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Ascent to Silvertip Mountain-West Ridge on 2011-06-12

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Edward Earl
Martin S.
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, June 12, 2011
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Point Reached:Silvertip Mountain - West Ridge
    Location:Canada-British Columbia
    Elevation:2445 m / 8022 ft
    Remaining Elevation:150 m / 495 ft (10% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

Saturday, June 11:

We left Highway 3 at Sunshine Valley and took the Sumallo River Road up into the mountains—it was in very good shape, and a relatively new bridge with an open swing-gate was a welcome sight. At (WGS84: 49.19198, -121.23363) we took the right fork, and Martin was able to power his Explorer through a few lingering snowbanks. After that there was a very wet section of brooks he drove though, and shortly the road was blocked by a creek at (WGS84: 49.18610, -121.23480). We parked and camped here—a footlog crossed the small brook, and beyond the road was choked with slide alder and not driveable anyway.

We were happy with how far we had been able to drive, and with not having to do a backpack trip up a closed or gated road to get in position for an early start. After Edward and I set up our tent, the three of us headed up the road a ways to do a recon for the next morning. The slide alder made annoying low triangular archways across most of the road, making it hard to hike, and Martin turned back after a while. Edward and I pressed on to where the road turned left to cross a stream and then slab uphill across the valley—we wanted to go straight, so we bushwhacked through a swampy area until we found the road continuation we wanted. Waypointing this on our GPS (WGS84: 49.179882, -121.241370), we returned to camp, happy that we likely saved ourselves some thrashing about tomorrow.

Back at our creekside camp we rested, ate, and got ready for an early departure the next day. I was planning to ski Silvertip Mountain, while Edward and Martin would take hiking boots and snowshoes.

Sunday, June 12:

We woke up just before 4 AM and started hiking at 4:25 AM, at first light. We quickly made our way uphill on the alder-obstructed road. I carried my skis in my hands, since having them on my pack would have made the alder-whacking impossible. After pushing through the swamp to the road continuation, we bashed through more alder until more open terrain beckoned to the left. We abandoned the road, I put my skis on my pack, and we started kicking steps uphill though snowy alleys through alder thickets.

We kept veering right, trying to get to a clear snow route up the massive northwest face of Silvertip, and eventually traversed right through a couple bands of thickets to a large snowfield that looked promising. We kicked steps uphill, pleased with our progress, thinking we could follow snow all the way to the summit.

However, the NW face steepened and became a sea of gullies, ribs, and slabs, with no continuous snow connection all the way through. We climbed some miserable scree up a gully, and then Edward took off left up some slabby terrain while Martin and I went up a talus and dirt rib to the right. My ability to climb any kind of non-snowy terrain was severely hampered by my heavy, clunky plastic ski boots.

At about 5840 feet the angle of the face eased and there was now snow everywhere. We regrouped and kicked steps uphill, getting up to a relatively flat area at about 6500 feet, then turning a bit to our left to climb a steeper slope (about 45 degrees at the top) to the top of the west ridge. As the heaviest person on our team, with the heaviest pack and boots, I found myself postholing quite a bit, which was annoying. Martin, the fittest of our group, took most of the step-kicking leads.

At the crest of the ridge, at about 7700 feet, our route was flat for a short bit. We were in and out of clouds, so the weather was not the greatest. We quickly made it to the crest of the false summit (after I had some particularly nasty postholes) and then scrambled along the south side of the rocky crest. I cached my skis here when I saw that we had quite a bit of rock scrambling ahead. We descended a bit on some ledges and were soon on a flat section, with the final summit pyramid of Silvertip rising 500 feet above us ahead. It was now about 11 AM.

The view was in and out of clouds and sun, but the summit definitely looked intimidating. A craggy ridge, crested with snow down low and what looked like rime ice up high, led to the topmost pinnacles. To the right (south), steep snow slopes scarred with avalanche paths fell steeply down to a bowl. We rested and openly started wondering about the wisdom of continuing.

We put on our avy beacons and started uphill anyway, and when we hit gendarmes on the ridge we kicked steps out on to the face, skirting below buttresses and staying as high as we could. The snow was pretty soft, allowing for good steps, but in many ways it was too soft—there had not yet been a long hot spell to consolidate it into a nice firm substrate, and the more we got out on the steep face the more scared we got.

We rested at a minor col, and after a bit of discussion we all agreed to turn around. The avalanche danger was our main concern, and we also were pretty pessimistic about what looked like ice-encrusted rocks on the summit block. I was additionally fatigued by heavy ski boots and postholing in the soft snow, and doubtful I could climb any rock at all.

