Words cannot come close to describing how incredible this weekend was! I remember 2 years ago when Damien and I had climbed Colchuck Peak via the glacier, we met all these climbers coming down from the Triple on Dragontail. When i asked about this route I had never heard of Damien said we were ready yet… but 2 years later we felt like it was time to out our alpine abilities to the test. Triple Couloirs was the mountain that tested all our mountaineering skills and partnership since we began climbing. To call it an adventure is an understatement.

We started the day on a bit of a nerve-racking note. Someone walking down Eightmile Rd told us there that were already 12 people stationed at Colchuck Lake to climb the Triple Sunday. This freaked us out a bit and we contemplated doing NBC as a backup. And… I would like to point out that once again for the 6th time this year the approach included yet another trek up Eightmile Road. It was a bit different this time since we walked the road instead of skiing it which provided a bit of diversity. The last 1/3 or so mile is snow covered however with some gaps.The trail is Colchuck Lake is all snow, but it is pretty well hardened and no flotation was needed. On our way up we talked to a fair amount of folks who said there were no other climbers they knew of planning to do the route on Sunday though folks had been on it that day. We also ran into an old climbing partner from Mount Maud on his way down from the Triple who gave us some beta. apparently, everyone had gone the wrong way at the Runnels that day.

Luckily the lake is still solid enough to walk on so we didn’t have to fight our way across the shoreline to get to camp on the other side. As it turned out we ended up camping next door to the random climbers we had shared our wedding cake with a few weeks back! They had just done to Triple and gave us beta on the route. They too had missed the Runnels. Apparently, at the end of first Couloir you begin to wonder where to go. The couloir on the right is inviting and easy looking, while the Runnels and the right look gnarly. Everyone ended up on the “hidden couloir” and had to rappel back down into the Triple. We made a mental note to not make that mistake.  Our plan was to start up to the base of the route called “The Fan”  in the dark around 3:00am just in case there was a crowd. But we didn’t see any evidence of large amounts of people going to the route the next day. Just one other team of 2 camped nearby.

We camped the the edge of the lake building a small windbreak around our ultra-light 2lb tent. We filtered water from a small hole we made in the ice which saved us some time and allowed us to get to bed early for our alpine start. However, at 11am we were awakened by wind whipping across the lake at 45mph threatening to shred our ultra-light tent. I had never see a tent shack and bend like that before. We quickly got out of our warm sleeping bag and built a tall snow windbreak which stopped the threat. Luckily, that stopped most of the blunt form of the wind so it wouldn’t shred. But the wind was boisterous and the tent still shuttered wildly making a annoying flapping noise. It was damn near impossible t fall back into a deep sleep… And it was still howling at 2:30am when we were supposed to get ready. After some discussion, we pushed our start time back an hour. Then another hour… the wind just didn’t let up. We discussed going to do Colchuck via the glacier, or NBC which has less commitment. But in the end we decided that we couldn’t live with ourselves is we didn’t finish what we had come set to do. We had the gear to deal with wind and felt confident we could make it work. The couloir might even be protected a bit.

At 5:20am we were moving toward The Fan or entrance to the first couloir.  The plan was to solo this couloir to save time. The climb begin with a 10+ foot ice step that fun at first but then gets kind of sketchy. Then a giant wall of endless snow rears up. The first couloir was steeper than expected. Feet were pretty solid though. We did end up kicking in our own steps as the ones from the day were pretty much buried (mono-point crampons). The couloir gets hit with massive amounts of spin drift we would discover. We had BD cobra ice tools. Damien used the shaft of the tool most of the way up this first couloir while I used the pick. Most of my sticks were good, but some snow was sugary and I had to search for a solid placement. A Canadian soloist passed us wearing tights.  I’m pretty sure he started from the car that morning. He sped past us and wa probably back in Canada by the time we got back to our tent. Far below us there was one other team. No one else appeared that day.

