could give us perspective on what was and wasn't attainable. And, of course, there were no web forums or Facebook groups where we could find advice or support, nor any climbing gyms where we could benchmark ourselves against others.

What we did have were climbing magazines, but they portrayed an apparent fantasy world of mythical beings doing extraordinary things. Training or coaching articles, endorsing the possibility of progression for normal people, are now a standard space-filler in climbing magazines, but did not start to appear until the late 1980s. I still have a few British magazines from the early 1980s, all editions of the vaguely punk "Crags", which was favoured over the more establishment "Climber and Rambler". Leafing through them now I would classify all the content in just three categories: destination articles about British or foreign cliffs, listings of new routes and cliquey in-jokes. Nothing for the clueless beginner.

The ascent

Again, more accurately: the attempt. In March 1981 a Duke of Edinburgh Award linked school trip, similar to the one that took me to Wintours Leap in 1979, gave us an opportunity to climb at Symonds Yat. The diary notes "Hideous two days. Snow and mud". The two teachers climbed with less experienced kids and let the rest of us do our own thing. As far as I recall, they did not even require that we stay within sight. I led a couple of "Very Difficult" routes and a "Hard Severe" - one notch below "Very Severe". Then I tried Snitch, which at the time was listed in the guidebook at VS.

I still remember some detail about this attempt and why it ended badly. First of all, the cliff base was very muddy so it was hard to leave the ground with clean boots. Also that protecting the route required fairly small pieces, and, although I had approximately the right sized nuts, they were all threaded with stupidly-long and worryingly-skinny cord. Furthermore, I was using Clog Cogs, an over-designed nut style (long since discontinued) that required a lot of effort to place correctly. After hanging around for too long attempting to set the third or fourth piece, I pumped out and fell off. My belayer held the fall, though I was shocked how near to the ground I came. This was the first lead fall ever taken by someone at my school, so, although not the prize I sought, it was sort of cool.

The main result of this event was that I got more serious about my climbing goals. I decided that I needed both better gear and to be a whole lot "stronger" (it would be years before the average climber differentiated strength from power or stamina). For the former, I got hold of some wired nuts, probably Chouinard Stoppers, though I am not certain, and, definitely, a couple of Wild Country Friends, the first cams on the market. For the latter, I started doing pull-ups. I guess that period was the sweet spot for me in terms of growth hormones and muscle development, as I went from managing two pull-ups to about twenty in just a few months; a scale of progression that I have never subsequently achieved in anything. (If only a time-machine could have visited me from the noughties's with a Beastmaker.)

In June, after finishing my A-Levels, I did at last lead a route graded VS: Mutiny Crack at Burbage in the Peak District. A month later, during the summer holidays, I visited the sandstone cliff Simonside in Northumberland and was inspired by a fun-looking HVS finger crack, Nee Perchass. It proved fairly straightforward. Ironically, none of these routes hold the same grades now! Snitch has been upgraded to HVS, Mutiny Crack downgraded to HS and Nee Perchass to VS.

Subsequent ascents

In October 1982,  just after starting three years at Bristol University, I visited Symonds Yat with the university mountaineering club in a convoy of erratically-piloted minibuses. As a relatively-experienced climber (ha ha ...) I was supposed to be there to top-rope "freshers", but obviously also had some personal business. From the diary: "Then in gathering gloom, I revenged myself on Snitch. Runners all "pinged" before I reached the top - quite exciting really".

And another thing ...

While writing this blog post I googled "Clog Cogs" and stumbled over this astonishing historical artifact (below). Apparently a genuine 1977 magazine ad. The 1970s owner of Clog went on to found the eponymous "Denny Moorhouse Mountaineering", better known as DMM.

What was Denny thinking!
photo © The Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection

Friday, November 24, 2017

the nostalgia project - The Quiet (1980)

The route

The Quiet is a route - probably the best route - at Little Killary, a minor single-pitch cliff in Connemara, Ireland, named for the sea inlet just below it. The area is also often referred to as Salrock Pass, after the ancient trail that runs under the cliff, connecting Little Killary bay with the dramatic fjord Killary Harbour. On a clear day it is a beautiful place with long views out over the Atlantic.

