By the time February rolls around in the Pacific Northwest, it has likely already been raining for four months, and summer is still a ways away. For a climber like myself obsessed with the Coast Mountains, I spend my winters giddily planning the next nook to explore, dreaming of the adventures that the coming season will unfold. My partner, with Google Earth at his command, scans topographical maps eagerly searching for the steepest looking granite faces- deliberating what wall we will climb, and how we can access it. The areas that call to us are often remote and the walls have never been climbed. Such adventures are riddled with question marks such as: How do we even get to the base of the wall?
Flash-forward: it is now the summer and we are in the midst of a smoky hot July, stoked to go climbing in the epic backcountry that lies behind Powell River. When I tell people that I climb in the Powell River backcountry, most people’s minds jump to the Eldred River Valley, a beautiful valley roughly 34 miles northwest of the town of Powell River. What they don’t realize is that although the Eldred is a truly majestic place, we crave exploration beyond what is accessed by a logging road. Our imaginations fixated on two walls in particular that coincidentally both happened to be 600 meters tall. We dubbed them the 600-meter beauties.
We set off to climb the first of the two 600 meters beauties around the end of July. The wall is located on the South Powell Divide- a sparkling white granite ridge system that undulates for 20km high above the valley floor below. The divide is littered with electric blue tarns and some of the best views you can get to “easily” from Powell River. Our good friend Rob Richards had been calling this wall “The Gem,” because it truly is a jewel of a wall; a glistening dome with one obvious crack system rising from the base to the summit.
As it is in the Coast Range, the only way to get to the alpine is to hike uphill and cover a grueling amount of elevation gain in a day. Our goal was simple: we had three days of food, so we would spend the first day approaching the wall via the “Triple Direct Trail,” the second day climbing the wall, and the third day hiking back to our car. Seems straightforward. Starting up the trail, we quickly realized why it is named The Triple Direct, as you rise straight up the forested ridge into the alpine with no switchbacks. While most people do this trail with hiking gear, we had substantially more weight in our packs from all of our climbing equipment. Progress was slow. By the time we reached the alpine, we realized that we simply could not traverse the remaining 4 km of ridges and descend into the alpine basin to the base of the wall all in one day. We dropped our packs and made camp for the night with very tired legs.
The next day, we scrambled over the ridges and got our first view of The Gem. Mist enveloped the wall creating a mysterious veil. You could barely see the bottom of the wall, and the top was completely covered. We sat watching the clouds lift away to reveal our first true view of this spectacular piece of granite architecture. It looked big. And we planned to climb the first ascent from the ground to the top in one day with no bolting equipment all in traditional style in one day. I was humbled and awestruck by the formation proudly standing before us. I had never even done 600m of climbing in one day and here we planned to climb this wall- weaving our way up cracks and slabs that humans had never climbed on before.
We only brought 3 days of food, but since the approach took slightly longer than anticipated we had to adapt our plans. On our second day, we reached the base of the wall around 11 am, which was not the time to start climbing. We decided to make our supplies last an extra day. Consequently, we spent a lovely rest day in the alpine camped in front of the wall stretching, napping, trying not to eat too much food, and basking in the sun.
The next morning, our alarm went off at 5:00 am. Part of me wanted to give up before we even tried. The wall seemed to grow bigger and doubt crept in my mind. Would we make it up in a day? Is this crazy? After some oatmeal and coffee, we grabbed our packs and walked over to where we planned to start the climb. We began climbing around 6:30 am. Evan leads us through the bottom low angle slabs, questing his way to the base of a corner system up and right. I took the lead as the wall steepened. I was jittery and nervous about my route finding abilities. I went up one crack, down climbed because there wasn’t enough protection, and then started up another crack. Once I decided to commit to the climbing, my movement became natural and my headspace zoomed into the moves in front of me. I trusted my intuition and climbed high above a few pieces of protection, somehow knowing I chose the right way. Suddenly, I was in a super neat finger sized lay back making a big transition move out left weaving my own path up the rock. I reached a nice ledge and belayed Evan up. Evan took the lead and made a tricky move through an overlap- yarding on a tree in classic coastal style. His pitch brought us to the most vertical portion of the wall.
Swapping leads, we navigated through some tricky cracks, at times having to backtrack to find the best way up. And then we hit the glory grove: an incredible grove in the middle of the wall that went on for a phenomenal 280 metres broken up over four pitches. Each subsequent pitch of the groove easing with difficulty as the angle of the wall kicked back, ending on mellow terrain practically swimming up hand jams.
As Evan is the slab master of us, he took over the upper low angle pitches dancing up the sparkling white alpine slab, at times placing a mere 3 pieces of protection for an entire 70 m pitch. We were running up the wall at this point and topped out just after 4:20 to enjoy a relaxing moment on the summit. We did not expect to have summited so early. We had time to scramble around, take a revitalizing dip in an alpine tarn, and even enjoy some of the extra snacks we hadn’t gotten to! Two giddy eyed stoked climbers alone on top of this spectacular mountain, with views in every direction of rolling peaks, lush valleys, and the ocean-Jervis Inlet!