The Rugged Mountain Page

Rugged Mountain – Winter
FEBRUARY 8-9, 1992

(First published in the Island Bushwhacker 20:1 March 1992)

‘Ice is the silent language of the peak;
and fire the silent language of the star.”
Conrad Aiken

A winter attempt on Rugged Mountain had for some time been high on my list of projects, but last winter I was grounded by injury and this winter had not, until recently, offered us much in the way of weather to rave about.

The week of February 3rd started fine for a change, and I issued a ‘yellow alert’ for a Rugged trip, but that Friday at 10am we were still talking about Sutton Pass. Then Rick Johnson, over the phone, said ‘Look, you bonehead. If it’s going to be nice why don’t you go to Rugged, even though I can’t go; and I’ll curse myself roundly if you succeed. *!#&* ‘, or words to that effect.

Good ideas require action, and so it was that Don Berryman, Dennis Manke, Gerta Smythe and I pulled out of Colwood at 7pm for the long drive north. In due course we spread our sleeping bags in the usual ditch in the Nomash valley, beneath a diamond sky, a little before 3am.

We arose at 7:15 and, after a brief breakfast, set off for the north col laden with camping gear. The day was sunny and fine, warm even, hardly like February at all, and the lack of a significant snow pack below 3500 ft had us shaking our heads in wonder. The open snow slopes, when we reached them, were firm and stable, and we donned crampons to climb the NW basin, arriving at the col after about 5 ½ hours. By the time we’d set up camp it was 2:30 or later, so the combined factors of tiredness and short daylight assuaged our guilt at not seizing this particular day for the summit attempt. We had a very pleasant and prolonged evening over dinner enjoying the view and photographing the summit block sheathed in its cloak of white. The scenery was so spectacular, in fact, that Gerta chucked her dinner. That is, she chucked it all over the glacier before having had a chance to eat it. The slip that precipitated this unpremeditated aeration of the victuals had the consequence of a slide –an eastward one, fortunately, which deposited her unceremoniously beside the tent.

After a long night of most entertaining dreams we popped out under the 6am
stars to witness the fading stripes of aurora as breakfast cooked and gear was sorted.


The photo shows the east ridge of Rugged Mountain during our winter ascent.


(Link to more photos from Rugged Mountain in other seasons)

The route we climbed was that used by Don, Wendy and me in June of 1987, except that this time the snow was firm, ideal for two tools and crampons. We climbed as two ropes of two, sharing runners and belays. Shortly after Dennis joined me on the ridge the clouds moved in close, eliminating the view and, it must be said, diminishing the sense of exposure. Excellent styrofoam snow encrusted the entire upper mountain and yelps of delight were heard frequently as we made our way upward into the white air. The only negative aspect was my slight sense of guilt as I climbed with two axes, while Gerta climbed with only one. We stayed only moments on top, not trying to dig out the register, as our clouds had begun to snow a little. This turned out to be but a brief concern. During our descent the mists parted for a few moments, giving us a taste of sunny climbs and cloudy skies. That sunny climb! Those crags of ice! Ah, we on honey-dew had fed, and climbed the low-fat yoghurt cone of paradise! (With many apologies.)

In the now even thicker cloud our route back to the tent was less than direct, but we arrived, and lo did not the clouds even then see fit to disperse yea even unto the summit of our Rugged peak. Again the sun appeared and we broke camp and backed carefully down the steep upper wall of the NW basin, then retracing our steps, apart from one bushy digression, back to the car at about 5:45pm.

We made good time to Patty Jo’s Restaurant in Campbell River, but it was still nearly 2am when I got home. Perhaps my students managed to forgive a less than stellar performance at 8:30 that same morning. This is possibly the first winter ascent of Rugged Mountain.

Sandy Briggs