Looking west from the highest point above Salrock Pass, 1998.
Little Killary bay on the left, KIllary Harbour entrance on the right, Inishturk island on the horizon.
The route takes the easiest line up an abrupt, seemingly laser-cut 70 degree slab in the middle of the cliff. Gear is sparse and fiddly, earning the route at least HVS or "Hard Very Severe" in Britspeak (strangely the Irish use their ex-colonists' grading system but not their currency), perhaps 5.9 R in YDS. The two other classic routes at Little Killary are The Pinnacle, a partially-detached tower at the seaward end, weighing in around "Very Difficult" or 5.4, and the runout Drown in the Sky, taking an overhanging face further uphill at E4, perhaps 5.11+.

The context

Little Killary cliff from the road. The Pinnacle on the left.
As Salrock Pass lies very visibly above the only road between our family cottage and the rest of the world, it grabbed my attention from a very young age. I would often organise to sit on the correct side of the car (left outbound, right inbound) so I could crane my neck toward it as we drove past. Eventually I discovered a climbing guidebook that included the cliff, describing four routes climbed in the 1960s. I spent a little time there by myself trying to match the detail to the physical reality. The Pinnacle was obvious, but the other routes less so. The best feature of the cliff was the laser-cut face, so I assumed it must have been climbed and convinced myself that it was Ivy Slab graded "Severe", about 5.5. A year or two later it dawned on me that it was harder than that and had yet to be climbed.

The ascent

More accurately: the attempt. From the diary: "August 1980 Tried a new route in Salrock Pass, no luck." Somehow I had persuaded my father, then in his mid 60s, with no roped climbing experience at all, to belay me. I remember very little of this day except the scramble up a decomposing gully, to set the top-rope, was sketchy, but had to be done confidently so that my parents would not get nervous. My mother's photo shows me reaching about one-third height, which was probably my high point.

Top rope attempt, summer 1980. Dad visible belaying on the right.

 Posing for my parents on top of The Pinnacle, summer 1980

Subsequent ascents

From the diary: "June 1983. Connemara plus JW + MP .... finally led The Quiet". The "finally" bit is mysterious, as it implies multiple tries, but the diary is silent on any attempt between 1980 and 1983. I do know that I visited Connemara twice with school friends in 1981 and 1982, and that we climbed some forgettable new routes on other cliffs in the area. I also know that the first ascent was not on-sight; at some point previously I had rappelled the line to clean off some dirt and check the gear placements.

Retrospectively I am not very fond of the name but it is at least better than my original idea: The Quiet One, the title of a song by John Entwhistle, the allegedly-introvert bassist with The Who, a band I unfashionably liked circa 1980. Someone persuaded me to truncate it, thankfully. "JW" and "MP" were James Wheaton and Martin Perry, friends from school and university respectively. We added another eight new routes to the cliff that summer.

First ascent, June 1983
About three years later I was back at the family cottage, visiting with my parents and my sister Sally who were already there for a longer holiday. I was one year into my post-university attempt at being a "full-time climber", having spent six months climbing in Australia then a summer trailing in the wake of Crispin Waddy, one of Britain's most eccentric and creative climbers. Crispin and I had spent a couple of weeks putting up the first routes on the terrifying limestone sea cliffs of the Aran Islands, just south of Connemara, after which I had hitchhiked alone to the cottage. I couldn't get a ride for the last ten kilometres of winding mountain road so hid my backpack full of ropes and climbing gear and walked the remainder in the dark; an oddly enjoyable and meditative experience. I recall arriving at the cottage around midnight, having to wake everyone up but receiving a warm welcome.

