Clemenceau Camp 2000 Report by Alan Kane
There are some 50 peaks in the Canadian Rockies that exceed 11,000 feet in height, with Mounts Clemenceau (12,000) and Tusk (11,020) being two of the most remote ones. A proliferation of logging roads in B.C., has shortened access to big peaks like Bryce, Tsar and King Edward, but there is still no easy access to this rugged, grand Clemenceau area lying west of Columbia Icefields.
Clemenceau is an area of high precipitation, big mountains and vast glaciers: You can virtually ski right up Mount Clemenceau. Whether ski visits are more popular than summer climbing camps is uncertain but regardless, visitors are few. When Bill Marriott announced a heli-accessed mountaineering camp in that very location, I cracked open my piggy bank, checked my stock of Ichiban noodles and signed up.
Saturday, August 12th: Ten intrepid souls meet at the staging spot by Kinbasket Lake northwest of Golden, hop in a chopper and swoop past 3424m Tsar Mountain. It was almost that simple. Our pilot, Don McTighe, does a quick fly-by of mighty Clemenceau so we can scope out the route but this merely leaves me feeling very small in a very BIG landscape.
By mid afternoon, we are happily ensconced in and around the hut. For most of us, a helicopters carrying capacity was an unknown and accordingly, we had packed as if backpacking rather than car-camping. Jim and Iain were better informed, however, and while we sorted our noodles and rice packets, they produced bags of onions, apples, salad fixins and eggs. Oh well, live and learn! Noodles cook faster anyway.
Waking at the ungodly hour of 2:30 a.m., (my foolish idea) Sim, James, Anthony and I headed off under a starry sky for Clemenceau, the jewel. I swore to spend all week at it if thats what it took. Bill, Iain, Jim, Rob, Tom and Greg warmed up their week by heading for Tusk. I doubt if any of us had much sleep that first night but nobody cared. After all, we were on vacation!
Despite a bright full moon overhead, the headlamp descent from the hut to Cummins Glacier proved unpleasant as we stumbled over rubble and grovelled down gullies. The terrain had looked trivial during daylight, but a more thorough check would have paid dividends.
On this maiden voyage across Cummins Glacier we roped immediately, a precaution we found unnecessary after crossing it in daylight. Mount Clemenceau turned out to be a whole lot further away than expected, but after about three hours we finally reached the hanging snout of Tiger Glacier on the southwest side, the standard route. We scrambled up a small rockband to the right of the hanging glacier, re-roped, then tramped up firm crisp snow. Conditions were perfect for our ascent--- if only I could find the route.
The leaders initial direction was definitely exploratory in nature (read: way off) and went too far left. Then we noticed obvious tracks that led up through the central serac maze. Nancy Hansen, Doug Fulford and Bill Corbett had WALKED into the area about 10 days earlier so perhaps we were following their melted-out tracks. Anyway, if we hadnt seen these, we might have been able to spend a full 24 hours on the route rather than being short-changed to a mere 18.
Later that same day, after winding through seracs, crossing a few precariously-bridged crevasses, ascending a snow ramp, a bench and a corniced ridge (pretty much in that order, too) we finally topped out in a thick fog. Sadly, we were robbed. The anticipated view was lost and we spent only a quick 5 minutes there. Blowing snow began rapidly filling our tracks, reminding me why we carry those handy little wands. Id brought a bundle all the way from Calgary to the Grassi hut, as a matter of fact, and rather wished Id brought them that last few miles to the summit too.
It was hopeless to discern the route in the limited visibility so we hunkered down amid some seracs for shelter. After a long hour the murk thinned and sun burst forth. Conditions immediately switched from shivering to baking. Shedding extra layers, we hurried downwards. Simply reaching the hut by dark was now our goal.
Four of the other six were still up on Tusk, having been delayed while rappelling in the same snow storm. We later rejoined them down on Tusk Glacier, but darkness overtook us just as we reached the moraine below the hut. Although Bill had carefully placed lanterns as beacons, several of us still got off-route (as if there even was a route!) and finished the long day by grovelling up some unexpected slabs below the hut. Anyway, we had survived our indoctrination to the area, but not without casualties: Plastic boots had crippled one and wounded two.
Next day most took it easy, but Sim found enough energy to tramp up Cummins Ridge, a good hike for an easy day. Next to the five-minute walk down the ridge to see the huge Takkakaw-like waterfall, this trek is the only really simple outing nearby. Good citizens Bill and Rob built a trail down to the glacier 500 feet below, wanding it and making magnificent cairns at key points. We all appreciated these improvements with successive trips out. Hopefully they will serve future visitors as well.
On Tuesday we again turned to the peaks. Anthony, Sim and I headed off at 4 a.m. for Tusk, the second jewel in the crown. This approach is the same as Clemenceau but the ascent route is more straightforward. An easy trek up from Tusk Glacier led to a 35 degree snow gully perhaps 300 feet long, or at least, longer than it had looked from below. When the snow in the gully petered out, rubble led to the Tusk-Irvine col and the immediate reward was an awe-inspiring view of Mount Shackletons icy north face. This icy spectacle rises like a giant, glazed meat cleaver and is at least as impressive as the two higher aforementioned summits that most pursue. It is far less accessible though.
