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North America, Canada, Purcell Range, Snowpatch Spire, Direct West Face

Snowpatch Spire, Direct West Face. Early in August, Fred Beckey and I turned our attention to the very wide west face of Snowpatch. Four routes already had been made on the face, three of which end at the north summit, a long way from the true, south summit. Though less than vertical for the first few pitches, near the top several small overhangs and a large overhanging dihedral block the route. One afternoon we climbed 300 feet, mostly fifth class, and left our two climbing ropes in place. After a couple of days of rain at the hideously grotesque Alpine Club of Canada shelter, on August 9 we started off for the west face before sunrise and quickly prusiked to our high point. Fred led the next pitch, finding to our pleasant surprise that a large part of it went fifth class. In light of our fast progress, we left the bivouac gear at the base of the pitch, feeling confident of finishing the climb that day. I led the next pitch, which was nearly all free climbing up a steep dihedral. Sections were difficult, but protection was good. Fred led the next, direct aid which tensioned left from one of the overhangs into a crack which led up a less overhanging dihedral to a good belay stance. The next pitch turned out to be the crux of the climb. In order to avoid the top of the dihedral we were in, which was choked by a 50-foot-wide overhanging block with dubious cracks, we climbed up and right, making three traverses, two on marginal pitons. The cracks were very poor and made free climbing a necessity in some places. The bottoming cracks had to be prepared by driving and cleaning differently sized pitons until the walls of the crack were uniform enough to make a pin hold. Finally, after placing at least one A4 pin and making another tension traverse, I was able to finish the pitch at the base of a rotten, but easy looking section leading to the summit ridge. At seven p.m., we still had two pitches to the top. Our bivouac gear was some 400 feet below us on a ledge. Fred led this section rapidly in the glow of the sunset, and we were at the base of the wildly overhanging summit block. He surveyed the alternatives as he belayed me up and advised me to traverse to the right edge of the summit block on a narrow ledge. Doing this, I was able to get to the opposite side of the block and easy climbing put us on the summit in less than five minutes. We had bolts and bivouac gear but used neither. The nine pitches required 95 pitons, about half of which were for direct aid. NCCS IV, F8, A4.

Galen Rowell