Once again I lassoed family members as belayers for Little Killary projects. I added two routes either side of the Quiet, then worked on the excellent and much-harder Drown in the Sky nearby. What I remember most from that period is that I was in great climbing shape after Aran and felt invincible; more so than at any point in my life before or since. While cleaning the new lines I would routinely solo up and down The Quiet as the most efficient way to move around the cliff, sometimes in front of my parents. As far as I recall they did not comment, but I wonder now whether I was scaring them? Poor Dad was battling myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, so probably had his thoughts elsewhere. Drown in the Sky was protected by just a couple of fixed pitons low down then some weird sideways RP's higher up. Factoring in the dodgy gear I think it was (then) a Brit E5 (5.11+ R), my first at that grade, and, with hindsight, probably the hardest trad route that I climbed at any point in the 1980s.

First ascent of Churchmouse, right of The Quiet, in September 1986
For various reasons I only visited Connemara a couple of times during the next decade, though on one short visit I re-equipped Drown in the Sky with four titanium pitons, making it safer, and probably dropping the grade to E4. In 1998 I re-climbed The Quiet on a visit with Shoko. It felt hard, more E1 (5.9 R) than HVS, and unthinkable without a rope. During that same period we visited Inishturk, an island visible on the horizon from Little Killary. We found it to be home to enormous sea-cliffs on its hidden west side.

Repeating The Quiet in 1998
I returned to Inishturk with various configurations of people to explore in 2002 and 2003. On the first of those expeditions, our team of semi-famous climbers (and me) were badly rained out and ended up spending a day at Little Killary. Surprisingly two of them declared it the best day of the trip. Even better, Glenda Huxter, at the time one of Britain's strongest female trad climbers, made the first repeat of Drown in the Sky and confirmed the difficulty.

All-star Brit trad team visiting Little Killary in 2002
(from left to right: Glenda Huxter, Dan Donovan, Emma Alsford)
The last time I climbed at Little Killary was in 2004. My friends Noel and Jane Jenkins were visiting Connemara with their daughter Laura. We climbed the three classics over a couple of mellow days. For the first time in my experience, there was even another group climbing there; as if it were an established respectable cliff.

My repeat of Drown in the Sky in 2004, Noel belaying

Noel and Jane Jenkins on The Pinnacle, 2004

And another thing ...


One of the best aspects of the climbing life is the way it subverts the usual topography of shared experience (countries, cities, towns, etc) and substitutes, well, rocks. Sometime around 2008, after a new job had taken me to the United Arab Emirates, I met another expat climber, Aodain O Laithimh, in Dubai. It took just a few minutes for the conversation to progress from "hello" to discussing The Quiet (and Inishturk). It turned out that Little Killary had once been his local crag too, when he had worked for a nearby adventure centre. Aodain and I have somewhat different tastes in climbing and have not climbed that much together, but the days I have spent with him have been memorable. Best of all a two day trip in his yacht, Moon Penny, to make the first ascent of The Pyramid, a 300m semi-detached tower of limestone choss on Oman's other-worldly Musandam coast.

The Pyramid (and the Barracuda Stack), Musandam, Oman. Just a bigger version of The Pinnacle, really.

Moon Penny moored between The Pyramid and Barracuda Stack, November 2010

Aodain following the last pitch on The Pyramid

Sunday, November 12, 2017

the nostalgia project - Corner Buttress (1979)

The route

Wintours Leap is the largest cliff in the limestone climbing area of the Wye Valley on the English/ Welsh border. It rises about 100m above the muddy wooded banks of the Wye, a few km north of where that river flows languidly into the Bristol Channel. Corner Buttress (graded VD or "Very Difficult", about 5.4) is the easiest multi-pitch route at Wintours; a series of short walls and corners. The route has multiple variations and even an eliminate version called The Problems, linking a series of harder mini-pitches.

The context

Wintours was one of the closest cliffs to my school, in particular being conveniently en route to the Brecon Beacons in Wales, where the school's Duke of Edinburgh Award group customarily went backpacking. Despite many visits to Wintours between 1978 and 1987 - it was also not far from my undergraduate university in Bristol - I have just the one photo of the cliff in my archive. Even worse, for reasons long since forgotten, it primarily features my left foot.

