South Nesakwatch Spire

September 19, 2022


Chilliwack, BC

The “Nesakwatch Spires” along with Mt. Rexford are the rock climbing central in the Chilliwack Valley as these group of peaks offers the best rock quality in the vicinity. There are numerous multi-pitch alpine routes on these peaks that climbers can spend a week up there not needing to repeat anything. What really intrigued me is the technical difficulty of the South Spire as the easiest route still requires rock climbing up to 5.7, and without extensive off-width climbing experience (ie. myself) the summit block challenge should be treated or respected as “much harder than 5.7”. About 6 years ago I boldly soloed Mt. Rexford and North Nesakwatch Spire via their respective easiest routes but the South Spire would be too hard to even consider a solo climb. I needed a rock climber who definitely could lead that summit pitch, but strong climbers like that were mostly interested in the full “Ensakwatch Enchantment” traverse, which I was not interested in as I’d done the other two peaks. I finally found the best team to tackle this challenge in 2022 but the decision was again a last minute one after a bunch of other plans fell through.

Elise, Talon and myself were originally planning a road trip to California’s Yosemite but the weather forecast downgraded. I then threw out the alternative to climb in Zion National Park but the forecast downgraded as well. Meanwhile the forecast improved drastically for the local areas. I immediately threw out the idea of South Nesakwatch Spire and they were convinced. I liked this staying-local option as then I could spend the other days at work instead of driving. Earlier in the year our friends Francis and Winnie had climbed the north ridge of the South Spire and we would simply follow their beta. In their trip Winnie pretty much soloed the summit off-width but another friend of mine had climbed that pitch by “pushing a size 6 cam up”. My interpretation of that beta was to have two size 6 cams to fully protect the pitch or to properly aid that pitch in case it’s too difficult for any of us to lead clean. Talon already had a #6 cam, so I did a trip to Vancouver MEC at the last minute to purchase another #6. The three of us grouped in Abbotsford at 10 pm and drove out to the trail-head in my Tacoma. The Nesakwatch FSR was in a bad shape with numerous ditches that required high clearance so taking my truck was definitely the correct decision. A few other groups were also camping at the trail-head and one turned out to be Noah MacDonald and his friend, also planning to do the Nesakwatch Spires but the full traverse. I just did a climb with Noah in the Rockies so that showed how small this climbing community actually is. Elise realized that she had forgotten to bring hiking cloths but I had an extra shirt and Talon had extra pants and they somehow made it work. Too bad I did not have short sleeves for hiking so Elise had to climb in long sleeve for the whole day. Considering the forecasted heat in the afternoon this was probably her first time ever doing that.

North and South Nesakwatch Spires route. GPX DL

The next morning we woke up at around 4:30 am together with the other team and that’s when I realized it’s Noah’s group, partly due to the Alberta license plate. They ended up starting a few minutes before us but we caught up to them at the wash-out with a batman rope. The approach had become longer as we all had to park at Slesse Memorial trail-head now, adding at least 2 extra kilometers into the plod comparing to when I did Mt. Rexford. Once the upwards slog began I did find the trail quality to be much better than what I remembered. It’s possible that they had improved the trail, but it’s also possible that I’m now much more used to the steep BC coastal approaches than back in 2016. With lots of chatting we made progress without even realizing and it didn’t take us that long to grunt into the basin under North Nesakwatch Spire. We did not pay enough attention to route-finding afterwards and the punishment was over half an hour’s tedious boulder-hopping with class 3/4 scrambling required at times. Some of these boulders were bus sized and negotiating around them was tricky and time-consuming. My only advice would be to stay high closer to the rock faces and also to pay more attention to the GPS devices. I had downloaded two sets of tracks including my own track from 2016 but didn’t end up checking the phone often enough.

