Monday, July 11, 2016

The North Face of Edith Cavell

My picture of the Postcard from the Tourist Shop in town with our line drawn on it. 
As always click the image to enlarge it.

Mount Edith Cavell.  ~1,200 meters (~4,000 feet) of vertical gain from the lake at the bottom of the face (not pictured above) to the Summit.  A classic Rockies route, first put up by a few of North America's greats, Beckey and Chouinard in the early 1960's (plus Doody! to snap pictures).  

July 7, Dave Rone and I finally had our crack at this face, for our first summer route together in the range.  I left Madison Wisconsin Tuesday am the 5th, picking up Dave in Eau Clare, and I leaving.  1800 miles later we were in Jasper on the late afternoon of the 6th after checking weather forecasts and other high north faces on our tick list along the drive north.

We had a 24 hr window or so up in Jasper and rain was forecatasted everywhere else in the range so we got right to it.  The alarm went off at 2am, we packed up our tent hidden in the trees surrounding the parking lot and started hiking. We didn't scope the approach to the Angel Glacier all that well the day before, but it went pretty smooth and two hours later or so we were on the glacier.

We trended up and left from leaving the moraine, crossed a few small trickles of waterfalls on the face, never finding any bolts or rap stations talked about elsewhere.  We did however find 2 or 3 cairns along the way which kept our belief high we were on the right track.  We ended up getting pretty close to the falling Angel Glacier on the side, and below it where its wings stretch outwards from center for maybe 30 minutes to make the approach.  The ledges ran out and we ended up soloing some 5.6 terrain with a splash of 5.7 thrown in to keep the heart up.  We traversed a large ledge system back right to get out from underneath the glacier, crossed a snow field to find a couloir which we took to the top.

Crossing the glacier was trivial, a few small cracks here and there, then up the snow ramp to the schrund. We found a small belay spot on the rocks past the schrund and a place to fill up on water before the next few thousand feet of climbing above.  I took off for the first real lead of the day and stretched the rope all the way out.  Mostly M3 and M4 run-out climbing on broken rock and snowy ledges. Once tight, Dave started climbing and we began the first of many simul pitches up the face.

 We worked our way up and left, including one long traverse to keep to the path of least resistance, and thus the fastest. Above, I continued on a simul belay through a M4 small gash, with a move of M5 then up an unprotected snowfield to a rock band to set a real belay again.  Switching to rock shoes here, I then attempted the drier face of a small buttress, but hard climbing and no gear lead me back left to Dave's advice into a chimney.  I pulled out a small rusted baby angle at the belay, and clipped a fixed chock in the chimney, so I knew we must have been on route at least here during the climb.  Up and back right with two pieces of gear in 30 meters on an easy, but exposed traverse brought us closer to the actual rock buttress of the route. One more 15 meter traverse, then finally onto the buttress.

I set up our first belay of the crux rock pitches on what looked like a crumbling pillar/pile of rocks leaning back into the mountain. It was more solid than it looked and provided a great belay in a stellar protected location.  Above lie the small roof crux of the route. Up a wide crack in the corner for a meter or two, then finding two really good pieces, a small cam and a wire to protect the move, the roof was passed to the left finding small feet and a crimp or two above.  I ran the rope out another 20 meters or so up easier 5.5 terrain left of the buttress, turned a left facing corner, steep climbing but with good holds to the right and onto a large ledge (large enough to bivy). The money climbing of the pitch was still above the ledge, and plenty of rope left, I decided to run it up this section as well to keep moving. Pulling off the ledge I thought was the crux (5.8) into a splitter two crack system, merging into one crack in the back of a right facing corner.  I wish I saved our one number 3 for this section, but didn't and had to run it out a bit. Pulled another awkward bit of climbing onto the block ledge above for another perfect belay location and learned Popeye climbed this route as well!  His can of spinach was still there.

