I stood at the base of Clarke’s east ridge pulling
and coiling the blue end of our rope just after Jesse had called "off
rappel" We had just completed the Viennese-Clarke traverse and were an
hour behind our turn around time. The yellow end of the rope was just
leaving the col when Jesse asked, "Where's the rack?" We looked at each
other. He'd left the entire rack two 50m rappels above us. I did a
quick assessment. I could have still just reached the rope. I knew I
could protect myself and quickly get up to the top of our last rappel.
From there I figured I could climb to the second rappel without a rope.
I told Jesse that this was my intention. He realized it would probably
mean a night out for both of us without food or sleeping gear. We
estimated the cost of the rack and then Jesse offered to buy our way
out of the situation. It didn’t take me long to agree, and so
we coiled up the rope and headed back for Colin who was waiting for us
at Nursery Pass.
This was our annual, low concept, self-propelled trip. We had eight days to bike to the Chehalis climb what ever we could and then bike back. Since our 2005 trip had taken us to and from the Tantalus range with very little success, we had low expectations. But just like last year we planned to climb lots of peaks and left plenty of room for downgrading as necessary. When we set out in September 2005 we had planned to climb Tantalus and Dionne by way of Alpha and Serratus. We were very far off the mark. On day four we bailed off of the East Ridge of Serratus and abandoned our last three objectives. Still, we had felt good about climbing just Alpha by bike from town and so this year we were ready to settle for just climbing our first objective: Grainger.
As usual, one week before the trip started, our lucky charm Colin Punchard walked into my bike shop. Colin has always brought our trips good luck and good weather. Whenever Colin comes on a trip we summit and the weather is perfect. Colin only goes mountaineering once every few years when he bumps into me and asks if I’m going to go into the mountains. He always swings the time off somehow, on short notice, and despite his physical limitations - resulting from drinking and smoking - he makes it to the end of every trip in excellent style, a smoke constantly dangling from his lips.
Early on the morning of August 28th Jesse, Colin and I left from my place and biked down Hastings to the Barnett Hwy and on to Coquitlam. We stopped occasionally for food and caffeine but eventually made it out to the Sasquatch Inn about 100km to the East, at Harrison Mills. We feasted, drank and then headed up the Chehalis forest service road, which starts right from the Inn. We had planned to make it to the end of Chehalis Lake but the going was tougher than we had thought and we didn’t quite make it all the way. We bivouacked up high beside the lake in total darkness feeling a little defeated by the last 35km.
We woke up to cloudy skies and a great view of Chehalis Lake. We were soon at the head of the lake where the main road crosses the Chehalis River above the lake and our route branches off left into the woods. By then the rain had started and so we ducked under the bridge to make a breakfast of coffee and porridge. The rain didn’t last long and the under belly of the bridge made for good buildering opportunities. Overall a worthwhile stop over. Soon we where heading up the branch (called the Chehalis FSR also) with no rain at all.
On our way up the road from the bridge towards Statlu Lake we passed a group coming out in their 4WD. We stopped to say hi, curious to see what they had climbed. After a quick greeting we were asked where we were heading to which I replied "Grangers South ridge." Which was met with "That's a classic." Back to me, "What did you guys climb?" Answer, "Tuning Fork, on Mount Bardean." Like we didn’t know what mountain the Tuning Fork was on.
After we moved on up the road Jesse excitedly said that he thought it was ‘Frimer’ in the passenger seat. “Why didn’t you say hi?” I asked. Jesse said that he wasn’t certain that it was him at first. Also Jesse knows Frimer better than Frimer knows any of us. Frimer is of course Jeremy Frimer of some renown locally, most recently from the cover of the MEC catalogue. But Frimer is also, and more importantly a character that we have created in our stories and gossip. It started years ago. Just from reading a few of his articles we had produced a complete profile of him. The articles (of which I have read only one) were a tiny seed for us. From reading some of his articles we created a character known to us as ‘Frimer.‘ The one, and possibly the only, thing that makes the Jackson-Addy team gold in the hills is that we can babble on about nothing all day, much to the amazement of other rational people around us. The ‘Frimer character’ as it exists today may bear little resemblance to the actual Jeremy Frimer, who knows. I hope to never get to know Jeremy because it would shatter our character development for years to come. So, seeing the actual Jeremy Frimer on this trip was a great bonus. It set us up for hours of character development and analyzing. Colin was bemused.
