Backyard Alpine – The Widowmaker Arete

Nick Elson and I went off to climb the Widowmaker Arete on Crown Mountain today, the closest alpine rock route to Vancouver. But once you’re back in there, after having dodged all the tourists at Grouse, it feels quite rugged. We were trying to avoid an epic since the route apparently takes a long time, so we loaded up our pack with lots of water, and endless amounts of sugar. Despite his appearance as a healthy fit climber, he actually sustains himself on mostly sugar. His food today consisted of a large Kit-Kat bar, a strudel, chocolate milk, cinnamon buns, and a post-climb meal of a slurpee and fudgesicle. If it works, why change?

We got an early start of 6:30am on the Grouse Grind. It wasn’t actually open until 11am due to trail maintenance, but we took the nice side path from the parking lot to go past the locked gate. Getting to the base of the route isn’t too bad. There’s a large network of trails, but they’re all well signed. We accidentally dropped into Hanes Valley too soon. We followed a side trail (the actual flagged route was 10m ahead), which took us into thorny bushes. At least the blueberries were tasty.

It’s not obvious where the base of the route is. You have to drop about halfway down to Hanes Valley, and then climb back up some scree and talus. There’s a large snow gully on the left about half way up, that’s not where the route is. As you’re climbing up, you should be able to see a large slab to the right of a small gully. From here, we put on our rock shoes and started to solo up the mostly 3rd class slabs, with the occasional 5.7/5.8 moves. None of them are exposed though. And the rock is quite good, with lots of incut holds. There’s still loose blocks everywhere, but it’s quite obvious which ones they are. Walking up the slabs was quite the calf workout, but eventually we reached the really nice arête sections. This section is quite similar to the Acrophobe towers on Angel’s Crest; really nice ridge climbing with lots of exposure on the far side of the ridge.

We roped up for the first steep section. There was some really good climbing in here. Nick took the harder left-side start up a handcrack and then into an offwidth. I think you can bypass this if you scramble/grovel up grassy ledge by a tree on the right side. There’s lots of variations here, but I think you can keep it to 5.9 if you look hard enough. Nick went for the exciting options.

We simul-climb along another great ridge section, which takes you to a steep headwall below the Camel. Then, we climbed up a left-trending ramp, then a handcrack, and then along bushy ledges (not very aesthetic climbing). Watch out for loose blocks in the cracks here, Nick knocked off at least two, fortunately it was well off to the left and I was belaying under an overhang. The crux on our variation was a handcrack, which happened to be the only wet spot on the route. Nick clipped a forged friend in the crack thinking it was fixed in there. When I removed it, I was horrified to discover that it was quite rusted, and the lobes didn’t move. I later placed this same piece as a “nut” in a crack near the top of the Camel.

This was Nick’s first time on the Camel, so we soloed up the head also. Two rappels are required to get down from the Camel, one very short one to the neck, and one longer overhanging one to the base. You may want to bring some long webbing, as the ones around the blocks are fairly sunbleached. There’s a pretty good view from here of the Crater Slab route up to Crown Mountain, which is mostly just 4th class slabs to the summit. Looks fun with rockshoes!

While hiking through the forest to get to the route, it’s quite hard to imagine an alpine rock route nearby, so close to the city. Not quite a classic, but it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s closer than Squamish too! It took us around 7 hours to go from car to summit to lodge, including a nice long lunch break on Crown Mountain.

One comment on “Backyard Alpine – The Widowmaker Arete

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *