Saturday, September 24, 2016

6. Bravo Glacier on Mount Waddington

We woke up late in the Plummer hut and cruised back to camp under a warm sun. I was looking forward to food most of all. Food and a nap. But when we got to camp Josh and Chris asked if we were interested in going up the Bravo Glacier route on Mount Waddington that night. Without really thinking I immediately said "yes." Nick said something like, "what, hold on!" because less than an hour ago I had said that I was totally satisfied and not really stoked on anymore big routes.

The reason Josh and Chris wanted the fast turnaround was that they had just read the latest forecast on the satellite texter. It called for our good weather to end in two days, giving us just enough time for a fast ascent of the Bravo. We decided to make some food, take a nap and think about it. Then wait for the latest forecast that evening before making the final decision to go that night.

The great thing about heli-camping in the alpine is that you can bring some pretty nice food with you and refrigerate it in the snow around your camp. Nick and I had taken full advantage of this with a late-night discount supermarket stop in Kamloops, on our drive from the Bugaboos. We had purchased about three kilograms (6 lbs) of pork shoulder along with broccoli, mushrooms, beets, and carrots. We also flew Nick's pressure cooker in with us, allowing us to make deluxe carnitas from the pork shoulder in a relatively short time. If I recall correctly Nick may have put the majority of a stick of butter into the pressure cooker with the pork. We made rice and beans, and fresh steamed veggies to go with our meat entree. Looking back at this trip, we spent only three of our nine nights at base camp on Sunny Knob, but whenever we were there we ate exceedingly well.

That evening we radioed Mike King who runs White Saddle Air Service, the helicopter company we were using. He looked at the weather and called back to say that the weather would be reliably clear for at least three more days. This was great news to my ears, as I now knew I could get another full nights sleep and some good food in me before we headed up the Bravo. One of the main reasons we wanted to go as a team of four was that we knew the Upper Bravo Glacier, above the ice fall, would probably involve a fair amount of slogging on a breakable crust like we had encountered on the Upper Tellot. With four people we figured we could alternate breaking trail enough to keep everyone fresh and make better time.

Looking across at the Upper Bravo Glacier from the summit of Serra 2. The most distant horizon in the top left is on Vancouver Island. Photo by Nick Mestre.
L-R Tiedemann, Asperity, Serras 5-1 in the morning light from the Plummer Hut.
Base camp with Waddington in the background the day after getting back from Serra 2.
Napping in the tent on Sunny Knob, trying to get some rest between climbs.
The next day we packed up most of our stuff and humped our camp across the Tiedemann Glacier to Rainy Knob, the south-side, north-facing equivalent to Sunny Knob. Rainy Knob is right next to the Bravo Ice Fall which we would need to climb through to access the Upper Bravo Glacier. Since we didn't want to be traveling through the steep seracs and crevasses of this ice fall when the sun was beating down, we wanted to be as close to it as possible so that we could maximize pre-dawn travel.

We got to Rainy Knob early in the afternoon and setup camp at the top of the knob. We had some amazing campsites on this trip, but this one was arguably the best. Heather benches dropped away to the east, overlooking the lower Tiedemann Glacier. To the north, across the Tiedemann, the massive south faces of the Serras, Mount Asperity, Mount Tiedemann, and Mount Combatant reared over 5,000 vertical feet. The opposite direction, across the Bravo Ice Fall, were the imposing north faces of Mount Munday and the Arabesque peaks which constantly calved seracs down cliff bands and fluted ice faces.
L-R Josh, Nick, and Chris enjoying the sunny rock benches of Rainy Knob.
Setting up camp on Rainy Knob. Peaks behind L-R Combatant, Tiedemann, Asperity, Serras 5-3. Photo by Nick Mestre.
Looking down the Tiedemann to the east from our campsite at the very top of Rainy Knob. Photo by Nick Mestre.

Heather benches on the side of Rainy Knob looking past the Lower Bravo to the Tiedemann. Photo by Nick Mestre.
Nick Enjoying the afternoon shade with a view across the Tiedemann.
We set our alarms for midnight and crawled into our tents with the sun still up. The good side of being tired is that its easy to fall asleep, and I felt surprisingly good when the alarm went off. We packed up camp and headed up towards the ice fall in the darkness. After what felt like hours of traversing back and forth between crevasses we reached an impasse. Unable to end run a large, overhanging crevasse, we headed all the way back right to where the crevasse met a crumbly rock face. Josh led a pitch up and over a serac and then up some dead vertical snow out of the crevasse. He then gave us a top rope off his ice tools and a picket. Honestly, if Nick and I had not had Josh and Chris there to lead us through this improbable feature we probably would not have gotten past the ice fall.

There were two more steep snow steps to bypass crevasses, but none quite as steep as the first. The last "pitch" out of the ice fall involved an extremely crumbly rock band which we topped out as the sun was rising. This placed us in the "Cauldron," a small bowl under a massive serac. Luckily the ice fall tops out on the opposite side of the Cauldron from this beast, and we were able to kick steps up the snow and out of the bowl without being directly under the line of fire.