It seemed like the first couloir took forever, but finally we arrived at a junction. To the right was a nice, mellow snow couloir. It was very tempting to go that way indeed. To the left were steep ice and snow chutes or  “runnels”. This is the crux of Dragontail. We roped up (Damien made a rock-pro  and picket anchor) and I led out. Our plan with to simul-climb the rest of the route. The Runnels is STEEP. And every time you think you’re about to reach a flat spot its just a slightly less steep area followed by an even more steep section. The first section winds up series of steep ramps at about 75 degrees. I found no rock pro except a fixed piton. After that I used three pickets.  The ice would not take screws. It was secure, but too soft to accept protection well. It wouldn’t have even provided me with mental pro. I ended up placing my final picket at the base of the crux of the runnels. Here there are two narrow waterfalls rated  W3+ at 80-85 degrees. I could see I saw no good place to build an anchor in the rock and figured there would be a least one good screw placement in the waterfall so I went up.  There was no pro. The ice was sot enough to be secure but too soft for a screw. with my final piece at the base of the falls i essentially ended up soloing the first narrow waterfall to a tiny angled snow ledge. The next waterfall or tier was even narrower… so narrow it would barely fit me and steeper. With no place to build and anchor I continued up climbing the steepest ice I have ever led… or in effect soloed. The climbing was solid and I felt confident, but accutedly aware of the consequences of all fall. It was with a huge sigh of relief that I crested the top of the runnels and continued up the 50-70 snow of the second couloir. Damien below me rope-soloed the waterfalls as well.

I belayed Damien in on an axe anchor a few meters into the second couloir. Damien was able to protect with pickets and some tri-cams. The team behind us passed us as they had opted to un-rope after the runnels. There is a short and steep ice step about 6 feet high at the top of this couloir, which is considered the 2nd crux, but it seemed tame after the runnels. Damien belayed me from rock pro at the base of the third couloir which also featured 50-70 degree snow. This is the most exposed couloir as things open up on the right revealing the lake far below. I led 2/3 up the couloir before running out of pickets. Another ice axe belay. It was right about now that the wind suddenly began to blast me howling down from over the ridge above. We had been lucky all day. Some sections had been gusty for short periods and there had been occasional light snow and lots of spin-drift. But overall the couloirs had been protected.  But now I  was instantly freezing and I’m sure the fact that I hadn’t eaten since 4am wasn’t helping either! Instead of swinging leads Damien gave me the pickets and then passed me to build and anchor several yards up on the rock wall on the left. I then practically ran to the top of the couloir where finally there was a flat spot to put on layers and eat! It ws rather blustery, but with puffys we were pretty comfortable.  We climbed the final 100 feet slope to the summit unroped, but looking back it was steep and exposed enough that a rope might have been nice. The entire climb base to summit took 6 hours.  The summit was pretty soaked in with snow and mist when we arrived, but it only added to the alpine feel of the climb. A climb that not only tested our abilities just as it was, but i climb we had completed in less than optimal weather!

We descended the scramble route and we comfortably were protected from the wind behind the mountain. It even cleared up a bit and were were able to see all the way into the Enchantment Basin. However, upon reaching Aasgard Pass we were greeted with winds that easily had sustained 50-55mph gusts. I was alle to lean all the way forward and not fall over! Lower on the descent things were calmed though. We descended via plunge steps and glissades back to camp at the Lake. We really didn’t want to leave, but we mustered up the will to pack up. It was 4:40ish by the time we left camp and 10pm when we got back to the car. An amazing 17.5 hour day on a beautiful and life-changing route!

“The best alpinists are the ones with the worse memories”-Jimmy Chin

That pretty much describes the past weekend. After last years arduous episode ascending the NE Couloir of Argonaut Damien and I had both claimed that we would never, ever make an attempt again. And yet we found ourselves skiing up Eightmile Rd once again last weekend for our second summit bid. Not to mention this would be our 5th week walking up Eightmile Rd in a row!

We were much more weighed down this time as we walked up the Lake Stuart Trail. Our packs were overflowing with ice and trad gear, but our spirits were pretty high. We were hoping for good snow/ice conditions on the route. The avy was moderate and the weather seemed promising with sunshine and intermittent light snow. Finally we had a window to attempt a climb. We hadn’t had the opportunity to go for a summit since January with all the crazy weather this season.

