This past July Alpenglow Sports Ambassadors Aaron Zanto and Dave Nettle headed to the northern Selkirks, Canada for some world-class rock climbing. Enjoy Aaron and Zac’s amazing trip report to a destination that most climbers only get to dream of!
In a range where moisture is abundant, it seemed perfectly fitting our trip would begin with chasing the tropical storm Fabio which moved through the PNW this past July. The scenery between Seattle and to the northern Selkirks is amazing, but we wouldn’t have known it on this trip with the low cloud ceiling and pelting rain. We, Aaron and Zac, arrived in Golden to find our other trip partners, Dave Nettle and Brandon Thau. They were just sitting down with an aprés drive beverage at a local restaurant. Bro hugs, lifted pints, healthy buzzes, and mountian stories were great signs to our kick off for this adventure together. But Fabio still wanted to hang out too and dinner was cut short with a crushing squall-like rain.
We woke the next morning greeted with the same low clouds, but now accompanied by heavy drizzle. But clouds burn off if your stoke for climbing remains high enough right? Like most climbers faced with unstable weather we chose to see the partly sunny portion of the weather icon versus the predicted mostly cloudy actually indicated. The seven-day forecast assured us two things: we’d have at least two and half days of non-rain, and we would certainly consume all the adult beverages we brought into the high country.
Half way back to Revelstoke we branched off onto a forest service road along side the enormous Kinbasket lake. The tight helicopter pad was at a river confluence 45 minutes up this newly repaired dirt road. The Alpine Club of Canada was flying a large group into the nearby Great Cairn hut for a week of peak bagging. Aligning our travel on the same day helped with our flight costs and logistics. All four ACC flights were able make it to their base camp, however the Adamant towering cirque is several thousand feet higher. And Fabio wasn’t done being an awkward fifth wheel to our team.
Five sat phone calls, a couple of IPA’s, and seven hours waiting in an exceptionally bug-infested landing zone, Fabio started to take a hint and the clouds finally lifted to a 10,000’ ceiling. Our pilot had made a few other runs for other trips on the northeast side of Kinbasket that afternoon which kept him was close enough to get back to our zone for the final shuttle of the evening. While our pilot was one of the smoothest and safest bush or heli flight any of us had flown with, it was slightly disconcerting that he had no idea where we wanted to base. Thankfully it was obvious when we turned the final corner to see the soaring walls of the Friar and Turret marking the perfect location. In a short 11 mins after take off we set foot on the Austerity Glacier at the base of 2,500’ to 3,000’ granite towers and walls.
Duffles deployed as the reggae playlist hit the speakers; soon we were digging platforms for the tents and kitchen mega-mid. Dinner at 10pm with the alpenglow just starting up on now even clearer skies. It further fueled our team’s hopes for getting up high the next day.
While normally we’d want an early start for approaching such remote and large rock structures, the pressure was off. We enjoyed the eggs over quinoa and veggies with our second cup of coffee while the rock dried out in the morning sun. But as soon as things looked okay we found ourselves at the base of the Iron Man buttress. Dave and Brandon headed up the standard classic, Gibson-Rohn (5.10). After a quick recon of another line that turned into the veil of black lichen in the critical finger seam, we followed our friends on the more traveled South Face route.
The setting is spectacular and the remoteness is phenomenal. The granite was bomber, yet still adventurous. The lichen coating kept us on our toes as this range simply doesn’t see enough traffic to have consistent wear on it’s micro flora. After summiting and grabbing a late lunch back at the base, we capped the day off with another line, Frasier’s Way (5.10+) on Iron Man’s west face. While the climbing was enjoyable, the cracks had a bit more moss growth which kept the grade very honest. The vague description plus the navigation around growth made it feel like we were one of the few parties to repeat the route — though we are sure there have at least been a handful over the years. Even though we climbed untill after 8pm there were no worries of losing light as the twilight finally fades at 11pm in July this far north.
This first day climbing set the tone — as long as we were willing to deal with a little moss on the rocks and and accept a bit of moisture there would be plenty to climb. But Fabio was feeling lonely not being included in the day’s climbs; another wave of his storm set in for two days keeping our only outings between our tents and the cooking mid with the whiskey stash. The cloud ceiling dropped back down enhancing the isolating feel of our position with the 30’ of visibility. A foot and a half of fresh snow later, the Adamant’s had given us a true alpine-style welcome.
The clouds broke on day four and the rock started to dry out. Chomping at the bit, we wanted to start getting after it right away but all of the snow made the granite treacherous after an early attempt on a line close to camp. So we ended hiking around the basin looking at objectives until late in the afternoon which was a great way to better understand the peaks and surrounding landscape. Coming back for dinner we realized the rock has finally dried enough, Zac and I decided to start up the South Buttress of Adamant Mountain (featured in Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorites book). We figured we’d just to see how far we could get before dark or thunderstorms set in.
After climbing some good rock we launched into a few wet and muddy gullies for a couple pitches. It kept things exciting to charge through a few waterfalls and small streams flowing over critical features, which lets one take on a whole new appreciation for the 5.8 grade. Topping out the technical section of the route we were stopped by the fresh snow five hundred vert above. The avalanche slide evidence on the slopes we needed to pass turned us around before we were ready. So close to topping out, but the right call. We rappelled back to the glacier just in time to cook up dinner and enjoy the final hour of the sunset.
Waking up on day five we headed up a route that Brandon and Dave had found the day before on the right side of Iron Man’s south face. This four pitch start variation to Gibson-Rohn route connected some airy slabs to a couple clean dihedrals above. The first pitch was wet on a few critical spots, but we were able to move through it linking together just enough positive edges and crimps. This led up to an amazing pitch involving full body stemming (almost completely horizontal body positions) to negotiate the brilliant crux. The exit was two fantastic pitches of more moderate, but splitter cracks. By far the best rock and movement we found in our week in the Adamants. Our faith was renewed in the potential of the granite cirque surrounding us. Following up later on the inter-webs this line was “Man of Steel” (5.12-). Props to the first ascent party on putting up this superb line, though our experience of the route grade was slightly different then their’s.
Day six was predicted to be stormy, but it moved in early and dumped rain all night. We took advantage of another slow start as we watched the clouds encircle us over breakfast but lacked any additional precipitation. We’d both seen plenty of this the year before in the Bugaboos and knew that if we wanted to get some more climbing in before our flight out we would have to set our sites on smaller objectives that we could bail on in a storm. So we headed up Don’s Saturday Shuffle, 5.8. It offered an exceptional position climbing over blocks into a fantastic splitter 5.8 double crack to the summit. From the top we could see the Fairy Meadows Hut below and the vast number of Selkirk peaks around us. We raced back to camp as the thunderheads bullied us off the ridge line.
We had plenty of time left in the evening after dinner once the T-cells moved on, so we met up with Dave and Brandon for a cragging session close to camp underneath the Black Friar’s sub-peaks. After eyeing the series of one pitch cracks just east of camp we got on three laser cracks and set rap anchors above. With only being a few hundred yards from camp, we brought the foldable lawn chairs to make the lip of the ‘schrund even more comfy for belays. Nothing like splitter 5.10 crack climbing with great friends in the evening light to finish a trip in memorable style.
The next morning the heli came in under a looming clouds to retrieve us from our glacier camp. Dave and Brandon headed toward Canmore for some stellar long sport climbs while we headed back to Seattle with a quick layover in Revelstoke to pull on some overhanging quartzite. All four of us appreciated the the steep dry stone even more after our alpine ménage à trois between us, the Adamants, and Fabio.