Wasootch Tower

May 23, 2015

2070m

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.

Wasootch Tower ascent route via N. Ridge

Wasootch Tower ascent route via N. Ridge. GPX DL

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.

Wasootch Tower from the parking lot. The N. Ridge goes up the leftmost rib directly ahead

Wasootch Tower from the parking lot. The N. Ridge goes up the left rib directly ahead

Looking back towards Mt. Lorette. Its SW Ridge (left skyline) is another one I want to climb

Looking back towards Mt. Lorette. Its SW Ridge (left skyline) is another one I want to climb

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.

At the base of the side drainage. Looking ahead

At the base of the side drainage. Looking ahead

Looking back towards Mary Barclay's Mountain

Looking back towards Mary Barclay’s Mountain

Ben ascending the side drainage.

Ben ascending the side drainage.

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.

Ben starting Pitch #1

Ben starting Pitch #1

Terrain just after the crux. Very difficult...

Terrain just after the crux. Very difficult…

Looking back from just above Pitch 2

Looking back from just above Pitch 2

Looking back at Ken soloing Pitch 2.

Looking back at Ken soloing Pitch 2.

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.

Ben starting Pitch 3.

Ben starting Pitch 3.

More about Pitch 3

More about Pitch 3

Ken finishing Pitch 3

Ken finishing Pitch 3

The fun slab on Pitch 4

The fun slab on Pitch 4

Looking back down the fun slab

Looking back down the fun slab

Ken climbing the slab

Ken climbing the slab

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.

Ken belaying Ben up Pitch 5

Ken belaying Ben up Pitch 5

Ken coming up to the trad-anchor since our rope was running out of length

Ken coming up to the trad-anchor since our rope was running out of length

Ken did a great job managing the rope!!

Rope management is very crucial!!

It's very tricky to just get into this crack/chimney on mountaineering boots

It’s very tricky to just get into this crack/chimney on mountaineering boots

Dedicated movements!

Dedicated movements!

Ken coming up the chimney

Ken coming up the chimney

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…

Ben starting Pitch 6

Ben starting Pitch 6

Exposed climbing on Pitch 6

Exposed climbing on Pitch 6

On the summit ridge now, looking ahead

On the summit ridge now, looking ahead

Ken and Ben scrambling along the summit ridge

Ken and Ben scrambling along the summit ridge

Exposed 3rd class

Exposed 3rd class

Summit Panorama. Click to view large size.

Summit Panorama. Click to view large size.

Me on the summit of Wasootch Tower, with Kananaskis Peak behind

Me on the summit of Wasootch Tower, with Kananaskis Peak behind

Looking down the SE Ridge (itself is rated 5.8 I believe)

Looking down the SE Ridge (itself is rated 5.8 I believe)

Tiara Peak at center

Tiara Peak at center

The two summits of Midnight Peak

The two summits of Midnight Peak

Mt. Baldy has 3 summits

Mt. Baldy has 3 summits

Lorette and Skogan

Lorette and Skogan

Yates Mountain rises behind Barrier Lake

Yates Mountain rises behind Barrier Lake

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…

Walking down the SE Ridge for about 20 m

Walking down the SE Ridge for about 20 m

Me on the 1st rappel. Photo by Ben

Me on the 1st rappel. Photo by Ben

Ken down the first rappel

Ken down the first rappel

And then, down the 2nd rappel - the true one

And then, down the 2nd rappel – the true one

Me ready for the 2nd rappel. Photo by Ben

Me ready for the 2nd rappel. Photo by Ben

Ben starting the 2nd rappel

Ben starting the 2nd rappel

Halfway down!

Halfway down!

It's overhanging near the bottom

It’s overhanging near the bottom

Looking back at the W. Face. I've heard a 5.5 route goes up this face, but doesn't look easy neither

Looking back at the W. Face. I’ve heard a 5.5 route goes up this face, but doesn’t look easy neither

Oh here's the post-holing...

Oh here’s the post-holing…

Another picture looking back

Another picture looking back

Down to Wasootch Creek now

Down to Wasootch Creek now

Almost back to car, looking back

Almost back to car, looking back

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).

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