EB boot /  fleece pant combo with out-of-focus view of the moderate end of Wintours Leap.
Corner Buttress is hidden somewhere behind my knee.
The ascent

Wintours is a hike-down-climb-back-out cliff. My main recollection from that first visit was stepping out of a minibus at a pullout straight above the cliff, noting how far below us was the river and feeling mildly nauseous. Other than that, I remember nothing. I am sure the climb proved unintimidating as the ledges between the pitches are very generously proportioned, breaking up the exposure.

From the diary: "First ever self-bought pint in Chepstow". The most memorable part of the day was roaming unsupervised around the town post-climbing with my friend James Fenner, ostensibly to buy fish and chips, but actually in search of a quiet pub. James was a year older than me, much taller at the time and annoyingly adult-looking. He scored a pint with ease - but refused to buy one for me. Somehow I also managed to convince the barman that I was eighteen. I still remember being asked "when were you born, then?", my brain freezing in a panic and seconds seemingly stretching out into minutes as I tried to calculate the required answer. From then on, boozing accompanied almost all of these school climbing trips. I assume drinking-age law in Britain is more rigorously enforced these days.

Subsequent ascents

The diary mentions Corner Buttress eight times in total. By my university years I had led it and  soloed it, both up- and downwards. For a while I became interested in a thin face, not in the guidebook, between an arete pitch on The Problems and a corner on the regular route. The ledge beneath was both flat and wide so although the face started about 30m off the ground it was effectively a highball boulder problem. The diary records that I succeeded on it in March 1983 and that - competitive! - "nobody else could do it!". I vaguely recall that the hardest move involved a left hand gaston, though it was years before I first heard the term in use. There was no chalk on it, so it could have been a first ascent. At the time it never struck me to write it up as something new; bouldering was still a very low profile activity and there were probably only a handful of problems around the UK that people had bothered to name, and certainly none halfway up a rambling limestone moderate. Anyway, objectively it was not very hard. I wrote "5c!" in my diary which is - don't laugh - about V2.

In May that year I was back again just before exams: "soloed a bit up Corner B. and read notes for a while". It would be nice to report that this attitude to revising was effective but the evidence is not supportive; two years later I graduated with a dismal 2:2.


Monday, November 6, 2017

the nostalgia project - Heather Wall (1978)

The route

Heather Wall is a popular single-pitch route at Froggatt Edge, a gritstone cliff on the east side of the English Peak District. I have no photographs, but there are plenty here. In the bizarre, wordy and misleading British grading scale Heather Wall rates HVD or "Hard Very Difficult", which means easy. Maybe 5.5 in YDS.

The context

I visited Froggatt on my first ever "proper" climbing trip in October 1978. By "proper", I mean that there were ropes and some other equipment in use and a couple of teachers from my school who were leading the routes ahead of us and providing various kinds of encouragement and (very) basic instruction. No harnesses - just ropes tied around the waist. And - shudder - body belays.

The properness was a contrast to the large volume of "improper" climbing I had been doing for several years previously. Throughout my childhood we spent every spring and summer holiday in Ireland, where my parents were renovating a stone cottage at a remote spot on the Atlantic coast. To keep myself entertained I scrambled endlessly around the surrounding area, a scraggly sheep-grazed peninsula with many small cliffs, rocky bays and little else. With the untroubled self-importance of a prepubescent boy I even penned little guidebooks to some of the rocks, for a potential audience of one. When he wasn't building, my dad and I would often hike the (then) trackless hills nearby, some of which are quite substantial.

So, well before 1978, I considered myself a climber (or a mountaineer - the distinction was blurry in those days) and had read earnest books like Chris Bonington's "Everest the Hard Way" and Joe Brown's "The Hard Years". The latter focuses quite a lot on the gritstone, where Joe was a significant pioneer, so on that first trip to Froggatt I was precociously able to identify some of the routes and burble on about their history. I have wondered since whether the teachers found that amusing or annoying? 

The ascent

From the diary: "Quite hard, but classic."All I remember is that I didn't fall or need a tight rope on Heather Wall, and may even have enjoyed myself. Reaching holds seemed to be a problem on some of the other routes we tried that day (my teenage growth spurt was still a few years ahead). Heather Wall follows a continuous crack up two slabs split by a ledge. From all that reading I had a theoretical understanding of hand-jams, which may have helped.

