Porterhouse Peak

July 31, 2020


Squamish / Ashlu-Elaho Divide, BC

Porterhouse Peak is a fairly obscured summit on the far side of Ashlu-Elaho Divide. It does boast an iconic profile but is overshadowed by the taller neighbour, Ashlu Mountain. I’m sure this peak has been done more often than I thought over a decade or so ago when the roads in Ashlu Creek valley was still driveable. In the old times one could drive to pretty much the base of this peak but nowadays the road’s deactivated, leaving 23 km of walking with at least a few troublesome creek crossings just to reach the old “trail-head”. In particular the crossing of Pykett Creek was bridged by a few pieces of alders and there’s no guarantee whether or not the “bridge” would still be there. It’s not an impossible mission, but definitely sounds complicated and uncertain. This area had been eluding me for a couple years but the uncertainty in access had always kept me away from even attempting a trip there. I wanted to bag Ashlu Mountain, Porterhouse Peak and Amicus Mountain in one trip but I also didn’t like to spend 4-5 summer days just for these peaks. It’s a cool area, but not cool enough for that.

In the summer of 2020 I started to have more and more partners willing to take a helicopter to eliminate the access issue. It’s certainly not as simple as it sounds, as flying in and out of Ashlu area would cost about 2500 dollars and the helicopter could only take 5 people. It’s nowhere dirtbagging. Flying also requires stable weather and in fact, being able to fly into that area pretty much requires a bluebird day. And finally, to align weather and conditions with 5 climbers and a pilot is simply not an easy task and for this particular trip, it ended up being a month-long waiting game. A couple weeks prior to the trip we had everything lined up but had to pull the plug at the very last minute fearing that we couldn’t land on the glacier due to uncertain weather.

Ascents of Porterhouse, Ashlu and Amicus. GPX DL

This particular window wasn’t 100% neither on the first day, but we had been refreshing the Whistler webcams for every hour in the morning and determined the cloud ceiling was well above the peaks’ level. We finally pulled the trigger at around noon giving me only 2 hours to scramble to pack up and buy some food. By 5 pm all five of us, Alex, Winnie, Sean and Nathan grouped at the Squamish airport and half an hour later we were boarding the chopper. Among five of us, Alex only needed Porterhouse Peak but was happy to repeat Ashlu Mountain. The rest of us needed all three peaks. It’s also my first time meeting Nathan Spowage after talking to him for a couple months, Nathan is much faster and climbs much harder rock than I can ever do, but more importantly, he is a rare one that possesses time, money and energy at the same time so I’m very glad to link up with him. Winnie had joined me on the Judge Howay mission and had undergone the whole Ashlu’s waiting game, and for Sean, we did Cayoosh Point together last year in November. For both Sean and Nathan this was their first time flying in a helicopter. As always, the flight itself was the first highlight of this trip as we basically flew over Ashlu-Elaho Divide with unobstructed views. We landed at around 2300 m on a snowy col right at the base of Porterhouse’s summit block leaving us only half an hour’s work to the first peak.

Buck Mountain at the start of Ashlu-Elaho Divide

Flying over Icecap Peak

Sean and Winnie and our landing spot. Photo by Nathan S.

Our chopper flew away. It’s going to be a great trip!

Before going for Porterhouse Peak we spent some time setting up camp and laying out the luxuries including camping chairs, water jugs, T&T sushi, Aloe Vera, canned tuna and all kinds of shits that shouldn’t even appear in the backcountry. We felt quite privileged to bring them into this remote zone. And because this was a a heli camp we decided to bring a 60m rope and some rock gears for Porterhouse Peak, even though we ended up not needing any. The standard route via South Gully wasn’t very clear in this online world that we couldn’t tell the exact technical difficulty. I asked quite a few locals that I thought would know a bit more, but to no avail. Traversing into the south gully was pretty straightforward. We easily bootpacked to the base of the route and ditched our snow gear there. There was some talus and scree and one exposed ledge to get into the gully. The scrambling inside the gully was surprisingly easy but the rocks were loose and we had to be extra careful in a group of five.

Porterhouse Peak from our camp. It really isn’t far away…

Ascending easy snow around the east side of the peak

There’s some minor scrambling to start with

Nathan led us traversing this narrow ledge into the gully

The typical scrambling in the south gully.

The scrambling became a little bit more interesting towards the top. There’s about one pitch of 3rd class followed by a few exposed 4th class moves and then the summit’s there. We got there in under 30 min from camp with plenty of time to kill. We ended up chilling on the summit for about an hour for simple reason of why-not…

The only 4th class step just below the summit

Me gaining the summit. Photo by Winnie M.

A zoomed-in view of Ashlu Mountain, our next objective

All of these are unnamed sub-summits of Porterhouse Peak

Looking towards Pykett Peak on Ashlu-Elaho Divide

Me on the summit of Porterhouse Peak

Another photo of me on the summit of Porterhouse Peak

Winnie on the summit with Ashlu Mountain behind

Looking down at more sub-summits and Shortcut Creek valley

A closer look at the double summits of Amicus Mountain

A closer look at Mt. Tantalus where we flew from

Chimai Mountain is another remote objective in Ashlu valley

Our group shot on the summit of Porterhouse Peak

Partial Summit Panorama from Porterhouse Peak. Click to view large size.

Partial Summit Panorama from Porterhouse Peak. Click to view large size.

Eventually it’s the time to descend. We opted to downclimb the 4th class step as we all felt comfortable on that type of terrain and then had a cruise sail back to camp. The only hazard was rock fall but we all managed it well. We got back just in time for an incredible sunset that turned out to be the second highlight of this trip. On the next day we would climb Ashlu Mountain first and then Amicus Mountain before flying back home.

Nathan down-climbing the 4th class step.

Winnie down-climbing the crux step. This shot captures the exposure.

Alex’s turn to down-climb. Then I took the rear end.

A bit more down-climbing to get back onto easier terrain

Walking down the south gully.

Nathan posing after getting back across that exposed ledge

This tower in foreground in front of Amicus Mtn. is unnamed

Alex, Nathan and Sean walking back to the col

Another photo of the guys walking back with Ashlu Mountain in front

A while later this was our camp.

Winnie and my trusty BD Hilight.

Sean taking photos of us with Porterhouse Peak behind

Alex, our camp and Ashlu Mountain

Time to take advantage of the chairs…

Sean making some luxurious food…

Winnie and the evening horizon

Sunset behind Mt. Crerar

Me posing in front of the sunset.

Sunset, Ashlu Mountain and me doing my Instagram thing. Photo by Winnie M.

A cool sub-summit tower and a deep hole on the glacier…

Our group watching sunset, with our objective behind

Winnie having her Mountain House while watching sunset from this remote spot..

Cannot decide which one I like more so I show both shots here.