Noah at the wash-out section with the batman rope
Elise still grunting up the lower secondary growth forest
The typical steep approach
Talon marching up. It’s never ending
Moring view of “Labour Day Summit” and “Station D Peak”
The NE Face of Slesse Mountain started to show up in the view
Higher up we grunted underneath some impressive walls

The next stage was to traverse to the wall under the col between North and South Spires. From there we joined the regular scramble route on North Spire and made our way towards the col. The scrambling was sustained class 3 with some sections of class 4. The crux step was used to be aided by a pile of cheating rocks. The rock cairn was no longer there anymore, but a batman rope had been fixed so the climbing is overall much easier now. I was being stubborn and mantled it up without touching that batman rope (felt about 5.7 ish). I think I inspired Talon to also not use that rope. The move would be too stiff on trail-runners so he took his time donning rock shoes and did the exact same sequence of moves afterwards. The scramble to the summit of North Spire would take under an hour’s detour so we opted for that first, even though it meant a repeat for me. We all ditched the backpacks but donned harness. I opted to keep wearing the mountaineering boots but carried the rock shoes on the harness just in case. Talon and Elise stayed closer to the ridge and climbed some harder variation while I stayed on the path of the least resistance. The summit of the North Spire had a few interesting boulders. I climbed only to the true summit on the last visit but this time I made sure to visit all of those boulders to add in some variety. Having three people up there meant we could also play with photography and that was another motivation for me to repeat this short detouring section.

Talon exiting the trees onto the boulder fields
Another view looking back towards Slesse Mountain
Elise negotiating the endless boulder fields
Talon and Elise with South Illusion Peak behind
Elise still in the boulder garden, with Mt. Baker behind on the horizon
Talon starting the standard route to North/South Spires col
Talon studying the crux move on this route.
Meanwhile Elise coming up bushy 3rd class terrain
Talon mantling up the crux step. Note the batman rope that he didn’t use
This was directly underneath the col
From the col we could see the smoke-filled Chilliwack Valley and Williams Peak
Elise and Talon decided to stick closer to the ridge to make the climb harder
Their route definitely involved class 5 climbing
Much higher up now, this was Talon scrambling on-route terrain
Talon approaching the summit of North Nesakwatch Spire
Talon on the true summit of North Nesakwatch Spire
Elise and I on the summit of North Nesakwatch Spire
Illusion Peaks to the north.
Another view of Slesse Mountain with American Border Peak behind

While we were on the summit of the North Spire I looked down and found Noah’s team on their last pitch up the NW Ridge. We then took off descending the scramble route back to the col as I was sure Noah’s team would end up catching up to us somewhere up on the South Spire. We all switched to rock shoes at the col even though the terrain immediately ahead on the north ridge of the South Spire appeared still in the realm of “scrambling”. In retrospect I would switch footwear higher up. Initially we stayed on the ridge but then we veered off far to the climber’s left side and climbed some easier, but wetter terrain with slippery grass. The decision was due to Francis’ trip report mentioning that they found some easier variations on the east face side. I think we did not interpret the beta correctly as his east face detouring was likely much higher up. While I tried hard to stay on the left side Talon and Elise started to scramble straight up back towards the ridge so I reluctantly followed them so in the end we did not manage to skip the two pitches of 5.7. The first pitch had some sustained climbing and we made the correct decision to properly pitch it out. Elise did the lead and brought both Talon and myself up at the same time. We then stored the rope and soloed the next pitch to the base of the summit block. There were a few stiff moves including one awkward spot that made Elise and I to climb without the pack. The step was short enough that we were able to bring the packs up without hauling. The few uppermost steps of that pitch were also extremely exposed so I did not really look downwards while committing to the free solo.

Elise descending the scramble route down North Spire
Back to North/South Spires col and time to take a needed break
Elise starting up the north ridge of the South Spire
Me trying to pick the path of the least resistance
Talon approaching the belayed climbing portion of this route
We kept soloing low 5th class terrain until we didn’t want to do so anymore
Elise then taking the lead on the 5.7 pitch
Noah’s photo of Elise leading the roped pitch
Elise much higher up on that pitch now
Talon starting the initial cracks/slabs moves
Talon squeezing into a vertical chimney
We than stored the rope and soloed the last pitch on the north ridge
Talon waiting for Elise and I directly under the summit boulder
Elise finishing the last pitch on the north ridge back into sunshine

