A Scottish Tale

November 24, 2010
Nick Elson and I climbed “A Scottish Tale” today, a 420m long iceclimb that forms only during cold snaps (such as with an arctic outflow) in a narrow gully above Olsen Creek. I didn’t really know what to expect, having climbed less than a total of a hundred metre of ice.
The approach is a slog. First, head up the Chief trail, then turn off for the Upper Shannon Fall trail, and finally follow an old overgrown road that parallels Olsen Creek. We left the parking lot shortly after 6am, and trudged up the trail in the dark. The overgrown logging road was miserable, as we thrashed through a slide alder and devil’s club. There is some flagging off the road that marks the vague path towards the base of the climb, but it’s not obvious in the dark. The approach then goes up through steep forest and then some loose snow covered rocks and deadfall to the base of the chasm. A reconnaissance before hand might be advisable to avoid missing the route, like a few friends have.  
The route looked really thin from the bottom, and I was a little concerned if we would make it up. Amazingly, Nick walks up the thin ice without breaking a sweat. Pitch 1 and 2 follow thin smears of low-angle calve-burning ice. I had these Asolo plastic boots which I bought on clearance from Coast Mountain a long time ago. They never fitted quite right, and they didn’t fit well today either. My heel moved around with every step, making the low-angle ice tedious. Maybe I’ll finally enjoy ice climbing when I get boots that fit.

Nick delicately cruising up Pitch 2 or 3. You can see the upper waterfall at the top.
The climbing got really good on Pitch 3 and only continued to improve with the rest of the route. Pitch 3 involved bypassing two chockstones in the tight gully. Nick cruised up the thin smear of ice, and all I heard was something about good hand jams on the side and how good the climbing was.

DSCN0618 Nick Elson on A Scottish Tale
Nick on the “positively anorexic” chimney pitch. There was another similar section immediately above this.

Looking back down Pitch 3 on the rappel. It goes up this tight chimney/gully feature, with ice on the right side.

I can’t really remember what Pitch 4 was like, probably something involving ice and tools. I was mostly trying my hardest not to slow down Nick, who was probably shivering waiting at the belay for me. The final three pitches go up some really cool yellow ice. On Pitch 5, at the bottom of the waterfall, there was a constant drip of water which made things more unpleasant, but the rest of the ice was quite good. The worst part here was getting showered by shards of ice at the belay. Pitch 6 and 7 continued up the frozen yellow waterfall, with some near-vertical climbing on the last pitch reaching some really interesting ice formations at the top. All the pitches were roughly 55-60m long, and Nick make quick work of leading all of them.

Looking up at the upper three pitches. This photo was taken on the rappel. We climbed up the leftmost smear at the bottom and then traverse onto the centre smear and then the fat ice above.

I was pretty stoked at the top.

After climbing Scottish Tale, Nick felt it was good enough to include in his select classics ice climbs on the Coast (the list is here). Above Nick’s head is some of the overhanging ice daggers that threatened our descent.


Nick rappelling off a boulder, with the backside of the Chief visible behind him.
We traversed climber’s left just below the top of the waterfall, and made the first rappel through lots of annoying gear-snagging shrubbery. Fortunately our rope pulled easily here, but on two other rappels we weren’t so lucky. By the time we reached the bottom, we had to pull out the headlamps again for the stumble through the forest and overgrown road. It was relief when we reached the backside trail, and finally bombed it down to the car and re-fueled with fish and chips at the Wigan Pier.
Time wise, it was 5 hours for the climbing, 3 hours for the rappel, and 3.5 hours for the approach/descent. The rack consists of lots of short screws, and an solid assortment of rock gear. Thanks for another fun day Nick!

00 comments on “A Scottish Tale

Leave a comment

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