Saturday, July 31, Tusk Peak
Text and photos by Jocelyn Dufour.
After a success story on Mt. Clemenceau, it was time to steer our attention on the next big prize of the area: Tusk Peak. At 3362m it sneaks into the list of Canadian Rockies 11,000ers by 10m, and is the third-highest peak in the area, after Clemenceau (3664m) and Tsar (3417m).
A big, stable high pressure system covering much of British Columbia gave us the opportunity to have a rest day after the ascent of Clemenceau and plan our climb for Tusk knowing the weather would be great until our last day in camp! However, the hot dry weather of the past few days meant that an early start was mandatory to avoid soft snow on the route, so we decided on a 2 am wake-up call with a 3 am start.
Our team was composed of young John, Barend and I. Our goal was to try to get to the Tusk/Tilman col early in order to have stable conditions in the couloir (prone to rock falls) leading to the col.
After a comfortable breakfast in our luxurious base camp, we started our approach on the glacier towards Tusk under moonlight. We made good progress and the route finding was relatively straightforward with only one exception when we had to slightly come back down, traverse right, and contour some big crevasses.
I was relieved to find the couloir in reasonable condition. There was a one meter gap in the snow that provided for some interesting mixed climbing but the main worry was still the loose rock above.
After a few pitches of climbing we were at the col and rewarded for our efforts by our first view of the magnificent north face of Mt. Shackleton, named after the famous polar explorer Ernest Henry Shackleton.
After a short break at the col, we started our ascent via the South Ridge, which is mainly snow, with a rock climbing section in the middle. The rock section represents the main difficulty of the route, and the steep rock step was negotiated directly on the main ridge up to the crux section.
I was able to protect the climb reasonably well, i.e. better than expected, with small/mid size cams and nuts. The crux was short (5.4-5.7) but provided some entertainment, being basically composed of one hard move to get over an overhang with loose shale at the top; good thing there is a fixed pin just before it.
After setting up the belay, it was now the turn of the two young bucks to have a go at it, starting with John. John’s hands appearing first looking for something to hold on to, then came the head with a grimacing face, then the chest resting flat on the shale bed above the overhang and finally the rest of the body followed more easily; with a relieved voice John’s first words were “SOB” .
Barend’s turn now, same process but this time around the tall Dutch guy used his height advantage to easily get over the crux section.
We were quite pleased to be above the crux but we still had 200-300m to go until the summit. The upper section was icy at the end then followed by a loose scrambly rocky section to finish, Darren’s favourite!
We finally reached the summit at 11:15 and the panoramic view in all directions was fantastic. To the south were the beautiful folds of Pic Tordu and behind it the Columbia valley and Columbia Mountains, and to the east was the stunning and heavily glaciated north face of Shackleton
Clemenceau was immediately to the north-east of us. The Tiger Glacier route on the SW side of Clemenceau that we had ascended two days ago was out of view, but we had fine views of the south ridge and glaciated east face.
You can’t hang out at the top forever, so after a replenishing lunch break it was time to leave this stunning summit and get back down to camp.
The weather was still beautiful and the sun very hot. By now, at noon, the snow was getting quite soft and we released a small wet snow avalanche on our way down. We were on the very edge of the snowfield and in no danger of being caught, but it was a good reminder of the dangerous combination of heat on fresh snow.
We had to do one short rappel down the crux, directly on the ridge, followed by two rappels down a slanted gully with loose rocks. We were glad we did not go up that way and quite pleased the rope did not get stuck!
The peaks and glaciers in this area are stunning, but the rock is very loose and mostly shale, desperately hanging on in an ultimately losing battle against gravity.
Heading down towards the col, the views of Shackleton and its surroundings were outstanding, and will stay forever engraved in my memory.
Descending the couloir went quite smoothly, with one rappel needed, and we were fortunate not to knock any of the big blocks down. We headed back down on the glacier with Barend in front, taking our time coming down, knowing this climb was our last of the trip.
Glacial streams provided an excuse for a break on the way back to camp, stopping to refill bottles with beautifully fresh melt water and peer down into mill-holes (also known as a moulin), the fascinating and spooky holes drilled into the ice by glacial streams.
It was great to be back in the Canadian Rockies in good company!
Jocelyn Dufour, August 2015