When we reached Stuart Meadows and turned off the trail toward Argonaut. We crossed Mountaineer Creek immediately over a solid log bridge. This early crossing prevented us from having to cross 3-4x like we did last year since the creek branches further up (plus the crossing were much sketchier). The higher snow level also made thing much easier in the forest since low brush was covered. It is about 2 miles of cross country travel the where the tree open on the lower slopes of Argonaut. We switchbbacked up the slopes passing the large rock we had camped on last year and continuing to a meadow at 5400 feet where the slope angle will more gentle. We found a flatish spot here and, after some escalating of snow and leveling, we engineered a platform and windbreak for the tent. By then it was after 6 and we ate dinner admiring some excellent views of Stuart, Sherpa, Colchuck and Argonaut.

It was a bit windy at camp when we turned in, but it really picked up overnight, waking us up as gusts slammed against the tent. This was unexpected and made us wish for our 4 season tent. We woke up at 3am to find low visibility, high winds and driving snow. We decided to give it another hour. At 4am the wind and snow was the same, but visibility was better. We shouldered our packs and headed into the darkness up steep, crumbled avalanche debris. The thing about the slopes are Argonaut is that they never let up. Every time you this you are getting to crest the hill and reach a flat spot you a greeted with a slight decrest in incline followed up a even steeper hill! The debris field was enormous. Larger than last year. We found that climbing on the clean slide was easier than on the debris itself when we had an option. the snow felt stable, but not great underfoot. It was just “off” somehow in a way I can’t quite describe. Damien’s crampons kept getting snagged up, that was mostly due to crampon comparability with his ski boot, he had never tried combining this set before. He used a ski strap tto secure the crampons though and that seemed to help.

The wind was still blasting us when the sun crested the horizon. Heavy clouds and mist moved in and out concealing and then revealing the mountains thats surrounded us. Argonaut’s upper North face moved in and out of view with the clouds and snow that stung our faces. Every now and then the sun would peak out and some blue with appear in the sky, but the clouds always closed in again.

We took shelter from the wind as best we could by a large boulder to take a break and examine the couloir. It was definitely more filled in with snow this year. It looked clean. Almost too clean. We wondering if there was an upper wind slab that hadn’t broken free yet. We knew there was a wind slab danger on the NE aspect in the area. The filled in snow would also possibility make protecting the route with rock gear challenging. But heck we didn’t want to turn back on this route and have to start all over again on a third attempt either! Where these concerns legitimate? As we pondered if we should proceed a particularly heavy gust of wind somehow manged to lift Damien’s food bag out of his backpack and send the bag down the mountain. One more thing to add the the “going wrong list”. Yikes.

In the end we decided that “we don’t want to have to do another attempt” was not a good enough reason to get into the couloir. Too many things were wrong. Even if the couloir went well the wind on the ridge would be murder. We reluctantly decided that we would have to retreat. Slowly we made our way down following a trail of kind bars that were scattered over the slopes. Snow continued to swirl in the gales and snow hammered us like little needles in our faces. Camp was a welcome sight indeed!

We broke camp after a nap. The wind never let up and the weather continued to vary between stormy and clear. We made the right call just considering the weather factors alone. This was definitely the best adventure we’d had in a  long time. Sometimes the summit isn’t the most important thing. Sometimes the best adventure is the journey and being exposed to the alpine elements. If you get every summit you set out for, you’re not setting hard enough goals. I guess this climb has become poetic to me. And I have the feeling that enough though right now I fell like I am done attempt the NE couloir that I will find myself on the approach again.

 

Two O’Clock Falls is not located in the high mountains or shady canyons. It’s actually in the grasslands of Kootenay Plains! In the lowlands were is a heavy shadded area in the Hills that harbors a huge waterfall with W2-3 ice offering 4 pitches on a variety of lines.  This is where Damien and I ended up after discovering that Melt Out W3 along the Icefield Parkway in Jasper NP was under a wind slab that looked ready to avalanche. We parked by a gate on the side of Hwy 11 labeled 2 O’Clock Creek. We  were a bit confused by the book directions and just parked near where we could see the falls from the rd. We followed a dirt road beyond the gate into a campground and onto the trail. However, after followed the trail through tree and realizing we were not turning toward the falls we decided to just travel cross country. We were looking for a meadow that we were supposed to walk alongside. The area is sacred to the First Nations and it was important that we stayed on the side of this meadow since it was part of their ceremonial grounds. As we wandered the forest looking for the meadow and heading for the falls we came across lots of trees wrapped in cloth. This had something to do with ceremonies. We eventually stumbled across another road and followed it to the meadow we were looked for complete with First Nation structures. We stayed to the right on the road, but turned into the forest and traveled cross country to the falls hoping to find the trail we were supposed to be on. We eventually found it and followed it to the base of the falls.

