Leaning hard into my harness I positioned my feet firmly and nearly perpendicularly against the blank gray, white and black speckled wall as I began my full sprint towards a granite ledge. Not quite reaching it I pendulum back in the other direction, pulled by gravity and directed by the rope clipped 30ft above me to a bolt. I embrace the new direction, pumping my legs and jumping over my lead line to gain as much elevation and speed as possible in the opposite direction before I turn back towards the ledge for another attempt. The pendulum occurs and I again thrust forward with as much force as possible. My legs feel like I am futilely attempting to push a car up a hill as I try to gain inches of height towards the end of the pendulum. I desperately reach forward with my hands for the ledge lip only to come up inches short of being yanked downward and away. Tired and breathing heavily, I let the pendulum bring me to a rest several bolts from the start of the bolt ladder.
It all started one day when I happened upon this description, “longer, more sustained, more exposed Matthes Crest”. Wow, Matthes Crest is THE favorite climb for many people and I just stumbled upon a similar route that could be its superior! The lacking description, amazing photos, wilderness setting and few ascents for Saber Ridge only added to the allure of the adventure. What I would find was the most sustained exposure since Mt Sir Donald on a wild backcountry route so committing and long that it took an unexpected overnight ledge bivy to finish.
Note: I provide a detailed, technical description of the climb in another post, while providing a general description below to keep the story moving.
On September 7th, 2017 I climbed Saber Ridge not knowing much about it. My initial thoughts were that it would be several sustained pitches of 5.7+ to gain the ridge and then a 3-4th class cruise along the ridgeline. I was surprised to find after the headwall most of the ridge continues to gain about 700 ft of elevation and remains in the 5.5-5.7 with most sections runout with poor pro selection and high exposure. Too much for me to consider simul-climbing it as the gear is questionable and the rock quality not feeling bomber enough for no-fall climbing.
Upon completion, it took me ~16 hrs to climb, an overnight bivy and a 4 hrs descent. The whole trip is a great story that I talk about in another post, but here I hope to outline the technical attributes of the climb for other rock climbers.
Guest Post by Ryan George
“The Bugaboos is a magical alpine playground of wild weather, pristine wilderness and towering granite spires…”
– Atkinson and Piche, The Bugaboos guidebook
I truly believe that if you want something bad enough for long enough, it’s bound to happen. Eight years ago, while, climbing the majestic Cook range in New Zealand, I asked my mountaineering instructor where he went for vacation. As he described granite soaring over glaciers in the Bugaboos, I began to love a place I’d never been. It took me eight years to acquire the friends and skills to make it a reality, but this July I finally got to climb in this alpine wonderland.
When people hear the name of this park, they laugh; when they search it, they gape. Since there’s no place quite like it, it’s truly unimaginable, and I found myself at a loss for how to prepare. In particular, what should I bring up the short but steep approach to camp? Having made the mistake of bringing a far too heavy pack, I’ll share my hard-won wisdom on what not to bring to this committing location. (Disclaimer: consider conditions when packing up; we had near-perfect weather)
Staring down at the cover of climbing magazine I was intoxicated. A snaking shoreline in the distance. A couple feet of dark gray rock exposed from the vast, pristine, clear and fresh water. The rock acting as a boundary between two great seas. The other, a thick wood of green spruce and birch covering all visible land. The green sea washing down from small rolling hills to meet the water.
In the foreground, a man is halfway up a larger section of this rock boundary. A sheer granite cliff in shades of gray rising 120 ft out of the huge fresh water lake. Where is this magical place? Minnesota.
On Mount Sir Donald’s Northwest Ridge (5.4), I accomplished my first car-car summit, my first ~7,000 ft day and set a new record for my longest ever rock climb (2,400 ft). I barely stopped moving except to wait for my turn to rappel over the course of the entire 18 hour day. The views were astonishing, the exposure and grade sustained and the legs very, very tired.
A spray of cool water settles across my face as I lean against my climbing rope to get a better look at the billowing, glacier-fed waterfall next to me. Despite being nearly impossible to pronounce, Takakkaw Falls is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Canada and right now I’m a few dozen feet away from where its torrent bounds up and away from the eroded shale into the form of a rooster tail. I have been excited for this exact experience ever since I found this climb next to Canada’s second highest waterfall. The kicker is the climb ends in a several hundred foot long cave from the route to the top off the falls. I could not predict it would even blew away expectations.
A reasonable person only needs one reason not to do something again, “I didn’t like it”. I know I can be unreasonable, so I have eight: chossy rock, leader fall, lightning storm, lost hikers, hail, steep loose scree, attacking rodent and a dead headlamp.
Here I was, sleeping 1400 ft above the valley floor on a forested ledge. Drinking unfiltered, fresh water directly out of a granite spring. Not a soul around except for a midnight food attack by a resident raccoon. All I had to do was ascend the longest single day climbing route I’ve ever completed and cross the worst traverse I’ve ever encountered.
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