I continued up the last of the rock pitches on the buttress proper still in my rock shoes.  The rock was
completely dry up until this point and since the angle was beginning to back off, the face was holding snow again.  Dave and I pitched out the next two-three pitches still in our rock shoes, scrambling from ledge to dirty ledge with the occasional snow that couldn't be avoided and mid-5th class rock step trending up and left.  I finally got as high as I could on the rock rib before the wetness, the snow, and the choss forced me back right and into a belay that took a bit to construct.


Changing back into boots and crampons, I took off up and right, finding the only two screws on the route.  I ran it out another 40 meters to the end of the rope looking for an easy way to the left.  Dead end, so I traversed right until I hit crap, scary snow.  With only one option, we headed back into mixed M4 terrain which was slower then the pure snow pitches.

From the belay, l lead out left and up a short M5 step with marginal gear and back into the standard M4 terrain the lower 1/3 of the mountain was known for.  We simul-climbed maybe 150-200 meters getting gear every 25 meters or so.  The weather began to finally change for the worse, as it snowed just a bit an hour or so earlier.  It became full blown July snowstorm, with corn pellets (not graupel, as we are form Wisconsin and all) pelting us in our eyes if we looked up.  Climbing up though the small runnels which offered safer snow climbing, the spin drift avalanches started and ran on and off for the next 1/2 hour.  The visibility also went to shit and Dave and I couldn't see each other on the other end of the rope. Our last good belay between here and the top was made, as Dave took over the leading to take us to the top.  We swapped the rack, which was mostly just a move to take the weight off my shoulders, not for him to actually use much of it...  He took off getting in three pieces in 30 meters, then nothing for the next 30.  I started climbing and he kept going another 60 meters through the upper snow fields in a whiteout with the snow falling.

We moved for a bit with no gear between us in soft snow, allowing just enough purchase to make it safe. He finally reached a rock band above and plugged in a cam.  A welcome relief as he kept climbing as well.  Dave traversed left as much as up to try to avoid the shale band described in the guidebook as shit rock, with no gear. After another 60 meters of up and left, Dave set a belay with a tool in a crack, a #3 C4 and a small C3.  I didn't weight the anchor when I arrived. We swapped a tool for the final pitch of the route, as we didn't want to take part of the belay out.  We could see the cornice above, huge in some places but in the visibility it was really hard telling how far or how close it really was.

Dave led out through a small shale step, loose and not secure but that didn't slow him down at all. Then back right to a low spot in the cornice.  He hacked his way through, up and over to the top.  Apparently it was windy up there he said.  I pulled the anchor, and was belayed up off his hip to the top where I quickly learned of this wind he was talking about...We both put on every layer we brought with, stayed roped up, quickly snapped a picture each and headed for the west ridge descent.

If you have ever gone down that, you know what it is, and why it sucks.  It was my second time doing that descent and hopefully I will NEVER do it again.  Total crap rock, a bone crushing long way of a walk out and an overall not enjoyable experience.  I am not going to get into it here, but the descent took us almost as long as the ascent I felt!  Lost in the clouds, out of water once leaving the west bowl, out of energy from driving 1800 miles the previous 2 days and now this....I had to stop and nap in the woods for 2 hours to continue only waking up from the shivering.  I watched the early morning twilight turn into dawn for the second time that "day" and finally took a drink of water once back at the car, some 27 hours after leaving.

"Staring at him once more in the eyes I feel no fear...I have no choices.  Where there is no choice there can be no doubt, no hesitation....I will survive because I must survive.  He vanishes"

The Third Party
John Lauchlan
Excerpt from The Bold and Cold

While trying to make progress in the mixed terrain above the crux rock pitches I was getting shut down on traversing options.  Dave and I both realized we couldn't retreat even if we wanted to, it would have been impossible, we only had one rope.  We didn't have any choices, only up.  This was a first experience for me, quite liberating actually.  I remember having a crystal clear mind after.  I hope to return to that state soon.