The ice was pretty wet even in the cold shade. Damien racked up to take the first lead. Like Lousie Falls, the ice was damaged by heat and insecure. With the swing of an axe 2×2 ft sections of ice would go white. Massive dinner plates shattered from the route and it took up to ten swings to get a descent stick. Damien finished the lead. It was W3 what the ice quality made thing very spicy. I tested several areas to lead up pitch 2, but found the ice to be very questionable, possibly more so than the first pitch. When I put in screwed the surrounding ice turned white causing me to question if they would hold at all. In the end i decided to down climb  the pitch and bail after one to many sections of ice went white with swings or tools. we rapped off of two V threads. Nothing too prove. The conditions were just not good.

We followed the trail out and discovered the gate we should have entered into from Hwy 11 was actually unsigned and 1.5 km down the road from where we parked. We know for our return!

Lousie Falls is located in the last place you’d expected to see dirtbag climbers. The approach requires pass a posh resort : Lake Lousie Chateau. It felt kind of odd after wearing the same clothes for 6 days to walk through the wealthy masses observing ice carving and skating the the lake. Who needs laundry!? In any case, approaching the falls in about a 2.4 Km walk around the shoreline of Lake Lousie. The falls can be see though fro the Chateau. Our Plan was to only climb the bottom 1 or 2 pitches. The rest of the route is W4-5. Beyond our current level and it was late the the day anyway. The trail beside the lake leads to the bottom of an open slope about 50-60 meters below the falls. We left he main trail and followed the boot-pack up to the base. It is important to be cautious and wear a helmet as you approach. Climbers from above drop massive ice chunks down from the upper pitches. Staying to the right is crucial to avoid being hit and obtain protection from overhanging rock.

We racked up on the far right side of the falls. The first pitch to the first set of bolted anchors looked straight forward and doable. However, as Damien began to lead he discovered from ice quality issues. The sun and warm temps had damaged the ice quite a bit. It was insecure no matter how many times he kicked into the wall. Getting an ice axe to stick took about ten swings due in insane dinner-plating. And once the axe did stick it was often almost impossible to remove. Damien got up the first tier to a small ledge. The conditions were too dicy for his comfort, so I lowered him and took over the lead. The ice was as bad as he reported. I was able to ascend just under a meter. I had insecure feet but two good ice axe hooks. I’m not sure how since i was pressed down hard the the hooks, but one of my axes popped and I took a lead fall. By other axe held and the umbilical caught me oddly enough. All in all i fell about a meter back onto the ledge. The only damage came from my hammer hitting me in the mouth and slightly chipping my tooth and bruising my lip. I got lucky.

After that we decided to call it a day and packed tings up. I guess I’m truely a climber no since after 5 years I finally took a lead fall. 🙂

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls is just how I remembered it. Spectacular and HUGE! We walked through the canyon before daylight making it feel e3ven more majestic and reached he bottom of the Upper Falls (turn right at the 2nd junction) just as the sun rose. Accessing the ice is a bit tricky. We have to climb over the boardwalk, step down onto on icy boulder and then slide down said boulder to the frozen river. The wall of ice is in great shape thought he pillars have broken in the heat. The ice on the far right is W2 and as you move left the wall steepest and the grade gets more difficult. We opted for a W3 Line in the center. The ice can be climbed in a single pitch and wrapped with a 70 meter rope. But it is easy to use a 60 meter and climb the routes in 2 pitches due to a huge platform about 1/3 of the way up. Damien led the lower pitch which is pretty much W2 for all routes. This was the first pitch of ice I ever led about 3 year ago. I led the second pitch of W3 and set up an anchor from 2 trees. PLEASE always check the cord and webbing left behind by previous parties before using them. There was already an anchor there and I ended up building my own since I could not trust any of the knots.

