We were to meet in the Strathcona neighborhood, in Vancouver, at the impossible hour of 4:30AM. Despite setting my alarm to have ample time to cycle down there, my sluggish mind and sleepy body got me there at about five to five; not a great start I know. We got through the last minute gear sorts and hit the road. A short time later, the crisp morning air in our lungs and bodies warming, we road over the bridge watching the North Shore twilight. We traveled along the Mountain Highway and into the upper parking lot of Lynn Valley. After a discussion, we decided it would be all right to continue riding into the park and try riding the old logging road until it became too rough. We dismounted our fleet of road bikes twenty minutes later, but of course we pushed on a milked every last inch or rid-able terrain for another twenty. One can always be impressed at what sort of steep slopes, roots, rocks, and bridges a skinny tired road bike can handle.
We ditched the bikes and began hiking through the cool, wet forest. This stretch of trail (from Lynn Headwaters to just below Haines pass) took way longer than it seemed it should. As a result of mentally underestimating the length, I became tired and sweaty and secretly dreading the hike out. We ate a second breakfast of nuts and granola bars under the beautiful forest canopy. Finally we arrived at the top of the basin and snacked again, left behind some reserve food and extra gear, and began to ascend the snow tongue that droops below the start of the climb. This white appendage promptly began to lick our asses; it was steep, slick, hard, and would periodically cause us to slip (no crampons) landing ourselves on our buts. We were all glad to have some sort of self-arresting contraption, be it an ice axe or a rock.
Once we determined where the start of the climb was, we realized that we had climbed higher than it, and basically skipped a section of the arête. We were not unhappy about this. Having shortened the route, we would gain back a little bit of daylight. We scrambles unroped for a short ways on solid rock coated with patches of loose gravel. At a large block we roped up for a deceptively difficult 3 meters of climbing and continued simuling up the large wide ramp. Sparse gear ended that configuration about mid way up. Below the mid-point, in a zone of polished rock, a significant block of compacted snow and ice slid down the ramp. This struck a chord in me, because of the fatality on Slesse earlier in the season, where a local man had been swept to his death by a similar block. This years summer conditions were late coming, so heads up to future ascensionist under similar conditions as icefall may again prove dangerous.
Once on the arête we took a rest and a few photos. Roped up, and began the most interesting part of the climb. Widowmaker Arête is truly a hidden gem being so close to Vancouver: a wild feeling, a great alpine atmosphere, and generally really quite nice climbing. For us there were a few wet spots and navigational discussions, but it was awesome and pretty straightforward all around. The arête was apparently rated 'just fourth class" when originally climbed! I'd say it was more along the lines of '5.9 alpine'. Which, for me, means that it is mostly easy climbing, but there are some short section of 5.8-5.9 climbing, and definitely some 5.10 bits that either come off that way because you have a pack on, you are off route, it is wet, you are still in your approach shoes, it was graded before 5.10's were invented, it is run out on manky gear, you have had a long day, or due to the infrequency ascents the rating is just plain wrong. Brock has climbed it twice and thinks it is definitely 5.8.
Pleasant scramble, after pitch, after pleasant scramble, got us to the top of The Camel. The interesting rock feature that looks like a camel's silhouette from Vancouver. We rapped off The Camel's back and simul-climbed the surprisingly exposed trail up to the summit of Crown Mountain. We stopped here for our first real rest of the day. We soaked in the alpine feel and enjoyed the sun as it lower in the. I was definitely hungry and getting mighty low on food - "Sharesies anyone?" As we savored the last of our food atop Crown, we conjured up images of the old school mountaineers exploring these arêtes and mountainsides as training grounds for higher peeks. In my romanticized vision, they sported cork boots, woolen toques, hand knitted sweaters, rough beards, hammers, pins, had hemp rope coils over their shoulders, and stank of beef jerky. It has been said you can still see the scrapes of old cork boots on the summit of the camel.
We slogged out to our food/gear stash and gorged ourselves on the remaining food and drink. The hike back turned into stumbles and growing darkness cut only by our feeble LED beams. We extracted our bikes from the underbrush and loaded our gear onboard. The riding was a great break, some exhilarating trail riding and challenges for the 700c rims offered a nice mental shift in movement. In other words, the speed woke me up. At the bottom of Mountain Highway, we found a gas station and dined on some tasty, Canadian delicacies. Mmmmmm potato chips! This did not, sadly, pull Karl out of his 'reptilian state'. The ride over the bridge opened up some fine views and shortly there after Karl and Brock found their warm homes. A good uphill-punch-in-the-gut got me to my bed near Queen Elizabeth Park. It had been about twenty hours since I'd left my cozy abode and I was pleased to slip back in between the sheets. Another great SPOC trip!
By Damien McCombs