Mount Begbie

October 4, 2017


Revelstoke, BC

There are a lot of worthy facts to be said for Mt. Begbie the icon of Revelstoke in the heart of Monashees of the central British Columbia. The most important, this peak boasts an easy access to one of the finest intro-level mountaineering classics in that area such that I’d been wishing to climb it ever since I heard about this peak, from way back in the days when I was still in Edmonton. The north ridge goes at a mere 3rd class, but involves an ultra-exposed ledge traverse known as the “Begbie Ledge”, glacier travel and a (often) troublesome moat crossing. A 60 m rope is required to rappel off this ledge to not have to reverse the most awkward spot.

Several years have since passed with a majority of Rockies 11,000ers knocked off down the road although I still hadn’t really planned an ascent of Mt. Begbie. One main reason is the long drive (8 hours from Edmonton) and another problem is the tricky timing regarding that moat crossing. I’ve heard some pretty bad stories about the status of that snow bridge but things were doing pretty damn good this year. A couple friends had made this ascent in September and reported decent conditions so right away I knew Mt. Begbie had to be brought to the top of my “to-do list”. There’s a light dust of fresh snow but I figured with a couple days of unseasonably warm temperatures the route would come back in shape. I wasn’t expecting a guaranteed 100% but the gamble was on and I actually found two volunteers to join – Alan Blair (Spectrum) and the famous Washingtonian peak-bagger Adam (Gimplator). The plan was then to ascend both Mt. Begbie and Mt. Tilley in a course of two days and let’s see how the adventure unfolds itself.

To squeeze both peaks in this trip we really had to make use of the night hours. The drive is about 6 hours from Vancouver so why not put this part down in dark. These days I rarely sleep before midnight anyways so I was down for the task, driving all the way to Revelstoke in a single push. It was about 1 am when we parked at the trail-head. I simply past out on the passenger’s seat while Adam and Alan pitched their tent beside the car.

Ascent routes for Mt. Begbie and Mt. Tilley. GPX DL

The next morning we woke up after sunrise. There’s no need to rush plus we wanted to give that ledge another couple hours of sunshine in case there’s still lingering snow. The morning routine took quite a while since the other guys had to repack the tent and stuffs but by 8:30 am we did manage to get going. The first couple kilometers was hiking up an abandoned road with some gradual incline but soon enough we turned onto the proper trail. Most trip reports mentioned “steep” or “unrelenting”. I doubt whether these guys have actually climbed anything in the west coast as to us, this trail is “excellent” with lots of switchbacks to reduce the overall grade. About 1300 m of gain later we made to the supposed “camp site”. There are two or three pads and an outhouse but virtually no view so I don’t know why anyone would choose to camp here. Twenty minutes beyond this site we emerged from the trees with a fantastic panoramic view of the valley stretching below. We carried on further, all the way to the toe of that glacier.

After a long while of hiking the forest finally started to thin out

Breaking through the woods. Mt. MacPherson behind

This is the typical country at treeline.

One of the few lovely, but frozen tarns..

Another tarn. This one is in the alpine.

Our objective, Mt. Begbie looms above

The toe of the glacier

Gearing up for a proper glacier crossing.

The plan was to ditch all of the unnecessary overnight gear without actually setting up the tents right away, so that we wouldn’t be rushing on the climb. This worked out pretty nicely. Two other (poorly equipped) climbers had just come down and said they turned around at the moat. We wondered why but one of them didn’t even have crampons so that’s probably why… This glacier, although looks tame on paper, is definitely a real one with quite a few sizeable crevasses on the lower stretch. But with the recent tracks by the other party we cruised across pretty easily and then there came the moat. To get into that moat we had to firstly climb a short stretch of 40-45 degree icy snow. There’s a huge plug of ice bridging the gap which made a late-season crossing possible in this year. I had no problem leading across but then to make things a little bit safer I built a trad anchor (two cams) and belayed the others up.

