Trip Report

Personnel:  Stan Wagon 67, Kim Clark, 52.  Guides: Andrew Rennie, 34, Golden (Rock Solid Adventures); Tim McAllister, 52, Invermere.

Some quotes:
From Sean Dougherty, Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies: “The jewel of the mountain [Bryce] is undoubtedly the NE ridge traverse: a magnificent ridge climb. One of the best of its genre in the Rockies, comparable in difficulty to the E ridge of Mt Temple, for example, but the remoteness increases the feeling of adventure. A magnificent ridge route that everyone should climb. The positions on the ridge are superb and the view of the west end of the Columbia Icefield cannot be matched.” The ridge was first climbed in 1902, but the route was not repeated for 60 years.”

David Jones, Selkirks North: Tupper:  “Superb quartzite rock provides some of the best rock climbing in the vicinity of Rogers Pass.”

Wm. Lowell Putnam, The Great Glacier and Its House, p. 143: “The final rocky summit of Mt. Tupper offers some of the finest climbing in North America.”

History: In 2001 David Nebel, Katie Larson, and I tried the NE Ridge of Bryce, but the road was blocked by a log, adding several hours to our approach. We did step on the ridge, but did not get very far. There was a bridge over Rice Brook at that time. It was removed in 2004, when the logging road was decommissioned.

June 16, 2019.  Kim Clark and I flew Denver to Calgary. Rented car, lunch in Canmore. Evening spent organizing gear at Mary’s Motel in Golden.

June 17.  We met guides Andrew Rennie and Tim McAllister at 7:30. These two are very accomplished climbers. Andrew had done a reconnaissance drive the day before to check the state of the road and the river crossing that we would face on return. He thought the crossing would present no problems. After the long drive to the Rice Brook Road, we prepared for the helicopter. Pilot Mark Adams flew in, shut down for our loading, and lifted us easily to the NE col of Bryce at 9200 feet. The flight offered us a great view of the descent route on the SW face. Mark told us that in 2014 someone had wing-suited off the summit. The link for that is below.

We started climbing at noon; finished at 9 pm. The ridge to the NE summit was very long, but varied and spectacular. I climbed with Andrew, Kim with Tim. It started with some class 3 ledges, then lots of class 3 and 4. Finally one steep pitch that was 5.6 where the guides were belayed. We all carried our packs on all this terrain. The crux move was strenuous, but also pleasant to surmount and not really hard.

Views were superb  all along here, with Columbia, Clemenceau, the Twins and Snow Dome to the north and the Lyells, Alexandria, and Whiterose to the southeast.

At one point we had a flat walk, but soon the steep climbing started again. Nearing the NE Peak there was some route choice at some steep snow. Above us was a snowy ridge line that looked good and I recommended it. All agreed and I was pleased when Tim later complimented me on that suggestion. Common phrases heard this day were: “This is legit.”, “This is real.”

That brought us to the top of the northeast peak (10845 feet), and we then descended steep and very mushy snow to a flat spot on the glacier for camp at 9750 feet. Everyone had very wet boots and socks. We set up camp: a small tent for us, and the same for the guides. The night had rain and lightning and was quite unpleasant. We were tired, but sleep was rare. I had forgotten to pack my usual camping pillow (I found it on the floor at home). So my pack was that much lighter, and the nights that much more uncomfortable.

June 18.  Morning weather was fine and we easily walked up the snow slope to the col beyond Center Peak. At that point visibility disappeared for long stretches, the winds were very high, and dark clouds were rolling in. The decision was made to start descending. We traversed a bit farther to 10800 feet. The descent was on steep mushy snow for a long way, and then some easy scree with a leftward traverse to reach the forest. The postholing in the snow caused a few falls and I had a sprained little finger by the end of the day, caused by one such I think.

There were lots of glacier lilies on descent, many with holes dug around their roots. The bears do that.

Then endless travel through the dense forest, taking a long time to reach bottom, and the old road. There were some lovely yellow/peach columbine on the road. We reached the river (Rice Brook), and it became clear the crossing would be difficult. We searched up and downstream, but nothing looked good. The bridge we used in 2000 was removed in 2004 as the road was decommissioned.

