April 10, 2016
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)..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.