Ascent of Mount Tantalus on 2021-07-14

Climber: Sean Caulfield

Date:Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Tantalus
    Location:Canada-British Columbia
    Elevation:8540 ft / 2602 m

Ascent Trip Report

Al & I had a short window to climb something between his work schedule & my upcoming roadtrip. We threw out various options but since we knew the route on Tantalus was in this became our main objective.

We discussed hiking up to Zenith col from Sigurd Trail & also the bushwhack straight up after crossing the river, but these would require an extra (long) day & Al would need to start early the morning after finishing a long late shift while I was unsure how I would react to receiving my second COVID jab the day before. It was decided to take this day as a rest/organization day - if we could figure out a heli drop we would go for Tantalus, if not then we’d do something else.

I called Black Tusk heli but got slightly confusing information on how much a one-way drop to Zenith col would be, Al emailed them & got the information in writing: $405 (total) for a one-way drop in a 3-passenger heli. They had an available slot leaving at 8:30am, a little later than ideal but after a couple of messages we decided around 4pm to confirm & go for it.

The plan was agreed - after getting heli dropped at the start of the North Ridge (not really the true “Zenith col” but close enough), we would stash overnight gear then climb Tantalus out-and-back via the North Ridge. We considered doing the rappels & route down to the Haberl Hut but weren’t entirely sure of the routefinding, had very little information on the route from the hut to Lake Lovelywater & would also have had to deal with crossing the river at the end if completing the traverse without taking another heli.

Backpacks were packed & gear was organized, we decided we would take two 30m ropes & a set of nuts in case we got off route & needed to pitch anything out on the ascent, or rappel on the return. Crampons & ice axes were also mandatory gear.

Al picked me up from the Westview Drive exit along Highway 1 & we drove up to Squamish Airport, arriving around 8am. After some last-minute gear organization & weight distribution we checked in for our flight. Our pilot gave us a safety briefing & explained how everything would work with the doors, cargo hold etc. - this would be the first time in a heli for both of us.

I got to ride shotgun while Al shared the back seat with a trainee pilot who was coming along for the ride. Our pilot fired up the engine & spun the blades & we took off, we were barely off the ground when we saw a coyote being chased by a deer across the aircraft runway!

We got an amazing birdseye view on the entire Tantalus Range on the flight up with commentary from our pilot, he then circled around before gently setting down on the large flat snowy area near the start of the North Ridge. We jumped out of the heli & ducked around to the other side - it was great to have the trainee pilot onboard as she ended up taking care of the door opening / closing & getting our gear out of the cargo box.

After a last thumbs-up from the pilot he took off again & in a few seconds we were left all alone. What would have taken us probably 12 tortuous hours trudging up with heavy packs had taken less than 5mins. We got to work ditching gear that wouldn’t be needed for the summit push, using our sleeping bags to store gas, stove, extra food etc. & we stashed everything in a small moat near the landing spot - beers went into the snow to chill ready for our return.

Once the gear was all sorted we donned crampons - even though they weren’t necessary for the first couple hundred metres of gentle snow slopes we would soon need them for the traverse up & over the bergshrund. We could just about see two climbers gaining the ridge via a notch after the bergshrund traverse so set off in pursuit.

The good thing about our late start was that we now had footsteps to follow, our pilot had told us we were the third group he had dropped off today - the two climbers just ahead & a guide + two clients. The traverse over the bergshrund was pretty straightforward following footsteps, we were able to do the whole thing facing the direction of travel & the snow was perfect for travel with crampons.

Where the snow traverse ended we had to scramble up on steep loose dirt & rocks, we managed to do this while keeping the crampons on. In Steven Song’s trip report from a few years ago it appears his group had snow all the way to the notch in the ridge. Anyway this wasn’t that difficult on the ascent & we were soon over the top & plunged down to the other side.

We could now see the route ahead of us continued on gentle snow slopes for maybe 500m, before going up a steeper section. We spotted the other group at the start of this steep part & set off in pursuit. Travel was fast & crampons probably weren’t even necessary but since we had them on already we kept them on.

We were soon at the bottom of the steep section & it wasn’t as steep as it had appeared from afar, maybe 40deg max with bucket steps already kicked for us to follow. We quickly gained the top of the staircase & followed the footsteps around to the right where the route merged onto rock. Here we met the other two climbers taking a break - they were from Ontario & doing a traverse out to the cable crossing over 3days. We chatted for a few minutes before jumping ahead, we’d be moving faster with our lighter packs.

