Mount Harvey – North Face Ramp Winter Climb

I spent Valentine’s day with Seth Adams, one of the most charming people in the VOC, climbing the North Face Ramp of Mount Harvey. Originally Seth wanted to solo this snow route by himself the previous day, by leaving at 3am to make it in time for his presentation in the afternoon. As it turns out, if he had done that, he would have been free soloing with both his life, and his degree. Seth needed somebody to take photos of him, so he convinced me to come along.

We left Vancouver at 5am, thinking that we would be done relatively early in the day. The approach to the base of the route is along logging roads, but it sure is a bit of a slog. Take the second left turn, the first left goes to Brunswick, and the second left to marked by a small sign on a tree. The shin-deep snow on the approach kept me thinking that the route wasn’t going to be the “harder than a 16-year old boy at a Hooker’s Convention” as described by some previous ascentionists in previous seasons. 

The harness and crampons went on anyways, and Seth started to post-hole up the route. Since the ramp is fed in by several gullies, Seth reasoned that the higher we went, the less snow there would be. But things were already looking quite different than the Styrofoam snow that a previous VOC party found last week. The deep snow was slow going, and Seth was sinking down to his crotch, making slow movement upwards. The whole time comparisons were made to other difficult snow routes, such as on 29 Forever on Husume Buttress with Nick Elson previously, where Seth had to jug the snow or some other classic Alaskan slogs where Seth had to step eighteen times with his foot before making upward progress. As I found out later in the day, winter mountaineering is really just one big slog.

Eventually the snow wouldn’t let Seth go any higher, so we escaped the ramp by going climber’s life towards some trees. The snow was harder here, including some sketchy ice verglas over rock that Seth made me solo. I don’t really climb ice, so solo-ing it made it even scarier. We brought along pickets, and ropes, but neglected to use it, largely due to Seth’s over-estimation of my abilities. Apparently the ice sections were just like ice bouldering. I wouldn’t fall far, only onto the soft snow below, but it was still scary given my lack of experience. Eventually we traversed back into the ramp proper without difficulty, and continued upward on some improving snow.

The hard snow didn’t last long. Eventually I went ahead and broke trail, since I wasn’t breaking through as deep. Seth would keep breaking through my steps. It was less work for the both of us, at least that’s what Seth claimed. At times, it felt like I was just bulldozing the snow with my crotch, in a slow upward progression. 

After exiting the ramp, there’s a steep section of snow to traverse, about 55-60 deg. I wanted a rope for this, but once again the rope never came out of Seth’s pack. I’m probably ragging on Seth too much but he’s used to it. And deserves it sometimes. The traverse isn’t somewhere you would want to fall. After the traverse, we didn’t go all the way to the ridge on climber’s left because the snow was still quite deep. I took the WI2 ice route on the right instead, with the occasional turf pick placement, and hooking around tree roots. Finally I was belayed up the ice. We simul-soloed the rest of the way, with one slung tree at one point. We brought pickets, but again, Seth doesn’t like those things so he never placed one.  I felt constant tugs on my harness from the rope, and couldn’t figure out why the climbing got faster. It turns out that Seth loves to lead the last pitch to the summit, and as he approaches the summit, he climbs faster too.

The summit was a pleasant place, barely any wind and a reasonable temperature, considering this was mid-winter. I took some photos that Seth could send back to his mom, and then we began walking down the ridge. We went past the cutblock, and proceeded to get lost. I had forgotten that the trail doesn’t go all the way down the ridge, but instead turns skier’s right from the cutblock into old growth trees. Of course you could also go down the cutblock until reaching roads on the Lion basin, which is apparently brushed out too. After wasting some more time, we proceeded down the dreadful Harvey trail. It was unpleasant, given the presence of a layer of snow overtop of the frozen dirt, stumps, and rocks. By the time we made it to the road, our feet were badly beaten up. Seth, being as wise as he is, pointed out that climbing is the only sport where the descent is the worst part.

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