The start of that glacier. We crossed path with another group that turned around

Me and Al going for the moat. Photo by Adam

Adam (Gimplator) climbing to the moat crossing.

Me at the station. Photo by Alan Blair

Adam just about to balance a short stretch of ice arete..

Using the same trad anchor as a belay station I then led across the first awkward spot that required a few moves of crawling. On other opposite side I couldn’t find any form of a belay station but I did manage to put two pieces of cams (.3 and .5) in as some intermediate pros, and then went almost a full rope length to the proper bolted station. Adam and Alan were ferried across in a sequence and then there came the second awkward spot. This one was much simpler as we had at least 5 bolts in various spots so no need to place trad gears. The rest was just a walk to the start of the north ridge and overall I have to say this infamous “Begbie Ledge” was easier than expected.

Looking across the narrow ledge. The views were really good now..

Al finishing the first cruxy spot

Adam on the second cruxy spot.

There’s one short 3rd class gully to get onto the main north ridge proper but soon after that we started encountering snow. Thankfully there’s nothing fancier than “3rd class” beyond this point and the exposure is pretty mild. The fresh coat of snow did make the quartzite boulders and ledges ultra slippery but did not impose too much of a problem to us. The warm weather helped too. Other than being slowed down by the snow the rest was mostly an enjoyable ascent to the summit, but one thing worth commending – from the start of north ridge to the summit there’s about 300-400 m of elevation gain. It might not be as short or”close” as you might think after finishing the ledge.

Gaining the north ridge now. Note the fresh coat of white stuffs…

Alan leading the way. Terrain looks pretty serious here..

Adam scrambling up a strenuous 3rd class step.

Going for the summit now.

The eastern sub-summit looks just as impressive.

Alan plodding up the upper ridge. Nothing’s tricky anymore

Summit Panorama from Mt. Begbie. Click to view large size.

In the foreground is unofficially named “Big Apple”

Davis Peak et al. looking SW

This is looking towards the town of Revelstoke with the Selkirks behind

The eastern sub-summit with Columbia River below

In the foreground is the ski hills on Mt. MacKenzie

Blanket Glacier and Blanket Mountain is a popular heli-ski area

A zoomed-in view of Mt. Thor and Mt. Odin in the southern Monashees

And this is a series of big peaks and icefields in the central Monashees

Our group shot on the summit of Mt. Begbie

Another panorama from the summit of Mt. Begbie. Click to view large size.

There’s pretty good cell phone signals to make all sorts of updates but half an hour later we all started the descent. Going down the slippery terrain required lots of extra care but now with our own tracks guiding the way there’s no need to think about route-finding. Earlier in the day we had made a decision to rappel off the ledge but unsure from which particular bolt(s). The most obvious one is a 2-bolt station before the second awkward spot but upon close inspection we decided against that. We actually dropped the rope down but then the two strands were dangling inside a bottomless moat. The alternative solution was belaying each other back across the second crux and then rappel off the near-side of this section. This was a fun little rappel with crampons and with a slightly overhanging angle. The rest was a simple descent off the glacier following our own foot steps and the bonus was a full-on evening alpenglow.

Going down now. Note the long stretch of upper north ridge ahead

Ridge-walking at its finest. Very scenic!

Alan traversing back across the first cruxy step on Begbie Ledge

Adam rappelling off from the ledge

Me rappelling. Photo by Adam

Down to the glacier now. We found a perfect spot to rap down NOT into the moat

Walking off the glacier in the fading daylight

Alan’s having good times

Evening horizon at the toe of the glacier just about to set up camp

Carnes Group in the Selkirks

A full-moon rising

A review shot of Mt. Begbie on the morning of Day 2

The night was peaceful. The funniest thing was being able to Facebook directly from camp while watching the stars. While Adam and Alan opted to sleep in the tents I decided to just bivy open. There’s no bug, no wind nor any form of precipitation nor condensation so why not. And then there goes the next day – an ascent of Mt. Tilley.