Soon crampons came off and pleasant ridge scrambling led us to the 5.3 rock step near the top. At Bills suggestion, we descended the snow slope slightly here, angled diagonally right up and across the shale, thus simply scrambling past this step to save precious time in the face of another weather disturbance.
By 10 a.m. our clear morning sky was just a memory and we were near the summit racing an ominous, black storm. The storm won. We barely topped out when buzzing static chased us down the ridge like scared hut rodents---no lunch, no handshakes and no pictures. Robbed again! On Clemenceau, meanwhile, Rob, Iain and Jim had deviated from the normal route and climbed directly up the steep snow face to the heavily corniced south ridge, also in a storm. Whether this variation, (the Largiarder route), was intentional remains a mystery, but their progress did entertain those at the hut watching by telescope. And, as suspected, those handy little wands carried from Calgary were apparently useful.
On Wednesday morning, for a change, Clemenceaus lenticular cloud-cap was absent. Was it timing or luck? Bill and Greg were headed for the top that day. Jealously, we watched them climb to the summit under a cerulean sky. Robs quips to them by radio regarding their pace and frequency of rests brought a quick retort that laggards or not, at least they were on the proper route!
With Clemenceau and Tusk in the bag, one might have been content to simply kick back and relax, kind of like a normal, civilized vacation, except for a lot more noodles and a lot less beer. Next morn, however, Sim, Anthony and I were slithering down that miserable moraine again and traipsing once more across Cummins glacier. This time we scrambled up the southwest ridge of 3030m Shipton and remarkably, not a single cloud threatened us. We even had lunch in the sun!
The Shipton ascent was great fun and a knife-edged ridge provided brief excitement along the way. There was even time to include adjacent 3040m Chettan. On this extension, descent to the col between them involved snow along a rock ridge and apart from 10m of steeper scrambling just below Chettans summit, was straightforward and highly recommended. A rope was not required for any part, including crossing dry glacier. We returned to the hut the same way for a round trip time of 9 hours. The only way to improve on this outing would be to take a light rope so one could complete the traverse over Irvine as well.
Friday was our last chance for another peak. Bill and James opted for a bump (sorry Bill, I mean a peak) east across Cummins Glacier dubbed "Marriotts Boil". Sim, Rob, Iain and I headed for Mount Rhodes. I wasnt all that keen; the sky looked gloomy, too. We should have known, but again the destination was further than expected. It was a little disappointing to look west and realize that despite several hours of trudging up, over and back down monstrous moraines, we were merely at the same elevation as the hut wed left several hours earlier.
As we climbed, the sky improved steadily and the trip began to show signs of merit. After the long approach most of us found the 40-degree snow gully of Rhodes southwest face a definite highlight. Sim might have preferred a different route, but majority rules, especially when roped together. The snow-capped summit boasted fine views of peaks we knew or dreamed of: Columbia, Twins, Alberta, Bryce and Adamants. Closer by sat Tsar and Shackleton. Poking around the cairn unearthed the Boles party original 1972 record, which we, too, signed, since nobody else had since. We did not see Bill and James on "The Boil" south of us, but given the magnificent scenery all around, I dont think we tried all that hard.
Descent was via unroped scrambling towards Mount Livingstone along a ridge of Rockies rubble, which led easily back to the glacier again. As with most trips wed done in the area, we were glad when the 500 foot slog back up to the hut ended and happy to have finished the week on a high point.
As if by some mysterious unseen force, the good weather fizzled on our final morning. When the clouds parted briefly, our conquests sported a mantle of fresh snow and the scene looked anything but inviting. How fortunate wed been for the week, despite missing out on a few summit views. It could have turned out like the rain-plagued 1995 GMC, which cost participants about triple what this Section camp cost each of us.
A quick flight out and a few hours later, we regrouped in Golden and attempted to devour the entire buffet at the Country Garden Restaurant. Though it was our first total failure of the week, nobody complained. Next time, for sure.
Was the camp a success? Well, while I seldom seek out group activities, being a miserable sort and a hermit to boot, I found the camaraderie of this Section camp a unique and enjoyable experience, where everyone worked together in harmony to help realize both individual and group goals. And I got up 5 peaks too. Everyone chipped in to ensure success and for the most part, I think everyone met or exceeded objectives.
Credit for the camps success is largely due to Ma Nature who handled weather and Bill Marriott who either directly or indirectly organized most everything else. This Section camp showed that if someone has the time and commitment to organize it, there are reasonable options to expensive GMCs. Unlike a GMC, though, you arent as likely to gain weight unless you take along w-a-y more noodles than I did.
Clemenceau area is a fabulous destination with an abundance of mountaineering objectives. With a smallish group like ours, the hut is palatial and after Boulder camp in the Bugaboos, the outhouse has the best view of any Ive had the pleasure to repose on. Now if only that damned headband-stealing, sock-chewing rodent under the hut would just piss off, everything would be hunky.
Participants: Bill Marriott (Boss), Jim Frankenfield, Anthony Khan, Iain Morris, Sim Galloway, James Hsu, Greg Gauld, Rob Maiman, Tom Harding, and Alan Kane (scribbler).
Tusk: 9 persons, Clemenceau: 9, Shipton: 3, Chettan: 2, Rhodes: 4, Bills Boil: 2.
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