Wednesday, 16 August, 2017 - Squamish Chief Campground
"It's no problem, we just have to make it to Chilliwack. I booked us two Greyhound tickets leaving Thursday at 10AM."
"Ok, so where's the Greyhound station?"
"Don't worry about it Erik... I'll just call Greyhound's customer service and ask them to have the bus pick us up in downtown Squamish. It's a 45 minute walk. Easy."
Friday, 18 August, 2017 - Highway 99
Soon enough, Erik and I forgot about our roadside trek. After all, we were finally on our way to Mount Slesse, the cynosure of our expedition, and nothing could stop us.
While planning the August trip, I reached out to our friend Andrew "Toba" Osnach, who had recently moved to the Kootenays. It wasn't until two weeks prior to our departure that he let me know he was in for Slesse. I was psyched! Andrew is an excellent climber with alpine experience, he owns an immortal 1985 VW Vanagon, and he's an all-around awesome guy to hang out with.
A quick stop at the Superstore to top up our food supply, and we were off to find "Nesakwatch Creek Forest Service Road (FSR)."
Turns out there are actually two; we naively took the first. It was a wrong turn, but Erik and I had the pleasure of witnessing Toba's prowess in the Vanagon as he maneuvered it through a 5-point, 180 degree turn on a road as narrow as the van is long.
The real Nesakwatch Creek FSR is no highway either:
Props to the Vanagon and Toba because we made it to the parking area in great form by 7pm. We were right on schedule for our plan to camp at the Slesse Memorial Plaque, which stands in memory of the lost Trans Canada Airlines Flight 810 about 6 km from the trailhead and in the shadows of Mt. Slesse. After repacking our bags with just the essentials, we started the approach.
The weather was calling for light drizzle overnight, and clouds clearing by afternoon the next day. Not an ideal forecast, but we fancied our chances and decided to wake up for an ascent anyways.
For supper, we made a quick meal of sausage, rice, red lentils, and taco seasoning. A gas-inducing concoction that not even the crisp mountain breeze could save us from the next day.
We mulled over the idea of climbing in the fog, and agreed that it would diminish our experience. One of the main draws to this route is the spectacular views. Additionally, we committed to the long and supposedly cryptic Crossover Pass descent. None of us wanted to negotiate that terrain in thick fog.
Just as we were tucking into our sleeping bags around 10pm, Erik discovered that he had left his Therm-a-Rest in the van. Toba helpfully suggested that he sleep on the two big hiking packs, so he set them up end to end in our tent, making sure to empty everything out first.
I drifted off quickly despite a slight feeling of apprehension. I could still hear Erik rustling around when I went to sleep...
Saturday, 19 August, 2017 - Memorial Plaque, Mount Slesse
As has become customary on alpine starts, I woke up exactly 10 min before the alarm sounded. To my surprise, Erik was awake too, and he seemed perplexed about something.
"I barely slept man."
"The packs didn't cut it?"
"They were great, but there was something really sharp jabbing right into my side. What is this thing?"
I blinked some sleep out of my eyes and reached over to feel around under Erik's left oblique. I quickly confirmed the existence of a large, sharp object.
Erik had spent the night "sleeping" on my #4 Camalot.
Muesli was our chosen fuel for the hike. We started at 4:30am and made it to the propeller cairn just as the first gloomy light was spilling into the valley.
The visibility was terrible, but the clouds were evanescent. We knew it would be foggy in the morning regardless of how the afternoon would turn out. We chatted a little bit about the commitment and decided to continue. A delicious smell of damp pine was in the air. We felt fresh and ready for a good climb.
A quick scramble through an obvious notch in the East Pillar took us down to the pocket glacier slabs.
Traversing the slabs was a fun adventure that involved a 40m snow tunnel. Once we emerged from the tunnel, we could see that there were three parties ahead of us.