We brought our bikes to near the bottom of Nursery Valley where the road is washed out. This is about 10km from the bridge. Most of this road is loose and uphill and so we walked a lot of the way. Since I had been on this section before I was getting questioned about whether it was worth dragging the bikes all the way up. I reassured the others that 10km of downhill for free was going to be worth it. We ditched our bikes near the stream at the washout. We continued up the road to where the trail breaks off at the first switch back, towards Grainger. Gerry Kollmuss recently cut and flagged this route and we easily found his flagging. Unfortunately I think he did it when there was still some snow cover, for us the bush was thick and the flagging was hard to follow. Colin was just behind us swearing most of the time. I tried the old Zen trick with him of forcing him to face the possibility that this would continue for days and days. The theory being that faced with such an impossible concept the mind finally lets go and stops struggling. Let me say that Colin doesn’t give in that easily. Between him and his mind I think he comes out on top, fighting all the way.
We made it not too far but almost to the alpine below Grainger. We found a scree slope that ended bedside a grassy area bordered by a river with a waterfall; it was idyllic. We had known that the weather was supposed to turn bad for a day or two and so we figured we might be tent bound the following day. We set up camp and loaded up on water from the river.
This is when we really started to appreciate Colin’s shopping ability. Colin had been antsy the day before we left and so to calm down he went shopping without us. We had planned to shop together on the way out of town, but when he arrived at my place the night before we realized that he already had most of our food. He had gone to Famous Foods and stocked up on lots of gourmet items. He’d bought lots of dried fruit, dried coconut powder, olive oil, tomato paste in a tube, curries, noodles, nuts, organic coffee and sugar. Jesse and I usually buy all of our groceries quickly and based on weight not any sort of consideration for taste. We feasted that night and had some tea, and then hit the sleeping bags.
It had rained all night and showed no signs of letting up. We stayed in the tent for the entire day. We went out to get water and for washroom breaks only. All three of us were stuck in a two-person tent playing Mind Trap and Trivial Pursuit. The whole day the rain kept hammering at the tent walls. We also played a twisted version of Asshole (a card game) that we made up over the first few hands as Jesse taught Colin and I to play. Jesse took a great deal of pleasure in using the phrase 'Wipe asshole!' when he won, which he did often. It got to him after awhile because he saw how Colin and I were less comfortable with abusing our power. I was going stir crazy after playing for an hour or so and started yelling like a cross between Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman and Emeril (ìBam!). We did ok for one day but I don’t think we could have lasted for a second day.
When we woke up it was damp and misty but we could tell that it was going to burn off soon. We packed up some food for the day and headed a short distance to a clearing below Grainger. We filled up on water in this meadow and enjoyed the sunlight. We hiked up the right side of the valley onto a ramp that lead us to a stream that we crossed just below a waterfall. We then hiked up some sparsely vegetated slopes just to the right of these falls and up into the final scree below the peak where Alpine select shows a bivy spot. I always get freaked out on these lower grassy wet slopes because they are slippery and steep and the ropes are in the pack.
We easily gained the ridge and soon after hit the crux of the climb off to the right side. I climbed a short crack and then exited to the right into a chimney to easier ground (5.7). From there it was mostly 4th class and some low 5th to the summit. On the summit I took a drag of Colin’s cigarette (something I got used to doing during the entire trip), we ate some lunch and I took photos of the Robertson screws on the summit cross. Colin had brought a jar of pickles for us to share on the summit.
The next day was meant to be an easy day: we would walk to Nursery Pass and rest for the Viennese-Clarke traverse. Instead, we spent most of the day off trail bushwhacking, cursing and then ascending a significant bit of elevation (4000ft).
On the way in to Grainger I saw a strange plant just off the trail. It looked like a really big flower with a fat stalk. I didn’t go check it out until we were leaving the valley and heading up to Nursery Pass. Colin and I hiked over from the trail to check it out as we had both been thinking about it over the past two days. It looked exactly like a fireweed plant except it was much taller (8 feet) and had a flat broad stem. The stem actually looked like a ribbon made of many fused plant stalks. For the rest of the trip I looked at every fireweed plant to see if I could find one with similar characteristics but found none. There were hundreds of plants in this area that I could see from the logging roads but none near as big or flattened.