Damien and I ran some laps on the upper Pitch and the W4/W3+ pitch on the left for the rest of the morning. We rappelled the second pitch with a V thread. Note that this is a big tourist destination so folks will be watching and taking pictures the whole time. I wanted to put out a top jar for the climbers!

 

We were told by two climbers yesterday that Crystal Tears was in and awesome. However, because of the warming trend the climb would probably only be in for one more day. Damien and I headed out from Canmore, Alberta to Grotto Canyon before daylight hoping to get the route first since its narrow in places. We followed the main canyon to His and Hers at the headwall and then took a left turn and continued down the canyon. After about 30 minutes there was a junction on the right. The Climbers from the day before said that they hard marked the turn off on the right with a ribbon. We didn’t see a ribbon and though we ventures a bit further down the canyon we could no find one elsewhere. So we assumed someone had removed the ribbon and turn right. This was obviously a climbers trail. It switchbacked very steeply through the trees  for almost 300 meters before reaching screes. We followed a clear boot path to the left and into a gully were this was a thin melting waterfall.

Damien too the first lead. The ice didn’t look great and when he hit in the sound was hollow. the ice was pretty much detached from the rock and there would be some mixed moves. Damien hooked the top of the ice and ended up taking down about 1 meter of the ice route! We examined mixed climbing options but saw no simple way to gain the upper pitches. We decided to bail. Back at the bottom of the canyon we ended up locating the Ribbon several meters further down the canyon. We followed a set a boot prints we hadn’t noticed in the earlier darkness and discovered that we had climbed the walk down earlier. We also discovered several climbers bailing from the route due to the melted out, ripped off portion. The warm weather definitely has taken this route out, at least for now.

Grotto Falls was in great form and fat this week even with the warm weather. Damien and I ventured into Grotto Canyon for our first ice cimbing venture in Alberta on Tuesday. The canyon walk definitely requires spikes. Some portion of the frozen river a extremely slushy/water though so be prepared to get wet to wear gaitors! The bottom of the route has several good places to put your packs that are dry. The ice was melting on the sides of the falls pretty fervently, but away from the edges things we dryer (as fall as ice goes). However, as the day wore on the ice began to melt pretty much everywhere and things get very wet indeed. The ice had formed in such a way that the route gets steeper and slightly longer the further left you go. Everything is pretty much a W3 on the first pitch though. There are two bolt anchors (one left and one slightly higher on the right) on top of the second Tier of the falls. The Third and final tier is short. It ranges from W3+ on the left to W2 on the right. On top of the 2nd Pitch there are normally bolt anchors but the ice flow had covered them. There are many trees and Damien and I set up a red rap station/anchor on the big tree to the left.

Damien and I spent the day taking turns leading and running some laps. It was my first W3 lead so I was pretty stoked! Today we ended up returning to climb the route several times again after discovering that Crystal Tears of was out. Grotto is definitely getting a lot of action right now and the route is getting a bit picked out.

Damien and I drove out to Lilooet in BC, Canada through the night arriving in the wee hours of the early morning in time to set up camp and take a quick nap before searching for ice. It took a few drives up an down Hwy 99 until we figured out where the pullout for Rambles was. The guidebook mentions a snowmobile bridge, but we could not find it. It basically about 4 miles South of Cinnamon Creek across the street from talus slope. We followed a descent bootback up the steep hill for about 45 minutes and arrived at the base of Rambles Centre. We didn’t know for sure it was rambles at that point. Just that it was a large W3. But other climbers confirmed at camp later that night that we had found Rambles.

There were 4 total tiers. The first was a 5 move W2 to a platform followed by W3 tiers getting progressively steeper with little or no platforms in between. Damien took the sharp end and led up his first W3 waterfall like he’d been doing it for years. Perfect and efficient movement with just the right amount of screws. I am so proud of him. He sent up a top-rope on a tree which had some slings already on it (we added some). When I lowered him the rope (60m) only reached the the large platform above the W2 tier. We decided to belay from that platform and I simply soloed up the W2 section. We top-roped the rest of the day. The route remained shaded and the weather cold throughout, but as the day wore on the ice softened quit significantly and we found ourselves trusting our picks less and less. Toward the end it was a slushy, dripping, wet mess. Still great times though!