We carefully retraced our short foray on to the face and headed back towards the false summit crest. I went ahead to get my skis, and was passed as I finally put them on the snow just below the west side of the false summit. I then happily skied the low-angle terrain over to the snow-free bald spot at 7700 feet that overlooked the steep part of our ascent route, were the three of us regrouped for our lunch break. The weather was still not great—we were still pretty much in the middle of clouds that came and went, but it was dry and, once out of the wind, relatively warm. We spied the very top of Mount Baker briefly poking above the clouds.

We soon took off, and I tightened up my ski gear for the steep slope below. I dropped in and found the first several turns right at my skill limit—if the snow had been any mushier or the slope any steeper, I might have had a pretty spectacular wreck. Quads burning, I rested a few times, made some wide traverses to find better snow or angle, and finally got into a little rhythm as I got near the flatter area down at 6500 feet. Martin had meanwhile sit-glissaded straight down, faster than I, and we both waited for Edward to back down the top steep part before he, too, glissaded down.

My next several hundred feet of skiing was much better, as the snow improved so that the next steep section was on something approximating nice corn. Once on the lower NW face my goal was to find continuous snow down the valley, and I saw a promising ramp, but Martin told me he had seen rockfall there earlier, just as another big barrage tumbled down. So we all were resigned to getting down the snow/scree/dirt mixture we has ascended this morning. I skied down as far as I could on a dead-end snowfield before stepping on to the rock, at about 5800 feet.

The next hour or so was one of the most harrowing and embarrassingly difficult of my mountain-climbing career. After some dirt/scree plunge stepping and a short glissade down a snowfield below Edward’s route, I soon found myself trapped on a 45-degree slope of extremely loose rock held together by hard dirt. Nearby narrow bands of shallow or icy snow offered no real help either. I was extremely clumsy in my club-footed ski boots, sending tons of rockfall down, and fortunately I could see Martin safe over to my left on our ascent rib from this morning, and Edward safe well to my right, heading towards the slabs he was familiar with. At one point I slipped on the dirt and lost my poles and was able to retrieve only one of them. I tried to butt-slide, but the skis on my pack projecting down made that impossible. At one point I was at my wits end—tired, sore, dehydrated, and almost panicking, not able to see any good way off of this utterly miserable slope.

Finally I was able to carefully and slowly claw my way down the dirt/rock slope to a relatively wider snowfield, where I kicked steps across it to a snow ramp where I had observed Martin glissading down earlier. Here I decided to put on my skis, and while doing that I dislodged my last rock of the day—it was a big one, and I yelled down, hoping it would not hit Edward below.

So I then skied off, but I was mentally and physically drained, and I only had one pole, so even though the slope was within my ability, I simply could not initiate a turn. I did kick-turn a couple times, and then had the bright idea to put my skis on my pack horizontally, below the top flap, so they didn’t project down, allowing a sitting glissade. This allowed me to kick steps down to Martin’s glissade path, where I barreled down the very steep and narrow snow ramp, barely able to check my speed with my ice axe.

At the base of the snow I crossed the deep rocky gully to where Martin had been patiently waiting for the past hour—alone in my misery, I was surprised Edward was still making his way down, and he arrived five minutes after I did. The rock I had let off had missed him by five feet, adding to my utter humiliation over my lack of mountaineering competency while descending this slope. About the only good thing was that we were all uninjured and off the hard part of the mountain.

We returned back to our camp at Martin’s truck without incident—Edward and I plunge-stepped down open areas between alder thickets and picked up the brushy trail, behind Martin, who had retraced this morning’s route to retrieve a cached ski pole. I learned that skis horizontally on my pack, like airplane wings, actually worked surprisingly well while bushwhacking through slide alder. We were all back at the car by 3:15, making it close to an 11 hour day.

Epilogue:

For me, I learned that I was far too optimistic about skiing opportunities on this peak—if I had been using hiking boots, I would have had a far easier and safer time. I naively thought that a good experience skiing the slopes of Mount Stuart two weeks earlier would translate to this wild, rugged and steep peak.

The timing on this peak is tough, too. Snow down low definitely helps cover the nasty loose rock and some alder thickets, but up high it seems problematical. Too much snow down low, and the road will be blocked for miles. This year had very heavy snowfall, but no extended warm spells to consolidate the snow into a stable, firm, yet step-kickable mass. So we had to contend with mushy glop during most of the day, and we saw plenty of it sliding down the cliffs of nearby Rideout Mountain.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:1376 m / 4512 ft
    Elevation Loss:1376 m / 4512 ft
    Distance:9.6 km / 6 mi
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Skis, Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:1376 m / 4512 ft
    Distance:4.3 km / 2.7 mi
    Route:NW Slopes
    Trailhead:Sumallo River  1069 m / 3510 ft
    Time Up:7 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:1376 m / 4512 ft
    Distance:5.2 km / 3.2 mi
    Route:NW Slopes
    Trailhead:1069 m / 3510 ft
    Time Down:3 Hours 15 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO resposibility or liability from use of this data.

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