The next part of the route was straightforward, fun & easy ridge hiking & scrambling, we passed an excellent bivy site with space for two tents & even found a trickle of running water before we had a steep loose descent in a gully to do. We carefully managed rockfall in this section & completed it without incident. After scrambling back to the ridge we had to do a short (30-50m) exposed snow traverse. We were able to do the slightly rising traverse without resorting to crampons as we had steps to follow, saving time, before getting eyes on the “crux” of the route - a steep rockwall above a snowy moat.

Again we were able to cross the snow without needing crampons, although we weren’t able to follow footprints here. We had to wait at the bottom of the next section as the guide was belaying his clients up a wet corner above us. Once this group was clear of the section we started making our own way up, we initially scrambled up on fairly okay rock to the base of the very wet & seeping corner where we had seen the others. Neither of us liked the look of what was ahead, so we decided to try the next gully feature over to our left. I did a very exposed slab traverse (bad idea) while Al backtracked & gained it from lower down. Al had to throw me a rope as a handline/safety line to give me the confidence to make the last exposed move across.

Since we had the rope out we decided to pitch out the next section, we slung a boulder for a belay station & Al gave me a belay as I scrambled up. In reality this was probably unnecessary as the scrambling was no harder than loose Class 3-4 & I didn’t protect the climb at all. Once at the top I set up another belay & brought Al up. From here we could see rap stations to the right of the wet corner (slings around boulders), we would remember these for our descent. We’re not sure how the guide gained the top of this section, my guess is he climbed a short steep wide crack that looked around 5.8 climbing & would need probably #2 or #3 Camalots to protect, otherwise he either scrambled up our route or went directly up the wet corner.

Anyway, from here we were back on snow, we again resisted the temptation to strap on the crampons & instead managed to get up the steepish snow following a line close to the rock on the left hand side. To gain the ridge we kicked steps down into a small moat. From here on the route was almost all on rock, there were a few sometimes exposed goat trail traverses to the left that avoided more difficult climbing & unnecessary gain/loss on the crest of the ridge. At one point we climbed the ridge too high towards the last false summit & an obvious orange coloured sling around a boulder necessitating backtracking/downclimbing, but other than that we nailed the routefinding pretty well.

The final scramble to the true summit was fun on good rock, topping out was a great feeling. The views were great even though there were some clouds swirling around Dione, we spent probably 30minutes on top before deciding it was time to head back. Just below the summit was a huge chain which we could have used to rappel, but neither of us felt the need to get out the rope & the downclimb wasn’t too difficult.

The next parts of the descent went pretty smoothly, we corrected our minor routefinding errors & managed to do the climb down from the moat without touching snow by staying on the rocky ridge. This brought us to the top of the “crux” section, we decided to just rappel down the corner from the existing stations since we had carried 2x30m ropes. One rope was enough & we were safely down the worst, the snow had really softened up now & we were again able to cross the next snow slope without crampons.

We then scrambled up the loose gully & regained the ridge, catching up to the guys from Ontario not far from where we had chatted earlier. The had taken a long 3hr break here, they were tired from their flight across the country & were going to set up camp before tackling the rest of the route the next day. We chatted for a bit & shared some beta on the route before continuing our descent.

The “snow ladder” had also softened up by now so no crampons were needed & it quick travel back to the notch in the ridge. Downclimbing this steep loose choss/sand/scree might have been the crux of the entire route, we considered wearing crampons for better traction & probably would have rappelled had we been able to find boulder solid enough to sling but just about managed without.

Crampons went back on for the downward exposed traverse above the bergshrund, Al blitzed ahead of me as I had trouble getting one of my crampons to lock in & I was less comfortable on this section & did more of it near the start facing into the mountain. It wasn’t too technically difficult, just mentally tiring after a long day, eventually I was across safely & ran down the gentle slopes to where we had ditched our overnight gear.

We decided to move camp lower down towards Zenith, not wanting to be woken up by a heli landing beside our tent the next morning. This turned out to be an inspired decision as halfway down the slope to the Zenith-Pelion-Tantalus triple col I heard running water - there was a big stream flowing from near rocks to our left. We ran over & filled up on water - we had been expecting to have to melt snow so this was a welcome bonus.

Once Camelbacks & water bottles had been filled we continued down another couple hundred metres before coming to a relatively flat area adjacent to a rock outcrop & with views west to Pelion & east to Alpha. It was a little wind-exposed but the rock outcrop offered some protection, we were tired & running out of daylight so decided to make camp here. As an added bonus the cell service was excellent.

We had a little work to do flattening out the snow for Al’s tent, but managed to get the ground pretty flat before we fired up the stove to cook dinner. We enjoyed our well-earned beers & watched a beautiful sunset behind Pelion from the rock outcrop, the perfect ending to an awesome day.
Summary Total Data
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

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Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Sean Caulfield
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