There was no more discussion about committing to the climb. Stoke was high, and stray beams of sun piercing the clouds filled us with optimism. We traversed the approach ramp with vigor, and quickly overtook two parties while soloing through a 4th class forest.
This section of the ridge was quite easy, and we continued to solo as we passed the third party. There seemed to be a lot of ledges up ahead, so we decided to go along unroped a little further to avoid holding up the parties below us.
Toba climbed through some interesting looking moves. As I followed, I found myself wishing for some chalk, and committing to a foot smear I didn't really trust. As I pulled myself above the short finger crack/corner, I figured we probably just soloed 5.8 moves in our approach shoes. They were some of the toughest moves we encountered all day.
I took the lead when we finally decided to rope up, and climbed excellent hand cracks straight to a dead end. Yeah, I got us off route. We escaped with a rappel down the right side of the ridge, plunking down directly in front of the party we had been so careful not to hold up earlier. The two middle aged climbers from Oregon were very friendly, and didn't seem bothered by our interception.
By the time we reached the bivy ledge we were entombed in fog. Toba took the lead through 300m of mostly 3rd class, placing maybe 2 pieces of gear. Without warning the clouds unleashed the black pyramid of Slesse's summit, which towered over at us through a gap in the fog.
Finally, it was Erik's go at the sharp end. He led his longest simul-pitches yet through 350m of ever-steepening, ever-loosening gneiss. Clouds came and went, affording breathtaking views in between.
Consequently, we lost our awareness of time. Erik gingerly climbed a chossy slab, taking painstaking care not to launch any loose stones down on us. As he finally looked up, he discovered that there was no more ridge to climb - he had reached the summit.
The Crossover Descent
We spent a few minutes relishing the glory of the moment before I revealed that I accidentally left the descent beta back at camp. Although I feared that the guys would be upset, I was quickly forgiven. Our moods were sky-high. We made excellent time on the climb and were confident that the descent would go smoothly, so we started looking for the cairns.
Thick clouds swept in just as we were establishing our first rappel.
The problem with these well-travelled classic routes is the rappel tat on every protrusion, which makes it nearly impossible to onsight the descent.
We managed to avoid rappelling into some really committing gullies, but also ended up scrambling along a jagged ridge that was comprised of nothing but refrigerator-sized daggers that teetered drunkenly when you were careless enough to breath on them.
Eventually we had to retreat, and just as we regained a view of the way we had come, we saw the two fellows from Oregon flawlessly navigating broken terrain that had taken us on three or four misadventures.
Our young buck strategy of moving quickly and blindly through the mountains was no better than the time-tested careful approach of the two experienced climbers.
They chuckled at our follies and generously agreed to team up for the rest of the descent. Without them, we surely wouldn't have made it back to camp before dark.
In total we made 12 rappels down gullies of friable rock. We became accustomed to the sound to pomegranate-sized stones whizzing past our heads, and gained many bruises around our ankles from tumbling debris.
It took five hours to travel from the summit to Crossover Pass. There, we faced a final obstacle, a 700m scree slope. Owing to my experiences last year, I was the only person who opted to bring gaiters on the climb.
I smugly bounded down the hill past my disgruntled companions whose approach shoes were now filled with sharp pebbles. I felt buoyant on the chossade, truly free.
Dusk held off long enough for us for us to reach the old growth forest that marks the final leg of the descent. We all ran down the well-flagged trail.
After losing the Oregon guys, three sweaty climbers arrived at the memorial plaque with just enough fading light to catch a last glimpse of the NE buttress. Our time camp-to-camp was 17 hours. A small supper of couscous raised our energy considerably, spurring us to pack up our gear and continue back to Toba's van.
We sauntered into the parking lot together, still beaming. Less than a week into our trip, Erik and I had realized our dream, and in great style. Everything onward would be gravy... Or so we thought.
Check in again soon for our recap of the Bugaboos and Mt. Gimli. Little did we know, our trip was only going to get better from here.
We are Daniel, David, Nick & Erik.
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