 

We’ve really missed swinging tools and haven’t ice climbed since Bozeman back in January. So we opted to get in some ice climbing at the seracs of Mt Baker. The approach was quick and, although we found over 10 tents at the Heliotrope Ridge camp, we found plenty of room to climb. All the folks camping were part of classes so they were mostly practicing rope travel and not on the vertical ice.

The ice is blue at this point, but the walls still aren’t particularly high. Maybe 25ish feet. We climbed to the upper seracs on the first day and climbs some of the tall fins. Easy to access with W1 climbing to approach the walls which were W2-3. The next day we stayed on the lower glacier and climbed the same big wall we used last year. Fun overhang! Probably W3.

We got a little more than we bargained for when we set out to climb Argonaut Peak via the NE Couloir this weekend. The plan was to hike in and camp below the couloir, climb the next day with a carry over to Colchuck Lake and hike out. This is I guess what happened, but it unfolded rather differently from what we had in mind.

The road to Stuart Lake TH (Eightmile rd) is still not opened. So we began early on Saturday to get past the 4 mile road walk by mid morning and get on the real trail. Stuart Lake Trail is pretty beat down from all the traffic and there were a fair amount of folks on the trail with us. We unfortunately were passed by couple with two dogs. There are signs all over the TH stating that no dogs are allowed which kind of irked us. Damien mentioned it to them, but the gentleman arrogantly retorted “Not when the road is closed.” Sometimes even in the wilderness you can’t escape jerks.

At the Junction with Colchuck Lake TH we put on our snowshoes. The Stuart Lake Trail was not very well beat down from here as everyone funnels to Colchuck. We were happy to remove weight from our packs. Both of us were carrying a twin rope for the long rappels. We hiked for about 1 mile to the clearing where Argonaut becomes visible looming over the valley. From here we hiked .2 more miles before cutting left off the trial and into the trees.

Bushwhacking off trail became very tedious business. The snow was melting leaving lows of hallow areas and unstable snow bridges everywhere. It was like walking through a giant booby trap. This ate away a far amount of time. Furthermore we had to cross Mountaineer Creek 3x. The beta often makes it sound like there are plenty of stable logs to cross. However, with the creek running fast and 6ft deep in places and the logs not as grand as expected this also became time consumer. The first crossing was over a thicker log which, though scary, was stable. We had to search around when crossing the area where the creek folks and found only borderline acceptable crossing. In fact, after Damien leaped across some rocks that were too spread out for my much shorter legs he built me a bridge of logs! He said this was my early birthday gift.

After the final crossing we were able to vaguely see the open slopes of Argonaut through the trees. We trudged on. My back had been killing me ever since our Liberty Bell Group Ski Tour when I had to cart my skis on back down the road making for a total load of about half my weight (60lbs). I was really really looking forward to taking off my pack. The tree began to break and Argonaut loomed high above us. We opted to climb up some of the lower slopes and look for a place to camp. Luckily Damien came across a nice flat area in the snow beside a big flat rock perfect for cooking. This made a lovely home for the evening as we admired 360 degree views of the surrounding Mountains including Stuart, Sherpa and Colchuck as we enjoyed a fine meal by Mountain House. We turned in before dark prepared to wake up early the next morning to begin the trek up.

At 4am when the alarm rang we could hear a gentle pitter patter on the tent fly. Rain. The forecast had said there was a slight chance of snow/rain overnight that wouldn’t amount to much. Still we didn’t want to pack water soaked gear and lug it over the mountain in the carry over. We decided to wait to out and began getting ready to leave at 5am.

As light spilled over the snow covers sloped of Argonaut and illuminated the surrounding craggy peaks we slowly snowshoed up the steep slope toward the NE Couloir which is the left obvious couloir. We roped up on a narrow rocky ridge above a huge avalanche debris field.

