Mount Rexford, British Columbia
All photos are courtesy of Mike Bennett.
West Ridge - July 25, 2007
I awoke on the rock after an hour and half nap, the rock from which, when I fell asleep, I could see only clouds and mist. I had slept directly on the rock, no pad or bag to comfort me. Yet I had slept deeply and well, and now the mountains were out.
We had worked hard coming up the climbers trail to the base of Mount Rexford and the North and South Nesakwatch Towers. Worked hard in the mist and the fog and the wet, for the recent rains had drenched the vegetation, and there was much vegetation. We could see nothing when we arrived, but with the nap came a new perspective on the local environment.
Vancouver Bob (of Ingalls Peak fame) and Mike, recently back from more than a year in Thailand, and I were after Mount Rexford, a prominent peak just across the border. Rexford has many routes on it, but the West Ridge was our goal for tomorrow. The route was mostly 4th class, meaning that you get to scramble over rock, and if you fall, you're going to die. The route was easily spotted from just above our campsite, where we lounged after dining on beef stew that Vancouver Bob's mother had cooked and dried up for us. In the below photo, the West Ridge starts in the center-left and runs up to the false summit, which is the nipple-like thing.
As the evening wore on, the remnants of the clouds that had hung over us slowly burned off, revealing the vast interior of the North Cascades. Row after row of jagged, snowy peaks were splayed out in front of us and visibility was such that Mount Rainier could be easily seen, several hundred miles away.
The alpenglow lit up Mount Baker, the dominant peak in the area, with that soft pink aura that a poet might one day be able to describe. A painter might be able to replicate something of the hue. An artist might have a chance at replicating it. But, I think not. You can't capture the color, the feeling, the all-over mood, in words or paint or electrons. Fortunately, you just have to walk somewhere close to a snowy mountain near sunset to see it.
It was chilly in the shadow of the mountains in the morning, for the sun was still several hours away from us, though it warmed the distant valley below us. We were moving toward the west ridge shortly before 7 am, feeling confident that we'd be able to get Vancouver Bob back to Vancouver by 6 pm, so that he might be able to see the fabulous IH one last time.
A brief bit of concrete snow brought us to the base of the scramble, where we left our ice axes for the return trip.
Scrambling over rock requires a certain amount of confidence. Confidence in your ability to not fall. Confidence in the rock not to break. Confidence in the people above you not to drop rocks on your head. Fortunately for us, the confidence was there and we moved up the initial vertical section without incident, and into the sun for the first time.
A break was called for, as we could relax in warmth for the first time. Mount Baker sat in its familiar spot, along with, to the right of it, American Border and Canadian Border peaks, followed by the mighty Mount Slesse to the far right in the below picture. Bob had managed the North Rib of Slesse two weeks ago. A climber Mike knew well had died on Slesse earlier in the season, the victim of ice fall from above.
From the sun we moved along the lower angle part of the ridge, following an occasional cairn, and began once again to gain altitude on very exposed class 4 terrain. Eventually my nervousness got the better of me and we roped up to climb a pitch toward the false summit. The spire of the South Nesakwatch tower looked hard, and impressive from our belay anchor.
Although roping up wasn't, in retrospect, necessary, I led up on the rock, for a grand total of about 5 meters. I needed the practice.
I unfortunately missed a slung boulder for an anchor, and instead made a sharp left turn, making a 20 meter run to a boulder than I could sling and near a cairn. Consequently, the ropes got hung up and we had some difficulty sorting out my various errors. In the below photo, Bob is following me up and is about 2 vertical meters from the anchor. You can see me in the left of the photo. A quality lead it was not.
As it turns out, if I can continued directly up from the slung boulder, I would have topped out on the false summit rather rapidly via some 5.4 rock. Not wanting a repeat, we unroped and climbed easy class 4 terrain from the cairn up a slightly loose gully to reach the top of the false summit.
Frequently false summits are much lower than the true summit. However, the false summit of Mount Rexford was perhaps only a dozen feet higher. It can be seen in the background of the below photo.
