May 23, 2015
Kananaskis – Hihgway 40, AB
Wasootch Tower is merely a small outlier of the nearby “Wasootch Peak”. Wasootch Peak itself isn’t an impressive mountain in the K-Country and not even officially named, so its little outlier is really “nothing” speaking the geological significance. However, it’s a striking feature viewing from the more-popular Wasootch Slabs climbing area, and is one of the K-Country peaks out there that have no scramble route to the summit. The least technical route involves rock climbing up to 5.5 via the West Face, while the more aesthetic North Ridge is also rated 5.5, but has considerably longer technical sections. With summer approaching in no time, Ben, Ken and I figured it’s eventually the time to switch our recent “snow climbing mode” into rock climbing, and Wasootch Tower’s North Ridge would be a great candidate for the season starter, particularly in training for the harder 11,000ers later in the year.
As usual for a trip with Ken we’d have to leave Edmonton very early in the morning. In this time, it’s 3 am from my home. That’s very rough for me as I’m no longer used to waking up that early to do mental work (I consider driving as more mental than physical)… Thankfully Ken managed to share a good part of the drive. We were the first group parking at the Wasootch Slabs/Wasootch Creek parking lot considering it’s a Saturday so we must have made pretty good time. The N. Ridge has two variations with the original zig-zagging route rated at 5.6/7 and described on Dow Williams’ site, while the more-recent direct option (discovered likely by Tom Wolfe in 2007 and bolted since then) rated at 5.5 and described in Parry Loeffler’s photo album. We picked the easier option but even that it’d be the first real multi-pitch rock climb for any of us so we brought pretty much all gears that we had.
Comparing to the mountaineering ascents I did recently, this approach was short and easy – just hike up the dry creek bed of Wasootch Creek, passing the Slabs climbing area and then ascend the obvious side-drainage coming down from Wasootch Tower/Peak col, but staying climber’s left on the forks. The side-drainage was narrow and steep in places and offered some fun boulder-hoping, but also unfortunately, some steep scree bashing and bushwhacking.. We utilized snow higher up in the gully for as much as we could for easier travel and it didn’t take us long to arrive at the base of the climb, where we found 2 bolts indicating the official start of Pitch #1.
The first pitch was the crux for us. The hardest move was getting over a small roof with very poor foot holds, and after that it’s typical down-sloping and loose slabby blocks (aka. the Rockies choss). Thankfully there’s a bolt both below and above the crux. I personally would question its 5.5 rating but maybe that’s because I’m not used to this kind of texture. As usual Ben would be our hero for rock routes and he even insisted to wear his heavy mountaineering boots for more practice. More than 1 hour later, with quite some aiding all three of us made through this pitch. The 2nd pitch was a connecting section of 4th class scrambling up slabs so we all solo’d it.
Pitch #3 had its hardest moves right at the start – 5.4 or so and again, the terrain was near-vertical and holds were down-sloping and loose. Thankfully there’s a bolt above this part too and climbing got easier as we went higher. A 2-bolt anchor marked the finish of this pitch, and then Pitch #4 started at an easy ledge/ramp leading climber’s left of the ridge crest (2 trees providing solid intermediate anchors), followed by ascending a fun low 5th class slab back to the ridge. Ben’s mountaineering boots performed poorly on the slabs but nonetheless he managed to lead and bring both Ken and I up. Ken and I were on rock shoes and we found the slabs very fun.
Pitch #5 was the most confusing. We knew it’s supposed to be a long one (50 m according to the route topo) but in reality it’s definitely more than that. It’s not a terribly hard pitch as terrain was mostly 4th class scrambling so we should probably just solo it, but we chose to pitch it out since we didn’t have the most accurate route beta. Our 70-meter rope was running out towards the end. Ben had no choice but to split this pitch into two and build a trad-anchor (cams and a big boulder block) to bring Ken and I up. And then the finishing of this pitch involved a fun, but fairly technical crack/chimney with some solid gear placements.
Pitch #6 had probably the most exposed moves especially for Ben on lead and on mountaineering boots, but thankfully again there’s a bolt reducing the risks significantly. Again, the crux was very technical, slabby and down-sloping. After that terrain got easier gradually (still low 5th) until on the final summit ridge where Ben could find a big boulder (no bolt this time) to build an anchor. The rest of the way to the summit was not a walk neither as we must overcome some loose and exposed 3rd class terrain. Of course 3-man team is never the most efficient for multi-pitch climbs like this but 8-hour ascent time was still much longer than we’d anticipated…
The descent started from walking down the opposite side of the ridge for about 20 meters to an obvious right-facing low-angled gully. We could probably just down-climb it but with 2-bolt anchor we just rappelled it (only 10-15 meters), to another set of bolts. The 2nd rappel would be the real one – 30-meter starting from near-vertical to vertical and then to overhanging. It’s a very fun process though and soon we were back to the NW Col between Wasootch Tower and Wasootch Peak. Just as we thought we’d be home-free the mountain decided to give us another surprise. Due to the heat all the snow had become entirely isothermal making some waist deep post-holing for us… That was brutal but at least the rest of the return was fast, only to found ticks all over the place…
Overall this was a great into to multi-pitch climbing in the sense of getting used to the Rockies’ choss (which is very essential for some of the 11,000ers)… There were a lot of fun climbing though, but at sections the rock quality was fairly shitty. I think that’s the reason why Wasootch Tower is so obviously seen but rarely gets climbed (it’s included in the book Kananaskis Obscure). I personally think the 5.5 rating being a wee bit questionable comparing with the other 5.4/5 routes I’ve done including Assiniboine, Sir Donald and Pigeon Spire, but that could totally due to the different rock texture (loose, down-sloping and slabby is surely very different than blocky quartzite).