Ashlu Mountain

Porterhouse Peak, and Tantalus, originally uploaded by RichSo.

Ashlu Mountain is a remote prominent peak, the tallest in the Ashlu-Elaho divide, and is visible from most places in the Coast Mountains. I’ve been pretty keen to come here ever since reading Dave Campbell’s article in the 2003-2004 VOCJ. You should read it.

On Friday night, Chris and I drove up the Ashlu Creek road, in his lightly modified Subaru Loyale [aftermarket cupholders]. The slide near Pykett creek has been completely cleared, thanks to the paddlers who frequent this road. We even saw a Delica driving through this section on the way back. However, once past the Chimai road turnoff, the road gets pretty rough, with lots of waterbars. There was one in particular that require some aggressive driving, and it took 3 attempts before Chris cleared the waterbar. Apparently his “new” Subaru has a bigger engine than the old one. We managed to get to within 3km of Shortcut creek, just before a large waterbar and some sinkholes. Watch out if you’re driving this road at night, since there’s a few sinkholes here and there, and some of them aren’t marked.

Early Saturday morning, Chris and I started to bike up the road. We took the bikes because we thought we might have had to bike 8-10km to get to Shortcut Creek. It ended up being quite short and pleasant. We bushwhacked up the north side of Shortcut creek, following vague flagging until we reached Rugged Lake. From Rugged Lake, we scrambled up steep slopes to get around the south spur of Ashlu. This involved some steep scrambling, and technical bush jumaring. I slipped at one point, and managed to self arrest myself on some heather! Maybe that should be taught at Glacier School.

The glacier below the south face of Ashlu wasn’t bad at all. We brought crampons, but didn’t end up using them. The route starts on the centre of the face, and you have to cross a terrifying moat. To get across, you have to face the rock, lower yourself down while dangling your feet in air, and extend your legs until it reaches the rock. Chris has longer legs, so I guess it wasn’t as bad for him. But I didn’t feel like falling 30m down into the moat, so I insisted on a belay.

Alpine Select describes the route as 11 pitches. We ended up doing it in 3 pitches plus some simul-climbing. The first pitch goes up a short wall, and then onto a left trending ramp, which I kept climbing up until finding some pitons to belay from. Maybe Don Serl left those there on his FA. I did this part in my hiking boots, since part of the deal of belaying me across the moat involved me leading the pitch in my boots. The second pitch is supposed to be the “superb, sustained climbing up short flakes, corners, and cracks”. We were definitely on route, and there wasn’t any superb climbing to be found. At one point, a fist sized rock was dislodged by the rope, and landed on my backpack. If I hadn’t moved slightly right at the belay, my helmet would have been tested! We had to simul-climb a bit here, since Chris couldn’t find anywhere to belay me from. As I started up the third pitch, I was thinking that I would be climbing some of the nice 5.8 sections of “superb” climbing. I was expecting Chris to rope-gun me up the 5.10a pitch. Instead, I was faced with climbing a steep chimney/corner/face thing, with minimal gear. I think this was the 5.10a “corner crack”. I guess we skipped a few pitches. We carried up a fairly large rack, probably something like 12 draws, nuts, double set of cams up to #2, and a #3. The double set was a bit excessive, since there was barely any gear to place. I guess I thought we were climbing Bugaboo splitters.

We ended up simul-climbing another 10m, until I could find a decent boulder to belay from. From this point, the way ahead is basically a large talus slope. I saw a corner crack just below the summit, but Chris pointed out that we’re alpine-climbing, and not some craggers trying to do a hard variation on the route. So we ended up traversing right across the gully, and scrambled up some 3rd class to get to the summit. You could also traverse left to gain the west ridge.

The views up here are pretty spectacular, and its definitely a peak well worth visiting. I highly recommend coming here. It definitely has the Coast Mountain feeling of being out there, and seeing glaciated peaks, granite slabs, and the ocean. I wouldn’t recommend climbing up the south face though, as the climbing wasn’t that great, and you have to carry your climbing gear a long ways. I would be just as content scrambling up the east ridge (described in Matt Gunn’s book). We scrambled down the west ridge, and followed a gully back onto the glacier. We could have tried to get down to Shortcut Creek from here, but we ended up reversing our approach. It ended up being 12 hours car to car.

The next day, Chris, Krystil and I climbed in the Bulletheads. The rock there is quite nice. I highly recommend climbing Golden Labs, it’s tons of fun.

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