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North America, Canada, Interior Ranges, Totem Peak, East Face, Southern Purcells

Totem Peak, East Face, Southern Purcells. Art Twomey saw that the good late-year weather would be excellent for his latest pipe dream, an ascent of the east face of unclimbed Totem Peak. Even the higher peaks in the St. Mary’s wilderness, usually snow-capped in September, were still bare in late October. After a steep but enjoyable climb into the lake country, he and I set up camp at the edge of Totem Lake, about a ten-minute scramble from the base of the face. Our route was to ascend the main dihedral in the center of the 900-foot vertical granite face, unsuccessfully tried in 1971 by Tuck Forsythe and Malcolm Moore. After a very late start on October 19, we climbed 200 feet of class-four slabs to the base of the vertical face and got up only two pitches. Poor Art spent an hour untangling the mass of hardware, slings and rope after I plummeted 70 feet out of an overhanging jam-crack on the second pitch. On my second try, I copped out and used aid to gain the overhanging gully. In the failing light we fixed ropes and rappelled down. The second day saw another late start, and at the end of the day we had reached Tuck and Malcolm’s high point and found their rappel anchor. The climbing looked easier above and so we decided to retreat early to avoid getting caught in the dark again. The third day we got an earlier start. The next pitch was the most enjoyable free climbing of the entire route. However, after it came the crux pitch. The nailing was so thin that Art cleared my pins with a single tap of the hammer. After the crux came another problem. The traversing dihedral joined in what appeared to be an A1 crack, but even knifeblades bottomed after only ¾ inch. It took searching to find a place where the crack was deep enough to hold a pin. As darkness fell, I could not see far enough with my headlamp and would need daylight to find my way through the maze of small overhangs. Entirely unprepared for a bivouac, we settled soon on the small, down-sloping ledge for a very cold night. The morning dawned. Two more pitches put us on top around noon. The climb took 3½ days because of October’s short days and our lack of equipment. Cliff-hangers would enable one to bypass some of the thin aid. NCCS V, F8, A3; 6 knifeblades, 20 assorted lost arrows, small and medium chocks, 1 rurp, 1 4? bong or large nut.

Joseph G. Myers, Jr., Unaffiliated