We were now on the Upper Bravo Glacier, (relatively) safe from ice fall, and only had to "hike" up the glacier until we reached a suitable campsite from which to climb the summit block the next morning. The next sixish hours on the Bravo Glacier involved minimal crevasse navigation, but unfortunately involved walking entirely on the same isothermic slop with a thin crust that we had dealt with on the Upper Tellot.

We took turns breaking trail but it didn't seem to help as those who followed only sank further into the snow. Sometimes the crust would strengthen enough to hold your weight, but only for a few steps before you would suddenly break through again and almost fall flat on your face. Around noon we finally reached a large crevasse beneath the summit block at 12,000 feet elevation. We set up our Firstlight tents side by side on the lip of this crevasse and then draped our sleeping bags over the tents to keep them from getting too hot inside with the blazing sun. We made a lunch/dinner and melted lots of snow to rehydrate. Around 7pm I went to bed, the alarms were set for 3am this time so that we could sleep in and climb the summit block in the light.

Chris leading onto some steep snow near the top of the Bravo Ice Fall. Photo by Nick Mestre.
Josh heading up the last bit of the Bravo Ice Fall in the morning light.
Chris hiking out of the Cauldron with the Tiedemann Glacier behind. Photo by Nick Mestre.
Josh breaking trail on the Upper Bravo with the Tooth and the main summit of Waddington beyond. Photo by Nick Mestre.
Camp in the crevasse at 12,000 feet. Photo by Nick Mestre.
Campsite views of Combatant and Tiedemann. Photo by Nick Mestre.
We awoke and got dressed in the dark, ate a quick breakfast and cramponed over a snow bridge and up to the summit block as the world just started to get light. We were doing the standard Southeast Chimneys route to reach the summit from the Upper Bravo. This is often described as 5.7 rock climbing but often has ice in it as well. For this portion of the climb we had decided to climb as two separate rope teams so that we could move faster. Unfortunately for Nick and I, since one of our double ropes was core shot in the middle from our adventure on Serra Two, we were only able to do about 35 meters of climbing at a time before we either had to start simuling or belay.

I lead the first pitch up a chimney full of loose rocks and traversed right onto even more loose rocks on a kind of sloping, debris covered ramp. For the next pitch Nick took us up the ramp and up a short ice gully to a notch. Chris and Josh had simuled past us on the ramp and Josh was now in the process of leading the first proper chimney pitch on the other side of the notch. This involved a nice ice column on one side and rock on the other. With our short rope I lead across the notch and brought Nick over before taking the rack again and leading us up the ice pillar and into the chimney (Nick is stronger on rock and I'm more experienced on ice). This pitch was incredibly fun: stemming between rock and ice up the pillar and then doing a fun rock over move to gain easier ground. The pro was sparse and at one point, with no other options, I simply clipped a draw to a loop of white, sun-bleached climbing rope that was protruding from the ice. While in many ways this route was more sketchy than the South Ridge of Serra Two, I enjoyed myself much more. The chimney system we climbed in was much less exposed and it was not the site of a recent accident; both of which allowed me to focus on the fun climbing.

The second chimney pitch was just as good as the first. I climbed up and around a large block on mixed terrain and then scaled two rock steps, climbing bare-handed with crampons on my feet, up vertical edges. The pitch ended with a thin crack holding three rusty pitons, which I just aided through to save time. Nick followed the pitch free and then led us out right and up the snow gully towards the summit. One more pitch had me standing on top before gingerly down-climbing and building a belay to bring Nick up.

Looking back down the Bravo and Tiedemann Glaciers in the morning light.
Chris leading up towards the notch.
Looking back along the rubble covered ramp system.
Chris at the notch belay.
Josh leading the fun ice pillar on the first chimney pitch.
Yours truly getting rowdy on the first chimney pitch. Photo by Nick Mestre.
Nick following the second chimney pitch.
Nick pulling the final moves on the second chimney pitch.
Arriving at the belay with the Tooth in the background.

Nick belaying on the final exposed snow slopes to the summit.
Looking to the west from the summit of Waddington.

Nick on the summit, feeling the call of nature.
Chris and Josh started to rappel right as Nick arrived. We snapped some pictures and began our descent, but not before Nick desperately needed to go "number two." The resulting poop-in-a-harness with Nick's bare ass hanging off a picket-in-rime over the 4,000 foot south face of Mount Waddington was easily the most hilarious act of climbing shenanigans I've had the privilege of witnessing.

The rappels down the summit snow field and the chimney system went smoothly despite our short ropes. We only had to build one intermediate anchor, as I recall, and did a minimal amount of down-climbing. When we reached the notch below the chimneys we could hear Josh and Nick in the gully below. From the notch, instead of down climbing the loose ledge system, it is recommended to rappel the Harvard Route, an ice gully that goes straight down from the notch. Unfortunately, the gully has many loose rock flakes and blocks in it, which make pulling your ropes after rappels difficult and dangerous. Chris and Josh had gotten their rope stuck part way down the gully and Chris was in the process of climbing some unprotectable ice to retrieve it. We waited for them to retrieve their ropes and continue rappeling before beginning our own descent down the gully.