Subsequent ascents

In Easter 1980 a school friend and I persuaded our parents to let us camp and climb unsupervised in the Peak for a week, during which we spent one day at Froggatt. By then I owned a climbing harness and a rack, of sorts. My largest pieces were two Chouinard Hexentrics, a useful #8 (child's hand size) and a vast cowbell #11 (larger than any child appendage). They were not chosen based on any logical criteria, just what the shop had in stock on the day that I bought them. From the diary: "I led Heather Wall very proficiently." This conflicts with my memory; I remember topping out the route somewhat pumped and scared, with the #8 placed far below, still clutching the #11 in one hand and unsuccessfully willing it to fit in the too-narrow crack.

those vintage Chouinard hexentrics, #8 and #11
Weirdly I still own those hexes, despite having all my climbing gear stolen twice: once from the back of a car in 1986 then again from my already-ex-girlfriend's backpack in Barcelona airport in 1992 (complicated story ...). I think that the reason is that I had retired them from regular use long before either incident so they were instead sitting safely in storage.

Finally, from the diary, October 1981: "Soloed Heather Wall." Also on a school trip. By then I was leading routes graded VS or "Very Severe" (5.7 or 5.8 in YDS) so climbing Heather Wall had become trivial but as far as I recall the teachers didn't actually condone soloing. I assume no-one was watching.

And another thing ...

Many conversations with north American climbers about UK climbing run something like this:

NA Climber: "You must have climbed on the grit?"

Me: "Yes, but there are lots of other types of rock in Britain."

NA Climber: "Oh." <looks puzzled ... changes subject>

I suppose it may seem unlikely that a small country could have any variety in its geology. After all, the Coast range of British Columbia, which could swallow Britain whole, is more or less one big lump of indented granite. But surely some of those Reel Rock segments, filmed at distinctly ungrit cliffs like Dyers Lookout or Dumbarton, would have changed perceptions by now? Apparently not. This topic will recur in future posts.

Messing around on grit, early 80s, de rigeur EB's and Helly Hansen fleece pants 

Monday, October 23, 2017

the nostalgia project - intro

Early-teen-me "buildering" at secret spot, Buckinghamshire, UK, 1979

October 2018 will be the 40th anniversary of my introduction to rock climbing. Somehow I have managed to stay engaged with the sport throughout this period; my longest absences have been ~three months at most. I can assert that fact quite confidently as (some people may regard this as worryingly OCD) I have logged all those climbing days in a diary. Yes, all of them, since 1978.

As I have some free time this winter, and I may not still be climbing regularly when the 50th anniversary rolls around, I thought I would mark the event by digging back through the diary and retro-blogging a few stories. Specifically I intend to write about one route for each year that's passed. Ideally routes that have some historic significance for me or offer an opportunity to comment on shifts in style and attitude. My generation has witnessed a lot of change in the sport. Cams, sport climbing, indoor walls, "conditions", bouldering pads, DWS, stick clips, being able to choose from a range of climbing shoes greater than one ... all of these things lay in the future in 1978! Also, though I am an unexceptional climber, I am lucky to have been a fairly well-travelled one. Last time I counted, I had climbed in 28 countries. So I am going to pick routes with some geographical spread.

Obviously this is really indulgent but hopefully it won't be too boring. My plan is to finish by the actual anniversary. Assuming I can only manage one post per week, and factoring in some contingency for slippage, it seems best to start now.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

niobe, wedge, nesakwatch, cloudburst, habrich

Summer 2017 has been primarily about alpine climbing on our local mountains. Several reasons. One is that Leo's interests have moved in that direction, so it seemed like a good idea to try to pass on my (limited!) knowledge. Long spells of very settled weather, often too hot for serious rock climbing, have also been an encouragement. Finally, my two nephews, Jeremy and Ollie, came out from Britain for one week in July, and demanded to be exercised. This resulted in some hikes that were good research for more ambitious trips after they had left.

