Mt Gimli, South Ridge, Vahalla Range, BC

August 12, 2008 / 5.8+, ~7 p., trad.

The South Ridge of Mt Gimli is a moderate alpine climb on great rock that can easily be done in a day from the car. Sounds too good to be true? It isn't! This stunning line in a gorgeous alpine setting is a true classic and should be on everybody's list!

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Couldn't be more obvious. The South ridge of Mt Gimli is the sharp arete on the sun-shade line.
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Camping along the gravel road that leads to the trailhead.
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Hiking the well traveled trail in the forest.
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Great views of Mt Gimli from the approach trail.
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More views on the approach.

The alarm is set for 5:00AM. After the usual oatmeal routine, we leave the bus and drive to trailhead (another 8 miles from the road junction where we had parked the bus). We're hiking at 6:20AM. After 10 minutes of flat terrain, you cross a stream, the only water you'll find on your way to the upper saddle. From here, the trail climbs steeply to the saddle (~2,400 feet of elevation gain). Nice trail, no bushwacking whatsoever, with a just a couple of downed trees here and there. We are surprised to find running water from a snow patch just below the upper saddle and camp (recent trip reports seemed to indicate we would not find any). We take the opportunity to refill a couple of bottles. We make it to the saddle in a little less than 1H45min, at a leisurely pace. The camp is a wonderful spot, with wide open views all around. If we had known, we might have done the route as a three-day trip... There are established platforms for a couple of tents, running water (until the leftover snow melts), a toilet (on the left side of the saddle, looking up toward Gimli) and the company of mountain goats. Two things to keep in mind though: the campsites are in the middle of a delicate alpine zone, so thread lightly, and it is very exposed to the elements from all directions.

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Lucie on the trail.
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What an amazing looking peak!
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The route stays very close to the (RH) ridge.
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Views from the upper saddle.
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Taking a break near the bivy sites on the flat shoulder below the peak.

We take our packs off, put on some more clothes, and have a snack. It's pretty cold. Soon, a group of about ten mountain goats comes to meet us. Three of them, a mother with a calf and a young male come closer to check us out. They eat the grass inside the tent rings and roam around looking for salt. They're not at all shy and we observe them for a while, taking lots of pics in the process. We try to stay warm by sitting away from the wind. After an hour and a half or so, we decide that it has gotten as warm as it will be today, and that we'd better get moving. We gear up, prepare the small pack we'll take with us and hike to the base of the route (about 15 mins). The mountain goats have preceded us. They are roaming in the gully above us, knocking rocks down toward us from time to time. We move closer to the wall for some protection from those projectiles.

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Hiking toward the base of the route.
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A four-legged friend in the gully above the start of the route.
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The route goes like this...
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Lucie starting the first pitch (5.8), one of the best and more sustained on the route.
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Taking a rest before tackling the small ceiling.

It's just past 10AM when I start climbing the first pitch. I find it sustained and a bit trickier than I would have hoped. Nonetheless, it's one of the best pitches on the route, with sustained 5.7-5.8 climbing. Lots of jamming and a couple of lieback moves on great rock. Turning the small overhang near the top was the crux for me. I belay on a small ledge just above a horn with a mess of slings and bring Eric up. He tells me - probably to encourage me - that he too found it tricky for 5.8.

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Higher on pitch 1.
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Eric following pitch 1.
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Looking back at the bivy sites.
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Starting pitch 2 (5.7).
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Higher on the same pitch.

The second pitch (5.7) goes quickly and follows a good crack above the belay. You end up standing on a chockstone inside a chimney, an awkward belay stance indeed.

The third pitch is trickier. I climb the short crack above the belay, sling a horn and face climb just right of the horn on some rounded holds. There is no pro to protect the insecure face moves (I only place a questionable Alien). Falling here would be a bad idea as you would land on the horn below. I feel pretty tense, wishing I had left this pitch to my better half. Eric shouts words of encouragement. After a few minutes of proscratination, I commit to the moves. Two moves and I reach positive holds and a crack where I can place pro. From there, I follow a crack right for 30 feet, then traverse back left to a ledge with a tree and a horn with slings. It looks like many people traverse too far right and end up on difficult terrain. After I see a piece of stuck rope dangling and a dihedral which looks like 5.10, I traverse back left. The belay is in fact slighly left of the belay stance in the chimney.

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Views from the belay atop pitch 2.
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The tricky start of pitch 3... not much pro above the chockstone belay.
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Pitch 4 (5.6) follows good crack systems just above the belay.
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Higher on pitch 4 on beautiful orange rock.
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Views from the belay.

Pitch 4 is easy and follows good cracks and flakes just above the belay. A move or two of liebacking on a flake (protected by a red Camalot) are the only difficulties. I end up belaying on the grassy terraces. I belay on the first comfortable flat spot I find but belaying higher up is probably a better idea as the next pitch is almost a full 60m to the base of the roof pitch.

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Pitch 5 (5.7) is a rope strectcher and stays close to the arete.
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A great pitch!
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Belaying Eric up pitch 5.
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Views of the Valhalla Range.
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Taking a break at the belay before tackling the roof pitch.

