Winter climb of Mt Cain's East Summit
| I had a cold, but I reckoned
that if incipient famous British mountaineers used to be sent off as ailing
youth to the Alpine air for relief from their respiratory afflictions then
I should certainly profit from the salubrious ambiance of wonderful and
welcoming Mt Cain. Or at least I should not die from going there. The truth
is that I had become, over the preceding decade, quaintly and ever-so-slightly
rabidly obsessed with climbing the higher east peak of this complex and
blocky north-Island giant, attached, as it is, both eponymously and physically,
to the community ski-hill that is justly famous for its sheer concentration
of fun. Twice (1993 and 2002) I had had very enjoyable ascents of the slightly
lower west summit, but these had served to intensify my desire to stand
on the tantalizing tippy-top of the eastern tower. If only I could find
someone who could lead the hard bits.
|I had no trouble convincing
the ever-enthusiastic Hinrich Schaefer to join me for the Mt Cain climb.
I think he had only slightly more trouble convincing his recently-arrived
friend Torge Schuemann to come along. Now Torge, blissfully, so to speak,
unfamiliar with Vancouver Island, winter mountaineering, and alpine ski
touring, was therefore at the time somewhat in the dark (ha ha ha) about
exactly what he was signing up for.
On Saturday morning I dragged my sorry snuffly corpse out of our friends’ cabin and the three of us set off for the day’s adventure. We traversed the top of the West Bowl, passed through the col, and made our way on (well, more ‘in’ really) soft fluffy powder to the notch between Mt Cain’s two main peaks. Here we roped up.
The route of the first ascent (Rick Eppler and John Simpson) had gone up and left (north) on a snowy bulge over awe-inspiring exposure. I lobbied dictatorially for a different and perhaps new line up a rock wall to a snow ledge on the right. Hinrich led this low fifth class iced-up bit of near-verticality in fine style. The desired ledge, once reached, was exceedingly narrow at this spot. Edging along it without much protection and few good handholds served, (borrowing here from Dr Johnson), like the knowledge that one is to be hanged on the morrow, to concentrate the mind wonderfully. It was during this delicate traverse that I forgot I was ill.
|With the crux out of the
way we ran out the rope easily a couple of times on good snow in a rightward
traverse to the bottom of a broad open gully. Here I led over a little bare
rock to a higher snowfield and then slightly left under an overhanging wall.
The next pitch, snow-bedecked class three, led up a blocky face to the summit
plateau. It was then a short and pleasant stroll to the high point, where
we congratulated ourselves and enjoyed the view, grand in all directions.
It took a little exploring to find a suitable rappel anchor midst all the snow, but eventually we rappelled south to snow ledges and moved west to a position closer to the great notch. Here, with Torge’s double rope, we were able to reach the lower snow in one long and airy manoeuvre.
It remained only to avoid falling into the inadequately buried moat at the base of the rappel.
As we removed our harnesses at the great notch the advance of twilight became more than an imagining. Moreover some cloud had formed and the visibility was down to tens of meters. It was no trouble to follow our trench back to the skis and it proved relatively easy to get back to the col at the top of the West Bowl. Thereafter Torge’s skiing lesson was not at all aided by the fact that his glasses were constantly fogging up, and I would go so far as to say that it was downright hindered by the onset of full darkness by the time we had reached the broad slopes below the main chute. Headlamps had by then been deployed. We skied through the forest to the flat meadow, where Hinrich then taught Torge how to use ski skins. A routine and familiar trail led us soon back to our friends’ warm cabin where, with very large smiles, we tucked into a welcome dinner. Then I remembered I was sick, and collapsed in a very trashed state on the couch.
But I am being a little disingenuous about Torge’s experience. He’s a skilled and experienced rock-climber and seemed to have no trouble dealing with the novel snowy medium. Indeed I sense that he has, in the intervening months, even become a little addicted to alpine ski touring. One could hardly have two better companions for a Mt Cain climb. (Thanks, Hinrich, for leading the hard bit.)