Summit #1 was Niobe in the Tantalus, which I have wanted to climb since looking across at it from Alpha in summer 2016. Leo was easily persuaded by the required helicopter flight (his first) and my agreement that he could take the splitboard, as there still seemed be plenty of snow left from the unusually prolonged 2016/17 winter. Good snow cover also held out the possibility of ascending the oddly named "Niobe without Pelops" route, which follows an aesthetic snow couloir below the col between those two mountains. The standard route later in the season is a more roundabout trudge over the very minor Iota then Pelops to reach the same col. The trip went very well. Leo used crampons and ice axe for the first time and notched up splitboard descents from halfway up the ascent route on two consecutive days. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the trip was the overnight camp. Our intended site, the sandspit beach on Lake Lovely Water, was buried by about 50-100cm of snow, so we had to construct a flat snow platform and pitch the tent on that. On the positive side, we had that fantastic location entirely to ourselves.

Niobe from across the valley on a hazy day; approx line of "Niobe without Pelops" shown 
Snow camp halfway through construction
Sunset over Lake Lovely Water
Snow campfire
Dawn over Lake LW
Ascent couloir, col between Niobe and Pelops above
Lake LW from Niobe summit, still partially ice covered
Alpha from Niobe summit (Cloudburst visible over the ridge centre-right)
View north-west from Niobe summit. Black Tusk, Wedge and Garibaldi all visible on the skyline. Omega centre-right.
Strapping in to ride down


Post-swim cup of tea

During Jeremy and Ollie's visit we hiked in to Black Tusk via an overnight at the Taylor Meadows campground. James and Leo (and briefly Ollie) rode snowboards most of the way down from just below the summit.



A few days later Ollie, Jeremy and I visited Wedgemount Lake, another spectacular location in Garibaldi provincial park. At Wedgemount I saw the north side of Wedge, the park's highest peak, for the first time. It was also still retaining early season snow cover late into July. Leo and I had been contemplating trying Mt Garibaldi, but read that the bergschrund on the standard route had become impassable. I suggested Wedge as an alternative, pointing out that it is actually higher than Garibaldi; in fact, it is the highest mountain in the provincial park. Two weeks later we headed up to do it. The weather was slightly unstable and quite warm but having studied SpotWx carefully we identified a very specific window for 24 hours in which clouds would clear just before evening, night time temperatures hopefully cool enough to re-freeze the snow on the route and clouds stay away until lunchtime the next day, by when we hoped to have already summited. Remarkably this is exactly what happened.

The North Arete of Wedge is described as a Coast Mountains classic in the Alpine Select guidebook and elsewhere. As far as I could tell it was a step up from Niobe, being longer, steeper and having much more glacier travel, but oddly I couldn't find anyone who had actually done it. One friend had climbed a harder parallel route nearby many years ago and suggested we might need twin ice tools for the steep part - we did so, but they weren't necessary. The earlier parts of the route are quite mellow snow-plodding, finishing up on an easy but exposed ridge. Beyond this there is a short section (100-150m?) of climbing on the mountain's actual north face, kicking steps up 40-50 degree snow while weaving between loose rock outcrops. Later in the season I guess there might be both more rock and some bare ice, making it more demanding. We kept a rope on throughout this section and "pitched it out" with ice axe and snow fluke anchors. Then we reversed the same process in descent.

The most unexpected moment of the day was seeing a very fast-moving solo climber coming up behind us. He arrived on the summit about five minutes after us. It was Jim Sandford, Squamish 1980s/ 1990s sport climbing legend, who has taken up alpine speed ascents in his late 50s. He had left the valley trailhead that morning at about the same time as we had left our tent, 1200m vertically below us! Jim gave us our best quote of the summer. Just before heading down he spied Leo's Phantom 4 by the summit cairn and exclaimed "that's a f***ing drone!". He then insisted that Leo film him as he descended the arete but by the time Leo had the machine ready he was an almost invisible dot far below.