When I returned I asked Nola for Dr. Jim Pojarís email address to ask him about it. He wrote the book ‘Plants of Coastal British Columbia.’ Nola knows him because she took a class on Rainforest Ecology with him and also sometimes works with him. He knew right away that it was fireweed and that it must have been in a clear-cut. He thought it was likely a mutated plant from the herbicides used to keep down the vegetation while the newly planted trees have a chance to get growing.
When we made it to the pass, the sun was setting and we quickly set up camp. It had taken us all day. Colin entertained us after dark by giving us a tour of the night sky, as he is an expert. He told us about star distributions, galaxies, satellites and space junk. It was great to find out that there are people that get paid to track space junk! Also I never knew that the only stars we can see are all in our galaxy.
Colin decided to leave the traverse for Jesse and I as he was tired and knew we would move slower as a group of three. Jesse and I set out just before sunrise. We roped up on the initial section from the small snowfield just above the pass to gain the ridge of 6500. We were on Viennese by 10:00am after a traverse pitch just below the summit and one up the south face to the top. We rappelled down one pitch and scrambled to the top of Recourse by 12:00. It didn’t look like we could make it to Clarke by 2:00, which was our turn around time. I asked if we should just skip it if we weren’t going to make it anyways. Jesse was keen on moving forward either way. I agreed to go ahead and see where we stood at 2:00. We had finished the two technical pitches by 2:00 and scrambled happily onto the summit. Jesse and I shared a pickle each and saved one for Colin. We then rapped down, abandoned our rack, as mentioned above. We then headed back to see Colin. We walked back over Recourse and then down beneath the south side of Viennese and up to the ridge between Viennese and 6500. We walked over 6500 and then down toward Nursery Pass. We rappelled the last pitch down to the snowfield just above camp. We got back to the pass just before dark. Colin was happy to see us and gladly ate the last pickle. We split a cigarette and hit the sleeping bags.
We woke up very content and a bit smug, as we knew we just had to walk down to the road and bike downhill to the Pub. It turned out to be another heavy over estimation and we struggled on the relentless up and down of the 40km road. We were elated to finally get back to the Sasquatch Inn. We had spent the previous hours frustrated by the length of the road as compared with our expectations. When we arrived, just before we got inside, a man greeted us on the front steps. “Two-dollar burger platters today boys.” He was looking above our heads and not focusing on anything in particular. I laughed openly at him as I assumed he was just screwing with our heads. He almost got me for a second though. We went inside and ordered some beer and burgers; a veggie burger for me and meat burgers for Jesse and Colin.
I then went outside to call Nola and let her know that we were back out and safe. The same man was on the porch outside still and again passed on that the burger special was on. He added, “I’m going to get six of ‘em” Still he gave no eye contact.
When I got back to our table the waitress was just bringing our drinks. She let us know that she had changed our order to accommodate for the $2.00 burger platters. Shit, it wasn’t a joke at all. She had taken our order and rebuilt it around the burger platter special. Instead of a cheeseburger with fries, it was the burger platter special, add cheese. Instead of the Hawaii burger and fries, it was the burger platter special, hold the tomato and add pineapple. Unfortunately for me the veggie burger didn’t apply. I was just lucky they had one at all. The guy from out front came in and ordered his first burger platter just then. I guess he was pacing himself. After dinner we hit the forest behind the restaurant and crashed out.
We had 100km of flat road riding to do until we were back home. We took every opportunity to take it easy and enjoy the ride and take in the local fare along the way. We managed to stretch it out for a full day.
In Maple Ridge there was a major traffic jam that we biked along past. It was super hot out and the poor drivers were sweating and frustrated. We were cool and enjoying the day right beside them. Jesse and I noticed that Colin was not with us and so we headed back to find him. He had a flat and no way of fixing it as I had used all his tubes. We pulled into a driveway and sat in the shade to fix his tube with my patch kit. The owner of the house was out in his yard enjoying the day picking some fruit when he happened upon us. We apologized for just taking over his driveway but he wouldn’t accept. “Non-sense, you’re free to hang out here as long as you like.” He then brought us some fresh picked apples and pears and spent awhile chatting with us. It made getting a flat tire worthwhile.