And then there came the summit off-width pitch which oddly enough, did not look as impossible as I was expecting. The terrain wasn’t nearly that vertical and there were features on the side of the crack. Both Talon and Elise wanted to lead so each of them could lead one end of the rope and I would follow up from the middle of the rope. There’s one chockstone at the start with a fixed sling and the two size 6 cams both came handy higher up in the crack. With these cams the leader could climb safely without having to worry about falling as otherwise it would be a committing free solo. None of us possessed off-width techniques so we mostly bluntly layback the sides of the cracks. I actually found the initial few moves to be the hardest and that’s also where I needed a take. There’s no point in describing how exactly I did the moves, but all three of us used different “beta” on this pitch, so multiple ways went. There’s enough room on the true summit for as many as 10 people so we took a long break there and meanwhile Noah’s team had finished their final pitch on the north ridge and caught up to us.

Elise belaying Talon starting the 5.7 off-width crux
Talon much higher up on the crux off-width now
Elise coming up to the true summit
As you can see we put both #6 in use.
Elise on the summit of South Nesakwatch Spire
Talon on the summit of South Nesakwatch Spire
Me on the summit of South Spire with Mt. Rexford behind
Looking down at Noah’s group coming up the North Ridge
Our group shot on the true summit of South Nesakwatch Spire

We used the sling that Francis and Winnie left on the flake just under the very top of the block for the rappel. Getting into the rappel was scary as fuck as that required a few committing moves of down-climbing before being able to put my weight onto the belay device. While rappelling the other team climbed fluently to the true summit and they showed us how easy that climb actually is for someone able to climb 5.11+ grade. The leader of that team did not even bother to place any pro neither. We then took a long break and descended the broken terrain on the south ridge to a bolted rappel anchor. This rappel was sufficiently done using our 60 m rope and involved an overhung at the bottom. I’m not sure how to bypass this overhung if climbing up from that way. All options to the sides of the overhung appeared at least “mid 5th class” but I did not inspect the possibility much farther to climber’s right. After this rappel we scrambled down into South Spire/Rexford col and made the final decision to skip Mt. Rexford. It’s not because we didn’t have the energy nor food/water but rather because we wanted to be back home as early as possible. I had already done Mt. Rexford so I was definitely not keen to repeat and I was glad the others called it as well.

Elise rappelling off the summit monolith
Noah climbing up onto the true summit
Taking another needed break after the summit block challenge
Rope management is the key!
The other group started descending the south spire before us
Talon down-climbing the south ridge of the South Spire
A view looking back towards the North Nesakwatch Spire
Elise dropped her phone into a crack but Talon went back to retrieve it
Me preparing for the rappel
Talon on the overhanging rappel
Descending into the deep notch separating South Spire and Mt. Rexford

After watching Noah’s team climbing the first pitch of the north face of Mt. Rexford we leisurely descended the chossy couloir back down onto easier ground. This couloir was quite loose towards the bottom and managing rock fall in a group-of-three required some extra care. The boulder-hopping back across the bottom of the Nesakwatch Spires was not inspiring but we paid extra attention to stick to the path of the least resistance so it wasn’t too terribly bad. Once back to the trail Talon set a blistering pace and I tried really hard to keep up with the pace. We basically knocked down the entire hike-out in a single shot and our round trip time was under 11 hours including all of the long breaks we took here and there. Not wasting much time we drove out of the FSR and found a good restaurant in Chilliwack for dinner. The serving was a bit slow but I didn’t care as we needed time to update our socials. The rest of the drive home was uneventful for me, but Elise and Talon had to face a 2-hour delay due to traffic gong show on Highway 1.

Talon then descending the sandy gully
Elise in the gully. The terrain is very loose here
Finishing the not-so-pleasant gully descent
Talon with South Nesakwatch Spire behind
Elise on the boulder fields with South Nesakwatch Spire behind
Talon in front of Slesse Mountain, about to commit to the steep descent
Elise finishing the boulder fields, at last…
Talon leading us down this incredibly steep climber’s trail
That wash-out section with the batman rope
The final few kilometers of road walking
Dinner in Chilliwack. It was an awesome day.