While it looked like a walk across might work, investigations revealed that it would be difficult. Andrew went first (with two poles), but when he reached the spot with most force, about 3/4 of the way across, he was swept off his feet and had to swim a couple of hard strokes to get out of the main flow. So now we had one man on the other side, but it was clear a rope would be needed. We threw a rope to Andrew who reeled it in with a pole, and then also the second rope. He fixed them to a tree while Tim looped  our ends around a large tree. Then Andrew, with the help of a 3-1 force increase system, tensioned the ropes as much as possible. We then tried sliding the packs along the ropes, and we eventually made that work with the use of a long pole on our side to raise the rope, and also a third “rope” made from four 5-meter cordelettes. The latter could he used to pull gear, or people, to either side of the river. Nothing got wet!

Kim went next, and Andrew was able to reel her in using our cordelette-rope. And then me, with both Andrew and Kim pulling. Finally Tim came over, without a harness or tie-in to the third rope. The water was not as cold as we expected, but this was by far the most difficult river crossing I or Kim have ever done. I imagine that is true for the guides as well. Then a mile or so walk back to the car and the drive to town. A 12.5 hour day with 6500 feet of descent.

June 19.  Spent the morning drying out. Then some crag climbing at Hueco Wall in the Spillimacheen Crags. Several pitches 5.7 to 5.10. Beautiful area. Saw some flowering dogwood and fairy slippers. I got up a 5.7 (Fret Arete), needed a little tension at one point on a 5.8, and made it only halfway on a 5.10+ (Spillo Armarillo) to finish. Kim climbed Spillo very smoothly and quickly. Saw some flowering dogwood on the trail. We had dinner with Andrew and his wife Hannah Preston (a top rock climber) at their house south of Golden.

June 20.  Rest. Rain. I visited the Golden historical museum to discuss the 1959 visit of Queen Elizabeth to Golden. She stopped only long enough to walk the length of the train platform. Sam Silverstein was there at the time, between expeditions into the Selkirks, and the museum was pleased to get his color photo (all of theirs were black/white).

June 21.  3.25 hour hike in to Hermit Meadows above Rogers Pass. Beautiful trail through the forest to camp. Glacier lilies everywhere. After camp was set up on the wooden tent platforms, we hiked up for an hour. The evening weather looked very promising. 2700 feet climb to camp. 2.48 miles. Longest day of the year. Welcome to summer!

June 22.  Monster day. Started at 5 am Golden time. The first couple hours had good weather, but clouds kept massing, destroying any blue sky. My mood was glum at the thought of an early turnaround, but we just kept going and since we could handle the rain (and, later, snow and sleet) we saw no need to stop. There was one thunderclap all day.

At the start of the fifth class section (just past the Hermit pillar), it was hard to find the way. Tim decided on the leftmost route. This went at a strenuous 5.6 (on wet rock of course). Pitch 2 was the chimney -- the rightmost option. This too felt like 5.6 at the first move. The next memorable pitch was a right-trending flake that was steep and tricky. This section to the summit also seemed long, though the climbing on this stretch was easy. It was a thrill to be on the summit after such an up-and-down morning. Three or four raps on descent and then the long ridge back in wet conditions.

The classic rating for this route is 5.3, but one guide service advertises the climb as a 5.6 climb. There appears to be no question that it is 5.6.

At the first rappel, my hand got caught under the rope at the flat start, and it was difficult to remove. Small swelling later, but healed in two days. And I fell once near the end and  bruised my forearm and lost my axe in a rock hole (healed quickly). Andrew could retrieve the axe by duct-taping another axe to a trekking pole! We required 13 hours camp to camp. Then 2.5 hours to pack and hike down.

We were at the car at 8:30 pm for a 15.5 hour day with 5500 feet descent. Take-out pizza in Golden and we reach the Super-8 motel near the Calgary airport at 1 am after a hard drive through heavy rain. We got a little sleep and rose at 4:30 to make the flight and arrive Denver 9:20. Eric picked us up and Joan met me at his house for the trip home. What a whirlwind of a day and a half.

Two interesting links:    1930 ascent of Tupper, filmed   and   2014 wingsuit from summit of Bryce

Some philosophizing: Certainly we were disappointed not to get the summit of Bryce. But the route we took to below the summit was fantastic with a wide variety of climbing problems. It was much more interesting than a summit gained and descended by the easier south face route, which has no rock climbing at all. Sections of the ridge are surely similar to what some of the big north face Rockies climbs are like, and it was exhilarating to spend eight hours on that route. And then Tupper, a popular and easily accessible climb, proved very difficult in the conditions we faced, making the gaining of the summit very satisfying.

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