Mount Cayley

April 10, 2016

2385m

Whistler / Powdercap Icefield, BC

The volcanic massif Mt. Cayley isn’t as big as the Mt. Garibaldi massif by size, but much more rotten and broken. The attached Pyroclastic Peak has probably only received one ascent in the entire history, while the striking Vulcan’s Thumb is rumored to be still unclimbed. The highest in this massif is Mt. Cayley itself which is also the easiest among the three peaks, but don’t get me wrong as it’s still a serious climb.

Two routes are commonly used – the N. Ridge which is the more aesthetic option, and the S. Face which is the standard route. The best time to climb Mt. Cayley is spring when snow covers most, if not all of the rotten rocks, and the S. Face route involves steep and fairly exposed snow up to 45 degrees. No matter which route you take, there’s a sting in the tail as the final 10 m up the true summit pinnacle involves rock climbing on some very rotten rocks with severe exposure. Most ski mountaineers would not bother to ascend the pinnacle and that include Alex and myself. The only good-quality picture was from ClubTread and that one made us believe the pinnacle was completely out of our league, so we did not come prepared with rock climbing equipment (ie. rope, harness, rock shoes)..

Ascent route for Mt. Fee, Powder Mountain and Mt. Cayley

Ascent route for Mt. Fee, Powder Mountain and Mt. Cayley. GPX DL

On Day 1 we had made a tough ascent of Mt. Fee North Tower and then a long plod up Powder Mountain. The camp below Mt. Cayley was a good one but thank to the alpine start we didn’t catch that many hours of sleep. By 3:30 am Alex had dragged me out of my comfortable sleeping bag, and an hour later we were going upwards again. The overnight freeze was deep so there’s no need for skis. Crampons on and up we went. The first stage of this ascent was to gain the col between Cayley S1 and Mt. Cayley and the route-finding was a bit difficult in the pitch dark especially given the amount of crevasses that we had observed in the previous day. We opted to ascend a slight depression zone on climber’s left next to Cayley S1’s face before making a traverse line to hit the col up high.

From the col we followed the broad and undulating ridge towards our objective and there’s still some micro-terrain to deal with. The ridge had a few steeper drifts requiring a bit of detouring here and there, but generally very straightforward. The view of Pyroclastic Peak and Vulcan’s Thumb under the night sky was amazing and as we slowly approaching a “bench” the sky finally became brighter and brighter. We dumped some unnecessary gears before taking the two ice tools out for the climb up the S. Face. The route was obvious, but quite foreshortened and steepened to about 45 degrees near the obvious saddle feature we were aiming at. Lots of front-pointing required thank to the deep freeze but that also made our ascent faster than expected.

Pyroclastic Peak before dawn

Pyroclastic Peak before dawn

From a flat spot along the ridge, looking upwards towards the south face

From a flat spot along the ridge, looking upwards towards the south face

Alex climbing up the south face

Alex climbing up the south face

Transitioning to the other side of the obvious saddle the exposure increased dramatically. Here we were exposed to the massive west face and the next section was a diagonal traverse. We could either ascend over a short rock step or go down and around it. On the ascent we opted for the rock step which was a bit tricky, and after that some more 40-45 degree snow climbing brought us to the “summit”. Like I mentioned earlier the true summit pinnacle was not on our agenda and we were happy to be standing up there watching alpenglow and then sunrise.

The last few steps to the "summit"

The last few steps to the “summit”

Traversing towards the base of the right-hand-side pinnacle for more views

Traversing towards the base of the right-hand-side pinnacle for more views

Panorama from Mt. Cayley. Click to view large size.

Panorama from Mt. Cayley. Click to view large size.

Looking through the two summit pinnacles. Powder Mountain is that obvious dome of snow

Looking through the two summit pinnacles. Powder Mountain is that obvious dome of snow

Mt. Garibaldi massif on the right horizon

Mt. Garibaldi massif on the right horizon

Pyroclastic Peak is such a sexy looking objective!

Pyroclastic Peak is such a sexy looking objective!

Alpenglow on the rugged Mt. Tantalus

Alpenglow on the rugged Mt. Tantalus

Sunrise time!

Sunrise time!