Pitch 5 is a great pitch. Continuous 5.6-5.7 climbing on great rock with great pro. It just keeps going! I really feel the weight of the ropes near the end, and I end up belaying in a corner just 20 feet below the ledge beneath the roof. I bring Eric up, and he quickly moves the belay up to the ledge.

The roof pitch is the true technical crux of the route but it felt easier than the first pitch because there are only a couple of tricky moves. Good double cracks leads to a stance below the roof.

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Starting the roof pitch. A good double crack system brings you below the roof.
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Starting the traverse underneath the roof.
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Looking back at Eric with a big smile on my face.
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Eric at the end of the roof traverse.
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Gotta love this rock!

From there, I place two good aliens (a red and a blue) in small horizontal cracks below the lip of the roof before committing to the move. At first, I had placed only one piece and tried the moves. Didn't seem obvious, so I traversed back into the corner. I placed another piece for peace of mind (the blue alien a bit further) and decided that - for me - the best strategy would be to foot-traverse on the rounded grey holds, then make a long reach to grab the one of the good incut edges at the lip of the roof. This probably won't work if you're taller than 5'5" (Eric did it differently). There are not too many options for pro above the roof but I manage to find a good nut and a questionable Alien placement before I move up and left. I belay on the first ledge I find. Rope drag might be a problem if you use a single rope and belaying as soon as you find a good anchor is probably best. I'd call the moves around the roof 5.9. The rest of the pitch is much easier.

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On the last pitch (5.6).
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Taking a break on the South summit.
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Panoramic view from the South summit.
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Standing on the false (South) summit (picture taken by Eric from the true summit).
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Scrambling down to the notch to gain the trail leading to the true summit.

The last pitch follows right-leaning cracks and stays to the right on the crest. The exposure is pretty intense (I think I was getting tired). I find an old piton, which I clip before stepping left onto easier slabs. I belay on a good ledge after the difficulty and the angle ease considerably and bring Eric up.

We have a snack and decide to simul-climb on a doubled-over half rope from here. There might be one or two moves of 5.2 but it's mainly fourth class to the false summit. It's 3:45PM when we reach the false summit. There, we unrope, take a break and have more snacks.

Eric wants to take pictures of me on the false summit, so he takes off first, while I remain on the false summit.

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Views.
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On the trail leading to the true summit.
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Happy...happy!
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Views from the summit.
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Starting the descent.

It's a short class 2 scramble to gain the true summit, marked by a huge cairn. We admire the views and find the summit register in the cairn. Spend a bit of time browsing the register, the South Ridge does not seem to get done that often (unless people have not found the register...). Menacing clouds have been forming quickly, so we don't stay too long.

The descent is easy and well cairned. We keep our climbing shoes on at first as we negociate the exposed traverse down the east side. Soon enough, we are in the gully, and change back to our approach shoes. From there, loose scree and boulder hopping brings you to a small saddle, and you have to traverse back up to the upper saddle.

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Views of the route from the descent.
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Following the gully system to the small grassy saddle.
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Looking back at the descent gully from the small saddle.
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Taking a break on the grassy saddle...
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...before hiking up the boulderfield leading back to the upper saddle.

Eric goes back to the base of the route to retrieve the rain jackets we had left there. After snapping a few more pics of the route, we go back to the camp area where we are greeted again by one of our four-legged friend (the young male). We pack the gear and have a sandwich before heading down. It's already raining on the peaks to the West. Hopefully we can avoid getting drenched on the way down.

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Back near the base of the route.
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Views.
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Descending toward the bivy sites where we left our packs in the morning.
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The greeting committee (click for movie - 8Mb AVI).
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It's already raining on the peaks to the West.

We feel a few raindrops once we reach the woods but it doesn't last. We make it back to the car in 1H15 minutes. We just have time to toss the packs in the Jeep before it starts raining cats and dogs. Perfect timing!

PS: Nobody else was on the route. We only saw a party of scramblers on the East ridge (descent route).

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Packing the gear.
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Taking a last look at the gorgeous cirque before...
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...hurrying down the trail as the rain is approaching.
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Back at the parking lot after a great day out! (the route is visible just above the trail sign)
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Views from the gravel road.

Notes:

A guidebook for this area is apparently in the works but in the meantime, you can get very good, detailed route information from Gary Clark's NAC website.

To reach the trailhead, it is necessary to travel about 29 miles on a gravel road (the road was easily passable for a regular car when we were there). You might want to carry a logging saw to remove trees that could be in the way. A party of climbers who were there the week before us had just cut a tree that was blocking the road with... an ice axe!

Here are the directions we followed. Just 1 km South of Slocan, take the "Gravel Pit Road" (road branches East). Set your odometer as you cross the bridge. At 0.5 mi (0.8 km), stay left (Slocan West FS Road) and cross a bridge again at 0.7 mile (1.2 km). At 1.4 mile (2.3 km), turn right on Little Slocan FS Road. At 8.1 mile (13.2 km), you'll reach a junction near a red "15 km" sign. Turn right (NW) onto Bannock Burn FS Road and reset your odometer. At 100m, bear right. At 200m, bear right and descend. Bear right also at the next sign. At 7.3 miles, bear left. The trailhead is at 7.5 miles (elevation 5,740 ft - 1,750 m).

Spending the night at the trailhead before the climb appears to be a possibility.