American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Northwest Territories, Logan Mountains, Vampire Peaks, Various Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

Vampire Peaks, Various Ascents. On July 17, John Young, David Coleman, Cogie Reed, Harrison Shull, and I were dropped off in the Vampire Peaks for 27 days. The Vampire Peaks lie roughly 15 miles away from the Cirque of the Unclimbables in the southwestern comer of the Northwest Territories. Our main objective was to climb an unnamed massif via a virgin 2,000-foot-plus wall dubbed “The Phoenix.” After spending the first day scouting out our line, we fixed the first two pitches. The line that we chose took a direct path up the prow of the buttress on beautiful crack systems the entire way. Harrison, John and I then committed to the wall with four days of supplies and gear. After waking the next morning to rockfall hitting the portaledge fly, we began our steady progress up the wall. The climbing was predominately moderate aid with some good free climbing mixed in. Our line proved to be every bit as beautiful as it had appeared from the ground. When the prow that we were following ended, we climbed a long chimney pitch followed by a fourth-class gully to a false summit. I climbed the last 200-foot pitch via a system of broken cracks and ledges to the top. We summited on our fifth day on the wall and were greeted with good weather. We called our route of first ascent Freebird (VI 5.9 A2+).

While we were on the Phoenix, Cogie and David were starting a route on a feature directly across from us dubbed the Golden Buttress. Cogie, David, John, and I all summited several days later via Golden Wing (III 5.10 A2+).

After completing our objectives in the first valley, we moved camp up to the previously described Vampire Spires. We spent the next three days humping loads up talus slopes and bushwhacking through willow thickets. The Vampire Spires are composed of three distinct spires (The Fortress, The Canine, and the Vampire Spire) that sit in the head of the valley we were camped in. The Vampire Spire was climbed by a party in 1994 (see account by Mike Benge on p. 194), but the Fortress and the Canine remained untouched.

After spending a day bouldering and sorting gear under blue skies, Cogie and I set off to attempt the Fortress. Once again we were blessed with a straight-forward and striking line up the center of the feature. Clean dihedrals and splitter cracks gained us about 600 feet to a spacious ledge for our first bivy. We made good progress the first day and were hopeful of our summit chances the next. Cogie gave me a good scare the next day by taking an ugly 15-foot ledge fall when the rock exploded around a stopper he was on. A couple of hours beforehand, John ended his trip by spraining his ankle while taking a big fall attempting a line to the right of ours with David. After topping out on the buttress late that afternoon, we then picked our way through false summits and rotten gullies until we finally ran out of rock to climb. We rappelled back down to our portaledges as a storm was coming in and settled into sleeping bags with the satisfaction of having accomplished one of our goals. We called our route Cornerstone (IV 5.10 A2+).

With only a few days left until our pick-up, Cogie and I decided to try the last unclimbed spire, The Canine. The rock on the Canine proved to be much looser than anything we had previously tried. The climbing demanded our full attention. After a couple of short falls, a stopper that busted my chin open, and a 40-foot head-first fall, we were definitely taking our situation seriously. We were finally forced to retreat about 100 feet from the summit due to impending blizzard conditions, a bizarre, criss-crossing dihedral crack system that lay ahead, and a pickup date within two days’ time. In retrospect, our line will go using a variety of angles.

Matt Childers

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