Off the Wall

Free­ing a Big Route on Snow­patch Spire

Gripped - - CONTENTS -


Bu­ga­boos Hard Clas­sic

The 500-me­tre high east face of Snow­patch Spire has been get­ting a lot of at­ten­tion over the past decade and is quickly be­com­ing one of the finest alpine rock faces in North Amer­ica for free climb­ing.

What used to be a face known pri­mar­ily as an aid climb­ing venue, is now cov­ered in free-climb­ing lines, although mostly dif­fi­cult ones, usu­ally re­quir­ing at least a cou­ple pitches of 5.12.

Per­haps the most amaz­ing thing about it is that al­most ev­ery pitch is good. “I don’t think there’s an­other moun­tain in western Canada that can boast that,” said Jon Walsh, who has been putting in count­less hours of ef­fort over the past few years to free aid pitches. “Like a big crag of­fer­ing pure rock climb­ing in the alpine, it of­fers an easy ap­proach from the nearby camp­ground, be­lays on most routes are mostly bolted, there are no ‘ap­proach’ pitches, and there’s no te­dious sum­mit ridge.

The climb­ing is al­most all tra­di­tion­ally pro­tected, but most routes have a few pro­tec­tion bolts where cracks need to be con­nected by face moves and face holds are plen­ti­ful. “It has been one of my fa­vorite zones for over 10 years now,” said Walsh.

Af­ter 20 sea­sons of climb­ing in the Bu­ga­boos, Walsh was held back in 2017 by some in­juries. Walsh cred­its Michelle Ka­datz for push­ing him to head back up to the camp­ground to work on old projects. “We looked a lit­tle far­ther left than usual on the east face of Snow­patch and be­gan to check out the orig­i­nal 1959 line up the face by the leg­endary Fred Beckey and Hank Mather,” said Walsh.

“Amaz­ingly, this route had some­how es­caped the free climb­ing fi­esta the rest of the east face had re­ceived in the last cou­ple of decades. It turned out they were quite dirty, but to­tally free-climbable and in­cred­i­bly good. We cleaned heaps of wet moss with nut tools on the way up, and af­ter just three pitches of climb­ing and prep­ping, a fast-ap­proach­ing storm forced our re­treat.”

Walsh re­turned with photographer Tim Ban­field and climbed the first four pitches, bolt­ing three sta­tions, as one was al­ready bolted. They scrubbed some of the moss and lichen off and rap­pelled down. That night, Craig McGee met them and the next day, they climbed from the glacier to sum­mit be­fore rap­pelling the west face. They made the first free as­cent of the route in a 14-hour, camp-to-camp push.

“We used a left vari­a­tion on pitches three to five, as­cend­ing a long right-fac­ing cor­ner to re­join the line in the guide­book at the roof,” said Walsh. “This ex­cep­tion­ally fun vari­a­tion had clearly been climbed be­fore, as there were rusty pitons and a cou­ple of old bolts on it. We thought the route as a whole was su­perb, es­pe­cially the steep five pitches at the start.”

The pitches check in at 5.11+, 5.12-, 5.10-, 5.10+ and 5.10, fol­lowed by an­other eight rope lengths of fun 5.7 to 5.9 choose-your-own-ad­ven­ture ter­rain. Word quickly spread, and the new free ver­sion of The Becky/Mather re­ceived an­other five or six as­cents be­fore the sea­son was done, con­firm­ing the qual­ity and the grades. “The route is a sig­nif­i­cantly eas­ier free climb than any­thing else on the east face of Snow­patch,” said Walsh.—Gripped Op­po­site: Jon Walsh on The Beckey/Mather

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