Though our route was simple enough, a more direct attach on the face of the false summit would be problematic. Bob scoped it out thoroughly, and convinced himself that his vertigo was still under control.
We followed the ridge connecting the false and true summits, scrambling over a gendarme in our way (easy bypass on the right), and set up a belay anchor for the last pitch of climbing. I needed the practice, so off I set on lead, dropping down to a small notch and then scrambled up a block crack to the base of the chimney that was to be our route up.
The location was airy, but really quite solid and finding places to slot protection was easy enough.
The chimney had solid flakes deep inside it and a few good footholds, but was of a uncomfortable width. Although it widened as it went up, it never got wide enough to get my legs extended. I placed a nut in a crack to protect against a fall and then set about trying to get out of the chimney.
A large boulder near the top helped, but it took me several scouting missions to finally find something that I truly liked. In the end, I simply ended up muscling my way out of it and on to the big ledge next to it.
Although the exit certainly wasn't difficult, I had no intention of falling and so took a while to make it.
Once out of the chimney, the remainder of the short lead was easy, though I stopped to put a cam in for good luck. After all, if you put good gear in, it means you won't have to use it, right?
I found a birds nest of tat on top, and chose not to trust it. I slung the boulder it was on and brought Bob and Mike up to the top, where we luxuriated in the sunshine.
The three of us are going to be climbing in northern Canada on the Scud glacier, in two weeks, and Mount Rexford had served as a nice warm up to that. However, we were two hours behind schedule and needed to bug out quickly to get Bob back for IH.
A short rappel from the dubious tat brought us back to the false summit. Two more raps got us to the base of the first pitch that I had led. Rapid downclimbing got us back to snow and eventually to camp. Although the summit was done, the suffering was only about to begin. The climbers path still had to be descended. But, that is a story that I cannot tell without language that is more colorful than I could possibly post in public.
From Vancouver, BC, drive the Trans-Canada highway (HWY1) east to Chilliwack, BC. Take the exit signed for Chilliwack Lake. Drive through town (no turns). Make a left before the bridge over the river (signed again for Chilliwack Lake). Drive for 30 kilometers (or so) to just past the Riverside campground. Make a right onto the logging road there. You will need a high clearance, 4 wheeldrive vehicle from this point. If you are in a passenger car, you'll need to park and walk from here. Drive the road 5.6 km to where a slight trail runs off to the right and there is space to park. The road in 2007 was extremely rough and caused much scraping on the underside of a Honda Element. In 2003, it was supposedly in much better shape. Hike up the road about 2-2.5 km until you reach an older, slightly overgrown, road that splits off left. Take this road up about 400 meters. About 50 meters after a switchback, there is a faint climbers trail heading off right through a clear cut. The track is tough to follow, but after about 200 meters becomes better. The "trail" climbs 900 meters in about 3 km. That is, it is very steep. After going through the clear cut, the trail enters woods and has a few switchbacks. The trail runs smack into a big rock wall and stays close to it as it climbs ferociously. You'll eventually reach a sort of cirque. Traverse right toward a notch. On the other side of it you'll spot a few nice bivy sites, but no water (melt snow). From the car to the bivy site took us about 4 reasonable hours.
The climb of the west ridge is mostly 4th class, but technical in nature. There were spots where we had to jam and use other techniques to get up. Some people may rope up. There are cairns in spots as well. Gain the ridge (very prominent) and head toward the false summit (you can't see the true summit until you top out). You may wish top rope up to take a direct line (1 pitch of 4th class) to the top of the false summit. Head toward the true summit, bypassing a blocky gendarme on the right. Set up a belay and lead 1 short pitch up a chimney. Exiting the chimney is the only hard part, and it is about a 5.6 move. To descend, rappel from the true summit back down the chimney. There was a bunch of dubious tat here. Rappel from the false summit (good tat). One more rap (more good tat) gets you to where you can easily downclimb the route. The ascent took us about 4 hours from camp to the true summit, though we were pretty slow. The descent from the bivy to the cars took a very painful 3 hours.