The true summit pinnacle was out of our reach

The true summit pinnacle was out of our reach

Alpenglow on Mt. Ashlu

Alpenglow on Mt. Ashlu

Looking north towards peaks on Pemberton Icefield

Looking north towards peaks on Pemberton Icefield

Alpenglow on Mt. Tinniswood by Clendinning Provincial Park

Alpenglow on Mt. Tinniswood by Clendinning Provincial Park

Pykett Peak on Ashlu - Elaho Divide

Pykett Peak on Ashlu – Elaho Divide

Eventually it’s time to get down. Lots of care was required to reverse the upper west face section and this time we opted to go down and around that rock step. It was indeed a bit easier but then there’s some steep traverses required. Back to the south face there’s more steep down-climbing awaiting but nothing overly tricky at this stage. The rest of the descent back to camp was uneventful and the snow was still strong enough to support our weight.

Alex down-climbing/traversing the upper west face

Alex down-climbing/traversing the upper west face

And then, dropping into the steeps on the south face

And then, dropping into the steeps on the south face

The upper section of the south face

The upper section of the south face

The ridge leading down to Cayley/Cayley S1 col

The ridge leading down to Cayley/Cayley S1 col

Pyroclastic Peak might have only 1 successful ascent to date

Pyroclastic Peak might have only 1 successful ascent to date

Cayley S1 in the foreground with peaks in Garibaldi P. Park behind

Cayley S1 in the foreground with peaks in Garibaldi Provincial Park behind

Tantalus Range looms behind

Tantalus Range looms behind

Our route goes up to that obvious snow saddle

Our route goes up to that obvious snow saddle

Looking across the face showing some interesting volcanic rock formations

Looking across the face showing some interesting volcanic rock formations

Another look at Pyroclastic Peak

Another look at Pyroclastic Peak

Our objective - Mt. Cayley

Our objective – Mt. Cayley

The yet unclimbed Vulcan's Thumb

The yet unclimbed Vulcan’s Thumb

The rounded Powder Mountain - our previous objective

The rounded Powder Mountain – our previous objective

Another look at Mt. Cayley

Another look at Mt. Cayley

The highway of snowmobile tracks and the crevassed headwall

The highway of snowmobile tracks and the crevassed headwall

Looking across the east face of Cayley S1

Looking across the east face of Cayley S1

Back down to the glacier, looking back

Back down to the glacier, looking back

Our camp..

Our camp..

About 1 hour was spent resting and packing and then we wanted to be off the mountain before the snow getting slushy, if possible. Skiing down the Powder glacier was fast and fun on the icy surface but plodding up that 300-meter elevation regain wasn’t so much. We initially applied ski crampons but as the grade became steeper mine started to fail. Alex was still able to skin up with the aid of those crampons but I had to boot-pack (which was just as fast). Now high on the shoulder of Brandywine Mountain I was tempting to bag that peak too but decided against it. At this point I just wanted to be back home so down we went. The skiing was far from ideal with lots of slushy stuffs, snowmobiles and those short up-hills. It was slow and tiring going and near the bottom we had to take skis off at least 10, if not 20 times thank to the crazy melt-out these couple days.

Skiing down the glacier.

Skiing down the glacier.

Time to re-ascend to the high shoulder, looking back at that glacier

Time to re-ascend to the high shoulder, looking back at that glacier

Going upwards now

Going upwards now

Traversing the high bench on the west side of Brandywine Mountain

Traversing the high bench on the west side of Brandywine Mountain

Pykett Peak and Amicus Mountain on Ashlu - Elaho Divide

Pykett Peak and Amicus Mountain on Ashlu – Elaho Divide

Those sub-peaks on Mt. Fee with the highway of snowmobile tracks in front

Those sub-peaks on Mt. Fee with the highway of snowmobile tracks in front

Looking back at the Cayley massif

Looking back at the Cayley massif

Skiing down from the high pass

Skiing down from the high pass

Skiing down into the bowl on some slushy snow

Skiing down into the bowl on some slushy snow

What's that for?! ...

What’s that for?! …

Lots of walking on those dry stretches

Lots of walking on those dry stretches

One last look back at Mt. Fee from near the parking lot.

One last look back at Mt. Fee from near the parking lot.

Back to the parking lot it was only half past noon so there’s still lots of time to get back home before the usual Sunday afternoon traffics. Overall this was another excellent trip with two big climbs down the list. It was a bit disappointing to not climb the true summit pinnacle on Mt. Cayley as upon close inspection it wasn’t nearly as gnarly as the pictures suggested, and with a bit of gears I’m fairly sure we could give it a solid attempt, but nonetheless I’m happy to get everything out of this objective (except for that peak-bagger’s check mark but that’s fine). The Black Tusk might be another peak I’ll not bother with that “check mark” anyway.

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