A very foreshortened Wedge seen from the toe of the glacier - red line shows ascent route
Upper part of the route
Our camp, by a small lake below the glacier
Leo by our camp
Leo looking out over Wedgemount lake from our camp - with cup of Yorkshire (actual?) Gold tea
High on the glacier next morning
Leo leading steep snow up to the start of the proper ridge
Leo on the summit, looking east
Local legend Jim S on the summit looking north (from his FB page but arguably my © as I pressed the shutter)
Leo descending just below the summit



Leo became quite buried in academic work and preparation for a piano exam after Wedge. Smoke from wildfires in the BC interior also made alpine trips unappealing. However early in August my friend Chris H convinced me to venture south to the Chilliwack Lake area, which I had not visited before. The peaks there are part of the North Cascades range straddling the Canada-US border. The specific objective was the Nesakwatch spires, enticingly described as a mini-Bugaboos by some people. The hike up there with camping gear and a full rock climbing rack was somewhat brutal but fortunately my legs were still in good condition from the trips in July. On the first day we climbed the easy West Ridge of Rexford. Mostly scrambling except for a couple of roped pitches at the top. On the second day we attempted Dairyland, a five pitch route on the steep South Nesakwatch spire. Though we succeeded on the route, it was a tough day. We had route-finding issues low down then Chris succumbed to some mystery sickness on the last splitter crack pitch, abandoning the lead then vomiting at the belay while I led it! (Heat exhaustion perhaps? The air was also very smoky, making it slightly hard to breathe at times.) I made a final wrong decision on that pitch, leaving the crack prematurely to exit up a burly overhanging chimney.

Excellent camp spot on "the" giant flat boulder (the guidebook mentions one but there are several)
North and South Nesakwatch spires and Mt Rexford from the camp - ascent lines shown in red
Chris showing good back-and-foot form on the final chimney on Rexford
Chris getting ready to rappel from Rexford; Nesakwatch spires behind
South Nesakwatch from Rexford west ridge - my last photo before dropping my camera (how I got it back is a long story ...)
In the last week in August Leo got his workload under control and the smoke cleared. He and his friend Nic did an ambitious day trip to Cloudburst, a complex mountain just north of Squamish (but visible from our house). Their main objective was to check out the forest road access to the mountain with the winter season in mind, but they ended up reaching to the summit. I was impressed. They brought back some scary stories of soloing mossy 5.6 and ice axe arrests on steep snow; I am nervously filing all that under "learning curve".

A few days after that, Leo and I also climbed Habrich, the pointy rock peak visible from many points in Squamish - notably Leo's school. Also the star feature of this photo collection. It was my third time up there but of particular interest to me this year. In May I played a leading role in discouraging a large-scale project to build a via ferrata on the mountain. We climbed the Escape Velocity route which links short sections of clean rock with heather ledges. Not the most dramatic alpine rock route but easy to follow and entertaining in places. Leo led the nice final pitch which ends abruptly on the summit. He had led some trad pitches before but this was his first pure onsight without knowledge of the placements. It seemed to go OK. We spent a little time on the summit gazing over at the Sky Pilot bowls, trying to figure out our route when we took snowboards there during a low-visibility day in May. Rappelling down went fairly uneventfully aside from some rope twisting and ledge piles which Leo got his share of managing. It was his first multi-pitch rappel experience. I made a mental note to teach him about prusik backups before we did it again - bad dad.

As we had plenty of time to catch the last gondola and conditions were amazingly warm and stable we explored the ridge system west of Habrich for an hour or so before heading down. Leo flew his drone and I stumbled over prayer flags hung in a hidden spot overlooking Squamish. (A memorial to this guy, I believe.)

Habrich from Sky Pilot showing the approach trail. The Escape Velocity route is just out of view on the west ridge
Leo finishing the second pitch of Escape Velocity

Leo leading the last pitch of Escape Velocity

Habrich summit looking north
Prayer flags hidden on the lower west ridge of Habrich. Cloudburst just left of centre skyline, Garibaldi up to the right
Some time in early August the fifth anniversary of our move to Squamish passed. No official family celebration but I paused for reflection on that date. Obviously I am happy with the decision to come here. I feel very far from exhausting the potential of this place. Options keep expanding and the to-do list only grows longer. Aside from the Chilliwack trip, all the locations mentioned in this blog post were accessed from trailheads within an hour's drive of home!