It only took a couple raps before our own ropes became stuck. Luckily they were so stuck that both strands were still through the anchor and down to us. I climbed up what was actually some of the best ice of the trip, while self-belaying on a prusik, and found that the knot joining our ropes had simply gotten wedged behind a boulder near the anchor.

Luckily our short ropes were making it between rappels without a problem, but we knew that the bergschrund at the bottom of the Harvard Route was both very large and overhanging. Nick rappelled down to the lip of it from the last anchor in the gully and confirmed our suspicions that the ropes would not reach. He moved over to the rock wall and built an anchor but it was not very ideal. I then rappelled towards him, looking over the rock wall beside the gully as I went, hoping to find a better place to build an anchor. I spotted some promising flakes and traversed over to them but it turned out that they were all detached and very loose. Fortunately there was another hidden flake in the back of the alcove that seemed more sturdy, despite sounding quite hollow when I hit it with my palm. I was able to loop some cord around the flake and "back it up" with my largest nut in a flaring crack formed by one side of the same flake. I bounce-tested this pathetic excuse for a rappel anchor while still on rappel from the other one above... it held. I pulled the rope, rigged it through the jengis flake anchor and let Nick know it was ready to go. I stemmed out on the ice in the alcove and unweighted the anchor so it was bearing no more weight than it had to. Nick weighted the rope and rappelled over the overhanging lip of the 'schrund. I watched the anchor in an odd state of detached terror as the nut shifted but held. The rope went slack and Nick yelled that he was down. I rigged my rappel device and started down. As I dropped over the lip of the 'schrund I realized just how overhung it was; I was hanging in space surrounded by massive icicles that poured over the lip from the ice gully above. All I could think about was that shitty nut shifting as I very carefully eased my way down the rope. When I finally stood on the glacier below I let out a sigh of relief before remembering that we still had to descend thousands of feet through crevasses and ice falls before we were actually out of the woods.
Nick rapping out of the chimneys to the notch.

The anchor rapping out of the chimneys... note the dyneema sling girth-hitched to bleached webbing that is fully severed and disappears into frozen sand behind the block at left.

Nick psyched for rappelling off of more shitty anchors... you don't want to know where that cord goes.

Nick on another gully rap with plenty of choss.

This is the anchor from which we rappelled over the bergschrund, definitely not guide certified. Here I have it backed up with a cam while Nick raps. The large nut is behind the red biner.

Getting ready to rap over the schrund.

Me rappelling through overhanging icicles on the schrund. Photo by Nick Mestre

We pulled the rope and hiked down to our tents at the crevasse. Josh and Chris had been waiting for us for a couple of hours due to the stuck rope and extra anchor building shenanigans. Despite having started for the summit at 4am it had taken us nearly 12 hours to climb and descend. We packed up camp and began the long slog down the Upper Bravo Glacier.

As it turned out, our timing was both perfect and terrible: we reached the top of the Bravo Ice Fall just as it got dark. We broke out the headlamps and began rappelling through the rock band and then over the first crevasse. Unfortunately the intense sun had melted away most of our tracks from the day before, making route finding through the steep maze of seracs and crevasses by headlamp an exercise in patience. Eventually we found each of the crevasses that we had climbed out of and built snow bollards to rappel back down them. Sometime after midnight we arrived back at Rainy Knob, ate some food and fell asleep.

The next day we hiked back across the Tiedemann Glacier to Sunny Knob and radioed White Saddle. The helicopter would pick us up at 7pm that evening. We had just enough time to cook all our remaining pork shoulder, eat it, and pack up camp. Less than an hour before the chopper was scheduled to arrive Nick was double checking camp and reminded Chris and Josh that they had left a trash bag of food in the snow bank. Chris and Josh said that it definitely wasn't theirs so we opened it up. Inside were three six-packs of canned craft beer. When the chopper crested the Serras we were still chugging the first round. Minutes later we were loaded up and taking off. We circled around the Tiedemann Glacier one last time and flew over the Upper Tellot on our way out of the range. That night we camped on grass, surrounded by trees, next to a beautiful lake. We drank more of the beers, went swimming and watched the sunset reflected in the water. I don't believe that life can get much better than that.

The summit of Waddington getting some cloud as we head down to the crevasse camp after rapping off.

Myself on the descent down the Upper Bravo. Photo by Nick Mestre.

Josh and Chris descending the Upper Bravo with Waddington behind. Photo by Nick Mestre.

Nick tired but psyched for some snow bollard rappelling by headlamp.

Chris and Josh cooking up food at base camp on Sunny Knob on our last day in the range.
The sunset at Bluff Lake where we camped the night after flying out of the mountains.