Damien lead easily to the base of the couloir. We used the full length of twin ropes due to the double rope rappel needed on the way down. The couloir started out wide. we used the axes dagger and deadman style and the climbing went quickly. Damien place don picket. Further up the walls grew closer funneling us into the narrow couloir. Damien placed some mid- sized nuts, cams, a piton and a tricam in this seemingly endless and steep area. Snow condition were continuously changing and inconsistent. There was snow so hard we had to swing at it like ice and about an ice away might be snow was with softer like Styrofoam. Basically we used a mixed bag of swings, dagger and deadman tool placements. Note that as the couloir got narrow debris from the upper climber falls at whistling speeds down these runnel areas. staying on the side near the rock and out of these trenches provided good protection, but sometimes crossing was required so I ran across. About 3/4 of the way up Damien ran out of pro and built a gear anchor. We swapped leads and I began the final pitch.

The couloir got wider, but the gear grew scarce. I didn’t see any good rock placements on the sides. I placed the first picket and looked above me. I had one more picket left. I decided I would climb the next steep section which seemed to be about in 30-40ft. After that the angle eased up… or so I thought. The closer I got the more I realized that the easing angle was some kind of illusion from below. And the top of the couloir seemed to be somehow the same amount of distance away. Oh endless slopes. I placed the final picket and resigned myself to not falling.

About 4 yards from the top i spotted from slings on my left. I almost used them for my belay anchor, but after an inspection I’m not convinced I didn’t trust the rock or the old slings. I put in a came and moved to a flat rock square beside some crack on the right wall. I was able to build an anchor here and belay Damien up.

Damien passed me, crested the small col and disappeared on the other side. He called that there was a ridge and he had found a tree. He belayed me over the other side where i scrambled over rocky exposed terrain. The final 250ft of Argonaut reared up on on left looking ominous in the sudden darkening sky. When I left my belay stance the sky was blue, but now grey clouds were furiously rolling in and the winds were picking up. We decided that going for the summit would not be wise in the deteriorating weather and the time 3:30pm. Carrying the extra carry overweight had really slowed our normal progress speed. Instead, Damien belayed me down to a thick tree with wrap slings so I could peak over the edge at the rappel. Going back the way we had come was also an option but not recommended since it is very sketchy. Instead it is better to do a rappel down sheer rock wall ridge. Damien wanted me to see if our two 60Meter ropes would reach the snow. I wasn’t convinced they would. Of course as I said this snow began to fall from the sky and swirl around us in the fierce wind. Hypothermia set in for both of us almost immediately and we delayed all decision making until we had more layers put on.

I belayed Damien to the tree and after some discussion we decided that we should execute the scary rappel. If the ropes didn’t reach the snow we hoped to find some kind of left behind mid-way anchor or, worse case scenario, build our own gear anchor. The slings on the stout tree looked pretty good, but we decided to leave behind our own cordaette and rap rings. Damien went down first. It took forever. I shivered again the wind and snow feeling very very much like an alpine climber. I was also gazing toward Colchuck Col. We would have to traverse under a rock buttress and then back up to the col once we finished the rappel. It all seemed very very far away. Damien had estimated we’d be home by 1am. I wasn’t convinced, especially when i watched the col disappearing in a momentary whiteout.

Finally the rope went slack and Damien called up that he was off rappel. The echo bounced all over the rock walls around me. I clipped in, triple checked the system and undid my PA. This was the rappel of rappels. I hadn’t used my training for rappeling off of roofs since my first climbing class 4 years ago, but here they were. Roof after roof. I tried to lower my butt first as far as possible, but my heavy pack made me off balance so it wasn’t a very graceful descent.

Damien was standing on a tiny ledge in a small open book crack system. He was clipped into four nuts, someone previous anchor exactly where we needed it. Luck. We prayed that the ropes would pull clean and by some miricle they didn’t get held up in the many cracks above. However, we wouldn’t get of this mountain without some trouble. Our twin ropes seem to have a habit of tangling into complicated bird’s nests.  It didn’t matter how careful were were; they kept getting into a knotted mess as were coiled. This was a huge time eater. Finally we were able to toss the ropes. Damien’s threw clean and mine got help up were the rock met snow. I rapped first since i was on a lower ledge than Damien. This rappel was somewhat easier since it didn’t involve roofs. I did have to navigate over some moats as the snow creeped up on the rock. More of the rap was through the snow though and I took it until the rope’s end.

With Damien on the ground beside me we began the long traverse to Colchuck Col. We had to go down and around this small buttress and then back up again to get to the col. I was doing well until I had to start going up again. I had 300 calories in bars left so I wasn’t eating much. The storm had blown by but the cold remained. My back ached with the weight of the pack and my whole body suddenly felt drained. Still we plodded on in snowshoes to the top of the col. Only it wasn’t the top of the col. It was just a hump. The real col laid beyond at what seemed, at that point, to me like an impossible distance. Wearing every article of clothing I had as my body lost it’s ability to maintain temperatures we continued our march to the col.

We sat down and removed our snowshoes on the rocks of the col. It was 8:00 and the sun was beginning to set. The snow was growing hard in the evening cold. Originally we had planned to glissade down to Colchuck Lake 2000 feet below, but in icy conditions this would not be safe. We decided to try and plunge step and french step our way down to the tiny distant lake. So so far away.

Damien tried to glissade at one point, but the icy shrapnel  flying in his face made him abandon that idea quickly. I switched back down, but found my leg growing weak. I found an old glissade track and tried it. Not too bad so long as I buried my axe deep for control. The snow was softer here too for some reason, though not exactly fluffy. More like soft ice. But I didn’t trust my feet anymore. I found that if i dug hard enough into the snow with my axe I could glissade slowly enough to feel safe. It was tedious going and completely darkness fell just as we reached the bottom.

We now faced a decision. Try to hike out exhausted, unfed, dehydrated and with muscle fatigue or sleep for a few hours to at least have some of the exhaustion relieved. Also, since i feel a few times coming down the slope when i was trying to walk down (yay for successful self arresting) it seems like the more logical decision as my legs weren’t happy with me. I think it was the almost zero calorie input and high energy output that really did me in the most.

We set up and camp and melted some snow on the side of the lake before Colchuck Col. Before settling in for a deep and hard sleep we agreed to walk up at 2:00am to complete the journey out. Of course those 4 hours felt more like 5 minutes. Our bodies were stiff as we crawled out of our sleeping bags and tried to rub the sleep out of our eyes. I had slept with my rain-gear on since my body was having issues maintaining temperature. But will all the goretex i stayed warm enough.

We packed up and follow the stamped out trail by the light of our headlamps. The walk around the lake to the trail down was a bit of a maze, but by choosing the track that was the most stomped down we were able to slowly move around the lake and get to the descent. We had assumed that the trail down would be easy and well stomped out. This was true.. except there were several trails to choose from. With many folks in the road so to speak we kept looking at the gps and trying to choose the right one. Sometimes the track we followed wasn’t on the summer trail though which made it difficult. It was at one of these off the summer track junction that we turned left in the direction the main trail was. It ended up being a trail that descended steep embankments and harsh terrain. Not something we wanted to deal with when each of us had consumed about 150 calories for breakfast. However, we did eventually find a better trail and our way down to the creek crossing. We took off our packs here and filtered water admiring the gorgeous colors of sunrise. It was light now and Monday. No one else would be on the trail we assumed. Solitude. It was kind of nice to have the wilderness to ourselves and we endured sore muscles, dehydration, exhaustion and hunger. I definitely felt worse than Damien. But it is suffering that makes us better alpinist. And it is suffering that teaches us to endure all the trials of life.

But before I could trying appreciate all this pain and suffering and we had to continue down. We once again shouldered our packs. My steps were pretty quick up until .75 miles after the next bridge crossing. Then my feet felt like led. It seemed to take ages to get to the Trailhead parking lot. We wished that the road was open and that our car was parked there to greet us. But there was only snow patches. Instead we had to walk another 4 miles along the road back to our car on Icicle Creek. The journey seemed endless, but we made it.

We might not have summited Argonaut, but this goes down as one of the greatest adventures I’ve had in the alpine. Bad weather, harsh conditions, obscure route, technical climbing and technical decision making… and above all a test of physical and mental fortitude. This is what makes a true climber. VIEW VIDEO